Saturday, October 4, 2008

I should take more pictures

So it's a lazy Saturday here in Bologna, and I'm sitting in my bed thinking about the change of seasons. Not so long ago it was full fledged summer here in Italy. This is what the best days looked like:

That's Bologna's biggest and snazziest park- the Giardini Margherita. There's a little caffe on an island in the center of the pond. It's got a covered terrace overlooking the water, which is filled with turtles, tiny fish, and very big fish that mill around waiting for the bits of bread that kids throw down from the bridge. The park is full to the brim with couples, like most other places in Italy, but it's also got families, high schoolers, people on rollerblades, and circles of hippies playing guitar and passing around suspicious looking cigarettes. I spent some really nice afternoons there when the weather was warm, sitting in the grass with my friend Marina and reading Harry Potter in Italian.

Then, seemingly overnight, the seasons changed, and it was autumn. Suddenly, I had to dress like this to venture out of doors:

Thankfully, my hair is so long these days it keeps my ears warm, and my Berkeley collection of scarves is serving me well. And of course, with the arrival of autumn, have come my first university classes. Predictably, the Italian university system is disorganized and confusing. Classes don't start all on the same day, but rather vary depending on Facolta (think Letters and Sciences) and Dipartimento (Art History). Also, since high school here in Italy is 5 years instead of 4, their BA program (prima laurea) is only 3 years. After that, there's two years of "grad school" for a laurea specialistica. Because we're here through UC, we can take both undergrad and graduate level courses, which are usually much smaller and involve a more American interaction with the professor- discussion rather than straight lecture. The only class I've had so far has been "Archeologia e Storia dell'arte Cristiana e Medievale" - Christian and medieval archeology and art history. It's really interesting, and I'm shocked to learn that I can actually follow a graduate level course entirely in Italian. In fact, the problem I'm facing isn't language comprehension, but rather my complete lack of background in Christianity. Who knew there were so many saints! And what on earth is the difference between a Cathedral and a normal Church??

Another shift that's come with the cooler days and cold late nights is this new and wonderful appreciation of where I am and what I'm doing. Sometimes walking down the street I'm suddenly struck by the realization that this is real- I am young and living in Italy and my life is unfolding in front of me to be molded into whatever shape I please. The whole city seems to be filled up by possibility, tucked into every alley and fountain and stretching indefinitley out into the too-blue sky. Maybe it's a euphoria that won't last, but one day I woke up and I wasn't lonely any more. Something clicked, and it was enough to just be myself, here, and at this moment. And it's still true that I have no idea what I'm doing, and I still spend too much time thinking about the past and wondering about the future, but it's October now, and I finally know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The sweet and the low

I'll start with the good.
The weekend in Germany was incredible. I took a night train from Bologna to Munich- 7 hours next to a man from Napoli who expounded without stopping on his views on immigration (against), evolution (impossible), and the youth of today (drug addicts and drunks, all of them). The 17 year old Italian across from me insisted in touching my legs with his legs throughout the trip, stretching out across the compartment and innocently changing position whenever I tried to shift away. I finally made it to Munich at 6.30 in the morning and camped out in a cafe until Tabea arrived at 11. After a lovely cup of coffee in downtown Munich, we went to drop off our bags at her friend Flo's house, conviently located about 3 blocks from Oktoberfest, which was already in full swing by 2 o'clock in the afternoon. After a quick lunch (of pasta... go figure) we made our way down to the site. It was jam packed with more people in lederhosen than I have ever seen. There were giant carnival rides, stands selling traditional (pretzels and bratwurst) and not so traditional (beer ice cream?) Bavarian treats, and of course, the famous beer halls- giant tents filled with people drinking litre-mugs of cold, savory, foamy German beer. We made a halfhearted attempt to get into a tent, but there wasn't much chance. People had been waiting since 9 am to get in, and there was no sign of anyone coming out. Instead, we walked around, went on a carnival ride, and then decided to go get drinks in town before dinner.
We returned to Flo's house for a lovely traditional meal of sausages, potatoes and saurkraut, and afterwards we were joined by some new friends for cocktails, german board games, and a midnight snack of nachos. The next day Tabea and I returned to Stuttgart for Jason Mraz. It was lovely seeing her family again, they are some of the most welcoming people I've ever met. The concert was spectacular, even better than I could have hoped. We were second row from the front and we danced and sang without stopping for the entirety. Sadly, the weekend was over in the blink of an eye. Monday I packed up and left for Italy, enjoying my last few moments of the incredible German public transportation and overall good organization.
On arriving in Pisa around 9 pm I learned that the only train to Bologna left from Florence at 1.47 am. As I sulked, waiting for my first train to arrive, I got a call from my dad. He sounded strange on the phone, and after asking about my weekend, he said he had some terrible news. I felt my heart drop straight into my stomach. At first I thought it must be to do with my mom's heart- she's still having some trouble and they're thinking they might have to operate again. But I could never have guessed what was coming.
"I don't want to tell you this, but Fiona died." His voice broke, and I felt my throat close up.
They think she must have eaten something poison, since one day she was healthy, and the next she came home horribly sick. The morning after, she was gone, having fallen asleep on her favorite leather couch in the living room. My parents are destroyed, it must be so much worse for them than me, living in the suddenly very empty house.
It's amazing how much an animal can steal your heart, and how much losing them can break it. I still can't believe her little smiling face won't be waiting for me at home this Christmas. She's still so alive in my memory.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What I've been eating, part 1...

White Wine Sangria

  • 1 bottle decent white wine
  • 1/4 bottle white rum
  • Sprite
  • 2 small, sweet apples
  • 1 mango
  • handfull lychees (or grapes, in a pinch)
  • 1 peach
  • 1 nectarine
  • juice from 2 large oranges
  • simple syrup to taste (equal parts sugar and boiling water)
  1. Chop fruit into approx. 1 in. pieces and place in a medium sized pot. Add rum, wine, OJ, and sugar. Don't make it too sweet, since you'll be adding Sprite later.
  2. Refrigerate at least 3 hours, longer is better. Serve over ice, topped off with Sprite.
Hot and Spicy Salad

  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 medium red onion
  • handfull brown mushrooms, handfull cherry tomatoes
  • Sambal chili garlic sauce (or Sriracha)
  • white wine vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • cumin or curry powder
  1. In a large skillet, saute the onion until softened, but not browned
  2. Cut zucchini and mushrooms into similar sized pieces and add them to the pan. Season with salt, pepper, and your spice of choice. Once they're mostly cooked, add quartered cherry tomatoes and hot sauce
  3. Using a mandolin or a standard vegetable peeler, grate the carrots into long, flat strips, like tagliatelle noodles. Add the carrots to the pan and add more salt and hot sauce.
  4. Finish with a dash of white wine vinegar.
Fig and Brie Appetizer

  • 1 baguette, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds on the diagonal
  • Brie or similar soft cheese (I tried a goat cheese that was similar to brie, but lighter)
  • either standard honey or date honey, which I assume could be found in a middle eastern market - it's amazing!!!
  • fresh green figs
  1. Brush the bread slices with olive oil and toast them very lightly in the oven.
  2. Drizzle with honey and place a slice of brie on each, then return to the oven to melt the cheese.
  3. Once the cheese is melted, remove and place 1/2 fig on each slice of bread

Almost as long awaited...

First, let me apologize for the ridiculous break I took from updating. I guess I was waiting to have something to write about. Unfortunately, my own journal has seen similar results of this crafty waiting plan. Now that I'm back in school I don't see myself getting that much better in my own journal, but hopefully I can at least keep up here.

I still can't believe that summer is over, even though I've been in school for two weeks now. I guess because I spent so much time with David (The Graduate), I never really realized that I would be going back. I feel like I spent the whole summer expecting summer to start and then it ended. Really, it was an amazing summer. It was so relaxing and laid back. It was nice living with David, working full time and coming home to each other at the end of the day, catching up on some reading and watching really good movies. Towards the end I started getting antsy that I hadn't gone anywhere, but I realized it was only a psychological complaint. I decided I didn't have a good summer without looking at the facts. In all honesty it was one of the best summers I've had.

Things I accomplished:
  • I listened to three years worth of This American Life archives. On those long grueling days at work I would sometimes listen to three or four a day. It was beautiful.
  • I read A LOT. I caught up on a lot of things I've been meaning to read, plus found some new favorites. like Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation.
  • I studied a bit for German before starting class, not enough really, but some.
  • I studied a bit for the GREs, again, not enough, but some.
  • I co-habitated successfully with my partner and continue to do so, which I think is a major accomplishment for both of us.
  • I managed to save up some dough.
  • I cooked A LOT.
  • I welcomed lovely new roommates into my home.

But... I never went swimming! Can you believe it?

So now, the new semester. I'm only taking 13.5 units but I feel totally overwhelmed. Deutsch is kicking my little butt. My two history classes are great, but I'm having a hard time trying to keep up with them while not falling behind in German. I hope conditions improve.

That's all for now.

P.S. I edited our list of comrades. Everyone is blogging these days.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Long awaited, I'm sure

It's been awhile...
I tried to post from Israel, but couldn't quite figure out the buttons in Hebrew. I got back to Bologna yesterday afternoon around 2 and crashed for the rest of the day. I woke up briefly to unpack, do some grocery shopping, and eat a light meal, then I went back to sleep until 8:30 this morning. It's strange being back in Italy. My Italian is definitely rusty, after almost a month of English, but my Hebrew has certainly improved. It's so odd how much I can understand, even though I never speak. I find myself following my relatives' conversations easily, without thinking about it. It's so different from how I understand Italian- that requires intense concentration, translation of certain words. But with Hebrew, it's as though it's already in my head, I just absorb it without thinking. I think after college I will have to spend some time in Israel, re-learn the language for real.

My vacation was amazing. Tel Aviv is such a cool city, especially in the summer. The beach is packed with gorgeous, suntanned people, cafes, bars, and restaurants, and at night the whole city is alive with music. I stayed there for about a week, listening to amazing bands (my favorite was a girl named Rif, about our age, who sounds like an Israeli Fiona Apple), eating incredible food (and a lot of it), and exploring the city. Afterwards, I spent a few days at my uncle Amichi's house in Pardes Hanna, waiting for my parents to get in. After 17 years of shyness and cold-shouldering, my girl cousins have finally opened up to me. I had a great time hanging out with them, as well as my aunt and uncle, who are always lovely. It's so strange being a part of a big family when I'm in Israel. They're all so tight knit, their lives completely interlocked even as they whirl around one another in a flurry of activity. I've only ever really been close to my nuclear family, and for most of my life my brother's have been so at odds with my parents that my relationships with them have been kept separate. Being in Israel is dislocating, I know that by blood I am a part of this clan, but I can't help feeling irreconcilably (sp?) foreign.

When my parents got in, I moved with them to a house we rented from an old lady on Kibbutz Sdot Yam. It's the most incredible place- right down the road from Caesarea, a Port City built by Herod in the Roman Era, and immediately on the beach. The grassy lawns are overflowing with Roman artifacts, many of which have been claimed as lawn ornaments by the kibbutz inhabitants. Our house boasted two at the entrance and four more as plant holders on the modest tile porch. The woman herself, Ester, was a pretty amazing character. She arrived in Israel in the 30s, before the Zionist movement even began in earnest. She came from Yemen, and her entire family made the trip on two donkeys. When she got to Israel, she joined the Palmach- the first Israeli military, composed entirely of young volunteers. There, she met her German husband, married, and moved to Sdot Yam. The house was full of pictures of her, her husband, children, and grandchildren, wedding pictures of women in elaborate Yemenite costume, her husband's German family looking somber in suits and buttoned-up dresses. The sea was about a minute's walk down the path, and every morning my parents and I woke up at 6 am for a walk to the ruins of Caesarea, followed by a swim in the Med, breakfast, and a nap. It was so good to see them again, to spend some time being totally lazy with the people I love best. We did do some touring- we spent one day at the Holocaust museum, Yad Veshem, and another in Tel Aviv, where I showed my mother the boutiques on Shenkin Street (which she loved) and toured the art museum, which had a surprisingly large collection of Picassos. Afterwards we went to dinner at a restaurant called Manta Ray- it's right on the southern end of the beachfront promenade, and it was absolutely incredible. One appetizer was a cylinder of crab meat on top of dates, topped with some kind of sweet/spicy chutney, dinner featured mussels and chorizo in a fennel scented broth, calamari and shrimp in a creamy white sauce with parmesan and figs, and the most perfectly fried calamari I've ever had. The only thing that could have improved it would have been my favorite Berkeley dining companions to over-do it on Sangria and laugh at my Dad's terrible jokes.

Now that I'm back, Bologna seems terribly lonely. I know this is just the beginning, that soon I will feel at home here in my little, sunlit bedroom, but for now, I can't help wishing I was on the plane with my parents, back home to California.

Friday, August 1, 2008

I stayed home from work today with cramps/hangover. It feels strange to sit around with nothing to do. I rarely take days like this, but it's kind of nice to steal a slice out of my usual schedule. I feel like by skipping work I've created extra hours in the week to just lie in bed. I have been working full, full time and it's so frustrating to come home at the end of each day too tired to do anything but crash. This is my last summer as an irresponsible student and I feel like I'm making a mess of it by being too responsible.

That said, Ashby is a lovely place to be. The weather has been mild, not the unbearable hot stickiness of May, but more like how it was in Berlin last summer. Parts of me ache for my dorm room in Berlin. It was stark white and empty because all I had fit into a tiny suitcase. This year has been a blur. I can't comprehend how quickly time has flown.

Our new roommate is moving in mid-August. I'm looking forward to the fresh energy, and also to having a settled house. I'm anxious about the transition. I feel like a sort of Madame here, not in the pimp way, but just like I am the Lady of the House since I have lived here longest and manage all financial transactions. People look to me to check if things are ok. It's a funny, strange feeling.

That's all for now.

First Italian Poem


It’s July in Rome, and I can’t sleep.
Even as the sun dips languidly into the horizon,
in timid increments, like a cautious bather
the heat still lingers. It hangs
draped over rooftops, across clotheslines
strung like cobwebs between flowered balconies,
caught by the fibers of the starchy sheets on my hard mattress,
pricking beads of sweat from my restless legs and feet.

The fan churns weakly in the corner, defeated
by the humid weight of stagnant air. And despite
the itchy, pressing warmth, I will not throw
the blankets back. Because uncovered
here means unconfined, borderless, and thus exposed.

And I have already felt my edges start to blur,
standing in the courtyard of San Pietro,
head swept back to follow marble pillars
up their gleaming length into the too-large sky,
feeling so untethered I could almost
shuck this tiny clumsy body, atomize
into the ivory-cradled blue – almost.
Except the heat enfolds me, layered thickly like a bandage,
compressing me into myself, until I can look down
to find my feet still balanced on the cobblestones.

So I’ve lied awake since midnight, counting down
until those precious few cool hours before dawn,
willing myself heavier, dense enough
to remain whole, contained without
the ballast that once kept me grounded,
gave me shape.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cooking and nostalgia

My time in Rome is quickly winding down. My final exam is next Thursday, and after that it's off to Bologna for two or three days before I leave for the holy land. My time in this city has not been easy to say the least, so I'm very much looking forward to starting fresh in my new home. Although my last weekend was a lot of fun, I can't help but feel a little ratty in my claustrophobic little room, hiding from the roommates who have begun to drive me absolutely bonkers. But it's not much longer, and there certainly have been some good times. Here's a rundown of the most exciting events of the past week:

Friday night: Went out with some of the roomies for an aperitivo, including the absolute best alcoholic beverage I have ever consumed: a frozen mojito. It's like a mojito slushie, all sweet and bright green with a wedge of lime, a sprig of mint so big it was more like a small bush, and a maraschino cherry. I was a little too greedy with mine and ended up with an awful brain freeze. After that, we had sangria at an outdoor cafe where we talked with a nice Swedish couple on a romantic vacation, followed by hard ciders at our new favorite pub, The Scholar's Lounge. At The Lounge we made friends with a nice young English lad who we invited to crash on our couch and join us for Saturday brunch. Bedtime that night was about 5 am.

Saturday morning: I made a pretty monumental brunch: basil and parmesan scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes with plenty of olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, polenta with arugula and porcini mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, sliced and salted, pancetta (Italy's sad excuse for bacon), and peach nectar and prosecco bellinis (the perfect brunch hangover cocktail). Afterward, we lapsed into a severe food coma and went back to sleep for the next four or five hours.

Saturday night: Woke up, got dressed up, and made our way to the opera! The show was Aida- the music, costumes, and singing were all out of this world, but I'd have to say my favorite aspect was the location. The stage was set up outdoors, right smack in the middle of the ruins of Rome's largest ancient bathhouse complex. The broken stone towers rose up like extensions of the Egyptian themed set, lit up by varicolored stage lights, bats flitting back and forth from tree to tower as the sun began to set. Absolutely breathtaking. My only complaint was that the show didn't start until 9:00 pm, meaning it only got out around 12:30. What with the previous night's sleep deprivation, my head did nod a bit towards the middle of the third act. Still, an amazing experience, and worth the agony of trying to get a cab to take home five people at 1 am. In the end, I had to convince the driver I really only count as half a person.

Sunday: Went to a beach outside Rome, lied in the sun all day, played in the Mediterranean, ate a salami, cheese, and tomato sandwich followed by a nutella and ricotta and fig gelato. Life is good.

Still, most nights I miss coming home to Ashby and Fulton and just walking into any room for a chat, a giggle, or a hug. I find most of my stories starting with: "my friends in Berkeley..." I've been trying to write, but the words are difficult to find. I'm looking for something in between change and loss, but so far I haven't come to any enlightening conclusions. For now, I'm looking forward to a night at the movies, American style. My roommates and I, and most of the kids in the program, are heading to the Warner Village Theater to see The Dark Knight in English. I can't wait to eat popcorn... I can only hope that they do that here... somehow prosciutto and melone just wouldn't be the same...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Love at first sight...

So, this weekend was my first glimpse of the city that will become my home over the next year. On Thursday after class I caught the train from Roma with some of the other kids in the program. Three hours of rolling green hills, hay bales, and glimpses of miniature cliffside castles, and werolled into the graffiti covered Bologna train station. It was about seven o'clock at night and wehadn't eaten since noon, so we dropped our bags at the hostel and immediately made our way to the restaurant reccommended to us by the girl at the front desk.
There were seven of us and the restaurant was narrow and crowded, but the waiters happily made room, joking and flirting and teasing in true Italian style. Everyone seems friendlier in Bologna. There is none of that big city curtness that you find in Rome- they haven't yet learned to be impatient with American tourists, in fact, most seem genuinely pleased when you try to speak the language. Bologna is famous for several dishes, mostly for tagliatelle al ragu (known in the States as pasta bolognese) and any sort of filled pasta, like tortellini, ravioli, etc. I decided I was obligated on my first night in Bologna to try the dish that was seen as deserving it's name. The noodles were the egg-y yellow color of fresh pasta, piled with rich, velvety meat sauce, the savory richness cut perfectly by the acidity of red wine and freshly grated parmesan. For dessert, a chocolate cake with hints of amaretto and a dusting of powdered sugar. I left so full I could barely stomach the walk back to the hostel, let alone the pint of beer we ended up drinking at an Irish pub near the university with a sign outside declaring daily happy hours for exchange students (known in Bologna as "Erasmus").
The next day, fortified with a breakfast of chocolate croissants and cappuccino, we set out to find housing. I can't begin to describe how nerve wracking it is to walk out into a strange city and try to find a place to live with only a rudimentary knowledge of the language and a list of phone numbers pulled off websites, notice boards, and sides of buildings. The first place I saw was so far from what I wanted that I had to stop for a gelato pick-me-up to stave off the despair. The second place, however, was lovely. The address at first had me skeptical- a building on Ugo Bassi, one of Bologna's main drags, seemed like it would be unbearably noisy and chaotic, not to mention that I wasn't even sure where to find it amid all the glass storefronts and sidewalk cafes. But once I found myself in front of the enormous, double wooden doors I began to feel a little hope. Inside, once the heavy doors had swung slowly shut, all outside noise was hushed to a murmur. A marble staircase wound up and up and up, flanking an old fashioned elevator inside a wire cage. On the third floor, a lovely young woman named Elena smiled as she opened the door to show me inside. The room for rent was behind double wooden doors, painted white, facing a large window opening onto a rooftop courtyard. A narrow single bed in one corner, a bookcase, wardrobe, and a desk were the only furniture in the room. It was perfect. I looked around a bit more that day, but I knew that I had already found the one.
Bologna itself is incredible. It's a lot like a bigger, amped up, European version of Berkeley. It's a very young city, very bohemian, all sidewalk cafes and bars and women with dreadlocks and linen pants. Of course, this is Italy, so their sunglasses are still Dolce and Gabanna and the pants probably cost about as much as a month's rent in Berkeley. Still, I felt immediately as though I could feel at home there in a way that I haven't yet in Rome. I only have three weeks left here, but I can't help but count the days. Rome is too big for me, or maybe I'm just too small for Rome. This has been such a strange time, so much change that I'm not even sure what to think about any of it. I feel almost as though my edges are blurred... not a very good description, but then, I'm not really sure what I mean.
Anyway, enough of that. More to follow on the last weeks in the eternal city...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

232 Years Young

It's hard figuring out what to write when I spend all day every day counting books, processing books, unpacking books, moving books, and reading books. Not much writing is involved; I have plenty of opportunities to practice writing numbers on bookslips, but other than that, there are not many chances. Whenever I work at a computer though, I do get to listen to This American Life, so I've been going through the archives, starting with the earliest episodes from 1995. Averaging roughly 2-3 episodes a day, I've managed to get through November 1996. And by the way work is going this week, I bet I'll be to 1997 soon. Ira is my new best friend.

This weekend David and I went to Willits for the Fourth of July. It was really nice being home. Seeing the parents, and going to the amazing Frontier Days! parade down Main Street. I saw some good friends, and I got to meet my friend, Lindy's, fiance.

Not many people were home. I don't know what I expected. A lot of friends who graduated ahead and behind me were there, but almost none of my friends who I graduated with were around. I feel like that unspeakable time is upon me. Willits ceased to be my home pretty much the second I graduated, earlier than that, even, but everyone else kept going back. I've never been home for a summer, but this summer it seems like the trend has caught. It's strange, kind of like Lindy's engagement, and my constant anxiety about my "future." This weird bubble of living away from home but still being our parent's dependents is rapidly coming to an end. It's scary. And good. But mostly scary.

I wish I could be like Ira Glass and already had an internship with NPR at age 19. Oh well.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Don't worry, you are in eeeetaly

Life abroad is more than an emotional rollercoaster- really it's more of a pendulum. Every roller coaster, no matter how many hills or plunges or loop-the-loops, eventually comes to a stop on level ground. Here, my mood seems to oscillate by the hour, swinging back and forth with no sign of finding equilibrium. I don't know of another time in my life when I've felt so incredibly blessed and utterly miserable in such rapid succession. It's exhausting, all these ups and downs, but i have faith that they will level out with time.

Moving on from the emotional update, let me fill you in on the past few days in la citta eterna. Our first week in Rome, a few of my roommates went out one night and met a few Italian men who invited them over for some 3 am "funny pasta." They turned out to be funny, sweet, of completely unclear sexual orientation, and more than happy to be our hosts for some authentic Roman experiences. Last night Carlo, probably the most sexually confusing of the lot, invited us to his apartment for a "mozarella di buffala tasting party." After an hour's griping about how late the Italians eat, we made it out to his apartment around 10:20. Like the vast majority of Italians under 35, Carlo lives in his parent's apartment, enjoying the bachelor life while they spend most of their time traveling or in their country house. A true anomaly in Europe, the apartment had air conditioning, which as far as I'm concerned, would have made the trip worthwhile even if the evening's menu had consisted of coors light and cheetos. Of course, since our dear Carlo is a sommelier (in his free time, when he's not practicing with his painfully scene-tastic band) and self-described hedonist, we were far from underfed.

As we sat on the couch, enjoying beers and admiring knick knacks, Carlo set the table (tablecloth and all) and proceeded to bring out two enormous bowls, filled with huge, creamy white orbs of cheese, half submerged in milky water. Smaller bowls of sliced hot peppers and a jar of hot pepper, porcini, and andouille pesto were brought to the table, followed by wine glasses and several bottles of red. By now it was around 12, and we were still waiting for our friend Federico to get off his shift at the gelato shop and join us for "dinner." Carlo kept bustling around the kitchen and living room, but after a few minutes of waiting for some other food to appear, I asked in timid Italian- "but... are we just eating cheese?" Carlo affected horror. "Ma certo! You have to taste the mozarella! It is the best I have ever eaten! If you are hungry after, I can make you some funny pasta."

In the end, once Federico arrived (12:30, 1 am?) there were slices of bread to slather with pesto and top with cheese, but only after each of us had eaten the better part of two fist sized balls of mozarella each. I have to say, it truly was incredible cheese. Combined with the peppers, which were so spicy my lips and tongue were numb for most of the evening, the sensory effect was like fire and silk. My favorite was the smoke mozarella, slightly firmer with a carmel colored outer rind that tastes subtly like a wood-burning campfire. After many glasses of wine, we were driven to our doorstep around 3:30 am, and fell into bed, full to bursting, to squeeze in a good 4 hours of sleep (in my case) before heading out for the next day's exploration.

Next on my to do list: Federico's gelato shop, where supposedly there are 18 flavors of chocolate alone.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Synagogues and Stone Latrines

It has been almost a year since this picture was taken, but seeing it brings such a smile to my face that it seems like yesterday. Saturday evening and I've officially survived my first week of Italian school. So far it's all just review, but it's so hard to keep everything together in the moment when you're trying to have a conversation. The Romans speak so quickly, especially as soon as you say a phrase in Italian and they assume you can understand. The days are beginning to blur together in a hazy flurry of sightseeing and oppressive heat, but I'll try to remember the choiciest bits for you.

On Wednesday we had our first "class excursion" (one of many activities planned by the school to enhance our knowledge of Italian culture). We met at an un-obtrusive restaurant in the Trastevere district of Rome* called "Spirito di Vino." **Inside, we were taken past the white tablecloths and sparkling flatware, down worn stone steps into the wine cellar. According to the restaurant's owner, the building was actually home to the oldest Synagogue on record. In Roman times, the Jews weren't allowed to build any new synagogues, so old buildings were reclaimed as sites of worship (Naomi probably knows all this- expert on Judaism that she is becoming). The wine cellar was still home to remnants of a mikvah (for any non-Jews who might be reading: a ritual bath) and prayer room, and some lovely examples of Roman architecture. Back upstairs, we were treated to a long discussion (in Italian!) on Roman cuisine, including a mouth watering description of the restaurant's menu, which I'm sure was miles out of my price range, but tempting nonetheless. At the end, the head cook (and wife of the proprietor) asked if anyone was interested in going into the kitchen. Of course, I immediately said "Io!!" and sure enough she led me back into the narrow kitchen, where a pot was bubbling on the stove, filling the room with one of the most intoxicating scents imaginable: freshly made pasta sauce. She also treated me to peeks of homemade chicken liver pate (formed into elegant cylinders with a single cranberry in the center) and Italian creme brulee (more like flan, lacking the traditional crispy burnt sugar top). We chatted a bit (in Italian!) and when I left she suggested I come back to work for her when I learn the language better. I might just take her up on it someday.

Last night I went out with my roommates to meet up with some Italian men they met on a night out in Trastevere. We were treated to a breakneck drive through the streets of Rome, squeezed into the backseat of a rickety Honda, clutching desperately onto anything within reach. We were taken to a very trendy restaurant for an aperetivo.*** The girls' friend turned out to be a sommelier in training, and picked us out a very nice white wine to go with our fantastic Italian pizza (cherry tomato, radicchio, zucchini, gorgonzola... oh my) and was patient with our halting attempts at conversation. We were later joined by two more Italian men and went down to the river for Sangria. The night was nice enough, but I found myself far more interested in the view of Rome I was treated to from Carlo's speeding car as we wove through the nighttime traffic from one end of the city to the other. It's funny how little taste I have for going out these days. At night all I really want to do is mull over the adventures of the day, write, and try to do some Italian reading (I bought "A Little Princess" in Italian and am stumbling through it one heavily underlined page at a time).

We made it home around 1 o'clock, just in time to get a few hours of sleep before waking up for today's planned excursion to Ostia Antica, about 45 minutes away on the beach. Ostia Antica is a fantastically well preserved Roman port town, comprable to Pompeii in its perfection. The site is enormous, we only covered half of it in about three hours. You can walk into houses (apartment buildings with shops below), bath houses with incredible mosaics and pools, a statium, a temple, and on and on and on. Our guide apologized for the overgrown paths, apparently abnormal for the usually well groomed site, but the wildflowers growing on the floors of apartments and along roads only added to the poignant beauty of the ruins. Our guide was fantastically knowledgeable and filled with the sort of daily-life trivia that can bring ancient sites to life more effectively than any documentary. All I wanted to do when I got home was watch the second season of Rome, but I guess that will have to wait until I'm back in the Berk (oh the irony...).

I can't imagine anyone has time to read much more than this, so I'll leave you here and go attempt to understand some Italian television. I miss everyone so much- if there's anything that is lessening the wonder of this city it is the feeling of isolation. Sometimes living surrounded by people you have little in common with is more lonely than being alone. I think it will be good for me to learn to be on my own, to find my own way, but it's hard without anyone to talk to. All the love in Italy is being sent your way.

*Once a seedy, lower-class neighborhood by the banks of the Tiber, Trastevere is now an up-and-coming hipster neighborhood filled with bars, cafes, and restaurants frequented by the young and beautiful of Rome (as well as the decidedly inelegant herds of American tourists). In the summer, the banks of the Tiber are lined with make-shift bars, shops, hookah lounges, and food-stalls and the center island is home to an outdoor film festival projected on a giant screen. Very hip, very touristy, and quite fun on a hot summer night.
**Spirito di Vino is a very cute play on words- it could mean either, the "Spirit of the Vine" or the "Divine Spirit"
***By far my favorite Italian custom. Italians usually eat dinner late, around 8 or 9, but before dinner (7-9), most bars and some restaurants serve an aperetivo, a kind of pre-dinner buffet. All you have to do is buy an alcoholic drink and you can eat as much as you want! Of course, many Italians take advantage of this, treating the aperetivo as a free all-you-can-eat-buffet dinner.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I have arrived in Rome at long last-
The flight wasn't so bad, but I barely slept at all out of nerves and sadness. I sat next to two kind Italian women, who tolerated my jerky attempts at conversation and politely looked away when the sun went down and I began to weep quietly into my complimentary pillow. But the tears did stop, and the sun came up and we touched down bumpily into Leonardo da Vinci Aereoporto. When we landed the first thing i noticed was the red ceramic rooftops, and after that the soft green and gold of the hills that stretch from the airstrip all the way out into the countryside. rome itself is a chaotic blend of packed roadways (lanes are largely irrelevant here, traffic moves in a liquid ebb and flow, constantly threatening to overrun its banks and sweep up cyclists, cafes, and unsuspecting pedestrians in its swell), stunning architecture, and ever-relaxed Italians. As if in contrast to the frenzied mobs of tourists, buzzing from Basilica to Parthanon, the Romans all seem to exude calm contentment from their very pores. They sit in cafes, sipping espresso, outside shops, eyeing potential customers, and on their stoops, just watching the world come to life around them. The slogan of every cafe in Rome is not only "take your time," but "you have all the time in the world."
My apartment is in a district with the loveliest name I've ever heard: Aurelia. My whole address is like a little poem- 41 (quarantuno) Via dei Gozzadini, Aurelia, Roma. (I don't think I can receive any mail here, I think it has to be mailed to the study center- I'll get back to you on that). The place is big, 4 rooms and six girls, and by a stroke of luck I was assigned to a single room (pictures to follow). I haven't had a chance to explore my own neighborhood yet, but I am close to a metro and bus stop as well as various shops and cafes once I work up the courage to cross the street (truly a matter of taking one's life in one's hands). After the ideal Italian dinner- prosciutto, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and cherry tomatoes as sweet as plums followed by chocolate and vanilla/pine nut gelato- I am finally ready to close my eyes. I am worried that the tears will come again once the light goes out, but they can't stay forever and there are wonders here whose brilliance won't let itself be blurred by glassy eyes. I miss you, more to come.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's official. The first of my closest childhood friends is engaged. I called her yesterday to wish her a happy 21st birthday, and she announced glowingly that her boyfriend, now fiance, had come up from LA to surprise her on her birthday and proposed. They're planning a December/January wedding, so she'll have one semester of college as Mrs. Something Else.

It's crazy. It feels like a big marker. Other girls I grew up with have gotten engaged/married, but this is the first of my best friends. But this is one of my best friends. And I think the scariest thing of all is that I'm actually really excited for her. There is no gnawing pit of my stomach wanting to cry out, "No! Don't do it!" I really think she's making the right choice for her and that she will be really happy. It's scary to think that one of my best friends getting married is normal.

I guess I'm in one of those big relationship markers myself, the first live-in boyfriend, but because it's Dave it just doesn't feel that weird or different. Because it's set up as kind of temporary it doesn't stress me out. Living with him works really well.

I've been thinking a lot about Hegel's specific altruism of the family when I think about why I get along so well living with David. I don't stress out with him about certain roommate things the way I have with other roommates, even when said roommates were close friends who I had known for a long period of time. I think even close friends don't always get the specific altruism like family members and romantic partners get. Maybe some people greater than I can afford the energy of this kind of total altruism with everyone they care about, but I've found my self kind of limited in that capacity. It's nice to live with someone I feel totally altruistic towards. It makes cooking and dishes and laundry and sitting around doing nothing a joy.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The coldest winter I ever spent...

...was a summer in San Francisco.

Actually, it's been amazingly beautiful here, up until today. Today it is overcast, with ripples of blue dotted here and there.

The summer is dripping by. Working every day makes the days blend in together. This is the first day I have had the opportunity to lounge in bed past 8 a.m., so I am taking the opportunity to do so. David is by my side, on his matching laptop. We're listening to the birthday mix Tessa made for me and I couldn't be happier. Unless I was in this picture:

All week I have had the craving to write. I should just set myself down in some coffee shop with my pretentious black MacBook and get it over with. John is calling to me. He wants me to write about Goulash.

That is all for now.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Pre-Departure Information

So, I leave for Italy in less than a month, but my departure from Berkeley is scheduled for this Saturday the 1st. I can't believe it's only been and already been one year in the Grand Apartment. I've watched love blossom between two of my best friends, been on incredible Jew-y adventures in Israel, gotten a tattoo, and even found some fusion-y romance of my own. It's hard leaving town when everything is going so well, but I'm glad that the memories I'll be taking with me are all so lovely to look back on. It's crazy to think that one year from now I'll probably be feeling just as conflicted about leaving Italy. Since this post isn't too exciting- seeing as it takes place from my bed on Ashby Avenue rather than some exotic European locale- I'll keep things brief. The adventure is about to begin. 

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fresh Ink

Susan and I got new tats. So we decided to start this blog off with a vaguely awkward picture of me naked with Susan kind of humping me. Because that's what we like to do in our spare time and we wanted this blog to reflect that.

So here we are, with our new tattoos courtesy of Alex at Industrial Tattoo. We're quite happy with them, so happy in fact, that we simply had to hump.

So, if this is any indication of how this blog will turn out, you are quite in luck.