Cinque Terre

In September, CEA took us all to the famous Cinque Terre.  We left Firenze at 7 AM on a bus to go to the train station in La Spezia.  A lot of people slept on the bus, but I stayed awake because I like to look out the window.  I got to see the sun come up over the Apennines (the mountain range that runs down the middle of Italy).  We passed Carrara, which is where the quarry is that Michelangelo went to go get marble for his sculptures.

In La Spezia we all got a special ticket that let us stay in and travel around the Cinque Terre area for the day.  We also got maps so we could take the trails between the five towns if we wanted.  Cinque Terre is Italian for ‘five lands’, and the five towns are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso.  I took the train all the way to Monterosso and stayed there all day, mostly due to falling asleep on the beach.  Me and a couple other girls went into a little tourist shop, where I got a cool swimsuit coverup.  Then we went down to the beach and sat on our towels taking pictures.

the beach at Monterosso


Brie and Nicole showed up later (Emily was still exploring the other towns) and we went swimming.  The beaches are really cool.  The water is about ankle to knee deep for a while, and then suddenly drops off, which is why in pictures the water is always light blue and then dark blue.  I have this weird fear of water I can’t see the bottom of, basically anything that isn’t in a swimming pool, so I was standing on the edge and Brie and Nicole and this old Italian guy were all urging me to just jump in.  So I did.

Later, Emily showed up with some other people.  We only had about an hour before we had to be back at the La Spezia station, so Em, Brie, Nicole and I went and got gelato.


By the way, this was the last day I had long hair.


Festa della Rificolona

One day Emily and I went dress shopping (we actually did that many days, but specifically this day) and I got this really pretty blue dress made mostly of lace.  Then we made plans to meet in Piazza della Repubblica that evening to go to the lantern festival.  I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded pretty, and also all I could think about was that scene in Tangled with all the lanterns. Oh.  Also earlier that day, Nicole and I had gone to a hair salon to get our hair cut.  We hadn’t made an appointment, so while we waited they served us green tea and we flipped through those hair magazines to decide what I wanted to do with my hair.  My hair was down to my hips and becoming unmanageable.  So this was the first time I had been out with my new haircut. Erica and I met Emily, Brie, Polly, Daniel, and Nicole at Piazza della Repubblica.  I was wearing my new dress and Emily hadn’t seen my hair so there was yelling and “Oh my gosh!” all around.


We walked down to Piazza della Signoria, where a massive crowd had formed.  There were all kinds of lanterns.  I still don’t know if people make them or buy them.  We stood up on the Loggia to watch some kind of procession come out of the Palazzo Vecchio.  Still not sure what that was about.  Then we followed the crown back towards the Duomo.  We went around the Duomo and walked several blocks to Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.  While walking we figured out what was going on with the lanterns.  They are all filled with a little flame, and people walking hold them up on sticks.  The kids in the crowd are given blowguns, and they try to shoot the lanterns.  If they shoot it enough, the paper exterior collapses onto the flame, and the whole things catches on fire. When we got to Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, the people leading everyone gave a speech from the steps of Spedale degli Innocenti (in Italian, so I had no idea what was going on).  We just looked around.  There were several stands selling lanterns and food but none of us bought anything.  We watched several kids shoot some lanterns down. Side note: Spedale degli Innocenti opened in 1444 as the first orphanage in Europe, and part of the building is still used for that purpose.  There is still a rota, which is a rotating cylinder where mothers could place their unwanted children anonymously and ring a bell, so that the cylinder would turn and the child would be taken into the orphanage. I’ll now let my pictures from the festival speak for me.





And alas, the death of a lantern:


I guess you could call it school…

During the week I was in Firenze, walking around and going to class and working at La Tinaia, an art therapy center in the San Salvi neighborhood.  This was generally what my day looked like: 4-7 am wake up, depending on if I was going to Skype that morning.  I saw a lot of sunrises in Firenze.  Also, for the first two or three weeks, my room was so uncomfortable.  It was humid and hot, not to mention that I was sharing the room with someone else.  Because of jet lag, I would wake up around 3 and move to the tiny couch in the living room and open the window that was over the courtyard and the window that was over the street, which created a nice cross-breeze.  I would sleep in my underwear on the couch until about seven.  Then I would make myself tea in a little sauce pan.  We had an espresso maker and a couple fast-heating teapots, but they were covered with calcium on the inside because the water in Italy has a lot of calcium in it.  So that left the sauce pan, and we had about ten Christmas-themed mugs to choose from.  At 8:30 Rachel H. and I walked to Piazza della Repubblica and up into the building where our school was.  For a while we would leave early and get pastries at Gilli, but then we started just getting cereal at Conad.  The only way I can describe my cereal, called Fiocchi, which I thought meant cereal but now I’m not sure, is as an Italian Special K.  It had chocolate strips in it.  Our Italian class started at 9, and right before, I would dig up €2,50 for some hot chocolate from the amazing vending machine in the hall.

Our Italian professor’s name was Elisa.  She was so sweet!  And helpful.  There was always a planned lesson, but we would inevitably go off on some tangent or other, like about cursing or dialects or, like right before Thanksgiving, why Black Friday is so important in America.  The thing is, most language classes go through basic things that are pretty intuitive, in depth, so nothing useful is actually learned.  We only spent the first week on basic conjugations, and then Elisa taught us things to say in the markets, or at restaurants.  She took us to the Mercato Centrale, where fresh produce is sold.  Mercato Centrale is super interesting, there’s a huge section for produce, and another area for formaggio, or cheese, and and area for carne, or meat.  For class we had a scavenger hunt we had to complete in the market.

After Italian I would have a four hour break, which was when I would get a sandwich at I Due Fratellini and walk around the leather market by San Lorenzo.  There are tiny stores hidden in the buildings in that area, and I bought several dresses there, and when it got colder, a nice pair of boots.  I loved walking around the leather market.  The men there are pretty rude, they whistle and yell things, but I’m lucky enough to look Italian, so generally they left me alone.  The key is to not look lost.  If I didn’t walk around, and didn’t go home to take a nap, I would hang out in the student lounge, reading the Rick Steves’ Europe 2011 guide or the Bus2Alps brochure.  I quickly made plans for every weekend we had left.  Sometimes Grayson, our program’s director, would bring her dog Rudy to run around and play with us.


On Monday afternoons I had photography.  That was such a great class.  We would usually walk around Firenze and take pictures.  Jacopo, our professor, took us to Stazione SMN to take pictures one day, and another day he took us to Cascine Park, which was quite an adventure.  We were all in the middle of taking pictures when it began to rain really hard, and then a full blown thunderstorm started right on top of us.  The thunder sounded like explosions.

Some photos from Cascine park:





On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I had a sociology class called Living Italy.  We talked about the Slow Food movement, the importance of the different regions in Italian society, women’s issues, religion, the Mafia (which is real, by the way), politics, education, immigration and gypsies, Italian fashion, and sports.  I loved Professor Traxler.  I thought he was really funny, probably because we both have the same sarcastic sense of humor.

On Wednesdays Emily and I had an art history class called The Great Masters.  This class was actually not that great, but we did visit a lot of churches and get histories about the frescoes in the chapels, and we went to the Palazzo Vecchio to see the Hall of 500 where Leonardo’s lost fresco is.  The best day was when we went to the Uffizi.  So there’s a bit of backstory about the experience I had at the Uffizi.  In high school I took a class called Art in Society, and because our teacher was the French teacher, we studied a lot of French Impressionism and literature, namely In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.  At the beginning of Swann’s Way, the first Proust book, he mentions Giotto’s Madonna and Child.  Madame made us go home and look it up, and it was kind of like, whatever, that’s cool.  I mean, it’s an interesting painting because it sort of ushered in the Renaissance, being one of the first paintings to really use linear perspective.  Anyways, Giotto left my mind for a while.  In the meantime, I took Art in Society for a second year (not on purpose, I just didn’t want to take Trig and our counselors were kind of idiots).  This was the last year that our school offered Art in Society, and I have a whole lot I could say about that but I’ll stop there.  Needless to say, it was very emotional for our class.  Fast-forward three or four years, and I’m walking up the stairs to the Uffizi Gallery thinking how cool it will be to see this painting that I had learned about so long ago in what ended up being a really important class to me.  I was not expecting to burst into tears when I walked into the room and saw it.  Emily thought I was having an art overload.  Which is kind of true.  But mostly, I was really missing my Art in Society class.

On Wednesday afternoons between classes, I took the bus over to San Salvi to work at La Tinaia.  I loved riding the bus.  At first it was kind of scary, but then it became my time to decompress and look at the city.  The bus takes you to these places you wouldn’t see as a tourist.  My stop, Alberti, was near the futbol stadium, and I would walk around the corner and go in a tunnel under the autostrada (freeway).  Then I walked further past some apartments, and then enter San Salvi.  It was like walking through a portal to this slightly abandoned, forgotten neighborhood.  There were palazzi on one side of the road, and a grassy area next to the wall blocking the train tracks on the other.  There was a trail through the grass, and there were always little birds flying around.  One of the palazzi is a primary school now.  I always walked by at recess, and I loved pausing my iPod and listening to the kids play and scream.  They were usually playing soccer or tag.

La Tinaia is in a yellow building at the end of the street.  It used to be a mental hospital, but in February 1975 (if I’m reading the translation correctly, so who really knows, but I think that’s right) they turned it into an art therapy center for people with developmental or mental disabilities.  I met one man there, and I don’t remember his name, but he said hello to me every week and asked me how I was.  He spoke really good English too.  Maika and Rossella were the women who showed me what to do.  Most of the time I worked in a tiny room with no windows.  I put the archive number in the computer and selected which materials the artist had used.  Then I took a picture of the piece with a digital camera that automatically uploaded the file onto the computer.  For the record, I archived a lot of Umberto Ammannati’s work.  I mean three folders of it.  That’s like a hundred fifty pieces.  The work in this place was amazing.  There were a lot of portraits, self and of others.  There was one artist who drew only women in lingerie and rockets.  I always wondered what these people had been through, and what was going through their mind when they were working.

For the last few weeks I got moved into the studio, which was a huge open room that smelled like paint.  There are huge easels everywhere and tables and unfinished work on the tables and easels.  Maika set me up at a table by one of the windows and showed me how to create the archive number (the number the piece is in the stack and the year it was made).  Then I had to write it down in a notebook.  That’s what I did for three hours a week, and it was great!  They played an English radio station that had the Beatles and Taylor Swift on it.  I have to say it–working at La Tinaia is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

So that’s generally what my week looked like in Firenze.  On Thursday night or Friday morning, I would pack up and leave for whatever adventure I had that weekend.

I’ll leave you with a picture of a street sign I found while walking in the Oltrarno neighborhood.  There a lot of weird signs like this.

Jesus sign