lunedì 8 settembre 2008

Safely - and very happily settled - in Siena!

Grazie mille for your patience! I have had a busy but wonderful first week in Siena and am itching to tell you about what I’ve been up to, so let me get right down to business … prepare yourself for another novel!

After a sad, early morning departure from Sansepolcro, I waved goodbye to Sara and Patrizio at the Arezzo train platform and then rode off toward Firenze and then on to Pisa. Miraculously, I made it to eat train change without any trouble (we were sure I would miss one because the changes were very quick and the trains are often late) and arrived in Pisa around 11:30. Before long I made my way to the arrival gate (it is an absolutely tiny airport) and began looking for Americans. It didn’t take me long to find them :)

There are 11 of us in total, but they were still waiting for two more to arrive when I walked up and introduced myself. Within the group there are two sets of three – Dan, Jamie, and Solomon and then Bryan, Pam, and Shaheen – who are from the same schools (Carlton College and Wheaton, respectively), but the rest of us are loners from a scattering of colleges in the west, northeast, mid-west – Alaine, Callie, Carly, and Jamila – and then I am here represent the southeast (it’s a big responsibility). I also got to meet Donatella (the current secretary), Lucia (Donatella’s replacement who takes over in October), and Elizabeth, a Siena School alum who graduated this past May and is staying with Siena School for the next year as a mentor for us (and then also for the students who come in the spring). The staff was extremely friendly and so evidently concerned for our well-being that any lingering reservations were immediately put to rest.

After the stragglers arrived, we all loaded onto a bus and rode to an agriturismo in the vicinity of Volterra (about an hour away). An agriturismo is the product of a working farm that converts itself into a bed and breakfast of sorts too.

We were surrounded by breathtaking views, were fed out of this world meals, had a pool at our disposal and a personable asino (donkey) for our amusement – it was so nice!

The days were devoted to relaxation, visits to the nearby towns of Lucca and Volterra (to see pictures of these towns, visit my Picasa site – the link is listed on the right hand sidebar of this page), along with orientation logistics, and for many, recovery from jetlag. The guys shared a room and then the girls were paired off in doubles. Jamila and I decided to room together because we had been emailing a bit over the summer and had bonded a bit more on the bus ride. She is a linguistics/German/art restoration major from New Mexico and we have enjoyed getting to know each other very well in a very short amount of time – a phenomenon that often occurs when close quarters and constant interaction are imposed on two near strangers!

Saturday afternoon (Aug. 30) we arrived in Siena around 5:30 and were immediately picked up by our host families. Fulvia, my Italian mamma in Siena, speaks almost no English, so there is no temptation to slip into my comfort zone linguistically! I am guessing she is probably in her late 50s, early 60s. During the year she teaches 4-5 year olds (she starts school again next week), so she has all sorts of patience to bestow upon my clumsy, accident prone, absentminded self! When I told her how much I appreciated her patience as I bumbled through my first try at pomodoro sauce, she reminded me of her occupation and smiled. Is she perfect for me or what?

After we arrived at the apartment she showed me around, gave me something to drink, and then let me unpack. She lives in a three-room flat that I just love. My room is comfortably sized and has a 10-footish ceiling. I have more storage space that I will ever need (assuming of course that I don’t go crazy with the amazing clothing stores here – just kidding, Dad!).

After I had finished with the clothes, I put the rest off and went into the kitchen and asked if I could help with dinner. We had a lovely time making spaghetti and insalata, and I now know how to make a wonderful batch of simple but delicious tomato sauce, handmade pesto, meatballs, and some practical kitchen skills (and all the people rejoiced!). Hopefully I will come back home able to repeat what I have learned in these months with her and Patrizio, yes?

My room is at the end of the hall but caddy corner to hers, and so while I was organizing the shelves in my room I talked to her (she was taking care of something in her room). I wanted to make sure she didn’t mind me talking her ear off, so I told her to tell me if I talked too much. She laughed and said she loved it, because the last student she had didn’t talk or interact hardly at all.

So far Fulvia and I have been able to converse very, very well; when I don’t understand something we just backtrack and work through the phrases together until the lightbulb comes on. She is divorced and her children are both grown and out of the house, so for the first week it was just her and me (two more American students from another program joined us this past Saturday). Fulvia’s daughter is in her mid to late thirties and lives about 10 minutes away in a tiny town called Uopini that branches off of Siena; she is married but has no children. Fulvia’s son currently lives in Firenze and I think he is in his thirties too, but I haven’t met him.

On Sunday (Aug. 31) she took me on two road trips – first to a tiny walled town called Monteriggioni (of maybe 200 people) about twentyish minutes from her house. The whole place took maybe a half hour to walk up to, around, and back down! I was so enchanted I forgot to take pictures of the inside, but here is a shot of the outside walls:

Next she took me further out to see a castle outside Siena (it is privately owned, so we had to admire from a distance). She cracked me up, because everywhere we went she would pluck blackberries or herbs up and eat them, stow them, or give them to me to either taste or smell!

It reminded me of the time Patrizio stole plums from a nearby tree. Oh, but might I add that it was not just any tree, but a tree on property owned by their priest! As you can imagine, Sara and I gave him quite a bit of ribbing for stealing plums from a priest (as we sat in the kitchen eating his plunder) …

Anyway, on the way home from the castle sighting we stopped by Uopini to see her daughter. We walked over to a local blood drive where there was a little market of sorts, had some caffé and then looted a massive fig tree behind her daugter’s apartment. I, of course, was eaten alive by the zanzare (apparently, me + figgy fingers = irresistible), but we were able to pick a ton of figs – which have since been turned into marmellata. After the bag was satisfactorily full, we returned to the flat, had lunch around 1, and then both tried to read (but that turned into a nap for both parties). Then around 4, we headed out again to visit San Gimignano, a significantly larger walled hill town (but still smaller than Siena) known for its towers. It was about 45 minutes or more away from Siena, and it was just gorgeous. I have also posted these pictures up on my Picasa site, but here is a tiny sneak preview:

And then on lunedi, school commenced! The Siena School headquarters is in a villa (yes, a villa), so I feel like I am living in a dreamland. For the first three weeks we are only taking Italian language intensives, so we have class from 9-12 every weekday. As I said, there are 11 students in the program (plus two college graduates who are here as interns and taking language classes too), but we have differing levels of Italian so we are divided into three classes (I absolutely adore these tiny classes!).

I am in the middle one with four other students: only me and Tate (one of the interns) have studied Italian before, but the other three have significant backgrounds in foreign language so they are picking up Italian very quickly (for example, my friend Jamila was raised bilingual – Spanish/English – and has studied German and Portugese as well … I am insanely jealous!). Meanwhile, Tate and I are loving the review and helping the others move along at brisk pace. Our teacher, Roberto, is a Sienese local. He is very kind and patient with us, and, strangely enough, reminds me very much of Liam Neeson. Three hours sounds like a long time, but in reality it has been flying by (and we get a fifteen minute break).

Then from 12-2 we have a lunch break, which is just lovely. Jamila and I have been finding different places to eat around Siena (such as the Piazza del Campo or a nearby park) to get us out of the school and acclimated to the city. We have really enjoyed walking around and familiarizing ourselves with the hilly streets of this beautiful città.

In the afternoons we have had language/phonetics labs, meetings with members of the staff, history of Siena classes, and twice a tour around different parts of Siena. The Siena School (my program) has fulfilled and exceeded all of my expectations! They really have thought through everything and go to great lengths to make each student’s time in Siena a special experience that is tailored to his or her interests/talents. The school really loves helping students find their niche, because it offers yet another means of improving our knowledge of the language, the people, and the culture of Siena. For example, last week they helped me track down a dance studio. Classes start the first of October, and while their contemporary classes (modern) did not fit well with my schedule, I think I am going to be able to take a weekly pilates class!

They also helped me find a local church (protestant churches are few and far between, but we found a good one!) and I was able to attend the service yesterday. It is very, very small, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming and it was truly a blessing to be able to worship with fellow believers again (even though I couldn’t understand a lot of it!). After the service one of the older men ran up to the church office and got me an Italian/English Bible (it has French too, but my francese is extremely rusty due to shameful neglect!). I am really looking forward to being able to understand more of the sermon, but until then I will enjoy the weekly hymns (which I can understand, for the most part) and fellowship.

Our flat is about ten minutes outside central Siena (we live outside the walled portion of the town), so every morning I catch a bus and ride into town. Another Siena School student, Carly, lives in the area, so we have enjoyed having each other for company – and moral support – and we learned to maneuver through the bus system. We have also walked home once, and plan to do so on either a weekly or twice-a-week basis, depending on how tired we are (it took us over an hour, but it was a pleasant walk and helped orient us to our surroundings). While I am semi-jealous of the few students that live inside the city walls, ultimately I am glad that I live outside because it has forced me to learn how to use the buses and improved my knowledge of the city.

As mentioned before, I have my own room and so does Fulvia, and then the other two girls (a senior and a junior from BYU) are sharing the largest one. Their names are Shannon and Johanna and they are both very sweet (pictures to come!). We three ragazze share a bathroom, but so far it has been a very congenial and peaceful sharing of the space! They will be here until mid-November, but their school schedule differs a bit from mine. Because they are required to be back for Sunday morning services in Siena, their school gives them Fridays off to allow for weekend travel time. It sounds like they have many places they want to go, so I am guessing that most weekends it will just be me and Fulvia until Sunday afternoons. Of course, I will be going to Sansepolcro on some weekends, as well as making a few weekend trips myself, so Fulvia will have a few quiet weekends.

I miss everyone back in Sansepolcro very much, but now that my return visit is only five days away the absence is not so bad. Sara and I have been texting and emailing throughout the week, and I got to talk to them on the phone at least twice. The first time was when I called to let them know I had made it to Pisa and then on to orientation in Volterra okay. Right before Sara and I hung up Patrizio got on the phone and, with the clamor of i bambini in the background, said, “Bekah, come back, please!” The humorous desperation in his voice was so funny. I got to talk to Leonardo a couple nights later when he was going to bed. Sara said that he had been crying a lot since I left, and that Ginevra keeps going into my room and saying, “Batta?” I can’t wait to see them again!

Surprisingly, I can’t say that I miss the States at all. Now, please, please, please don’t read this incorrectly – I miss the people, but not the place itself. I must admit though, I do feel shamefully disloyal to my homeland and the lack of “missing home” can be quite disconcerting at times! But honestly, if it weren’t for all of you that I hold dear back home, I wouldn’t ever want to leave (blushes). I told Jamila the other day that if I were an actress or singer and could change my name for the stage, it would most definitely be an Italian one (exactly which one is yet to be decided).

I can already tell that my Italian is going to improve by leaps and strides in no time at all. Within my first 24 hours I was shocked by how much surfaced from the depths, and now that I have completed my first week of language classes I understand even more. I have also seen just how much living with Sara e Patrizio really jumpstarted my listening comprehension – there is much (MUCH!) room for improvement, but I can follow most of what Fulvia says and respond with reasonable confidence (though it still involves much effort too!).

And now begins my second week in Siena. I will hopefully take more pictures of the actual city this week and post them this coming weekend. I wish had adequate time to embellish and tell you absolutely every delicious detail, but alas, I do not. So until my next posting (keep an eye out on Mondays), much love … arrivederci!


1 commento:

Amber Bowen ha detto...

Wow! I didn't think it could get much better than where you were before! This looks wonderful! It sounds like you have made good friends already...which I never doubted! Miss you!