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.