First Real Day in Italy

Owen and I are already like brother and sister. He came in while I was on the toilet to ask how to get the front door open and laughed instead of apologizing. We ate the breakfast our host mom had laid out for us and had a very serious debate about whether or not we were allowed to eat the last slice of cake (we decided that the answer was no). Pauldino and I have bonded. He came onto my bed the moment my door was open and flopped down on my pillows. The bed itself is tiny, I can get one leg around each side while lying on my stomach. Of the people I’ve talked to it sounds like my room is the “small” version of the small, medium and large Italian rooms. Yuli has an enormous room with a balcony. We all laughed this morning when she told us that her family had served box wine for dinner.

Donatella has about sixteen different bottles of lotion and salve in the bathroom, one of which I thought was face moisturizer until I actually put it on and realized it was most definitely hand lotion.

I still have no luggage. It’s becoming more upsetting as I have nothing to move in. This morning as I was getting dressed I was emotionally incapable of putting on the same pair of underwear that I’ve worn for the past five days straight so I laid them out with all of the rest of my nasty backpacking clothes on the floor to dry…so Donatella thinks I’m a slob – I am – but I wasn’t ready for her to know it yet.

My room has a bunch of antique seeming decorations like old paper fans and stuff that I really want to take down, but am afraid to touch. This morning I folded up the tiny strip of fabric that was on my desk (desk is a super exaggeration, it’s about a foot wide – also neither Owen or I have chairs) and put it on the little counter, which felt like my first step toward making the room my own. I’m going to wait a while before I make my second.

I had a brief moment of panic when I realized my computer wouldn’t start. The fact that I have my laptop with me instead of having it lost somewhere in the void was one of the most important things. I tried turning it off and on again but that didn’t work so I took the battery out and let it sit for a while. When it finally started working after that I felt like Mark Zuckerberg.

It rained intermittently today, which would’ve been totally fine – Florence is still Florence in the rain – except that I have one pair of clean clothes and they all got pretty wet walking around today.

We had a short Italian Language Meeting, which felt unnecessary. The woman was talking about which different skill levels should go in each session in case people needed to get one on one advising later, but since Owen and I had absolutely zero Italian language skills (that’s not entirely true, we each know one sentence “Il regatso mangia une melo” I have no idea if the spelling is right for that, which means “the boy eats an apple”. It hasn’t come in handy yet, but I’m sure a boy will eat an apple at some point from now until when we leave Italy.

The main goal of today was finding a gym. I signed up for the doctor to check if I’m healthy enough to go to a gym – this feels a little strange to me, since if I’m not healthy enough to go to the gym I probably really need to go workout – but whatever, I signed up anyway and will pay a whopping 40 euros tomorrow to get that done. Yuli and Owen walked with me to a list of gyms that Donatella had given me yesterday. Each gym has a maximum of two ellipticals and no more than 4 weights. I’m not sure if going to gyms is less of a thing here or of cardio isn’t as much, but they were all very small and expensive. Finally we found one that was empty (so nobody on the cardio machines) and cheaper than the others – roughly 100 euros for 3 months instead of 250.

They provided us with lunch as part of the program, which meant we went and sat at a restaurant and were served 5 pieces of ravioli, one cross section of eggplant and a slice of zucchini. From there we walked toward the Duomo to supplement our meager lunch with Nutella filled croissants (amazing!).

Since dinner wasn’t until 8:30, Owen and I bought something at the grocery store (along with shampoo and soap) which turned out to be saltines. Then we came into the living room to relax while Donatella took the dogs for a walk – she asked if we wanted to come but we’d walked 10 miles already – and Enzo listened to some cool music in the other room.

Before we came to Italy our program wrote to tell us that it was culturally unacceptable to go around in bare feet inside the house. So far as I can tell it’s not unacceptable at all it’s just really freaking cold! If I had any clean socks at all I’d have about six of them on right now. The floor is freezing – maybe because it’s not insulated and at least looks like a colder version of wood – but I don’t know.

So far the biggest adjustment has been crossing the streets. There are green lights for pedestrians and cross walks but Italian drivers only stop if you’re literally standing in front of their car.  The attitude is basically, “I know you want to cross and I know that I might have to stop, or if I don’t someone will have to stop behind me, but I’m not even going to slow down to try and help you make the decision”. It totally cracks me up – and terrifies me, I’ve done quite a bit of “squirreling” (running into the middle of the road and freezing up/panicking and trying to go all directions at once) – but in general, I love the cut and dry attitude.

I’m used to some heavy traffic in NYC but this isn’t like that. Enzo says Florence has the worst drivers in the world because “they’re all drunk”. I don’t know about that, but they definitely have a way of making it seem like there are a lot more cars on the streets. The combined fear of getting hit by a car and getting yelled at in Italian (it’s going to happen, I can just feel it and am terrified for when it does) makes crossing the streets a little difficult, although I must say there’s something sort of empowering about walking out in front of a car that has no real intention of stopping.

A woman came into a cafe that a group of us were in and stared at me. There are actually no red heads here (not that I would look Italian otherwise). I said “ciao” which means hi and she came over and started talking to us. The conversation began normally, she asked if we were from England or America. We said America. Then she remarked on how large it was, saying that Italy was small having 700 miles of coast. We were nodding and smiling along until she transitioned from there to immigration and started talking to us about how troublesome all of the African immigrants were. I think we were all pretty taken aback. I’m not sure if this was just a random occurrence or if things in Italy are different, but we would never talk about politics like that with a stranger. Most people avoid doing it within their own families. I liked it though, despite the fact that I didn’t have much to say.

There are places in conversation where it seems natural to laugh and smile along with the Italian speakers even when you have no idea what they’re saying. I’ve been working to stop myself from doing it though because it makes people think I understand what they’re saying and it only makes things confusing for us all later on. I feel bad though, when I can’t communicate with people. Everyone is so nice and I can tell a lot of them are inconvenienced or just less happy when they realized I only speak English. Because of this I’m actually really excited to start Italian classes this coming Monday.

Late dinners are an adjustment. We’re all sitting in the living room (I’m playing with the dogs – need to get one of those when I come back to the States) and I keep thinking that there’s clearly time to make dinner now. Then I have to remember that we’re actually trying to eat dinner late, which is new for me. It’s not that we don’t have time to eat dinner until 8:30, it’s that eating that late is actually the point.

I had 8 saltines and a cup of coffee around 5 to try and hold myself off.

I’m extremely wary of the microwaves here. They don’t run on as much power so there’s no assurance of when my coffee will be warm. I’ve been putting it in for about 5 minutes at a time and it comes out lukewarm. Mostly though I’m just happy that we’re allowed to use the microwave. It’s the only kitchen appliance Owen and I are allowed to touch.

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