Monday, September 5, 2011

Back in Italia!

Ciao, and welcome to my first ever actual blog.  For those of you who don’t know, my name is Jared and I am a recent transplant from Tennessee, about to start the MFA program in physical theatre at the Accademia dell’ Arte, in Arezzo, Italy.  The program is two and a quarter years long and we start classes today!  I arrived about a week ago and have had such an amazing time already. 

Of course, no journey of mine would be quite complete without a few bumps in the road, but I believe I got those out of the way early.  My flight out of Nashville was early last Monday afternoon.  I, being the procrastinator that I am, did not actually pack my things until late Sunday evening.  Naturally, a few things were going to slip my mind.  Namely, the passport photos that all the students were tasked with bringing so we can apply for our official ‘permission to stay more than 90 days’ letter.  Luckily, ten minutes down the road to the airport, Walgreens’ automated photo service called my cell phone to let me know that they were waiting to be picked up…dum, dum, duuuummmmmm.  Dad turned the car around and we retrieved them.  Five minutes later, I remembered that I needed the USB cable to my camera so I could import all the lovely photos I have been taking to my computer.  One more pit stop and a half an hour later and we were finally on our way to the airport.  My flights were both on time and aside from having to transfer a few pairs of jeans from one overstuffed bag to another to equal out the weight they went off without a hitch.  I didn’t even get charged for having two checked bags, what luck!  After I got to Rome, however, is where things got hairy.

So, just a little background on me: I have been to Italy before.  I came for a semester in the Fall of ’07 to study on scholarship from the University of Memphis.  One would think that having had that previous experience and coming back to the exact same place, I would have an advantage when trying to arrive at my destination.  Not true, my friends.  I deplaned at about 8:30 AM Tuesday morning in Rome and collected my luggage.  I quickly realized that I was hauling nearly 200 lbs of clothes and supplies and I had no one to help me get from Rome to Arezzo.  One might also think that having taken classes in Italian, I would know enough of the language by this point to ask for help or understand what ticketing agents were telling me.  Wrong again!  The first thing I did was exchange the American dollars in my pocket for Euro.  I might not speak Italian, but thank god I can count.  The guy in the Cambio (that’s currency exchange, sort of) shorted me ten Euro.  I counted and counted again, and finally I convinced him that he still owed me money.  After I got that sorted away I was off to the train station, up stairs and escalators, my rolling suitcase, duffle bag, back pack and messenger bag in tow.

Eventually, I acquired my train tickets to get me to my destination and found the train from the airport that would get me to the main Rome train station.  At that station, Roma Termini, I thought I was going to loose it.  Did I mention that the weather was 80 degrees and sunny and that I was wearing all of the clothes that I wanted to bring but couldn’t fit in my bag?  No?  So here I am sweating my ass off, tired, hungry and pulling all my luggage through my the station, and I can’t find my train.  I try to use the pay phones to get in touch with the contact I have here in Italy, but of course, I don’t know how to use their phones.  Luckily, this nice old Italian man, who did not speak English let me use his swipe card at a phone bank to make a call, but then I just found out I had bought a ticket for the wrong train.  Unluckily, the man walked off with the card I had the important numbers written down on before I realized that he still had it.  After a few minutes of panic and some scurrying around, I found him again near a different phone bank and retrieved my contacts.  I then got my shit together.  I found some phones that I could manage with coins instead of pre-payed cards, found out what train I was supposed to be on and upgraded my ticket.  I found some food and eventually boarded the right train.  Two hours and some brief naps later, I arrived in Arezzo.  My housing coordinator and the real estate agent we had used met me at the station and gave me a ride to my new apartment.

I’m staying in an Italian apartment on Via San Lorentino in the city that is owned by a French lady who is currently vacationing in Switzerland.  The place is really very nice and I have a lofted bedroom with an air conditioner unit right next to the bed.  Upon arrival, I threw all of my stuff down, took the best shower of my life and promptly passed out.  I slept a few hours, got up, explored the town and visited the school, which unfortunately was closed and locked, found some food and then went back to bed until late Wednesday morning.  On Wednesday I revisited the school, which was now teeming with teachers and administrators and even a couple other students.  I first met Scotty, who is married with a three-year-old little girl and they have all been living here for the last six weeks.  Later I met Dan, Francesca and Rob, who are all lovely people and later that evening we all met for dinner at an authentic Tuscan restaurant in town.  After a wonderful meal and some very rich gelato, I hiked back up to their abode, a farmhouse owned by the Accademia, to borrow a power converter because, of course, I forgot to pack one that would take a three pronged plug.  Dan graciously let me borrow an extra of his and I off I went back down the hill and off to bed.  By the way, the school is not actually in Arezzo, it is about a mile outside the city and up a very large hill and the only way to it is by foot.  Let’s just say that by the end of these two-and-a-bit years, I am going to have some killer legs.

Thursday saw my first trip to the winery that is just down the road from the school, San Fabiano, owned by the Count Borghini, and also the meeting of two more classmates.  The first was Nicole, who lost all of her luggage in transit, poor dear, and my new roommate, Taylan, from Ankara, Turkey.  Nicole and I met Taylan at the train station, returned to our apartment and shared the bottle of Chianti I had bought earlier in the day.

Friday is when things really started to get fun.  Taylan and I went grocery shopping early in the day and later, we met Nicole and I took them to the Accademia to use their free wi-fi and introduce them to the faculty and staff.  On the way we ran into Fran, Dan and Rob who invited us all to a dinner that they were preparing that night for another student who was arriving late and would have no other means of sustenance available.  We spent our time at the school and later, our real estate agent arrived with a spare set of keys for us and a ride back down the hill.  She also gave us a short tour of the next apartment where Taylan and I will live.  You see, our current digs are only temporary while some work is being completed on our actual accommodations.  Our future home, in which we will live starting next month, is the personal residence of the son of Count Borghini.  Luckily, he will be away on business for some time so we get to crash in his luscious pad.  It is very well furnished, very, very roomy, and overlooks the winery, their vineyards and a beautiful pond.  Jealous yet?  So, back to Friday night.  By the time we all met up to hike to the Farmhouse, Nicole’s roommates, Chloe and Sophie, had arrived, so together we all went to dinner.  Rob, who is from Ireland, greeted us with glasses of wine, filled from a five litre jug that they had had filled at the winery for next to nothing.  After salads, Taylan, who has one of the only functioning cell phones here, received a call to let us know that Mickey, our new classmate from Alabama, would arrive at the Accademia soon.  A group of us, including myself, trekked over to retrieve him and on our way back we saw a wild f’ing boar run across the street.  Too bad it was dark and I was without a camera with a flash.  Dinner was excellent and we all put a very large dent into the jug of wine.  After the meal we wondered outside in their huge back yard and ate wild figs from the fig tree that grows there.  I like figs.  Who knew?  I took Fran and Sophie over to the Count’s son’s house, which is just across the street and we picked grapes from the vines, which were delicious and filled with juicy goodness.  By the time we returned, the rest of the gang had relocated to a small barn loft that is also on the property and there we stayed for the rest of the evening, chatting and drinking and playing stupid games like Never Have I Ever.  I didn’t go out first, surprisingly, but I was close.  Somehow, we finished off the entire jug o’ wine plus the better part of three more that were lying about the place.  By 3:30 AM or so, those of us that had to return to the city said our goodbyes and make the long hike home.  All in all, I could not have asked for a better evening.

The next morning was a little rough, and I woke remembering that I had invited the entire group over to our apartment for dinner that evening.  The day consisted mainly of buying a ticket for the joust that was to happen the next day (that’s right, I said the joust) and picking up a few supplies for dinner that night.  I prepared a simple pasta dish, that the group did seem to appreciate and we killed a couple bottles of wine with the meal.  After some more good conversation, the group consensus was to venture out for dessert.  We all got a little distracted by the immense outdoor party that was being held down the street, however, and we stopped in to witness the festivities.  You see, there was a jousting competition held between the different sections of the city over the weekend and the whole city goes batshit crazy with parties to prepare.  There were floating lanterns being released into the night sky and the delicious smells of food drawing us closer and postponing our dessert.  We lost Dan and Nicole in the crowd, but later found them as we ventured toward the gelato shop. By this time the hour had grown late and the Farmhouse kids plus Mickey all decided to venture home.  Nicole, Sophie, Chloe, Taylan and I decided to stay out a little later and wound up at a late night bar for a drink.  After that, instead of going home, we decided to rejoin the crazy party at the end of my street that had now been overrun with music and dancing.  We exhausted ourselves grooving to a mix of Italian pop songs and American oldies and then decided to call it a night.

Sunday, there was a parade that we all met up to watch and I must have taken 200 photos of all the medieval costumes.  When I say they hold a joust, I mean they really go all out.  The Parade was followed by lunch at a wonderful little Kabab place down the street from my apartment and then we all trekked to the Piazza Grande for the competition.  I have never seen a city go so nuts for a contest.  Thousands of people turned out to watch the procession of trumpeters, drummers, flag bearers and finally the Horsemen.  I was really awed to watch the denizens of each district yell and scream and sing in support of their team.  Unfortunately, not I, nor anyone else in our group could see very well from the crowded steps we had found to watch from, so, tired and content we decided to retire early and beat the mass exodus of the Arezzini from the piazza.  We said our goodbyes and went our several ways, all rife with anticipation for the coming morning when we have our orientation and first class in our new program.

So here I am.  I’ve already taken the first steps in my new life as an American immigrant in Italy, and I could not have asked for a better first week abroad.  If you have read this far, congratulations!  I know I tend to get very descriptive and have probably bored you all to tears by now.  If not, check back here next week, when I will have a whole new chapter of school and Italian life to report on.

To all my friends and family, back home, I love you and miss you and I’m extremely grateful to have seen those of you I did before I left.  For now, keep me in your thoughts as I venture forth on this academic odyssey.  I hope you are all well and will enjoy following my tale as it unfolds.  Ciao, ragazzi.