1. Introductions, 2. Arrival, 3. Wayfinding, 4. Communicating , 5. Quotidian life, 6. Books (1), 7. Authenticity, 8. Art, 9. Great good places, 10. Books (2), 11. Genius loci, 12. The comfort of strangers , 13. Epiphanies, 14. Tips, 15. Final thoughts
Paris is itself an “objet d’art.” It is beautiful. It is impeccably crafted. The city itself has inspired more great artists and great works of art than I can count. It’s one of the reasons I chose to study there.
Being around so much beauty for so long definitely sharpened my eyes. My roommates are both artists, and between them and classes, I was at a museum or gallery about every other day. I saw Impressionist paintings and ancient sculptures and modern squares of color and light sculptures that altered my perception so much I stumbled and hit a small French child.
The kind of art that we saw varied so much. There were Guy Savoy houses in the suburbs and art nouveau objects at Maxims, Nouvelle Vague film stills and infinity rooms at the Grand Palais. Food was art and wine was art. Living in Paris was really about learning the art of living.
I saw exhibitions that I will likely remember for the rest of my life. There was Dynamo at the Grand Palais, featuring amazing light sculptures, and a room where each corner had different colored smoke that was surreally, perfectly separated. I loved Ron Muec at the Fondation Cartier, featuring perfectly realistic, giant sculptures that showed every little disgusting bit of the human body (pores, knuckle hair, etc.). Le Museé des Arts Decoratifs showed some of the most incredible design work I’ve ever seen, including a miniature sculpture of unicorns getting left out of Noah’s Arc.
The art wasn’t just wonderful in Paris. In Berlin I went to gallery openings that were distinctly “Berlin.” The highlight was a gallery that merely showed a video on a loop of a man who was eating soup, which was then served in wine glasses. In Barcelona, my roommate Tara made me sign up for a tour of every single Gaudí building. They were all incredible, and Barcelona remains the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Copenhagen brought the Design Museum Kobenhavn, perhaps my favorite museum I went to in Europe. In London I saw the sets for the
Harry Potterfilms, which I would argue was as great a work of art as anything else I saw (although the Butterbeer sucked).
In Paris there were about ten theaters that played old movies, French and American, and they were all located within two metro stops of my apartment. Seeing movies I never thought I’d see on a big screen was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. Film is art, and I never thought I’d get to see Roman Holiday on a big screen.
Through the photography club, I got to make my own silly “art.” Yasmin put together a wonderful show at a gallery space in the 19th, and it remains one of the greatest experiences I had in Paris. The guests were French and American, and after seeing so much art, it was great to see some of our own, right up on a gallery wall.
A Moveable Feastwas wonderful to read in Paris, especially because I lived in Ernest Hemingway’s neighborhood, only about five blocks away. Every time he referenced a café or location in our arrondisement, it was so easy to just stop by. Most of the cafés were closed, but I chose to live out an extreme cliché and frequent his favorite bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. Sylvia Beach is no longer alive and the place is mostly staffed with semi-unfriendly British people, but it’s still an incredible space. My favorite teacher in Paris, Iris Brey, described the place as a “twee intellectual cliché” but I loved it and thought it was so charming and bought about thirty one-euro paperbacks.
A Moveable Feastis ostensibly a memoir, but it’s interesting to wonder where Hemingway exaggerated or made himself sound better. He depicts life with Hadley to be so beautiful and wonderful that it’s hard to see how he would leave her for another woman, and it’s easy to think that he might be making things sound just a bit better than they were.
A Moveable Feastis also interesting in terms of its gender politics. Hemingway constantly asserts his masculinity, especially in scenes with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway was notoriously competitive (he compares nearly every writer in A Moveable Feast to his own work), but he takes Fitzgerald down an extra peg, even going so far as to include a scene in which Fitzgerald expresses fear that his penis is too small to satisfy his wife. When Hemingway and Fitzgerald go on a trip to Lyon, Hemingway compares his ability to hold massive amounts of liquor with Fitzgerald’s drunken breakdown, asserting how much stronger he is than the other man. He even describes Fitzgerald’s looks as “pretty.”
While Feast takes place in Paris, it is a distinctly American work. Nearly every character is an American, or rather, an American writer, meaning that they communicate in English for a living. Hemingway also takes pride in American affectations, such as drinking wine straight from the bottle (I’ve even seen French fifteen year-olds bring cups with them whilst they were just sitting at the Canal Saint Martin). The book never clarifies Hemingway’s level of French, and history seems to indicate that he was not a good speaker.
My personal favorite aspect of A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s description of food and drink. Writing is a visual medium, and Hemingway’s simple, clear language is the perfect vehicle to show one the crispness of a white wine, the smoothness of an oyster. His perpetual hunger is beautifully realized (and also the closest that I came to feeling hungry whilst living in Paris). Hemingway’s Paris is sensual and beautiful and sometimes grey and sad. But it’s mostly a full-bodied, warm experience, much like a good wine straight out of the bottle.
I did not do these things in France.
I arrived in Paris armed with two semesters of basic French. This did not pay off that much. During my first few weeks I was embarrassed to speak. I could order food and ask and give directions, and that was about it.
For the first two months of so, I was so nervous when I tried to speak. This was an unfamiliar feeling. I felt shy, something I've barely ever felt before. At cafés and bars I was too nervous to talk much to people. I hated the way people always responded in English, immediately recognizing my American accent, which was especially embarrassing in front of my more proficient friends.
My general lack of conversational skills in the outside world had an inverse effect. At my apartment, with my American roommates, I talked even more than usual. I would come bother them when they were cooking or reading or generally uninterested in talking to me. It always felt so good to talk without worrying that my accent made my sound like a yokel.
But the thing is, is that when you spend time in a foreign country, if you try to talk to people, you will eventually pick up some of the language. And that's what happened to me. By the end of a grey, lonely February and part of March, I got sick of feeling nervous. I'm not generally a nervous person. I like talking to people.
So that's what I did. I talked, trying not to be too loud and American, but I talked. Talking is really the only way to learn. My phonetics class helped my accent immeasurably, and while my written grammar was and remains an utter disaster, my spoken French, by about April, got to a point where people were asking what country I was from, not automatically assuming an American or Brit. True, weekends in England and Spain, places where I could ask for a coffee with far more ease, were a welcome break. But I really enjoyed working on my French, the satisfaction that came with a Frenchie's response of "Ouais" instead of "Yes."
My greatest accomplishment came after the school year ended. My friend Kait had been studying in Ghana, and came to travel in Europe for a month. Whilst staying in my apartment in Paris, Kait realized she had a terrible West African stomach virus. We needed a doctor, immediately, and none of the English speaking ones were familiar with tropical medicine. Kait needed a specialist, and all of them happened to only speak French. But I managed, over the phone, to successfully speak with three bureaucrats and two doctors, explaining a tropical disease and what medicine was needed. We got a doctor, and I translated throughout the appointment. It might well be my biggest accomplishment in anything, ever.
French is so beautiful. I hope that someday I get a little better at it.
Thank you Art of Travel course, I didn’t think you could help me round out this experience—to be honest, I took you for an even 16 credits, but you have been essential. The push to be wary of my experiences and to reflect on them in writing has been more than I thought possible. Plus, I’m terrified of forgetting, and thanks to you, I’ll have at least 15 things to remember.
Thank you French people for welcoming me, without reason, without reward. Thank you for tolerating my Creole nasal sounds and my inability to understand colloquial terms. Thank you for liking me, I mean, its so basic, so essential, but still so nice to be liked.
Thank you Lydia Epp Schmidt for allowing me to ask you every five seconds to spellcheck my text messages and for not ridiculing my spelling of the word “mieux” (which, in case you wondering, I repeatedly spelled “mieuller”—I have no clue why).
Thank you New York City, for not forgetting me. This last month has been crucial in my rekindling of relationships, with human beings as well as the real estate section of Craigslist NYC edition. As scared as I am to return to the real world, I know you won’t let me down. As jobless, internshipless and apartmentless as I am in this current moment, I know I’ll make it through with you.
Thank you Paris. Basically you are the answer to every question in this prompt, you are the answer to a lot of questions I had about myself, about the world, about the future. I know its cliché and silly and whatever. It’s le fin and I don’t care. I love this city, I love these people and I am cordially refusing to say goodbye. So instead, I’m just saying thank you and a toute.
Last night I was at my favorite art space here, one that is owned by friends, inhabited by friends, visited by friends. When I left, I became somewhat serious, trying to tell the boys that this was it, that I was leaving for real this time. They said no, you’re coming back tomorrow. I said okay.
Today I went back. Mostly to pick up some of my work that I left there, but also to say goodbye, for real this time. As I went to leave, I told them again, I leave in a few days, we have to say goodbye. They said, “non, mais on fait la fête avant que tu pars…” (no, we’re going to party before you leave). They insisted, if they didn’t see me later tonight, they would see me tomorrow night, or Saturday night, or Sunday night.
My nonexistent relationship with the word makes it easy for me. It means I don’t get too upset. I know I will make an effort to see you. I know I will make an effort to come back. I know that I will be back, in the relative area, in a few (hopefully) short months. But it also means that it hasn’t hit me yet. The last day of class came and went. My brothers are here, a testimony to the fact that it is summer at last.
But a lot of things contradict it. The weather, primarily. The insistence of my friends that they will see me again, even if it seems to be an impossibility. The lack of change happening around me. The fact that things will continue without me and that I will continue without “things.”
The characters of Paris will always be characters in my life. Recurring characters, perhaps. The atmosphere of Paris has seeped through my thick wool socks and made a clear mark. The smells will always remind me of a few short months spent drinking too much espresso and not sleeping enough. The places have become characters in my experience of Paris.
The details I remember, I choose to tell will be indicative of those moments, characters, smells that are essential to the influence Paris has had on my existence. The stories I tell will be simply traces of the marks that are left.
Paris isn’t leaving me. I am not leaving Paris.
So my nonexistent relationship with “goodbye” continues.
Enough about my blabbermouth, on to the practicalities. If you ask a Parisian the must-knows about the city it’s pretty similar to asking a New Yorker to give you their take on New York aka everyone will tell you something different; and as the true New Yorker that I believe I am, and the partial Parisienne I’ve become, I’ll tell you the familiar line “they know nothing, listen to me, I’m right”.
In terms of where you should live, it’s kind of difficult for me to pinpoint. In moving here, my goal was to minimize my travel time to school—this is my biggest regret, I wish I had maximized the time. While I did ask around before moving here which area worked best, I didn’t really get the grasp of the neighborhoods. That’s the thing about Paris, as similar as the arrondissements appear, they are vastly different once you get to know them. I would say anything between the 1st and 7th and then the 9th and 15th arrondissements are a good pick depending on what you’re into. But since I’m being the picky person that I’m being, I would live around the Oberkampf metro station. Just do it, don’t ask questions.
That’s actually good advice in general—take a line from Nike and just do things, be willing to go along for the ride. Parisians are genuinely good people who are genuinely interesting and interested in you. Some of my best times have been had by going with my gut and doing something a different me would have talked me out of doing (read: staying up til 2PM to watch a movie after a night of dancing sans sleep or my first moped ride along the Seine). I mean, be smart, but be adventurous.
I could tell you where to eat, where to drink, where to get coffee (actually, that’s a serious one for New Yorkers—go to Café Cosi off the Mabillon stop, Kooka Boora off Pigalle or Café Lomi further north), but it won’t do you any good, you probably wont remember or you wouldn’t make it there, but that’s good. That means you’re having a good time on your own. That means that you found someone to talk to and they talked back.
Now that the semester has finally come to an end, I feel like I'm finally starting to truly experience Florence. This was one of the worst winters that Florence has had in years because it was so cold and it poured rain nearly everyday for most of my experience here. I regret staying inside so much, but I only now have a chance to properly walk around and take in the beauty of the city during this final week of sunshine. My finals were all finished yesterday, so now I have two days to just enjoy Florence without the worry of having to get to class or complete schoolwork. It feels completely different. I feel free and I enjoy the city so much more now.
Last weekend, my friend and I went to the #1 voted panino shop in Florence for the first time and it was an absolutely incredible experience -- I wish I had tried it sooner because it would have become a weekly spot for me during the semester! It's a tiny shop that has a few stools inside but everyone eats their panino out on the street, sitting on a piece of sidewalk or standing around. Wine is only two euros and its unlimited self-service. There are rows of various unopened wine bottles and you just pour yourself whenever and whatever you please. The sandwich itself is incredible because it uses freshly baked Toscan focaccia bread and is piled with freshly sliced meat, veggies, and water spread you want -- sheep cheese, artichokes, sundried tomatoes, etc. The two young men who work behind the counter are so nice and the atmosphere is very pleasant. It's a real neighborhood spot and has such a friendly atmosphere. My friend and I sat there for a couple of hours and just talked and drank a lot of wine and it was such a great experience.
Yesterday, I walked up to PIazzale Michelangelo to appreciate a view of the entire city and it was my frist time doing so at sunset. I sat, perched on a ledge, and just listened to relaxing music as I watched the sun go down. It was so relaxing and I just got lost in my thoughts -- reflecting on my experience here but also thinking about how I will be home really soon.
I guess my epiphany has been that time is so fleeting and this experience has actually been enjoyable even though I feel I had somewhat of a negative attitude throughout the semester -- constantly wondering what everyone was doing back in NYC and missing home. It's only now that I'm leaving Florence that I'm starting to realize what I have missed out on but what I have also gained from being here.
Parks is shocked by how Italians treat their pets and although this book was written years ago and things have undoubtedly changed, I've also noticed similar attitudes among Italians and pet ownership. Americans have a very strong relationship with their pets -- "dog is man's best friend" -- but Italians aren't as keen to have them in their homes. Parks also notes the numerous amounts of mopeds, vespas, and small cars. This was another observation I immediately made in Italy. I'd snap as many pictures of Italian cars as I could in the beginning because I thought they were so cute in their various colors and compact size. I also think Italian drivers are some of the worst I have ever seen, as the author observes. They are extrememly impatient and many times, when I've been walking to school, I've seen traffic stop as two drivers get in a loud fight, each one craning their heads out their car windows to yell at eachother, which is always amusing. Italians also aren't very concerned with parking nicely and usually have half their car parked on the sidewalk and the other end sticking out in the street in an awkward diagonal.
Other things Parks observes is the inefficiency in Italian governemnt -- something I saw immediately when I came here. Italy had its presidential elections while I was here in Florence, but I do not even know the outcome because there was so much confusion. Initially, it was revealed that Italians could not decide on their form of government or president so that was the confusing results of the election. I could tell many Italians around me were very frustrated. Then there was the chaos when the Pope resigned and it was very interesting to see the process of electing a new one. I kept comparing this experience and process with the one back home which is so different.
I appreciate Parks's honest view and account of Italy -- he does not try to idealize and romanticize his experience and really manages to capture interesting points of the culture in great detail. However, nothing compares to actually visiting Italy yourself and after reading this book, I've managed to remember a lot of similar experiences I've had throughout the semester.
But in all seriousness, speak French. If you don’t know French, learn it. And then speak it as much as you can. Take advantage of your time in Paris to make your French better. Let Parisians practice their English with you (and don’t be offended by it), but use them in return to practice your French.
Speaking of the French, make Parisian friends. (And, of course, speak French with those Parisian friends). You’ll have an experience that gives a real sense of the city, and you’ll have people to come back to, if you ever choose to return.
While living in Paris, go out of your way to experience things that are “Paris.” Don’t make excuses for yourself. Set cultural goals, and make sure you see them through—or take classes that give you more cultural experiences (like an art class that goes to galleries every week).
But more than anything, stray from the beaten path. Yes, go to the Louvre. Yes, see Notre Dame. Yes, definitely go to park de la Villette. But don’t be scared of getting lost. In fact, try to get lost. Intentionally get lost. Find the small café that isn’t on the main boulevard. With that being said, go to Ladurée and Pierre Hermès for macarons as much as humanly possible (find that flavor that makes you tear up a little bit).
Academically, take a French class. Even if you think your French is perfect. It probably isn’t. Or maybe it is. And if it is, take classes in French. Take classes through the French universities. And meet French students through those classes and become with those French students and see those French friends outside of class. Ask them to take you to their favorite spot in Paris.
If you find that you love Paris, or even enjoy it, don’t spend too many weekends away. Take advantage of spring break and a long weekend or two to travel—on your weekends in Paris, explore, get lost, find something you never thought you would.
When looking for a place to live, know yourself. Live close to school if you know you don’t want a 40-minute commute every day, even if that means you’re further from where you would prefer to spend your time. Know that living in a home stay means making sacrifices—know that living in an apartment might not be perfect either.
There are a lot of hidden treasures in Paris. The one gem, that a good friend of mine told me about, and that I will now pass along, is Restaurant Ravioli’s. With the Chinese name Gui Xin, it is a great, cheap dumpling restaurant in Chinatown—almost always crowded, but don’t trust the hours of operation listed online, they really aren’t accurate (they’re open when they want to be).
When in Paris, be a flaneur. When in Paris, find your own hidden gem, your own representation of the city.
If someone were to ask me my favorite place to grab a coffee and study in Florence, my answer would be Via Bolognese, 120. No, its not a fancy cafe in the city center but the address of NYU’s campus. Fernando, the cafe barista, makes a mean caffe latte. Not only does he always greet me with a warm smile but I know that he isn’t judging me when I order a coffee with milk after noon.
At any hour the cafe on campus is always packed. It’s not unlikely to run into your professors before class. Or to encounter a twenty person line of students trying to get their morning coffee before their 9 am. Fernando also makes the best nutella filled croissants. After having visited Paris in the first few weeks of the semester, I could not eat an Italy pastry without thinking of their French counterpart. If I’m craving something sweet and gelato isn’t an option, I get my fix on campus.
My only complaint about the cafe, and the entire country of Italy in general, is the sugar they offer. I am a die hard splenda fanatic (yes I know all of the horrible side effects and I still can’t break the addiction) and the cafe only offers a weird sweetener called dietor. Apparently splenda is outlawed in the country, a fact which I found out after I smuggled in a four hundred packet box. My roommates and I have even introduced Fernando to the joys of splenda. In the beginning he was perplexed at the tiny yellow packets we were always whipping out of our school bags in the cafe but after he tried it he was hooked. Now we give him a packet everyday, so that he can use it in his one daily latte the next morning.
One of the best things about the cafe is the fact that the whole program frequents it at one point or another throughout the day. It's located on the bottom floor of the building where most of the classes on campus are held. Back in New York, the Washington Square campus is so spread out that I could go an entire few days without running into any of my friends. In Florence, its inevitable to run into at least a dozen of your friends. Every table is filled with people studying or recounting last night's events. It provides a nice sense of community. I imagine that the atmosphere is what I would experience if I had went to a small liberal arts college or state school, a central place where everyone on campus goes to hang out. It truly is a great, good place, one of which will not be replaceable when I return to the states.
(Photo taken by me on the cafe patio)
The other day one of my friends brought up how she feels as though she has changed so much since she has been in Berlin, and at first thought I wasn’t able to say if I had really changed or not. However, with more thought I realized that I really had. Even looking back at my blog entries from the first few weeks makes me realize how much has happened since I left the States. When I honestly think back to my first days here, my experience at the airport, trying to make new friends, trying to not consistently get lost it seems like ages ago. It shocks me to think that I didn’t know any of the people that I now consider to be some of my closest friends, people that I am sure I will stay extremely close with when I go back to New York.
I also realized that my time in Berlin has proven to myself that I am capable of starting a life in a completely new place, something that I have often doubted if I would be able to do. I have never really seen myself as a traveler, I didn’t move around a lot in my youth and my family is not constantly taking trips to exotic places, I am not always the one seeking out a foreign adventure. And though the first week or so was slightly difficult for me and there were moments that I wanted to be back in New York, I find comfort in that fact that now by the time I leave four months later I have grown to love this new city enough that I want to stay.
When I try to imagine myself in New York I always picture myself making comments about things that were better in Berlin. I know I’m going to miss the nightlife, the fact that you can smoke inside and drink on the streets. I’m going to miss the fact that the trains are not only punctual, but early every time I wait for a delayed L train. I’m going to miss the amazing use of pretzels this country has made, I’m going to miss how cheap everything is and how something about the way of life just tells you not to try so hard because it will all work out.
I wouldn’t trade my abroad experience for anything in the world, writing about my time here and being able to look back at all of my blog posts through the process will forever help me solidify this experience.
Ribollita. When I think of the perfect dish to describe Florence as a whole, this is what comes to mind. Naples has pizza, Capri has the caprese sandwhich, and Rome has the artichoke. Tuscan white bean soup might sound like the most unappealing of the bunch but I’d choose it any day over the others. The dish is the embodiment of the region, a hearty and vegetable ridden meal that will warm you up on the coldest of days.
One of my roommates introduced me to Ribollita during our first few days in Florence. She had traveled to Italy numerous times and it was one of the meals she constantly raved about. I have an affinity for soups. In New York I’ve tried almost every soup on the menu at Hale and Hearty. I was nervous that my addiction was going to have to be put on hold for the next four months. Thanks to my roommates adamant persistence that I order the dish, my soup obsession continued, but with more of an Italian flare.
Now, any restaurant I walk into, my eyes immediately scan the menu for it. I’ve tried about ten different versions so far. My roommates now consider me a Ribollita snob but I like to think of myself as more of a Ribollita connoisseur. I can detect the perfect ratio of bean to broth. Did the chef add stale bread to the batch? If so, I can immediately tell by the thickness of the soup. I prefer the use of kale in the soup instead of lettuce, with a mix of blended and whole white beans as opposed to solely pureed beans.
There is one restaurant in all of Florence that I believe makes the perfect Ribollita: Osteria Santo Spirito. The second you walk in you have clear view into the kitchen. Chefs hands are flying and the servers zip around the small interior carrying steaming plates of food. The place is such a hot commodity, with both the Italian and American crowds, that it is nearly impossible to get a table between eight and ten without a reservation. My friends have stopped asking me what I am going to eat when we go. The one question I do receive is if I am going to get a full or half sized portion. The full sized portion is presented in a bowl that is larger than my face. However, I almost always go with the full plate. There’s no point in making the trek across the Arno then to not leave the restaurant with a stomach that isn’t filled to the brim with the best bean soup in all of Florence.
Every time I told someone I was going to be spending my semester in Florence, the most common response I would receive was how lucky I was to be studying art in the birthplace of the Renaissance. I would be living in a city that housed Michelangelo’s David and Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus. What a great opportunity to be able to view these masterpieces whenever I wanted. However, whenever the subject came up, all I could do was muster up a polite but unenthusiastic head nod.
Art history is a part of my major and I’ve always prided myself on keeping an open mind when viewing works. Even if I don’t totally like a piece or the movement it falls into, I try to withhold my biases and understand what the artist’s intentions were in hopes that I’ll warm up to it. With that being said, the Renaissance is my least favorite genre of art. Blasphemous to most, I know. I don’t even think I could fully put into words what it is that I don’t like. I just find it unappealing. Maybe it’s the fact that I feel like every piece I see is just a different rendition of Madonna and Child.
A trip to the famous Accademia Gallery for a class assignment only added to my confusion about the city and its art. My apartment is about two blocks from the Accademia. It’s the site where Michelanglo’s David is held. That being said, there is usually a line for admission that wraps around the block. One of the perks of being a student is that we get a museum card that allows us to pass the line, so luckily I’ve never had to wait but I heard it can take up to three hours to get in. My assignment that day was to find a piece in the museum and be able to present on the object for five minutes. I didn’t want to go for the obvious and pick David. I wandered to a side room, filled with busts and Roman statues of woman. I was frustrated that everything, in my eyes at least, looked the same. I wanted to present on a piece that spoke to me. All of a sudden I looked down and saw a steel table that held a black and white photograph of a man in a yoga pose. It looked extremely out of place but I knew that I had found my piece. I read the label and discovered that it was a photograph taken by Robert Mapplethorpe. Apparently five years ago the city held an exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s photographs of the male body and juxtaposed it with Michelanglo’s view of the male form. For a city so stuck in the past, I was impressed with its forward thinking in presenting this exhibit. I took down the name of the piece Von Hackendahl, 1985 so that I could further research it. When I got home I googled the title, however, a different piece appeared in my search. Mapplethorpe’s Von Hackendahl wasn’t the photograph I had seen on display an hour earlier, it was actually a piece entitled Derrick Cross, 1985. Since both photographs had been depictions of the male body, the general label description at the Accademia worked for both pieces. I was shocked that such a famous gallery could have a work on display by such a renowned artist with the wrong label. It completely canceled out any of the positive feelings I had earlier felt about the museum, and again reinforced my opinion that the city has a one track mind and places contemporary art on the back burner.
(Photo of Robert Mapplethorpe's Derrick Cross)
Four days a week, every week. All twelve of us shuffle into the classroom. Usually there is a collective complain that it’s so late and we all should just skip class and go to dinner. After my roommates, the group of people who I see the most consistently are the twelve students in my 6 o'clock Italian class. They’ve become a constant during my stay here in Florence. And though the class is made up of the most eclectic group of people, a few Sternies, two kids from the Abu Dhabi campus, a few acting majors; we all weirdly mesh well together. The class and the people in it have become a source of comfort during my stay.
Our Italian professor Marco only adds to the dynamic of the group. I’m convinced he doesn’t speak much English, but he is one of the sweetest and most encouraging teachers I've ever had. He is the quintessential Italian. He rides a Vespa and is adamant that there is a strong difference between a caffe and a cappuccino. He refuses to listen to us pronounce gelato wrong (apparently there should be three syllables in the word ge-la-to). One evening we participated in a tandem with Italian students from the local university. After the event was over, a girl from our class proceeded to tell Marco that she had a crush with the boy she was paired up with. And in true Italian fashion, Marco told her to chase him down because she might be letting her one true love slip away. The stereotype of Italy being a country filled with hopeless romantics was proven true.
Learning another language is hard enough, nonetheless learning said language not in English is even more challenging. Each class my Italian gets progressively worse. Just when I thought I had the genders of certain objects down pat (which still baffles me that a pen or book can be masculine or feminine) I’m introduced to a new verb tense and everything I thought I knew is completely thrown off balance. I definitely do not have a good poker face because any time something confuses me my expression immediately gives it away. Usually I am the person in class who hates asking questions. If I don’t understand something I’d rather just try and figure it out on my own or ask the teacher after class. However, in Italian I ask the most questions out of anyone. What’s nice is that if Marco has a hard time re explaining a concept, someone in the class will jump in and try to help me understand. There is no sense of competition of who can speak the language the best. Or any embarrassment if we mispronounce a word and our accent isn’t perfect. We’ve become an odd little family unit. Maybe it’s because we are all in the same boat, trying to learn a foreign language together while we live in the country. But in the end, we all genuinely want the others to succeed and our willing to help out whenever we can.
(Photo taken by me of my Italian professor)