Monthly Archives: January 2008

"the best thing since sliced bread"

Juliana’s American apartment-mates, Caitlin, was talking in Italian with their other apartment-mates (two Italians and a Spaniard) and described something as “the best thing since sliced bread” … in Italian. The collective confusion that resulted revealed a startling truth: there aren’t many places where sliced bread is all that great.

See? It doesn’t come sliced here.

“sam the ham becomes prosciutto pete”

i helped make prosciutto the other night. it was everything i ever thought it could be (meat, salt). you can read about it here. or, you can go there, not read about it, and just look at the pictures. cured ham! study abroad! the fun never ends.

baci (the chocolate kind) and baci (the other kind)


If you enjoy this post, you might enjoy…

When eating flowers out of the garden isn’t just for unruly kids.

Hanging out with the original Austrian meatheads (really) and a trip to Salzburg.

Oh snap(s)! It’s Midsommar.


ho sbegliato

re: “darse le arie”

here’s the latest from my mom:

“As for darsi arias, I will tell you before Nonna gets to you that you took a good stab at it but you had too much Juliana on the mind. Darsi – to give oneself (vb dare) arias – airs. So, essentially acting uppity but not necessarily singing. And Juliana is genuine, uppity is not.”

so… i stand corrected! there you go :)

ok, whatever

here’s the website for baci chocolates (one of the most famous varieties), and here’s what it says:

While chocolate says romance in any language, PERUGINA’S BACI chocolate is romance.

PERUGINA, an Italian tradition of passion and style, began in 1907 as a labor of love between Giovanni Buitoni, the young heir to PERUGINA, and Luisa Spagnoli, a confectioner in her own right, in the charming and ancient Umbrian hill town of Perugia in central Italy. The two kept their love a secret, and Luisa continued to create many of PERUGINA’S truly indulgent chocolates, building PERUGINA into one of the most successful confectioners in Italy.

In 1922, Luisa created BACI, PERUGINA’S signature product. Imagine a woman so enchanted with love she would send Giovanni Buitoni secret love notes wrapped around her chocolate confections—hence the name “BACI.” Luisa’s passion inspired a tradition that is enjoyed around the world today. Each BACI, which means “kisses” in Italian, with its creamy dark chocolate and rich hazelnut center, comes wrapped in a poetic love note in six languages describing the course of love—a true gesture of romance. In 2002, BACI celebrated 80 years of expressing sentimental affection. Today, BACI is the most famous chocolate brand in Italy.

oddly enough, nestle now owns and produces the perugina line of chocolates, but the chocolatiers here will tell you that they’ve got the “ricetta anciana” — the original secret recipe, which calls for dark chocolate instead of the adulterated kind they put in the mass-produced version. i had one today, actually, along with my first cup of gelato, which made a great lunch. a+ for eating right.

Mrs. Mingott

My parents, in their infinite wisdom, got me a Sony Reader as a Christmas/Birthday present before I went abroad. One of the chief advantages of the Reader over Amazon’s Kindle (another digital book) is that the Reader comes with 100 free classics – so I’ve started tackling them. The funny thing about the classics that are available through this offer is that they are nearly all 19th century American novels – the literary counterparts to the newspaper research I’ve been doing for … well … awhile. The funny thing is that when I started thinking about what I wanted to research given the context of the 19th century, I chose newspapers because I thought that they would be more interesting than the novels of the day, which I had assumed might be kind of slow and kind of dull. And I was very wrong, because these books read just as well as today’s, but with a greater frequency of long sentences.

Today I finished Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady and started Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, which prompted me to write this in the first place, because there’s a passage in it that is so funny and so good that I wanted to save it. The Age of Innocence talks about the ups and downs of New York society in the early 1900s (at least, I think that’s right – I’ve only just started reading it), and the narrator is describing an ancient and eccentric matriarch, Mrs. Mingott, who has now grown so fat that she is unable to attend the opera but still maintains a high place in society by throwing prestigious parties. The narrator says:

“The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She had accepted this submergence as philosophically as all her other trials, and now, in extreme old age, was rewarded by presenting to her mirror an almost unwrinkled expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the center of which the traces of a small face survived as if awaiting excavation. A flight of smooth double chins led down to the dizzy depths of a still-snowy bosom veiled in snowy muslims that were held in place by a miniature portrait of the late Mr. Mingott; and around and below, wave after wave of black silk surged away over the edges of a capacious armchair, with two tiny white hands poised like gulls on the surface of the billows.”

This is immediately going right up there with my other favorite book moments, like the bathroom scene in The Crying of Lot 49 when Oedipa Maas puts on all the clothes and then the hairspray bottle goes crazy. The book was alright overall, but that one chapter is the funniest damn chapter I have ever read, ever.

In other news… I’m still abroad (duh), and rumor has it that the third week is the hardest (so says Juliana, who’s abroad right now for her fourth time). This right now is more or less smack dab in the middle of the third week, so I’m trying to hold off on any firm assertions regarding study abroad until it’s been awhile, but every now a moment of panic will hit me and I sit there asking myself, “Why are you here?” And I have reasons for being here, and even more exist beyond the ones that I count as my own, but it can be hard to reconcile the anticipation of an as-yet unrealized “experience of a lifetime” with the reality of missing my family, missing my friends, missing having a clear sense of purpose beyond learning to speak Italian and experiencing as much as I can. But then the moment passes, and I realize that outside my door is all of Europe, and I have a precious six months of nearly perfect freedom – I have so few obligations on me during this time beyond going to class that nearly anything seems possible, and that seems such a beautiful thing too! And that’s how it’s been going: my understanding of why I’m here and what I’m doing fluctuates wildly with very little provocation.

Among the intrinsically positive elements of study abroad, though: living in a city renowned for its chocolate. If the paragraph about Mrs. Mingott above made you think of a fleshy female pink-and-pearl Jabba the Hut, and if that image inspired you rather than make you want to throw up in your mouth, Perugia just might be the city for you. There is just so much incredible chocolate here. I don’t even know how to handle it. Usually the only time I can consume chocolate with breakfast, lunch, and dinner without feelings of true shame or fear is during exam time, but since Perugia is known for its chocolate, basically any time is the right time to immerse myself in the culture.

Darse Le Arie

One of the best parts of my study abroad is that I’m actually enrolled in the Università per Stranieri, an Italian university pretty widely recognized throughout Europe as a good place to learn Italian as a foreign language, so I’m with people from all over the world and, just as interestingly, people of all ages. Adult education is fun, and the expectations are way different than those for U.S. college students (well, at least as far as I know from being a student at Davidson). My class of 20-some students is probably a little more than half Chinese, plus some Koreans, three Americans, an Egyptian man, a woman from somewhere in the Balkans, this crazy German lady, and so on. I just switched classes, so I missed the day of introductions where everyone explains who they are, where they’re from, why they’re studying Italian, etc. etc., but the class I switched out of was pretty similar: an Australian couple in their sixties, a Canadian woman, five Americans, ten or so Chinese, a Bulgarian woman, two Indian nuns, and Dirk, the holandese (Dirk’s a 19-year-old Dutch guy with an attitude that smells a lot like a Napoleon complex, but because he’s short you can’t help but love him, albeit from above). There are also definitely some characters, which is great. Besides my roommate, I’ve made only one other good friend from the American program that I came with (Maura, who goes to Tufts), and the rest I’ve met at the University.

By far one of the most hilarious people I’ve met there, though, is Juliana Curcio, who (I’m calling it right now) will be a personal celeb for me later in life. I know she will be famous, because she knows she will be famous, because Pegasus (her codename for the psychic woman her family has been consulting with on and off for the last five years) told her she’s going to be famous. And that’s very reassuring, because Juliana’s an aspiring opera singer, and Pegasus told her that she will have a successful career as an opera singer for a while, and then she will return to Broadway to do musical theater because she’s not really serious enough to do the really serious roles, and you know she always really liked musical theater, and Pegasus also told her that she’s going to be some sort of CNN/NBC-type correspondent, because Pegasus saw Juliana’s name in lights, and the Curcio wasn’t there, but the Juliana was, and she’s going to be famous. And that’s that.

All of this is delivered, by the way, in a non-stop stream, complete with hair-flipping, hand-waving, and other physical reiterations. She is absolutely one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met. And, at the same time, one of the most genuine. I’ve never met someone who will flip so quickly between doing this ridiculous impression of Long Islanders (she had to student teach music there for six months) to talking about how much she loves her sisters and then right back to some story about her ex-boyfriend, Ben, who we now know all about… you get the point. She just talks and talks and is hilarious, but she means every word she says, which is somehow just as unbelievable as a special few of her stories (I’m thinking her relationship with Pegasus here).

So anyway, the point of telling this whole story is that I was in class (Juliana’s not in this class with me) and we’re reading a snippet about, what else, soccer (the title of this snippet was “uno sport famoso,” and the first question of the reading comprehension section is “can you guess the sport?” of course I can guess the sport. It’s the only sport anyone here talks about, ever). Anyway, the teacher is explaining the word “viziati,” which (I think) means something along the lines of spoiled or overly-rich, basically the usual complaints people have against the professional athletes they love. She tells us that another way of describing someone who is constantly full of themselves or, better, maybe somewhat of a showboat is saying that they “darsi le arie,” sing arias, which is a solo song in an opera that I think (and here maybe I’m wrong?) the lead female sings. Which is what Juliana sings, and she’s such a lovable showboat, and Italian culture actually has a phrase to explain the way she interacts with the world. Languages are just… great.


raillery \RAY-luh-ree\, noun:
1. Good-humored banter or teasing.
2. An instance of good-humored teasing; a jest.
Thank you, Doctor Dictionary, for this one.

Because my Italian is poor, and because conversations are more like guessing games than anything else, there’s been a whole lot of raillery in the last week.

“Cuanti anni hai, Antonello?” (Antonello’s my Italian roommate)
“Sono giovane.”
“Si? E vero?”
“Si, certo — ma, ho veintinove anni.”
“Oh, bene, sei il nonno. Bene.”
“Ma, no.”

The great thing is that in all this raillery, I’ve been learning how to speak Italian pretty quickly. I’ve been lucky in that I live with another student who is more advanced than I am and Antonello, who doesn’t speak any English. Even better is that Antonello takes the time to correct us when we use phrases incorrectly or put articles and pronouns in the wrong place, etc. Our apartment is still pretty empty, though. Enza, another Italian woman, is supposed to arrive today or tomorrow, and then we have one other room that needs a resident. A friend of the landlord came by the other day to show the apartment to someone, but so far we haven’t heard anything else. What I really wish would happen is that (a) we could get internet, because then I wouldn’t have to trek to internet cafes and pay for time or (b) that we would get heat, because it’s still cold. No luck so far, though, so I guess I’m just waiting for spring.

In the meantime, my exploring has been limited by the pretty gross weather: cold and rainy and (today) windy. I feel dumb being indoors, going back to the internet cafe, but there’s absolutely no sense in walking around outside right now, because you get cold and wet and then can never dry out because the apartment is just cold. Which is not to complain, just to say that I’ve done a lot more reading in the past week than I thought I would.

On the plus side, classes have started, and they are awesome. I’m in a beginner class (obviously), but there are people from all over the place in my lessons. There are a fair number of Americans, definitely, but we’re the minority. There are far more Chinese students than any other nationality, but also a Korean married couple, some Australians, a Brit, a Canadian, two Indian nuns, a Dutch guy, a British lawyer, and, as of yesterday, a crazy Bulgarian lady named Rubbina. We have three different sets of classes and a professor for each – one for grammar, one for group speaking practice, and one for laboratory speaking practice. The professor for grammar is this wildly energetic Italian woman, tiny tiny thin, who talks a lot about what a disappointment her son is and her scorn for Tuscany (because Perugia and Umbria are, in her opinion, far better). In our first day of class, we learned important questions: Come ti chiami?, Quanti anni hai?, and Sei libero? (What’s your name, how old are you, and are you single). That more or less describes the tone of that class. The lab professor is nondescript, but the professor for my group speaking class is my favorite, probably because he has this extremely senssssual speaking voice. When he started our first class, Giuliana, who’s an aspiring opera singer from New York, nearly fell over because she loved his voice so much. He’s married and has kids, but really, it doesn’t matter. That class is by far my favorite.

E basta. There’s a lot more to tell describe recount, but it would take forever, and I need to go buy groceries (fare la spesa!). The pasta’s great, but with those weather, I’m thinking maybe some soup. And maybe hot chocolate.

Baci –

Via Appia

This is from our first day of exploring (we being Kelsey, my roommate, and me). Behind me is Via Appia, which is a beautiful and ungodly street of millions and millions of stairs, all of which are very short and very long. Essentially, it defeats the purpose of the stair as a mode of transportation because it makes you walk in this stunted forced march for hours on end, whereas if the stairs were a normal size and shape, you could actually walk up them and then get to where you are going. Needless to say, we have since found an easier route.

On our second day, though, this was still the only route we knew, so when we woke up at 9:10 (that being already ten minutes late for the meeting time of a day trip into the country), we threw on our clothes and ran up none other than Via Appia. Also, it was raining at the time, so we when we got to Piazza Italia (more or less the other side of town), we were soggy—wet from rain and from sweat, still wearing our wool clothes, and shit out of luck, because the group had left without us. So we trudged back home and went back to bed because it was too cold and rainy to do anything else.

Later, though, when we ventured out again, that’s when we found the street group, and ran into Marta and went to the church and everything started, so it was fate (or something like it).


According to “the official statistics of la universita per stranieri,” (thanks, Wikipedia), from 2005-2006 there were 8,066 students. There are a lot more statistics, but they’re in Italian, so translate if you dare.

Love you,

8 gennaio

so it’s the end of day four in Italia for me, and it feels like much more time even though that’s really no time at all. I have no justification for making broad, sweeping assumptions about “study abroad,” but I have a feeling that this is going to be a semester of extremes. I’m SO excited, I’m SO nervous, I’m SO bright-eyed, I’m SO tired. And so on.

Class begins tomorrow, and this Universitá Per Stranieri is kind of the real deal. My schedule for tomorrow is five straight hours of Italian instruction without a break, 9-13 for “lingua italiana” (grammar-type) and 13-14 for “esercitazione di pronuncia e grafia” and “esercitazione orali” (some sort of language practice). None of this is hard and fast, though – the word of choice for all the people who have tried to explain to us how it all works is “depends.” As in: yes, you have a schedule, but it really d e p e n d s on what your professor decides. And: yes, you’re supposed to be enrolled, but it kind of d e p e n d s on whether the registrar can find your paperwork from last semester (fortunately, this was not said to me, but to some other poor woman). Depends, depends, depends – and now I want to make a lame joke about how all the “depends” around here make me want to pee my pants. Nyuk nyuk nyuk (home-school humor lives).

I’ve made some Italian friends, though, and more or less in a pretty hilarious way – my roommate and I were standing admiring this group of children and parents who were singing and dancing in the street when we got sucked into the group by a particularly vivacious mother who, strangely enough, looked exactly like zoe balaconis as an attractive early-middle age mother. I am not joking. So mama zoe learns that Kelsey (my roommate) and I are stranieri students, and she grabs her other friend, Marta, who’s a middle-school English teacher, and says we need to know her. And Marta tells us that all of her friends study at the Universitá di Perugia (the regular university, not for languages), and we should come to church with her because there’s a rosario for her friend’s mother, who has just died. So I’m kind of weirded out ( because honestly, who goes to a wake-like thing without knowing any of the people involved, dead or alive?), but, you know, Marta assures us in the Italian language that I don’t speak that it’s perfectly fine, and we go.

And it turned out to be a great idea. We sat through about an hour of praying the rosary in Italian, not really a big deal, and then we followed Marta outside and met five or so studenti di Perugia. And then they invited us out to lunch for today, and we went, and those five had invited a million or so other friends, and we went to this university hangout-spot-type pizzeria and ate pizza and endured the friendliest of interrogations. In Italian. I’m really coming along (eesh). My roommate actually speaks Italian more or less, but mine is the most broken of broken dialects; mostly I string together infinitives, nouns, and (as a last resort) Spanish + hand gestures.

So I am excited for tomorrow, because I think it’s possible to reach a conversation level pretty quickly and then being able to practice will only help more. One of my Italian apartment-mates (flatmates?) showed up today, though, and he’s awesome. Antonello is stick-thin, 28, does something with snakes and spiders (??), and is extremely jovial (if that word can be applied to a thin man). He doesn’t speak English, either, so we’ve been using (in the last six hours of our acquaintance) this kind of laughing pointing talking. He’s been living here for a long time, though, so I think he’s used to both the Italian language “inicio” (beginner) and to piecing together entirely fragmentary modes of speech. There are letters posted in the hallway to him and other names whose owners I haven’t met yet from people from all over – Japan, Germany, England, etc.

I leave you with my favorite vocab so far:

Asciugamano (ahh-shoo!-gahh-mahn-no): towel! (This word is far too awesome to be just a towel, I think. Ahhhhhh shooooo gahhhhhh mahhh no! so many good sounds).

Que palle (to be said with both hands in the a-ok position over one’s balls – you know, thumb and forefinger making a circle, other three loud and proud). This means “balls.” Palle = “balls,” and the expression is used for that exact reason. Que palle. Yessss.

Balls to you
From italy
From kate

Oh, and my toilet is decorated with barbed-wire, and we have a bidet. xoxo kate