A very important part of the introduction into the host family is family immersion weekend. Unlike the other weekends, where host kids are on their own for meals and everything else, family weekend is designed to help students get to know their host parents. I didn’t feel like Owen or I needed this very much to get to know Donatella and Enzo, but was happy for the time with them anyway.
As a side note our host parents are incredibly warm and have a lot of experience with host students – Donna told me she and Enzo have been taking students in for fall and spring semesters for about ten years now, which means they’ve got the drill down. The thing I like most about them is that they seem to have mastered the dynamic between caring about what we’re doing and not changing their own schedules for us.
Enzo wanted to go on a hike, but decided Owen didn’t have the right shoes – I thought he was seriously overestimating the importance of good footwear until he started showing me pictures of the hikes he’d done and I realized he was literally scaling glaciers. Apparently there’s a big mountain just outside Florence that he goes to every Saturday and climbs with a pick ax and crampons (I thought it was hilarious that of all the English words Enzo doesn’t understand, crampons was one he knew right away) but I think I’ve gotten him convinced that I know how to hike and he’s even started to talk as if he’s willing to take me on a hike (not a glacier, just a normal mountain) with him sometime this semester.
I had to try not to be offended when Enzo was asking if I got tired after two or three miles of walking. It felt a little sexist. Hopefully he’s just really intense about his hiking, though I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t totally the case.
We decided on Siena instead and piled into the car at a ripe 11:45. I know Enzo thinks all of the other drivers in Florence are the worst drivers in the world – maybe he’s right, I don’t have enough data to say one way or the other – all I know is that I was nauseous in the first five minutes of driving with him and spent the majority of the drive both there and back with my head between my legs.
The dogs were with us, which meant we walked slow and watched Pauldino try to fight dogs triple his size. It was fun traveling with Donatello because she either knows or thinks she knows everything about everything, so we got a lot of information. The coolest thing that came out of the trip was learning about the Palio de Siena, a horse race that takes place every year between the eighteen different contrades of the city. People take it seriously. In the weeks before a race, people who support different teams (neighbors, family members, etcs) won’t even talk to each other. Unlike our horse races in the states, riders in the palio di Siena don’t use saddles and they’re permitted to hit both one another and each other’s horses. Peta’s not a fan, but I think it’s super cool!
We got a tour of an old synagogue and learned quite a bit about Jews in Italy. Most of the synagogues actually look like churches because Jews back then were only allowed to have two professions – money lender or merchant – and had to pay Christians (or Catholics? Ah, that part I don’t know) to design the churches for them.
Then we walked inside the Siena Cathedral with Enzo. It was insanely beautiful from the inside, with huge walls and striped marble pillars holding up the ceiling which was covered in stars.
By the end of the day Enzo was clearly done with the three of us (though to be fair to me and Owen, it was mostly Donatella). We were slow and stopped all the time for the dogs. Before we got in the car I had to go the bathroom, but we couldn’t find a place, so I took a host-mom sanctioned pee behind a parked car. Apparently that happens a lot here. She says she does it whenever she’s too far from the house.
We took a long, equally nauseating drive back home and had a late dinner in front of the television. Dinners are my favorite part of the host experience. Not only does Donatella make some of the best homemade food I’ve ever eaten, but it makes me feel like an Italian. The television is blasting in Italian and Donatella and Enzo occasionally “bicker” (I don’t think they’re every actually angry, but they talk really loud and fast) about some thing or another.