Not a Classy, but a Fat Dog

Enzo and Donatella are in a fight over how much she feeds the dogs. At first, I thought they were arguing about me. I knew just enough to know that the pronouns they were using for “eating all the time” and “going to get fat” were feminine and I was like “HEY I’M DOING A LOT OF WALKING” and then I was like, “Oh. They’re talking about Camilla.” Which is both a relief and kind of hilarious, given that they have taken to sleeping in separate bedrooms.

Everything is funnier with Owen around. This is amazing 92% of the time. The other 8% is when we’re in class. At least once a day something happens that has us both struggling to keep straight faces. Then there are days were it happens every five minutes. This happened the other day in Italian class. Two women came in to talk to the class about Italian conversation group. They explained when it’d be happening, where it was, and how we would get to talk to Italian students by going there. There was a pause and then the girl beside them asked, “This is for a movie?” which set the whole class off. Then, after re-explaining that they were here for conversation group, the women gave the girl a sign up sheet, which she promptly took, signed her name too, and then handed back to the two women without even pausing to think about handing it around to the rest of the class.

Everyone thought this was funny. Owen and I just thought it was funny the longest. We sat with our eyes down, hands over our mouths, shaking with laughter, until our teacher turned around and exclaimed how red our faces were which I at least, took as an invitation to burst out laughing – dragging Owen, unfortunately, down with me.

Something else that set us off that day, was the video we watched in Arts and Antiquities about a method of sculpting used in ancient Rome. It’s called Direct Something or Other and is hilarious because it’s the least direct thing ever. I have no idea how somebody created this or why they thought this was a good idea. There are about seventy five steps, one of which is simply “bury the sculpture in sand.” Our teacher and everybody else nodded and acted like this all made sense while Owen and I were trying hard not to have to excuse ourselves from another class.

I’ve been taking a lot of walks out into the countryside. My new favorite walk is up past the fort of Belvedere and then just away from the city. Yesterday I took a similar walk out beyond Fiesole. Unfortunately, it seems like all green space here is privately owned. I tried to enter a park yesterday only to be told by the guy at the little office by the gate that it wasn’t open to the public – I mean he only spoke Italian, so he could also have said “sorry, no gingers allowed” but I’m pretty sure it was the first thing.

The countryside out beyond Fiesole.

My skin has been really dry here so I borrowed one of Donatella’s moisturizers (not hand lotion this time, I’m pretty sure). The translation of what it did was, “fix all errors.” I figured dry skin would probably fall under the category of an “error” but I put it on and stared into the mirror for about fifteen minutes to make sure my nose wasn’t about to fall off. I’m not entirely sure how watching my nose would fall off would be better than having it plop off onto my Italian book, but at least in the mirror I felt like I had some control. I went to the grocery store a few days later to buy my own moisturizer. It’s 5 in I of something and, in addition to not understanding what that means, I have to use it extremely sparingly because it’s tinted for dark skin and gives me black face if I use too much of it. Grocery shopping can be kind of a struggle here.

View of Florence across the Arno River.


The Limit

Do you know all those times that I was like, “yeah, mamma mia’s kind of a character, but it doesn’t bother me. I’ve been able to take it all without irritation”. Well, I found my Mamma Mia limit this morning.

To set the scene, I’m exhausted. Both Owen and I have been sick enough to not be getting more than a couple hours of sleep. On top of this, it’s been raining, and I haven’t stopped my rather insane habit of running up mountains and walking fifteen more miles in the same day. So that got me to tired. To hit exhausted, you have to add in our most recent trip to Rome. To be at the train station at 7 (such a lie, by the way, the train didn’t leave until 7:40, they were just trying to force us to be there on time- and still a couple people missed it because they were still out partying from the night before), Owen and I had to leave the house at 6. I woke up at 5:26 when Camilla came screaming across the house to fling herself down at the door. Somehow she hasn’t figured out that Owen isn’t a serial killer yet. Also, she’s less than a foot tall and is composed entirely of fat, so I’m pretty sure Owen could take her.

It was pouring rain outside so, in addition to taking my umbrella, I also cut arm and neck holes into a large trash bag and wore that to the station. (In case you’re wondering, yes, I am aware that my dressing abilities are degrading alarmingly fast. Really the only question left in my mind is how long it’s going to take me to start going in it nothing but the trash bag). On the positive side, I’ve now officially given Florence my blood, sweat and tears, which in my mind is an unofficial requirement for having lived anywhere. I hit it in Statia in about the first thirty seconds.

Both coming and returning to Florence, I hit what I like to call my ‘giggle meter’ in which I’m so exhausted/starved/disoriented that I start to laugh…and don’t typically stop until I’ve eaten/slept/gotten my life together. On the way to Rome Owen (and the rest of the train car) side-eyed me with mild concern. On the way home, Owen joined me, and we made a mild scene of ourselves, giggling more or less nonstop for the entirety of the trip home.

They pulled out all the stops for this Rome trip. We started with a tour of the Colosseum. (Unpopular opinion, the Colosseum is really freaking cool. It may be the coolest building ever built). As a general update for my life, I now plan to become a gladiator, so I’ll keep all of you posted on that. I wrestled Pauldino to the floor when I got home so (dusts off shoulders) I think I’ve got a promising future up ahead. From there we went into the Roman Forum and then to the Pantheon.

At lunch, Owen and I went off on our own – no we didn’t get drunk this time – we got pizza and gelato and walked to the Palatine Hill. We accidentally walked around the Tiber River too, which was on our list of things we wanted to do, but just not in that order. Also, this morning in my sleep-deprived state I thought I was such a cool and savvy traveler for only bringing 10 euros to Rome with me. Turns out I was so cool and savvy that Owen had to buy my lunch.

At the Palatine Hill, Owen and I split up. I met up with a friend from Whitman and we walked around the more modern part of the city for a while. We bumped into two of the leaders from my Rome trip while we were walking and they both gave me mildly concerned looks as they wondered whether or not they should do/say something about the fact that I’d traded Owen in for the tall black guy I was now wandering around the city with.

I got lost on the way to the train station, but it didn’t matter very much because they’d asked us to get to the station almost a full hour before our train was even going to consider arriving. Also, I really like Rome. It’s much more like New York City than Florence and, although I think it’s probably a good experience for me to live in a different style of place, I think I would also do really well in Rome. I like the size and the energy.

From the train station, Owen and I had to walk another 45 minutes to our house, where we ate dinner and then (I, at least) collapsed into bed. This gets me to this morning. I woke up around 11 and got out of bed, sore, tired, and with a large bruise forming on my forehead – that’s another story. Only vaguely conscious, I stumbled into the kitchen and started to eat breakfast. Donatella was already sitting there, with the TV on full blast. But the truly annoying part was Camilla. Camilla sits at Donatella’s feet and barks every time she wants a biscuit (spoiler alert: it’s always). Donatella goes “Ay, ay, ay, you fat dog. Grossa.” and then feeds her a biscuit, so the barking and Donatella’s shouted exclamations go in an infinite loop. Normally I have a better sense of humor about their interactions. (Enzo does not). But today I gazed into my cereal bowl and contemplated punting Camilla out into the hall.

Inside the Colosseum

The Empire State Building

The Pantheon

Piazza Venezia in Rome

Half-Drownings and Neti Pots

Sometimes I think Donatella is a little scatter-brained. Yesterday she took my towel and replaced it with a bathmat. I didn’t know what to do, so I showered with it. Also, it turns out there was no secret message behind her leaving clothes on my bed. She just got her shirts, sweatshirts, and a few pairs of Enzo’s pants confused with my running clothes. Mostly this is funny. At breakfast, sometimes it can be a little sad. Italian breakfasts are typically smaller, more sugary and less hearty than American breakfasts. For us that usually means we eat cereal and/or some mildly stale bread. We hit a three day drought where we ran out of cereal and had nothing to eat but stale bread. I tried mixing sugar with milk and drinking that for breakfast instead and dry-heaved the whole way up the mountain.

I got to see Donatella and Enzo all dressed up for a dance, which was really fun. Enzo put on a tuxedo and Donatella was in and out of my room all night, getting dresses and trying on different shoes. When I say “in and out of my room” I mean that my room is actually a closet. There’s a bed and everything, but yeah, it’s a closet. The wall across from my bed is wall to wall closets so at least once a day Enzo or Donatella will knock and come into my room to get pants, or shoes or whatever. They were out so late that when I came home the next day at 3 in the afternoon Donatella was still in bed, fast asleep.

There are two other quirks about Donatella that I haven’t fit in yet anywhere. The first, is that she answers every phone call on speaker phone at a shout. The second is that at dinner she explains what’s going on to me and Owen by saying things like, “that’s the fat, dumb ugly man.” So I have a very strange perspective of what’s happening in Italian politics right now. This is also interesting in relation to what’s happening in the United States. It’s interesting finding out the things that reach foreign countries about America. As far as I can tell it’s music (nearly all of their songs are English songs from the states), every stupid thing that Trump says, and Meryl Streep. A few days ago she interrupted dinner to shout, “it’s the stupid man!” and Owen and I looked up to see George Bush saying something on the television.

I did a bad thing. Yesterday night I fed Camilla (the dog) a piece of lemon off the dinner table. She circles beneath the legs like a shark, barking at us to feed her. I swear I wasn’t trying to be mean. I’ve never had a dog. I just thought, “I wonder what will happen if I…” and now she’s too afraid to eat off of the yellow fork that Donatella feeds her on. She spent all dinner barking to get food and then backing away quickly when Donatella held the fork out to her. So that’s my bad. I’d feel worse if she wasn’t already kind of fat. A few days without food might actually be good for her even if I feel bad that I’m the cause.

While we’re listing bad/dumb things I’ve done lately, I’d like to add to the list walking into a mirror (I came out of a store, saw movement out of the corner of my eye and jumped sideways and forward to avoid banging into whoever was coming around the corner and ended up slamming face first into myself), half-drowning in the shower (I saw on a televison show once something called a “neti pot” where you pour saline solution in one nostril to clear your sinuses. Whatever reaction I should’ve had to that, mine was “I bet I can do that with the shower head!” Spoiler alert: I couldn’t), and got stuck in a Groundhog’s Day sort of moment, in which I got stuck half a block from the school building because I kept turning down the same wrong street and circling back to the same spot.

But, all in all, things are going really well. I had a weird adjustment week where I didn’t feel very happy. I felt like I didn’t have very much to do as I’d already walked through the vast majority of city streets. But I’ve started writing, and made some new friends and started Skyping with friends from back home, all of which have had a marked improvement on my personal well being. I’m also starting to feel better. My nose is still pretty stuffed up and I have trouble breathing when I run up Fiesole, but I’m almost back to my normal energy levels.

The dogs are keeping a close eye on me now. I think they’re waiting to extract their revenge.

Dumpster Divers Anonymous

The final part of our SU orientation was a question and answer session about adapting to Italian culture. The technology was actually pretty fun. Everybody went to a website on their phones and we “competed” over who got the most answers right. To begin with, the website gave randomly assigned everybody names. My assigned name was Classy Dog.

“That’s not right,” I said, turning to Owen.

“You might be a classy dog,” he returned, with a face like he was seriously thinking about it. “Just not a classy human.”

Seeing as I made us both late (later, we were already late) to Italian class because I stopped and picked three more shirts out of a dumpster, I didn’t feel like I was in much of a position to disagree with him – and, honestly I hadn’t been planning on it.

One of the questions that popped up on this quiz was ‘How do I know when to cross the street?’

There were four responses, most of which I’ve forgotten verbatim, but the general gist was “when the light is green,” “when other people our crossing,” “you should always cross with caution” and “Please don’t ever try to cross the street Italians find it really annoying to find Americans smeared across their windshield.”

The correct answer was the last one. (Okay, it wasn’t quite that intense, but the woman in charge of the quiz did say that a green light didn’t necessarily mean cars would stop for us). Standing at the side of the crosswalk gathering the courage to cross is a lot like trying to prepare yourself to grab onto the bottom of a ski lift as it comes whizzing by. I’ve found the time it takes for me to brace myself to walk in front of a moving vehicle is about how long it takes for two cars to pass in front of me. Of course that’s an average. It depends a lot on the type of music I’m listening to. For my own safety, I’m going to have to restrict the amount of time that I listen to rap.

One thing that I think Americans often have to adjust to are the strikes. On the way to the train station for our trip to Rome, Owen and I ran into someone that he’d gone to high school with (this actually happens quite a lot and is always disconcerting. I’ve run into people that I know from other schools and one guy that I went to high school with and haven’t spoken to in at least 5 years – yes, I know I was in high school less than 5 years ago – and it always takes a mental shake-off after running into one of them because it’s so unexpected).

We asked the boy how he was getting to Rome, exchanging a surprised look when he said “by bus.” All of the bus drivers in Florence were on strike. When we warned the boy that he might have a problem at the station he shrugged it off. “I’ve already bought my ticket, so I think it’ll be fine.” I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how strikes work.

Owen and I have friends! I’m very very happy about this. Not only have we started to mingle with the other students in our classes – the trip to Rome in addition to the fact that a lot of our classes have started meeting in places throughout Florence instead of in the classroom – but we’ve actively made the effort to become friends with two girls in our Italian class. Today we went to our favorite gelato (fun fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve misspelled “gelato” every other time that I’ve written it here) place with them and laughed the whole time. We have very similar senses of humor and I’m very happy to have them as new friends.

Today all of our classes were outside – awesome, because it was raining – but still really fun. Our Italian class went to the San Lorenza market where we went cheese tasting and tried different types of truffle oil (ew). Somehow we also managed to pick up a confused Asian woman who followed our class around for about ten minutes before turning to me and asking “Is this a food tour?”

The two big takeaways from our class was that you should be careful where you’re tasting things from because often the vendors have you try things and then slap you with a huge bill at the end. Also, D.O.P on cheese means that it’s from the Parma province. Similarly, D.O.C.G on wine is supposed to be a guarantee that it’s high quality. I’m not sure who in the class looked like they could even tell the difference  between good and bad quality wine, let alone afford it, but there it is.

I know I’ve mentioned the graffiti tunnel that Owen and I walk through every day to get to and from school. Today as we were walking through one of the homeless men locked eyes with Owen and said, (in Italian) “hello pretty,” and then turned to me and said, “hello.” Owen paled, blinked several times, and turned to look back at the man. I laughed, but I think the interaction had us both seriously reconsidering that day’s choice of outfit.

This is a picture of a pigeon I bonded with while walking in the rain

A view on the walk down from Fort Belvedere (my favorite walk in Florence).


A Strange Coping Mechanism

People here really care about clothes. A lot. It’s the primary reason that I feel like I don’t fit in here. All of the Italians think that it’s cold. For me 50 degrees is warm, especially when you’re walking around, so I’m constantly juggling the amount that I want to take off my coat versus how much I don’t want to get ogled in the streets.

I wore a summer shirt and jeans outside yesterday and an Italian man did a triple-take on me. Actually, it was pretty hilarious. While maintaining a conversation with his friend, he turned around looked at me, looked toward the front, looked back at me and then did a full 360 degree turn to look at me from the other direction.

Today Owen and I went out for aperitivo (a very Italian way of eating where you pay $1o or $12 euros for a drink and get three hour access to a buffet). My feet are covered in blisters from my new shoes so I went out in flip-flops and people were actually stopping to stare at me in the street like I was a celebrity.

The atmosphere of aperitivo was awesome. The food was worse. My first mouthful I thought everything was amazing, but with scoop of food I brought to my mouth, my opinion of the food decreased. Also I was dumb enough to mistake the world “pomodoro” for pomegranates when I was looking at the ingredients of a Bloody Mary. The result is that I ordered my drink, took one sip, and gave it to Owen.

Relating to the title: I have a problem. It’s a pretty simple problem. I don’t have enough clothes. I have two pairs of pants, one of which is torn and currently covered in dog poop. The other one is ripped down the crotch. For most people there would be two solutions. 1) Buy new clothes 2) Tough it out. I’ve opted for a third option – I’ve started dumpster diving.

It’s not diving in the sense that I’m actually physically getting into any of the dumpsters, but people leave their clothes and shoes in bags outside the dumpsters that I’ve been picking through. I tried to go shopping like a normal person. Really, I did. But I ended up picking a discarded shirt out from beneath a dumpster and going for a walk instead.

Today on the way home from school Owen stopped outside the front gate, waiting for me to come inside and I said, “Yeah, I think I’m going to walk around and look at trash cans instead.” Which is exactly what I did.  On the bright side, I saw a beautiful sunset. The picture doesn’t do it justice. In fact it does it so little justice that I only have an error message while trying to upload, so I’ll hopefully add a picture of this later.

There’s also a really wonderful phenomenon that happens every night as the sun is setting with the birds. I imagine they’re hunting for bugs (they are birds and not bats, I’ve looked closely, though I know this is common bat behavior). Regardless, they fly in massive numbers around the sky like schools of fish, creating different shapes in the sky.

The theme of this post seems to be all of the ways Becca is a grungy P.O.S. so I’ll keep going. I cut my hair with the kitchen shears this morning. I couldn’t find any normal scissors and my hair was getting gnarly (as a side note, I found a gray hair this afternoon, which I think means it’s all downhill from here). So after my run, I parted my hair and cut off three inches on either side with two snips. If I brushed it you might be able to tell that it was uneven, but I don’t have any plans for that, so I should be somewhat safe for the time being.

I had to walk home alone at night for the first time a couple days ago. I stopped at the store and bought a liter of chocolate milk, which I drank as I was walking. I bought it because I was thirsty, but in retrospect I think it might also have been a pretty good self-defense move as well. All I can say is that wouldn’t mess with the girl drinking chocolate milk from the carton as she walked down the streets at night.

In case anybody is wondering what kind of shoes you can pick up from behind a dumpster. They’re both my size and, although my nose is pretty stuffed up right now, I’m pretty sure neither one of them has any particularly strong odor.

“Is that the Colosseum?”

After Donatella walked in on me shirtless, I got dressed and Owen and I walked 45 minutes to the train station. I’m glad that we’re both motivated (and by motivated I do mean poor) enough to want to walk places instead of taking the buses or a taxi. In a lot of cases buses take as long as walking. I walked for an hour yesterday to get new sneakers. Before I left I checked google maps to see how long a bus ride to the same place would take and it said 56 minutes.

Both sections of our Art History class were there so we had to wait for 40 kids to dribble into the station. I really like our professor. He has a very dry sense of humor and I think he likes me and Owen the best. We joked around while we were waiting for our train to show up. The train ride might’ve been my favorite part of the whole day. The countryside of Italy is beautiful. Owen and I took turns telling stories and laughing for the first half of the ride and then settled down to listen to music and look out the window for the second half.

I don’t love the other people in my program. They spent the majority of the day complaining. Our professor has a rule that you can take pictures before and after he’s talking, but please not while he’s actually lecturing about something. Which seems to make sense, but the people in my group reacted like he’d asked them to cut off one of their hands. At the end of the day, our professor took us into one final church for about ten minutes and I overheard one of the girls behind me say “this is my worst nightmare”. In my worst nightmare Lord Voldemort was chasing me around a ceiling fan, but whatever, I guess, to each her own.

Our trip started in the Palazzo Massimo, a museum of ancient art. My favorite sculpture was a bronze statue called “the boxer”. Contrasting to the other sculptures which showed athletes and gods in various poses of glory. The Boxer was exhausted, having just finished a fight. I loved the emotion and the fatigue. Stupidly, I didn’t take a picture of that so here’s a picture of one of the most famous pieces in the museum instead.


We spent about 3 hours in the first museum, which went quite a bit over both my museum and my social quota for the day. Knowing that we had about five more hours of the same thing that afternoon, Owen and I set off to get drunk. We walked into a restaurant and bought pizzas and ordered two of the cheapest drinks on the menu – shots of Jagermeister. Unfortunately, and also hilariously, our professor and two TA’s walked in just as the waitress was delivering them and sat down at the table just behind us. “Cheers!” she said, as Owen and I cringed behind the pepper grinder.

Of course, we weren’t so ashamed that we didn’t order two more shots later on. After that I had a really great time. We went to four more churches, the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, the Santa Maria della Vittoria and the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (I think)

To use the phrase we’ve coined, Owen and I got Duomo’d by the Colosseum. For those of you who haven’t read past posts, or didn’t understand my initial description of the “verb” to get Duomo’d by a building is to have it come looming out of nowhere in such an obvious fashion that it leaves you feeling both startled and pretty stupid. It’s the equivalent of a building shark attack. Owen and I were walking down the street looking to the right (because I was like “I think the professor said the Colosseum was over there” and Owen replied, “that seems right”) and then I glanced to the left and there it was, in full view and about thirty feet away.

Owen and I have a running joke that, to everyone else, makes us seem absolutely stupid. We point at something, usually a lamp post or something along those lines and ask, “do you think that’s the David” to which the other replies “almost definitely”.

We did that with the Church of Santa Maria. Owen pointed to it and asked, “Do you think that’s the Colosseum?” And I said, “Yeah, or the Parthenon. I think that’s in this area”. Causing half the class to look at us in abject horror. Only the teacher smiled.

“We should really stop talking in front of other people,” I said, when everyone had looked away again.

“Yeah,” Owen agreed.

The Incredible Hulk Does Firenze

The thing I’m definitely struggling most to adjust to here is the concept that it’s okay to do nothing. Before I got to Florence I was backpacking, in a new city every other day. Then I was doing everything. I was walking all hours of the day, collapsing into bed exhausted each night, and I think that’s just as it should’ve been. But there’s a big difference between traveling through somewhere and living there. Predominately – and I’m just starting to realize this now – the fact that you can’t sustain the kind of energy output that you need when you’re traveling.

Maybe this is only coming up because I’m sick (thanks Owen) or as a result of the fact that I’ve walked between 13 and 22 miles every day since arriving in Florence, almost twenty days ago. I was mildly hallucinating last night in bed enough to see…well, not the face of God exactly, but the combination of my jacket hanging over the stained glass window bore a remarkable resemblance to Johnny Depp.

There are moments when the language barrier is absolutely hilarious. At dinner last night Donatella was vividly acting out all of the ways in which she had knee pain and trying to explain to us the doctor?/masseuse?/physical therapist?/surgeon? she was going to. I’m sure the actual explanation of what she was doing was quite normal, but the words that made it few the language barrier gave the impression that she was going to a doctor three times a week to get shots of acetic acid into her arms and legs.

Another moment like that happened today. I walked an hour out of the city to buy new sneakers (not because I stepped in the largest pile of dog crap that’s ever existed, but that certainly sped things along). When I brought my sneakers up to the register the man greeted me in Italian. I repeated the greeting back to him – I’m good like that – causing him to let off a chain of Italian sentences. I gave him my best “panic look” and he sighed, “English?”

“Yeah, that’d be good”

He finished ringing me up and said what I imagine was supposed to be something along the lines of “you have thirty days to return your shoes” but what he actually said was, “You have thirty days to change everything.”

On an unrelated note, I feel like the incredible Hulk in the ironically named “Grande house”. Some of the stone counter tops in the bathroom aren’t stuck to the counters with anything but sheer gravity. Nearly every time I walk in, I end up knocking at least one of them over and sending absolutely everything on it tumbling to the floor. Also, there’s a little glass shelf in the shower which might be at shoulder height for the Grande’s but is exactly the height of my elbow. The shelf is slanted and wobbles, so that when I accidentally knock into it – at least twice a shower, the little glass shelf jumps and sends all of Donatella’s shampoos crashing to the floor. The Grande’s have gotten used to the “Crash! CRASH! Ow! Sorry!” Combination of me trying to get from the door to the shower, which is comforting, because the first couple times I was worried Donatella would come busting in the door.

Related to that, she walked in on me topless yesterday. It was 7:30 in the morning and Owen and I had to leave for our Rome trip at 8 (More on Rome in the next post). Owen was awake, showered, dressed and eating breakfast, which is unsurprising since he has a habit of both waking up earlier than me and, unsurprisingly, getting to places on time more often than me. It was my intention to smear out of bed and roll down the street to the bus station with a couple seconds to spare. In the kitchen I heard (you can hear absolutely everything in this house) Donatella ask Owen “Where’s Becca?”

And I thought, uh oh.

Owen’s answer of, “She’s probably asleep, but that’s okay…” was already trailing away when it came out of his mouth and I could tell by the sound of footsteps that Donatella was veering toward my room. I sat up and reached for my shirt just in time for Donatella to come walking through the door.

Damn, I thought, too much asleep to do much more than blink at her in confusion.

“Owen is eating breakfast,” she announced.

“Um, yeah. I know.”

She nodded and left the room.

When I came home that day there were curtains over the glass paneling of my door, giving me privacy from everybody coming through the entryway. I feel like knocking would’ve also been a solid way to keep Donatella from walking in on me naked but the curtains are nice too. Actually they’re really great because they block out the light from Donatella’s 3am television watching and prevent innocent passer’s by from watching me change so I suppose I’ll chalk the whole interaction up to be a win.

There’s an issue with the shower in that it only drains when I’m not using it. The first time I showed Donatella she said “this has never happened before” and I thought “great” because I feel like people have been saying that a lot to me lately – the landlords of my house in Statia were like “wow, we’ve never had a tree grow into the plumbing of the house before” and my landlord in NYC was like “I’ve never had the entire ceiling come down on one of my renters before” etc. etc. I’m not saying I don’t trust her. I’m just saying I’ll be keeping all of my things in an emergency preparedness bag so I can just hop onto Noah’s Ark with the rest of the animals when the next great flood comes.

The Italian Mom Clean

Last year I began to learn the difference between “kid clean” and “adult clean” – routed predominately in the lack of crumbs in the latter. This semester I’m learning an entirely new type of clean: “Italian mom clean.” I try to leave time every morning before school to clean my room so that (theoretically), Donatella won’t have to. But clean for me means all the covers are on the bed, all of the trash is in the trash can and – I added this last one after the first week of living with Donatella – everything is off the floor. Sometimes this means I pile my textbooks on my desk, or my bed, or the little footstool that might be intended as a chair for my desk though it’s about six sizes too small.

For those of you who’ve been unfortunate enough to see a room that I’m living in you know that in addition to not typically doing any of these three things, I also like to leave my clothes (clean and dirty) on the floor along with everything else of vague importance. However, this is not Italian mom clean. Most days I come home from school to find that my bed has been made, my papers stacked on one corner of my desk, my hair brush has been moved somewhere that I need a treasure map to find, and my gum has been arranged in color order against my wall.

I don’t really mind the lack of privacy. Actually, it’d be great if Donatella could Italian mom clean the saltine crumbs out of my bed. It’s a little strange and a little uncomfortable – mostly because we never talk about it so I can’t tell if Donatella is ultra-cleaning my room because that’s just something that she does or if she has any irritation about feeling like she has to do it. I’m hoping it’s the former because if she’s expecting me to color coordinate my own packages of gum on my way to school every morning I can say right now that she’ll be disappointed.

In most cases, Donatella is extremely relaxed. I learned in Italian that, although adults will greet you with “ciao” both when you enter and leave a shop, you’re supposed to answer with “Buongiorno” or “Buonasera” depending on the time of day and leave with “arrivederci” (the formal version of ciao in both senses). At home, Owen and I both tried to adapt our language to the more respectful version of greeting and did it about two times before Donatella scolded us for being too formal. I think the real reason I’m not bothered by the lack of privacy is that it’s offset by a clear recognition of mine and Owen’s independence. Donatella doesn’t care where we’re going or when we get back. Both she and Enzo really care about us having a good time. Last night at dinner, when Donatella was out dancing, it was just me, Owen and Enzo at dinner (meaning it was mostly, and peacefully, silent) Enzo finished the meal by reiterating how much he and Donatella really wanted us to enjoy ourselves here and it was clear how much he meant it.

As a side note, Donatella has started leaving her clothes on my desk stool with mine and I can’t tell what secret message I’m supposed to take away from the gesture. I complimented one of her sweaters a couple days ago because I thought it was silly and today it was on my pile of clothes.

Not exactly my style.

Other things in the Grande household are clearer. The rules about Enzo’s wine are perhaps the most clear. The best thing about these rules are that they’re completely unspoken. At the dinner table there will either be one or two bottles of wine. If there is one bottle, Enzo keeps it in front of his plate. Neither Owen or I are permitted to touch it until Enzo has finished his third glass and then, without a word on either side, he’ll stand up and move it to the center of the table. Then we can serve ourselves. After a bottle of wine has been used for one meal, Enzo will bring it out and put it in the middle of the table, opening a fresh bottle for himself, which he’ll drink for the majority of the meal before permitting us (and mostly Owen, because I still don’t love the taste of wine) to try some.

The rules of ordering food outside of the house are also still forming. Today our Italian teacher took the whole class to buy gelatto so that she could show us how to pick a real gelatto store. What she taught us was that if there are huge mounds of ice cream or if there are unnatural colors, light blue being the most predominant, even offered in the store, then you should leave because it’s only for tourists. As we were leaving she asked, “Who wants to practice their Italian with the cashier?” Everybody averted their eyes. “Becca!”

I had to memorize the sentence “pago quindici gellati da due euro” which I repeated to myself the whole way there. Essentially I said, “I would like to purchase 15 gelattos at 2 euros a piece”. I felt better halfway through the walk when Antonella (our Italian prof) turned to Owen and impromptu ordered him to ask two Italian women for directions to the ice cream store.

We’re also trying to figure out the best places for lunch in the city. My favorite place so far is a sandwich store called “amici di ponte vecchio”. There are a lot of things that Florence does really well. Bread is not one of them. The “amici” is the only store I’ve found so far where the bread added to the sandwich.

At another sandwich store the guy behind the counter asked “parlo italiana?”

To which I responded, “poco.” And didn’t realize until Owen started grinning that I’d said “A few” instead of “a little” (which would’ve been ‘po’). Though, in retrospect saying that I speak a few Italian probably got the message across better than if I’d answered correctly.

The view from the Piazza de Michelangelo (a ‘must walk to’ if you ever are in Florence)

Panties, Panic and Pianos

It’s a funny thing living in the house with Donatella and Enzo because in a lot of ways I feel like they have to get as used to my presence as I do theirs. With Donatella I’m still learning the boundaries – and by that I mean getting used to the fact that there are none. She feels sort of like the crazy aunt that comes over and drinks all the beer. Last night I fell asleep to the sounds of the “Jupiter Space Station” white noise sound track on Youtube because she was up until 2 am watching (and shouting at) the television in the kitchen. I’ve gotten used to the sight of her sitting at the kitchen table in the dark, with her violent red bangs pinned up in a curler with the blue light of the television flashing across her face. I see it every night when I go to the bathroom and, although it might not seem like it from my descriptions, I only have very warm feelings toward her.

Donatella takes about 45 minutes to put her makeup on – if you count standing in the kitchen watching television with the makeup brush in hand as putting makeup on. She has a funny habit of leaving the bathroom light on and then standing in the kitchen in the dark because she obviously doesn’t want to waste electricity and doesn’t want to admit to the fact that she’s actually just watching television. You can go to the bathroom during one of these 45 minute periods, but if you do you’d better expect her to come in when she needs more makeup (spoiler alert: I wasn’t expecting it).

This morning she took off her shirt while I was eating breakfast, which was the most startled I think I’ve ever been while eating cereal. She was getting dressed so she put on another one right afterward but, having just woken up, I missed a few steps and looked up into complete and utter confusion.

Enzo, on the other hand, is clearly not entirely comfortable having me in the house, which I totally get. I wouldn’t be comfortable having a 20 year old girl in my house if I was him either. There seems to just be some inherent weirdness for both of us. Sometimes Donatella goes out and Enzo and I are alone in the house together and it’s always a little uncomfortable – made more so by the mutual knowledge that we’re making the other uneasy.

An unfortunate (and amusing) occurrence happens almost once a day and is a result of the high cost of electricity in Italy. When it’s just the two of us in the house we both try to stay in our default corners – him in his office and me in my room – but, inevitably, we both eventually have to come out. To set the scene, the bathroom is right across from my room and the kitchen a relatively straight line from his office. What’s been happening is that we both attempt to leave our safe rooms at the same time, realizing the other is there a split second before we turn off the lights (like you have to do every time you leave the room). So we’re both standing in the dark, cursing silently to ourselves and too afraid to step out into the main open entrance hall because there’s a strong possibility that we’ll bump into each other.

This has happened about four times since I’ve moved in. There’s always a pause, a moment of internal grimacing on both ends and then, from the darkness I’ll hear him sigh. “Ciao, Becca,” he says, every time, like clock work. And it’s both a greeting and an attempt to find out where I am in the darkness ahead of him like our own form of echolocation. “Ciao,” I return, and then we start to move, carefully inching our way past each other into the rooms opposite us.

There’s a scene in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth comes across a soaking wet Darcy, who’s just taken a swim in a state of relative undress. As a child I used to wonder at their reactions, the horror and the embarrassment on both sides. Tonight, I finally understood. I came home tonight after a dinner out with Owen and a couple friends just as Enzo was coming out of his office in his underwear. We both jumped and tried to bolt, but there was nowhere for either one of us to escape to and we froze again in even greater embarrassment than if we hadn’t tried to move at all. The mutual panic was so great that I burst out laughing. Relief flashed across Enzo’s face, followed by a smile.

“Because I just got home,” he said, gesturing to himself in heavily accented English.

“Right,” I said. “Me too.”

We paused for a moment, both trying to figure out how far this conversation was supposed to take us, and then we sped past each other into our rooms and shut the doors.

On a subject not related to half-naked host parents, Owen and I went to a music store yesterday to try and find him a keyboard to play on. For those of you who don’t know Owen he’s pretty impressive with his ability to play everything completely by ear. Freshman year I used to play him a song on my phone and he could play it back to me on the off tune piano in the Jewett main lounge. Music for Owen is a lot like what running is for me so I offered to go keyboard shopping with him and help him bring back whatever we bought.

Nearly everything worth buying was several hundred euros but Lorenza from the Music Store went into the depths of the basement and came out with a full size keyboard and stand that he said he could rent to Owen for 90 euros over four months. (It should’ve been discouraging to us that Lorenzo grunted when he lifted the keyboard onto the stand, but we were both too stupid to think about that until after Owen had paid for the keyboard and we were struggling to get it out the door). Honestly I don’t know how much it weighed. If I had to guess I’d say it started off weighing about 40 pounds and was somewhere near 200 by the time we made it back to our house. I google mapped it after. The walk was about a mile and a half and was uneven parts miserable and hilarious.

P.S. The keyboard broke the next morning.

Owen (post 1.5 mile walk) next to the black keyboard case for scale

A shot from Fiesole, the town that I run to the top of

Bread and wine at the Grande kitchen table


Running and Laughter

When I was packing for Italy I told myself to “be real” and not pack clothes that I wouldn’t wear. Now I wish I’d been a lot less real as I don’t have pajamas, sweat pants, a sweat shirt, or more than one pair of running pants.

The running pants are the most significant of the things I’m lacking because I’ve decided not to go to a gym and run up our nearby mountain instead – no, it’s not actually a mountain but calling it a hill doesn’t do justice to how much it wrecks me. Technically the run is out of Florence and into a small “mountain” town called Fiesole.

This was taken on the way up the “mountain” into Fiesole. To set the scene picture me bent at the waist gasping for air as I take this shot.

Gyms in Florence are not at all what I was expecting, which is to say they’re not like New York. In addition to needing to pay 40 euros at an actual doctor (not the one appointed by the school) to get a form saying you’re fit enough to go to the gym, they’re expensive – anywhere between 180 and 250 euros for four months, and they have extremely limited cardio equipment. Gyms have anywhere from two to three treadmills and one elliptical. So I’ll be running and hoping my legs don’t fall apart.

I have two Fiesole specific goals. First, I want to be able to run all the way up the mountain without stopping by the end of the semester. And second, I want to be able to beat my father on a run up the mountain when he comes to Florence in the spring. (Yes, dad, I know you’re reading this. Bring your running shoes). Realistically, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to accomplish either goal, but there they are.

The outside of our house (we only live on the first floor)

I have two stories to tell today, the first is my favorite kind of story because it’s both embarrassing and completely true. After dinner Owen and I went on one of our usual walks, (past the Duomo, over the Arno and down by the Pitti Palace). About five minutes in I turned to Owen and said, “I think the Madonna they’re always talking about isn’t the singer.”

Owen, of course, burst out laughing and continued to laugh through the rest of the conversation as I explained my budding confusion with the word, beginning by finding it odd that all of our professors seemed to have clandestinely decided to use Madonna as their example for everything. They kept saying things about how impressive it was that Florence had produced something like “forty Madonnas from such a small area” and I remember thinking “Why Madonna? Why not say they’d produced the equivalent of 40 Beyonces?”

The second story comes from Siena, but it isn’t mine, so I wasn’t aware of it until this morning. In Siena, Enzo, Owen and I paid two euros to walk inside the massive Duomo – the one I described earlier with incredible arches and pillars and a ceiling painted like the stars. As Owen describes it, he was filled with awe, feeling closer to God than he’s ever felt before, and was opening his mouth to say some of this to me when Enzo interrupted with a story of how a couple months ago a piece of stone fell out of the ceiling of the Duomo and hit a tourist on the head – effectively killing both the tourist and Owen’s sentiment.

I’m both impressed and a little intimidated by Donatella’s boldness. On the first evening she came home and changed immediately into a rose covered track suit. This, I loved. What has startled me recently is that she seems to have no problem going to the bathroom with the door open and (once) coming in while I’m in the bathroom with the door closed. In her defense, I just ran into the bathroom to wash my hands before dinner but I don’t see how she was supposed to know that.