Chameleon Complex

There hasn't been much to report lately. Last week was insane, this week has been pretty laid back. Nonetheless I will recount my week should there be information worth noting.
Tuesday: Class was canceled for me and Beth, so we wandered around Florence (Ponte Vecchio, the other side of the Arno...) taking pictures for our photography project that's due this coming Tuesday. It was a lovely day, finally, after copious amounts of rain.
Wednesday: Beth and I decided to go to our favorite bar, Astor, that is a stone's throw from our lovely apartment. We met two Italian men (well, one was Albanian who spoke Italian), Alex and Roberto, and ended the night by doing ballet in front of the Duomo. Has Italy made me graceful?

On one hand, I'm happy to disappear completely within the Italian culture. It's nice to be able to go to a cafe and order something completely in Italian as a sign of respect. Of course Beth and I could survive here without knowing any of the language since most speak English here, but we would just be perpetuating the image of the American Tourist. The American Tourist who only knows English, refuses to try to speak Italian, or try to get to know any of the people.

Of course Italy speaks through it's history and places. Florence is a gem with its significance in the Renaissance, the masterpieces that reside here, and the architectural feats that are still as humbling as they must have been when they were created. There's Rome to the South, a giant in our world's history, with the Vatican close by. There's the Pieta' in the Vatican, the David here in Florence, The Last Supper in Milan...of course I could go on.

The people of Italy should not be ignored on any trip here. Yes, they can speak English like many other people around the world. Does that mean that we as Americans shouldn't attempt to learn anything about them?

A friend of mine told me last night that he still felt as though he was in America. Of course it can feel that way here. There are hoards of American students roaming the streets, and most of the locals have at least learned enough English to do business with Americans. While I'm happy to disappear into the Italian culture while I'm here, I can also guarantee that I will always be recognizable as American, and I've come to accept that. Though I try to don less conspicuous shoes than my Ugg boots, attempt to only speak Italian with those I encounter on the streets, I suppose I radiate American like UV rays in July. I can, however, guarantee I will continue to try and fit in throughout my stay - not because it necessarily makes me comfortable, but because it's a sign of respect to my host country. I'll leave you with a picture of an Italian man I took while on Ponte Vecchio - I wonder if he knew I was taking pictures of him. If so, he was a fabulous model.

Missing the good ol' US of A and sending my love as always.
Mi manchi tantissimo, io penso sempre di te, e non vedo l'ora di rivederti.


Disclaimer and Business Matters

As Horacio (I miss you!) pointed out, my Funny Quote of the Day is, perhaps, not so funny for some people who read this blog (there are oh, so many of you). I posted it, not because I necessarily agree with it (even though...I kind of do), but because of the irony. Oh, what a true UVa student I am, discussing irony on my blog while abroad in Florence. Hey, at least I don't pop my collar.
Business Matters
1. How do you like the new format? Black background gives it a little more edge don't you think? How about the picture?
2. That being said, please comment! If you have a spare moment I really like hearing from all of you, even if it's someone telling me that William & Mary is better than UVa, seriously, everything brings a smile to my face.
3. I added on a Follower "gadget," so if you read this often enough, please become a Follower. I'm not really sure what the perks will be yet. Depending on how many Followers, each one could receive a scarf from Florence, and if there are more, perhaps a piece of biscotti! Maybe I could set up a password protected part of the blog for Followers - I just realized how cult-ish this is sounding, but I'm semi-comfortable with it.

Okay, comment away!
Sending my love.

Funny Quote of the Day

"People from UVa are really snobby."
"No we're not, we're just better than you."

Love, Rachel


Sustainable Lifestyle?

Lately Bethie and I have been discussing the ever so cumbersome idea of a sustainable lifestyle. We've been wondering if the lives we're leading over here can be transported overseas and remain relatively intact (even if baggage claim loses them for a few days).
There are a few red flags that signify, to me at least, that we're fighting a losing battle.
#1 We're in Florence, Italy. While the following reasons might not be in any particular order, this one deserves to be at the top. Renaissance art masterpieces reside about 10 minutes from my apartment, on the walk to school I pass Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Louis Vuitton, Fendi...what?!
#2 Our most commonly devoured snack is caviar, italian flat bread, and brie cheese. When I get back to the States either caviar will be too expensive to buy on a daily basis, or I'll lose the desire to eat it when my roommates constantly ridicule me - whichever comes first.
#3 Our homework consists of walking around Florence taking pictures for our photography projects due on Tuesday. So drab, so boring. I miss reading an endless amount of pages in thick course packets. Oh, have I mentioned we don't have class on Fridays?
#4 We live relatively near Rome, Pisa, Lucca, Genova, Malta, Switzerland, Greece and all its islands. Where should we go this weekend?
Honestly, you're probably really frustrated with me for writing this post. It sounds like I'm bragging about how awesome my life is. But there are things about this lifestyle I will not miss when I get back to the states. Things such as: not having a drier in my apartment, never being able to wear sweatpants in public, not having breakfast foods or chai for that matter, not having a Mom within 40 miles, the Italian medical system, sketchy men named Leonardo and Mario, and again, the bathroom at Crisco. I really can't tell you how horrendous that room was. I almost gave up government secrets.
Anyway, point is, awesome lifestyle, but I still miss home tremendously. I'm going hunting for good blog post material tomorrow. Until then...

Sound for Thought

This is what my day sounds like today.

Going Out In Italian

Leondardo da Vinci himself was famous for leaving his works unfinished and, well, I'm going to follow suit. I'm going to tell you, instead, about the "going out" culture here in Firenze since many of you have been wondering. Last week I went out on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday night. Excessive? Perhaps. Give me a chance to explain myself.
Tuesday: The Inauguration and The Beatles cover band (as you know already). There was no chance I was going to pass that up.
Wednesday: Again, as you know, what started out as one drink, quickly turned into a night of hanging out with new friends and strolling around the city.
Thursday: Beth and I went to an Art Opening at Palazzo Strozzi at the request of our Photography professor and met one of his friends, Luca. After seeing many odd installations, DVDs, sculptures and the like, we accepted his invitation to go for a drink. He told us that it was his friend's birthday party but that they should be finished by the time we got there. Wrong. There were about 50, extremely happy Italians sitting down when walked through the door. The rest of the night went something like this - drinks at the restaurant with the birthday girl, bestowing italian nicknames (I'm the "genio ribelle" or, rebellious genius), then off to a very European club called Doris. We returned home around 4 am.
Friday: Sleep.
Saturday: Went out with Vassi (our professor who is around 30) and Luca again. First to a bar, then to a club called Crisco. Beth and I were wondering why we weren't getting in while we watched 5 men walk up and immediately pass through the door. Vassi then informed us it was a gay club. When we finally walked in I saw that all the bartenders were men and had wigs on, and it all began to make sense. Again, the rest of the night can be described like this: a bathroom I would rather not remember, strange looks from men, funny conversations with the fake-blonde bartenders, etc.
What is the point of all this? The point is, each night is different. Each night begins with uncertainty. Refer back to an earlier post where I said something like being caught up in the current, and just riding the wave. Florence is a city, not a large one by some standards, but a city nonetheless. Any night can begin with humble origins, then end with a secret bakery, a gay club, a quest for McDonald's fries, or new and interesting friends. Tonight Bethie and I are going to see The Beatles cover band - tomorrow I could be blogging about going out with the band afterwards to a club with The Who, Elvis Costello, and Led Zepplin. Who knows.


Part 2

I. Concrete Events
a. Inauguration Day!
b. Beatles Cover Band (Tuesday)
c. Wednesday Night (Colin, Aussies, hilarity ensues)
d. Last night (finally met real Italian people, more hilarity)
II. Ideas
a. "Culture Shock"
b. Colin again...oh, Colin.
c. Photography Class

I. c. Wednesday night Beth and I decided to go to this bar near our apartment called Astor. I had been there with Calen the night before for a little bit and really liked the atmosphere - there had been a black light, which I'm all about of course. We went, not intending to meet anyone, just to get a little dressed up and have a drink together. Of course we ended up falling in love with the bartender, who's name is Ezequiel, and who also happened to be Brazilian. Awesome. We had a lot of fun talking to him, especially after he made us a delicious drink called The Green Vision - what's not to love?
We'd been there for about an hour when a British guy came up to the bar and ordered a Corona. His name was Colin, and he was probably in his 50s. Well, Colin stuck with us the rest of the night. I quickly figured out several things about him: he LOVES Krakow, Poland, is still mentally in his 20s, and LOVES Americans. He was a scream, and probably mentioned Krakow a total of 7 or 8 times during the conversation. Basically, he spends his time traveling, and as I later found out from Beth, sells Harry Potter paraphernalia on E-Bay as a sort of career, I suppose. "Oh, Colin" has become a popular phrase with me and Beth, as though we've known him for years.
Then after the bar closed, I ended up outside McDonald's near the train station, with my new friend Mike from school. I was the only one outside who spoke Italian, the rest were Americans and Aussies, so it was up to me to find out why the doors were locked - typically doors being locked is the universal language for being closed, but we were still hopeful. In the meantime, I made fast friends with an Australian named Evan, who was pretty lovestruck - oh, Italy. He was a really sweet guy, a race car driver with an impressive resume, and of course the Australian accent is always entertaining to Americans. I was happy to show him around Florence (as much as my limited knowledge allowed) for the next couple of days.
That wraps up Part 2, still more to come. I'll leave you with a picture of the square outside the Duomo at night, and maybe...a song.

Sending my love as always...


So Much to Write...

that I need to make an Outline before beginning (and possibly split this blog post into multiple posts)

I. Concrete Events
a. Inauguration Day!
b. Beatles Cover Band (Tuesday)
c. Wednesday Night (Colin, Aussies, hilarity ensues)
d. Last night (finally met real Italian people, more hilarity)
II. Ideas
a. "Culture Shock"
b. Colin again...oh, Colin.
c. Photography Class

I a. Let's begin with a photo.
If that doesn't explain how the night went, I really don't know if I'll be able to do it justice. I originally wanted to watch the Inauguration with Italians but I think I overestimated their level of interest in our politics. I'm glad I watched it with my classmates, though. We were all packed into this American bar called The Red Garter watching a big screen, and the atmosphere was so charged with excitement and happiness that I don't think any of us could stop smiling. Everyone was clapping and cheering, drinking pints, making new friends...it really was inspiring.
b. Then afterwards, while my friend Calen and I were talking about how excited we were, how life felt a bit different after the Inauguration, we decided to go to see...a Beatles cover band. In Italy. It was such a good experience. Calen and I couldn't stop smiling, singing the songs...especially after the Inauguration, we were probably two of the happiest people on the planet. The band played songs like All My Loving, Nowhere Man, Ticket to Ride, Hard Day's Night, If I Fell...they even had the suits.

I'm pretty sure that wraps it up for now...I'll be posting more often hopefully. The problem is, I keep wanting to write, then more things happen to the point where it seems incredibly daunting to write it ALL down. If I break it up like this, though, it doesn't seem too bad. I hope you enjoyed - stay tuned for the rest.


Back from the Dottore

Just got back...I have something like strep throat. The doctor was really nice, but she prescribed 3 medications for me, which is not so nice. I have a note from her since I'm missing classes today. I'm fine, but I miss my mother.

Homesickness and Sickness in General

I was pretty homesick a couple days ago - the fated first time. I'm not really sure what happened, but I think it was all the italian men, those crazy italian men. Sure, it's nice to be checked out everywhere you go, nice to hear "che bella" "troppo bella" "hi, baby," or just to see them stop in their tracks to look you up and down while they're walking with their friends. I think my favorite was yesterday when Beth and I were walking. We walked by two older (30-something) italian men who looked at us as we were coming towards them and looked at eachother, shrugged their shoulders and nodded. I could see the thought process and I guess we passed the test, but they seemed picky about it - victory!
Anyway, American boys don't do that, that's for sure. You go to any college guys apartment and there's a picture of a skinny, tan, naked woman who is holding a bottle of alcohol, dressed in some ridiculous outfit...I've come to accept that it's normal, but it really does bother me - no wonder there are so many people with eating disorders in the US (yes, college boys, it's all your fault). Here, they seem to be more appreciative of everyday beauty, which is really nice, but I was missing being able to trust people. It's remarkably easy to pick up a boy at a club, especially if you speak Italian - they're really impressed with that these days. It is not, however, easy to find a guy you can trust here, and I really miss my good guy friends back home. I actually just generally miss everyone...
Beth and I had a fantastic afternoon yesterday, which cured the majority of my homesickness. We got up late, when to the BEST sandwich place I've been to so far (I Due Fratellini), only to find it was closed. So we went to Coronas Cafe' instead, which was pretty good. Then we spent a while roaming around trying to find a good gelato place. We finally stopped in the San Lorenzo market to see our favorite old man (he looks exactly like the cliche' old italian man) who has been to Richmond (!!!) before, and asked him for directions. I think he mistook us for Italians, which is always a nice feeling, and doesn't happen very often if I wear my Ugg boots around.
During Orientation they told us to find something that cures homesickness, for example, the woman who was talking goes to Ponte Vecchio and has a cup of coffee. I think mine will be going to the sandwich place (it's just that delicious) or going inside Santa Maria Del Fiore, two places it's pretty impossible to feel sorry for yourself.
Today though, don't freak out Mom, I'm going to the doctor because I'm pretty sure I have strep throat. I haven't been to class today but they'll write me a note saying I have a valid reason. It's pretty miserable, especially being in Florence because there's so many other things I could be doing than staying home with a sore throat. I made myself some tea, have the address of the doctor, and I'll go in an hour or so. I'll make sure to keep you updated on how it goes. In the meantime, I'll post my favorite pictures from a couple days ago...

Sending my love...


Best song ever. At the moment. And a little Rachel.

Beth and I are obsessed with this song...

Okay see you later...

Class and Laughter

It's Wednesday and I've been to all of my classes that I'll be taking here. I really like all of them, as well as my professors.
Italian - Still can't believe I'm skipping Italian two and three and going to four. It's seriously so much fun being able to understand (more or less) everything my teachers tell me in Italian. I know the other kids here are having a lot of fun, but I feel like I'm getting so much more out of it. Being able to walk the streets and talk to anyone without being afraid of them actually responding in Italian, is incredibly liberating. Even if they ask me a question in English, I'm in the habit of responding in Italian anyway. Basically, I think that being able to speak the language is the sole reason why I won't be as homesick as the other kids in my program.
English - We're reading Boccaccio's The Decameron in English class...a HUGE book filled with 100 short-stories told over 10 days by 10 people. My professor is really brilliant but also sits down at a desk like ours during class, and talks to us. I can tell it's going to be a really awesome class.
Art History:Leonardo - Ahhhh I love this class. It might be difficult to stay awake sometimes as it is from 4 - 5:30 (my third class of the day), and involves lots of slides. My professor, however, is really interesting, and is passionate about the subject. I was thinking yesterday, with all of these professors here who have dedicated their lives to the study of one person, or one family, how risky that is. People can disappoint you, alive or dead, and I would imagine through years of research, you could form a relationship with your subject. What if you discover something about them that you didn't expect? Would you feel betrayed? Would you appreciate them more deeply at the sudden reminder of their humanity? I think it's possible to depend on and possibly love someone who died a long time ago, and who you've obviously never met. I wonder if I could turn this into a paper...
Photography- Photography will be awesome. The first class was pretty technical; we talked about the first cameras, how they worked, how they evolved, what's inside our cameras, how lenses work, how light travels, how our eyes work...all in the first class. I've always wanted to learn the technical side of photography - how to mess with depth and light, that sort of thing.

So laughter...one thing I've noticed about Italy so far is that Italians frequently tell us that Americans laugh a lot. I've been out to dinner almost every night since I've been here and it seems like a pretty accurate generalization. I think it's interesting that Italians are widely regarded in America as a culture where people take time to enjoy life, where the pace of life is slower - but apparently laughter doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with free time. This is one cultural difference I'm afraid I can't mask. I laugh loudly, I laugh often - especially here in Firenze.


Pictures (Finally)

Here are some pictures of my apartment! This is the door that goes into my room...

Our room...

Our terrace...

A Room With a View :-)

I hope you like them...seriously...it's magical. I'm loving it, but I miss home. Especially Yoder's right now...I'd like some pumpkin bread. Tell me what you think!!!


I finally have internet!!!!!!!! So I'm going to get caught up on blog posts...I wrote this one a few days ago:

Dear Home,

It’s awesome here. I already have so much to write about. The plane ride was pretty painless. Compared to everyone else I had a pretty smooth ride: no delays, only one two-hour layover, and both of my bags got here safely. Beth, my roomie (!), got here at 1:15 am last night because one of her flights was cancelled and she spent about 9 hours in Frankfurt, or Munich, I forget which. Another guy I met today had his flight cancelled in Paris, I think – moral of the story, I got here pretty easily.
I love flying, especially at night. I only ended up getting 2 hours of solid sleep on the plane (solid for the plane anyway), but I got to watch the sun rise from about 35,000 feet in the air, which was pretty cool. I love looking at the lights below when it’s dark. Seeing all of those cities from so high is really peaceful for some reason.
Seeing Frankfurt from the sky was especially surreal since it was covered with snow. It looked exactly the way people from America perceive Eastern European countries – a little barren, snowy, with old castle-looking buildings scattered throughout the countryside. It was pretty, but in an intimidating and somber way
My favorite moment was probably seeing the Alps on my way from Frankfurt to Florence – it was pretty breathtaking.
I made friends, not surprisingly, on each flight I was on. On the 8-hour flight from Dulles to Frankfurt I sat next to a woman named Harriet who was probably in her 60s. She was interesting, but a little obnoxious. She told me she had stepped foot on foreign soil in about 20 different places during her lifetime, a fact I quickly discerned that she was pretty proud of. She told me about her tour through Russia, all the crazy flights she’s been on, her daughter and her escapades in Ecuador, her trip to Rhodes, Greece with her sister, and more. She was a good travel partner for a first-timer like me though, I followed her pretty closely throughout the Frankfurt airport; we tried on perfume together (Opium smells much better on you, Mom). We then met a doctor who was on his way to Vienna to give a talk on a rare disease found in children. These kids, there are only about 40 of them throughout the world, are diagnosed when they’re about 2 or 3, then their skin starts thinning, they get wrinkles, and usually die in their teens of diseases that only the elderly contract. Apparently by studying these kids we can learn more about aging in general, which is what he was giving his talk on. Oh, the people you meet while traveling, huh?
Getting to Florence was pretty anti-climactic. The airport isn’t beautiful at all, and the outside of it looks like any American city. I ended up waiting to get a cab while the organized us for about 2 hours, but then I was finally put in one – I sat in the front seat so I could talk to the driver. His name was Emmanuele, and he was pretty awesome. I practiced my Italian with him a little bit and he said he was pretty impressed. The highlight of the trip was probably when I noticed another taxi driver on the road kept giving us weird looks and I finally asked him, “Chi é?” (Who is he?) Emmanuele enthusiastically said, “É il mio cugino!” (He is my cousin!) Apparently everyone in Italy really is related.
We finally got to my apartment, a tall wooden door in a small alley, but unfortunately, no one was there waiting for me like they told me. Emmanuele and I had another wonderful Italian conversation filled with shrugging and hand gestures, so even though I was a little worried, I was pretty happy. He called someone who told him that if I just waited there for a bit I’d be fine (Relax Mom, I’m okay). So I waited for about 10 minutes inside the apartment building – just one large room with a staircase at the end of it. Finally I got in my apartment and explored a little. It’s HUGE, and really pretty (in my opinion). We can see the Duomo from our balcony, and it has lots of endearing quirks that might stop being endearing once this Honeymoon period wears off.
My roommates are really sweet. It’s me and Beth, then three other girls from Penn State: Mica, Kristen, and Alli, who are all from the same sorority in Penn State. They’re really fun, and Beth and I are already getting pretty close. Our beds are about 5 inches away from each other in a huge room so I guess that’s kind of inevitable.
So today, Orientation was probably the longest thing ever; we were there from 9 am to 3:45 pm with only one hour-long break. On the upside, we were at this beautiful Villa on the top of a hill where there was a really great view, so I know there’s probably no reason to feel sorry for me. We made friends with a solid group of guy friends already, and have (maybe) found a good pizza place we can frequent that’s close to our apartment.
Tonight, Beth, Mica, and I went to eat there and as we were sitting down a guy walked in and randomly started selling the men who worked there a dozen roses. We listened to them haggling, and Beth goes, “Yeah, they’re going to give us roses.” Sure enough, the man started gesturing towards us, we started laughing, and we ended up with a single rose each – what a good introduction to Italy. I think we’ll be going back there again.
Long story short, I’m really happy here. There are things, of course, that I’ll have to adjust to. The shower is pretty horrible, but at least we have hot water. We have to be a lot more conscious about how much energy we’re using, the drinking culture is a lot different – I know it’s hard to believe, but there’s no such thing as “pre-gaming” in Italy. Things I think I can adjust to would be: wine with dinner, roses with dinner, being about a minute walk from a beautiful cathedral, listening to the bells every hour, delicious pizza, the sound of Italian everywhere, tiny little streets filled with shops…I could go on. I’m really looking forward to getting to know this city.

I miss you all.

I'll post pictures at soon as possible.



So I leave today at 7 pm and I'm really ready to be in Italy. Tonight Mom and Dad made cheeseburgers and French fries - delicious, and I'm still awake right now watching The Perfect Man with Hilary Duff. Why? I have no idea. It was on TV and I need an excuse to stay awake though, I must say, this isn't a very good one. It's about a teenage girl whose mother keeps dating losers, men who either break her heart or are just plain obnoxious. She comes up with a plan to invent a secret admirer, "the perfect man," who will prevent her from being so desperate. I don't really even know why I'm taking time to explain the plot line.
Maybe this movie isn't so bad though. I mean, it's not stellar, but I think we all need a healthy amount of cheesiness in our lives. The things we see in the movies rarely happen. Will I get to ride around Rome on a Vespa Roman Holiday style with a Gregory Peck-like journalist? Probably not. Will my roommate and I find attractive best friends to hang out with in Florence like Mary Kate and Ashley did in...every single one of their movies? - not that I've seen all of them, of course. It's easy to be cynical about this movie: a girl creates a fictional secret admirer to make her mother happy, and the man she models him after turns out to be her mother's soulmate. Meanwhile, a boy she met the first day of high school falls in love with her and teaches her that love exists. Why are we taught that things like this can never happen? I think we should see these moments as possible, and when they come up in life, recognize the cheesiness, but also the rarity.
I'm going to Italy tomorrow, and as much as I try to avoid doing cliché, "cheesy," things, I think I'm going to try and soak in as much as possible over there - especially the moments that seem too overdone. I guess they're overdone for a reason.
And on that note, I leave you with a clip from Roman Holiday. It's one of my favorite parts - Audrey and Gregory are touring around Rome hitting up the typical spots. A typical tourist spot...and a moment in the movie which is, appropriately, unplanned, spontaneous, and genuine.


The Countdown

Happy New Year Everyone! T-minus 5 days until I leave for Florence and it still doesn't seem real. We'll see how this whole blog thing goes. I'm always nervous when I write things that I know will be on the internet for everyone to see. I second guess almost every sentence thinking it's never clever enough, never "witty" enough. I'll try to let loose and just write this time though since I'm going to try and update this as often as possible. Hopefully I'll be able to conquer the intimidation factor.
So I've packed all of my clothes, but in true form I still have lots of last minute things to do before I leave. How does one really prepare for 4 months in a foreign country? I've almost given up trying to attain the "perfectly-prepared" feeling before I leave. To a certain extent this is just one big current I'm caught up in; I just have to ride the wave and deal with the obstacles when they pop up.
As I said before, this really doesn't seem real yet. People keep asking me if I'm excited and I really am, but I'm excited about what seems to be an intangible thing. There are so many ways this trip could go - depending on the people I surround myself with I could get a lot out of this, or exponentially more out of it - there's no way it's not going to impact my life in some way shape or form.
Basically, I promise to write a lot. I'll try to post pictures and songs that I've been listening to. I really want to keep in touch with all of you and have some connection to home when I get homesick. I hope I write things worth reading, post things worth listening to, and maybe, just maybe I'll hold your attention for 4 months. Here's to optimism, and to hoping you come visit me here pretty often.

Van She - Kelly