Friday, December 10, 2010

Well, that went fast

I'm currently sitting in London's Heathrow airport having just enjoyed a bagel and Starbucks pondering where the Fall 2010 semester went.

As always, it was over in the blink of an eye.....which is sad because it was a good semester. I really enjoyed the students that spent their semester in Rome and we had some great adventures. Now, I'm on my way home for a much-needed break before our first full semester of 23 students. Ahhh!! Mama mia! This is twice as many students as previous semesters...heaven help us!

I hope this finds those out in cyberspace preparing for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I pray that as Christmas approaches we would all reflect on what Christmas is all about....a baby born in a manger whose sole purpose was to reconcile a dying and decaying world to the Lord thru His death on a cross--born to die. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Forza Roma!!

I am responsible for planning and implementing at least one event a month that fosters community building here on campus. Usually this involves night tours of Rome, weekend getaways, girls' nights out, and soccer games. Without a doubt, students' favorite event has been the soccer game. So far I've been to two Roma games and while they have been a fun cultural experience, nothing prepared me for the game we went to two weeks ago. Oh.My.Stars.

It was challenging finding a date that worked in our schedule and Roma's schedule. Really the only date that worked was last week. I wish we could have gone to a game earlier in the semester, but then again...maybe not.

Roma played Bayern-Munich and from what I've been told Roma lost to them in their last 2 meetings. So, this was a big game for Roma. We arrived at the tram stop near Piazza del Popolo and were stunned to see it so crowded. I had no idea how we would all manage to get on the tram. Well, we didn't make the first one, but the second one seemed like it for us. Have you ever seen news footage of mobs of people pushing against one another, straining to get into a store or out of a stadium? This is what it was like trying to get on to the tram. We were being shoved from behind and I was a bit nervous because there were two small children in front of me. I was worried they would get trampled! I did what I could, but the end result was me being shoved forcefully from behind onto the tram only to fall to one knee. Scary stuff!!

Finally, the tram moved and we made our way towards Stadio Olimpico. Upon our arrival we followed the crowd that was moving towards the stadium. As we made our way around the stadium towards our section, I noticed a group of police officers escorting a rowdy group of people dressed in red and white, singing loudly for all to hear. Hmmm...that's interesting. We kept on and suddenly found ourselves in the midst of the crowd. Germans. We were surrounded by the Bayern-Munich fans! Oh my. I tried to lead our group out of the mob, but was stopped by a police officer. I told him that I had tickets in the curva nord. He looked at me and my students behind me with suspicion. "Tedesco?" he asked in Italian. He was asking me if I was German! "No! Forza Roma!" I replied in Italian--No! C'mon Roma! He laughed and gestured for us to move to his left. We finally broke free from the crowd and made our way to the entrance. As we waited in line to get through the gates, a police officer motioned for one of my students to approach the fence where he asked her if she was German. Seriously? Are we wearing the German flag somewhere on our bodies?

Finally, we made it through the line and each went through the turnstiles. I waited on the other side for my students and Lynda only to be informed that one of my students was having difficulty getting in. I wasn't sure what to do and as I was deciding I was approached by a female officer. "German?" she asked me. NO! For the 100th time, I am not German. I am an American! I am a Roma fan! This, however, was not my response. I kindly replied that I was an American. "Ok," she said and then proceeded to help my student get through security. Whew!

Finally! We climbed the stairs into the stadium and to our section. Holy moly! We were down where the action was...with all of the craziness!! The game had just started and, as always, the Roma fans were going nuts with their chanting and song singing. To the right of us down a ways was the German fan section. Every now and then a Roma fan would yell something to the Germans.

The first half passed rather quickly with Bayern-Munich scoring two goals. Rome was not happy. The atmosphere in the stadium at the start of the second half was electric. People were excited and chanting. Goal Roma! The crowd goes wild. Goal Roma! The crowd goes nuts! Goal Roma! The crowd goes INSANE!!! Grown men were practically crying as they threw their arms around one another, singing, chanting, and doing whatever else one does as an Italian male....that being obscene and rude gestures directed at the opposing team's fans.

Soon enough the clock wound down and....Roma won!!!! It was an amazing comeback and grown men did start to cry! My students were grabbed by others around them and hugged. Suddenly, the entire stadium broke out into singing: Grazie Roma!! My students, myself, and Lynda got into it--though she thought they were singing Lazio Roma, which would never happen cause Roma and Lazio are bitter rivals--we were waving our scarves, raising our hands, and singing at the top of our lungs.

Honestly, it was an incredible night and I will never forget it. The mood of the stadium was unlike anything else I've ever was alive, vibrant, and contagious. One of the best experiences in doubt. Forza Roma!!!

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

All dressed up and no where to go....

I don't know that I can stress enough how important flexibility is when living in Italy. You have to be able to roll with what you're given...or not given as the case may be. If you get caught up in the mentality that "this just wouldn't happen at home" or "I can't believe this country functions like this..", well, you'll find yourself having heart palpitations on a regular basis. Instead, take life in Italy as it comes because you never know what's going to happen. Take our recent opera outing for example...

Lynda decided last summer that she wanted to dedicate a class to opera and to close out the lecture by taking students to an actual opera. I was excited because I've never been to an opera and I love the theater and the arts. Plus, we decided we would make an event of it and have everyone dress up. So, there we were....all dressed up and looking fine as we waited outside the Teatro della Opera in Rome. It was a nice evening and nobody minded waiting until the doors opened as they appeared to be closed. The thing was though,the show was scheduled to begin in 15 minutes. I would have thought there would be more people milling around, doors would be open...there would be more life around the theater. But, then again this is...Italy. Still, I became suspicious so I went to ask a security guard and he directed me to the box office. I walked up to one of the windows and asked the guy behind the glass what time the doors opened and he told me to talk to his colleague. She took one look at my tickets, counted them, and pulled out a stack of bills and began to count. When she was finished, she handed me the cash. Huh? Apparently, the show was cancelled due to a lack of financing. O-K. Lynda checked the internet the night before and there was no mention made of the show being cancelled. Oh, Italy!

I remembered that at St. Paul Inside the Walls church they often have a performance of a selection of arias from La Traviatta. So, we decided to check it out. We walked to the church and were kindly greeted by members of a Korean choir. Turns out that they were performing arias from various operas that evening instead of the regular performers. Hmmm....not quite what we had in mind. We took a minute to think about it and decided that we would stay as it was free and afterwards we would go somewhere for dessert. As we approached the door, they closed it because it was time to start the show. O-K. Shot down...again. Now what? A movie! We can go to a movie seeing as we weren't far from Piazza Repubblica.

So, one of my students ran up the street to check on movie times, etc for us only to return disappointed because nothing was playing in english. Shot down again!! Now what!? We were all dressed up...looking forward to a night out. What should we do? Go for tiramisu of course!

Several of my students from the spring semester had discovered a tiramisu place that made 4 different kinds of the decadent dessert. Yuuuummm. So, we all hopped on the metro, spent a good 45 minutes looking for the restaurant, and finally indulged in some deliciousness.

It certainly wasn't the night we'd expected, but that's ok. We ended up having a lot of fun and it was a great cultural lesson for my students. You gotta roll with it here because the alternative isn't pretty!

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Leave the gun, take the cannoli: Sicilia

Each semester I plan an optional trip somewhere in Italy for any student that wants to participate. Last year we went to Cinque Terre and Sorrento. So the question was: where to this year???

I have long been fascinated with the island at the bottom of Italy's boot. I admit that much of what I knew about Sicily was from The Godfather trilogy and other mafia-related stories. Since moving to Italy I had heard that it was a beautiful island with much to offer, but I didn't think it would be a realistic weekend getaway because the train to Palermo took 11 hours!! That's longer than my flight back to the US! No thanks. Still, I wanted to see if we could get there some other way....ferry, plane, swimming...well, the ferry was out because it took as long as the train, swimming was out because.....well, I don't think that needs a reason as to flying it was. I was quite surprised to find fares on a budget airline as low as €17 each way. Wow! What a steal.

So, the second weekend in November found myself, Lynda, and 7 students bound for Palermo. We arrived on the island late morning and I was immediately in awe at it's beauty. The ocean was a vivid cerulean blue against the rugged stone and scarce vegetation of land. Inland, rough mountains rose from the ground towards the sky. It was so beautiful!!!

We took the shuttle into the city from the airport and from there we walked to our hotel. I was impressed by the city as you could easily spot the different cultural influences in its architecture--Italian, Arabic, and Norman.

We stayed near the opera house that's featured at the end of The Godfather 3. Our hotel was nice and run by really lovely people. After checking in, we ventured back out in search of food. And this is where I was caught off guard. Having lived in Rome for the last year and a half, I am used to finding a restaurant/trattoria/osteria/tabacchi on nearly every corner. Not so much in Palermo. We had a hard time finding decent places to eat nearly all weekend. We did not, however, have a hard time finding delicious cannoli......YUUUUMMMMM. So good!

Anways, I digress...after finding something for lunch we proceeded to exploring the city. Lynda and I stuck together for the weekend and were occasionally joined by 4 students. We spent the weekend checking out the cathedral, old castles, other churches, and sitting by the ocean.

Overall, it was a great weekend and it offered a taste of Sicilia. I would love to have more time
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Lago di Como

Well, I had every intention of writing this post about a month ago, but has gotten in the way of updating this blog. Hey, better late than never....

When Lynda and I were trying to decide where we wanted to spend our fall break we decided that we wanted to go somewhere that we'd never been before. I immediately threw out Lake Como as a destination. I've always wanted to travel to Italy's Lake District and I wasn't disappointed.

We stayed in the lakeside town of Varenna. Set along the banks of Lake Como, Varenna is a quaint town that I imagine is overrun with tourists in the summer, but because fall had arrived along with cooler temperatures and gray skies we practically had the town to ourselves.

After checking into our hotel, I went out exploring on my own since it wasn't raining yet and I wanted to sit by the lake. I practically grew up on a lake in southeastern Wisconsin and love being next to the water. So, after I meandered through the quiet town I sat next to Lake Como for almost an hour just listening to the water lap at the shore. I was immediately transported back to Brown's Lake, WI and my childhood. I felt such peace sitting there, looking at the mighty Alps across the water from me.

The next day Lynda and I ventured across the lake to the town of Bellagio, another quaint town beside the lake. The weather was out of control! It was blustery, cold, and sometimes rainy. Still, we had a great day wandering the cobblestone streets, perusing stores, and eating a yummy lunch of funghi pasta.

Later as we made our way back to our hotel via the path that runs along the banks of the lake we almost found ourselves in the lake the wind was so strong! There was an incident involving Lynda's glove that I won't bore you with...but let me tell you that I haven't laughed so hard in a long time!

On our last day we awoke to....sunny skies! Of course. We're leaving so why wouldn't the weather clear!? The view stole my breath. The water was a sharp and clear cobalt blue, while from it's banks the imposing Alps rose proudly and snowcapped towards the azure sky. Nestled throughout the Alps' foothills, tiny Italian towns and villages looked inviting and like something out of a postcard. Really, it was picture perfect. We took our time making our way to the train station, stopping to sit by the lake and take in the view.

It was the perfect end to a great fall break. I returned to Rome relaxed and ready to start the second half of the semester.

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