Friday, January 21, 2011

Saldi (Sale)!

As a note in response to my last post, Italy does have after christmas sales...they just don't start until after ALL the holidays had finished, which here means the second week of january. All the store windows now have signs announcing 'saldi' and at H & M I bought 2 belts, a pair of shoes, a dress and a hat for 30 Euro!!

January has been flying by at warp speed. I started my next round of italian classes on the 10th and like the last time, the first day consisted of writing a test and speaking with one of the teachers to determine which level you belong in. I finished level 2 in December and had been studying a lot with my other workbooks and cds, so I was secretly hoping to maybe skip up a level. However to my surprise, after speaking with the teacher and reviewing my test, he felt that I should skip two levels, up to level 5 (there are only 6 levels at this school)!

I was a bit hesitant and asked about level 4 but he said that in level 4 they would be teaching grammar that I already knew, as I had just demonstrated on the test. So, level 5 it was! It's been really challenging and has since made my 3.5 hour tuesday night class feel easier in comparison. When it comes to reading and writing, I'm really on top of it, but with speaking and listening I'm not quite there yet. The key is lentamente.... (slowly).

I speak slow because I need time to think about each successive word I'm going to say and make sure that the endings agree and make sure I put the words in the right order....... I can understand well when someone speaks slow and clear but at normal speed the words mush together before they reach my ear. However over the past months I've observed my brain's progress with picking up on more and more information when listening to italian at normal speed. I'm also starting to hear meaning in the lyrics of the italian songs I bought on itunes (from italian bands: dente, zero assoluto, and fabri fibra (italian rap!)) which I have been listening to on repeat for months. Quindi, piano, piano (So, slowly, slowly).

I've also discovered a valuable resource thanks to someone telling me (although I can't remember who...),, where you can meet people for language exchange in your city. In my case I'm able to meet up with Italians who are learning English, and you take turns speaking in both languages. This is amazing because it's free, mutually beneficial, and you can sympathize with each other about the difficulties of learning a new language. So far I've met with 2 people, Francesca, an economics student from Sardinia (an island in italy) and Giuseppe, an engineer from Calabria (the same region where my great grandparents were from).

Francesca and I sat in the sun for 2 hours in Piazza Santa Croce last saturday for our conversation and she gave me some grammar corrections and also words of advice for language learning. She spoke english really well and quite fast so the corrections I gave her were very few and minor. Her boyfriend is American so she's had lots of english practice. Giuseppe and I met for an aperitivo (the italian term for a cocktail which includes a buffet) last sunday and he told me some entertaining stories (in italian). I tried my best to follow along but if I got lost then he would clarify the situation in english. It was helpful for me that his level of english was closer (although still better) to my level of italian. The conversation was less about correcting each other and more about understanding, which at this point is what I need, to just practice speaking without getting caught up in the grammar.

When I met him on the website his profile said that he liked salsa dancing and I had wrote to him that I also liked dancing but I hadn't done salsa before. He replied saying that he could teach me sometime if I was interested. So, as we were finishing our drinks he asked if I was up for salsa that night as there was a place he knew that had salsa music on sundays. I hadn't planned on it and wasn't dressed for it, but as I'm always up for dancing I said certo (sure)!

My first salsa lesson consisted of 'one, two, three' with the right foot behind, and then 'one, two, three' with the left foot ahead. 6 seconds later I was being spun all over the dance floor and hardly missed a beat for the rest of the night. Incredibile! Giuseppe kept saying. He was in complete awe that I was keeping up with his 6 years of lessons. The truth is, as the guy leads, I was only able to keep up because he knew what he was doing. I just kept doing 'one, two, three' 'one, two, three' (or in italian uno, due, tre) with my feet, relaxed the rest of my body, and shut off my brain in order to follow the fast turns and direction changes. It was really so much fun!!!!! I hope we can go again this week when Giuseppe returns from London. No salsa isn't italian, but the italian's seem to like it as there were lots of people there dancing and practicing. Amazing!

This month I have an extra roommate, an extra Rosie. She's american, from South Carolina, studying art restoration here in Florence. A friend of my english Rosie, she found herself without an apartment when plans for housesitting her friend's apartment fell though last minute. It's been nice having a house full of girls to laugh with. We make fun of each other's slang terms and pronunciation of words. Although she doesn't really have a southern accent, we bug american Rosie for saying 'y'all' a lot!

An old coworker of english Rosie's was visiting Florence for a few days last week and we met up with him on Friday evening. They worked together in a pub in Dorset (in rural england) but it turns out this guy was originally from Hussar!!? What the??! (Hussar is a tiny town very close to the town where I'm from, Drumheller, in rural Alberta) His family moved to Manitoba when he was 12, but it's a pretty crazy coincidence to meet someone in Florence, who used to work with my roommate in England, and yet is from nearly the same small town as me. Strano (strange)!

I was so happy to hear some news about the package I've been waiting for for the last 2 months, which although isn't the greatest of news, I'm just relieved to know the package hasn't vanished, which is what I was preparing myself to hear. The package is being sent back to Toronto. They couldn't tell me what the problem was but they did say that I'll get my 140$ postage fees back only if the problem was the fault of the italian postal service. If it was a problem with the address written on the package, then I won't get my money back. We verified the address was correct numerous times but we'll see what they say upon delivering the package back to Firas in Toronto. I'm just glad my favorite yellow shoes will be safe and I will look forward to reuniting my feet with them in July:)

I managed to get another copy of my daytimer printed here in Florence, EXACTLY how I wanted it, even despite having to explain everything in italian! The first price I was quoted was 30 Euro but then I asked if there was a way to make it cheaper (c'e` un modo fare piu` economico?) and I'm not sure what he changed but all of a sudden (all'improvviso) the price became 16 Euro! Nice! Maybe he was giving me the tourist price initially, haha. Many things work like that here.

Sometimes when I've been studying italian a lot and then start writing or speaking in english again I realize that I've changed my sentence structure and word order to resemble the italian form (which then sounds like bad english)! So funny. My poor brain, trying to make sense of things. I'm definately keeping it on it's toes.

I was really surprised this week at my Tuesday class, when we were reviewing the past perfect verb form (which I'm quite comfortable with at this point), many of the other students were having trouble. I realized that I've been deceived by their fast and confident speaking, into thinking that they were also speaking grammatically correct! This has been a good example for me, to be less conscious of making mistakes and just spit it out. The more you speak the better you will get, so like many things, the hardest part is to start and not be self-conscious of saying something incorrect (i just realized this sentence rhymes, haha!!). My perfectionist tendencies will hopefully lose the battle against my will to speak. The worst that can happen is a misunderstanding, which often happens anyway, even when you speak grammatically perfect!!!

I guess I didn't slow down to smell the flowers in these last couple weeks as I didn't take any pictures! However, here's some oldies which I don't think I've posted before. The picture at the top is of the ponte vecchio (the old bridge) which one day was set up as a driving range for golf with greens floating in the Arno river! I know my dad will appreciate:)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Buone feste! (happy holidays!)

This video is in Sherbourne, a village near Rosie's house.

Today was yet another religious holiday in Italy, Epiphany! The day the 3 wise men visited baby Jesus, I'm told.

I returned to Florence from England on the morning of the 31st, just in time for capodanno (the new year). I took the bus back from the airport in Pisa, about an hour and a half ride from Florence, and beautiful. My breath was almost taken away looking at the views. The charming, crumbling homes, sitting on the organically sloping Tuscan hills with irregular divisions of garden and grapevine land. Then, deep in the background was the alps! However I actually had a closer view of these on my plane ride back from england, wow!!! My ride TO the airport was on the train which didn't offer any comparable view.

A few days prior to departing there was an extraordinary happening in Florence, NEVE (SNOW)! Actually it should no longer be considered SO special in that it happened almost on the same date last year. However I understand there was even more snow this year and it occurred in many areas of Italy and Europe, interrupting travel plans for many people. For me, it meant buying new boots as my current ones had a hole in the toe and there was no sign of my package from Canada containing replacements. I trudged to the train station in my sneakers and found some cute grey rubberboots for 27 Euro, on sale from 55. Lucky for this desperate shopper. These boots kept my feet dry all through the holidays, to Great Britian and back to Italy.

England was beautiful and awe inspiring in it's own ways. London is such a grand city, and that word really sums it up. Classy, statuesque, functional, GRAND! I was expecting it to be more 'westernized' in some ways, like new york, but alas it is a city with so much history it makes us north americans grovel. Or at least it made me do so. Big ben and westminster abbey are a sight one must see in reality, pictures and movies just don't suffice. There was really so much to see and I did my best although I believe I still have some unfinished work there.

I went to tons of galleries and art lovers are truly fortunate that most of the galleries in London are FREE! That suited my budget perfectly. I saw many masterpieces from some of my favorite impressionist artists and many paintings by John Singer Sargent, hands down AMAZING! This man had godly abilities. I was so happy to see 2 exhibits on fashion illustration which profoundly inspired me and I also passed by 'The Cartoon Museum' which made me smile, especially after seeing some original Ronald Searle illustrations. I also got the most amazing book there on Lifestyle Illustrations of the 1960's. If I can only own 1 art book for the rest of my life, let it be this one. AND I got 5 Pounds off because I pointed out the large crease in the cover, YESSS.

My hostel was right in the middle of the action in Piccadily Circus, similar to Times Square in New York, so it was convenient for me to go exploring on foot in the evenings and it was coincidentally just around the corner from Whole Foods! Of course London is renowned for it's stage shows so I inquired about some discount tickets but they weren't quite discounted enough for me so I caught a musical movie instead. 'Burlesque' with Christina Aguilera and Cher. Loved it, 'nuff said. Apart from my gallery hopping and sightseeing, I also checked out some organic and vegetarian restaurants, although I missed out on some due to holiday closings, scoped out the alternative neighborhood of Camden Town (London's huge version of Toronto's kensington market?), and did a bit of shopping which in the end I could not resist thanks to the fabulous holiday sales:) I bought a dress at H&M in London for 10 Pounds which still costs 30 Euros at the H&M in Florence!

Although it was sort of a break to be in an english speaking country, there were some other things to get used to, most notably, besides the accents and yet another change of currency, the cars driving on the left. Jaywalking is a dangerous feat for those unaccustomed! Of course this also means pedestrian traffic flows on the left too. Although it's english, I was still confused at first that instead of 'exit' the signs say 'way out' and instead of 'yld' they say 'give way'. Is it possible the british are more wordie than north americans, using 2-worded signs?

I took the 2 hour bus ride out to the english countryside to meet Rosie and her family on the evening of the 23rd. Unfortunately it was dark both times I traveled as apparently the bus went right past Stonehenge! I had a wonderful time eating, doing puzzles, sightseeing, and tobogoning (they called it 'bogging' or 'sledging') with Rosie and her family. This included her mom and dad, her 2 sisters and their husbands/fiances, their dog, Truffle, and the newest addition to their family, Clementine, Rosie's 5 month old niece. They have a beautifully renovated farmhouse in the village of Oborne in Dorset with a huge kitchen and walls full of art and collectibles from their travels, like a museum, I told them.

It was really interesting to see how people live in this part of the world. Some of the buildings are over a thousand years old! I enjoyed the english practices of having tea time everyday at 4 o'clock and learning to play Snooker at their neighbor's house. I took to it quickly and impressed everyone as I've always had a bit of a knack for pool;)

I left for London on the evening of the 27th and hit the ground running again until the night of the 30th when I returned to Stansted Airport for a night curled up on a bed of chairs at the cafe in anticipation of my 6am flight. I didn't want to pay for another night at the hostel (and the prices were really high that night) for just a few hours of sleep. Apparently many people had this same idea as it was hard to find a spot to camp for the night.
Having a break from speaking and thinking Italian has actually served me well. I studied only once on the bus back from Dorset, but other than that it was a full 10 day break. I think it has given the chance for information I've been trying to cram into my brain, to sink in. Upon landing in the Pisa airport at 10 am I turned the corner to the bus counter and immediately told the attendent 'Vorrei prendere l'autobus a Firenze' (I would like to take the bus to Florence) without having to stop and think! Yipee!! I even had an actual conversation with my landlady the other day. She doesn't speak any english and isn't so sensitive to the fact that it's hard to understand her when she talks A LOT and FAST. However I somehow understood her and was able to quikcly string together some sentences for her to understand me! (Please excuse me while I give myself a huge pat on the back here:D) I hope this feeling of ease continues.

After the beautiful bus ride to Florence I decided to catch a city bus from the train station so I wouldn't have to walk the whole 15 minutes with my suitcases on the bumpy sidewalks. I tried to get a bus map but as usual there were none available, so I just lined up for the #6, the same one I had taken to the station 10 days prior. Bad idea. In a city with tiny one way streets, the bus can't take the same route going north as it does south. I missed the stop closest to my apartment (which was actually still very far) and then proceeded to sit on the bus all the way to the suburbs and back. The scenic route, I suppose. An hour later I arrived at my apartment, unpacked a bit, and napped.

I spent the chilly New Year's Eve outside back at the piazza in front of the train station, watching a live concert and firecrackers going off unpredictably in every direction! It was crazy! There were no 'official' fireworks at midnight, just lots of unofficial ones all night long; with just slightly more at midnight...

Unfortunately the next day I was in rough shape, head throbbing, lungs ejecting. The results of lack of sleep and too much firecracker smoke inhalation. I'm STILL coughing stuff up but almost recovered I think.

I got a copy of my Wellness Daytimer printed in London (for 35 Pounds, OUCH!!) and I was so happy to see it 'in the paper' after designing it digitally for many weeks and trying to imagine how it will function in the real world. Although the printers didn't follow my wishes EXACTLY (borders, grr) and didn't consult me on paper choice (too slippery, I can't use pencil, grrr) and although the colors on the cover didn't print accurately (my fault), it's fabulous! I'm going to attempt a reprint here in Florence, fingers crossed!

My friend has told me the italian saying of 'anno nuovo, vita nuova' or 'new year, new life'. Simple and inspiring. It's going to be a good year for sure:) Among getting some concrete work done, I hope to do more traveling, there really is a whole world of amazement out there!