Finishing My Program

I know, I’m super late with this, but even a month after my program officially ended in Florence, I’m still having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that it’s over. My best friend studying in Japan still has another two months left, so it’s kind of surreal that I’ve finished so “early.” In fact, I’m somewhat jealous of her because she’s still involved in the experience. Everyone from my program has gone home by now, and while spending my days in Spain certainly isn’t difficult, I sometimes wish I was still in school. It’s bittersweet, knowing that my year of living in Florence is over.

The end of term came without much fanfare. I could have missed it, to be honest. With the rush of final exams and packing, I didn’t have much time to put thought into the fact that the “most influential year of my college career” had just come to an end. It doesn’t feel over, though this might be attributed to my still being in Europe. I’m sure it’ll make more sense once I get back to California, or even when I see my mother and brother in person for the first time in 10 months. Even that doesn’t scare me, to know that I haven’t seen them in so long. With technology these days, it’s not hard to keep in contact with home and friends around the world, so I don’t feel like I’ve been out of the loop too terribly because I talk to somebody at least once every day. All that being said, the end of semester ceremony was a little different from Fall Semester’s, as it had an awards ceremony. I was pleasantly surprised to be awarded the Award of Excellence in History and Political Science, so Mom was happy!

I suppose there’s a lot of reflection to do on this year of my life, and while I will be continuing this blog until the end of the summer (when I return to Arizona for my senior year), I have to say that I’m glad to have done it. At the same time, blogging is a pain in the ass. I’m not very good at regular updates and sometimes I’m sparse on the details. I use FaceBook almost religiously, so this seems more like redundancy than actually being informative. From my point of view, anyway. Those of you who aren’t my friends on FaceBook clearly enjoy whatever I’m doing here! Blogging was an interesting exercise, though, and I might be interested in continuing a new one through my last year in college. Honestly that one might be a bit more difficult to update, what with the thesis to do and all kinds of awesome classes.

Oh, introspection, right. I’m sure I’ve grown up over the year, even though I feel the same. The more overt displays of this new maturity might be my ability to cook real food now and being able to handle solo travel. I know that loads of kids might have set goals for their times abroad, and if I did, I can’t remember them now. I think it’ll take longer than a month for me to absorb the year for what it was, and while I’m aware that study abroad is a privilege many don’t have to opportunity to explore, I sank so quickly and easily into Italian culture that I don’t feel terribly lucky yet. Granted, I’m still expecting to wake up in Florence again any day now at the start of a new week of school, so I guess it hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’m done.

I had entertained for a while the idea of staying a third semester. I’m very nearly done with my degree, could have graduated this year if I hadn’t gone abroad, but when confronted with staying longer, I had some doubts. I wanted to spend my last year with my friends, not just one semester; I wasn’t sure if I could put together my honors thesis in just a semester, and shouldn’t I spend a lot longer with my director to get a good project down?; could I handle being away from home for longer than a year? There were a lot of factors to consider, and I’d been on a deadline. The various applications for another semester were due in at the beginning of March and while my coordinator back in Arizona assured me that there wouldn’t be any problems if I wanted to stay, I still felt pressured to make a choice. What sealed it for me was saying goodbye to my dad after his second visit to Florence. I nearly started crying watching him go, and I took that as a sign from the universe to go back home once my allotted time was done. The year did me well. I’m sure I could have soldiered through the third semester but I’m satisfied with the decision to return to ASU and with the experience I’ve had.

Another deciding factor for me was the academic portion. Putting the honors thesis aside, I’ve signed up for some pretty brilliant classes next semester, and I’m eager to get to work on those. I’ll have 21 credits in total, including the thesis placeholder course (I have to fill out some paperwork in person before I can take on the extra class), so it’ll be nice to actually work hard again. Take a look at my schedule:

I only have classes on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the last being a three hour seminar with two excellent honors professors. I’m definitely looking forward to my internship with the literary magazine, Superstition Review, as well, and the rest of the classes are going to be excellent as well. It’ll be great to study subjects related to my major again. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a job, too. Having two free days should be incentive, otherwise all I’ll be doing is homework and sleeping. Not that I have a problem with that, but I think my parents would appreciate me actually doing something productive every once in a while.

Anyway, this entry feels empty and unfulfilling because you’d think I’d have more to say on finishing up the year. Unfortunately I don’t but hopefully as the new semester approaches and my time in Europe actually comes to a close, I’ll have more reflections to share with you. That being said, my mom and brother will be getting on a plane tomorrow bound for Paris, so I’ll pick them up on Saturday. Next entry: my trip to Dublin and life post-school in Spain.

Follow Up: Photography Final

This might’ve been a long time in coming, but here we are! My photography final went very well and I thought you’d like to see the product. I’m only posting 5/8 photos here, though, since content of the last three might bother some people. Let me know if I should put them up anyway. It’s for your personal sensibilities that I don’t.

My theme was the “Sexy Paradox,” in the attractiveness has such a desperately wide spectrum that in one group of people, both extremes can be considered highly unattractive. That is, sexiness is entirely subjective. I know, not the most original topic, but I had a great time shooting and editing the photos with a bit of help from Daniel on some of them. Enjoy!

Photography Final

It’s coming up to the end of the semester, and that means final projects and exams. I’m not worried overmuch about exams. My classes are all fairly simple to study for. That is, I won’t really be studying. Material is easy, delivered in a concise manner, and if absolutely necessary, I can look over my notes. I’m actually excited about the photography project that’s coming up, though I’m having a bit of trouble putting together a concept for my final (not many guidelines, which I was pleased with in the beginning but now…). In celebration of the ending of the semester, I thought I’d share the photos that I like most thus far. Enjoy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fresco and Cooking 2

This Wednesday we finally got started on actually painting frescos in my fresco class. The first couple of weeks were filled with theory study and a visit to the Santa Croce church, which contains some of the oldest frescos in Florence, done by Giotto (a contemporary and friend of Dante) and his students. The theory was quite interesting and covered your basic art history as well as extending into chemistry and a bit of anthropology. Granted, fresco emerged from the brightest the world had to offer, so it’s no surprise that we jumped from subject to subject when discussing its history. Apparently, the oldest discovered frescos occurred in Greece, though few remain due to some chemical composition or another. I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details.

In any case, I was terrified to start. Fresco kinda does this thing. Once you put paint on the plaster, it stays there. Like, forever. There’s a reason all those Egyptian tombs still have crap on the walls. It’s because the pigment is literally absorbed into the walls. You mess up, you scrape a hole in your wall and start again. No pressure. Oh, and you have to finish whatever plaster you put up, otherwise it dries with nothing on it and it doesn’t come down. Again, don’t worry about it.

Luckily, we’re not graded on masterful ability or genius renditions. Just simple, “Replicate this as well as you can with the time you’re given.” I think our professor would’ve been pleased with us if we’d just spread our plaster flat and that’s it. We all managed to get pretty far along, but with only four students, Titziano (my prof) didn’t have any difficulty getting around to help us when we had questions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Food class was just as scrumptious as the last one with a brand new menu and a whole bunch of neat little tricks. Granted, I can’t remember many of them now (it’s been a few days) but I wrote them down somewhere and I’ll find those notes…eventually. Anyway, despite having come prepared (read: having eaten prior to class to prevent fainting from starvation), I still got a little light-headed and had to sit down for a little while so I wouldn’t pass out. Must’ve been heat or low blood sugar or something. Regardless, I felt much better after we got started with the eating part of the class.

For our antipasti, we made Schiacciata al Olio, which is a form of focaccia, and I didn’t know that this particular dough is the same used in pizza. We’re essentially given a bundle of different recipes every time we learn something in this class, since a lot of things cross over in different recipes. (All pictures are up in the slide show) We made two versions, a stuffed focaccia con cipolle (focaccia with onions) and a simple focaccia with toppings. Mixing everything up was fun, since we did it straight on the table as opposed to in a bowl. You know how on food shows, the really “skilled” guys use their fingers to mix an egg into a volcano pile of flour on a flat surface? Yeah, I can do that now. Not that it’s phenomenally difficult. Just cool.

Primi piatti was Pasta e Ceci (thick soup with chickpeas and pasta). To be perfectly honest, I had no idea that chick peas and garbanzo were one and the same. I thought they were completely different. Goes to show you how having international experience can actually embarrass you in front of people. By far, though, this has been my favorite dish that we’ve made. I love garbanzos and this soup was absolutely delicious with puree and chunks of the beans threaded with rosemary, garlic, and spicy peperoncino flakes. I could have done without the pasta, but it was a nice addition, something extra to chew on hidden in the goop. Delicious goop, mind.

Here comes the more interesting part of the meal: secondo. There’s nothing exciting about petto di pollo al limone (chicken in lemon sauce), but there’s something to be said about the infamous Melanzane all Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan). Up until this past Wednesday, I’d never had eggplant before and heard horror stories from both my parents about slimy textures and a bizarrely bland taste. All in all, it didn’t sound very appetizing, and while the plant itself was pretty cool to look at, I wasn’t exactly impressed once the dish came out of the oven. The lemon chicken was very good, breaded somewhat like the chicken we had last year in Bracciano during the summer (Mom, you’ll remember), but I simply couldn’t bring myself to think anything other than, “Weird,” after trying the eggplant parm. My parents were right: it’s slimy.

Dessert definitely came as a surprise in the form of Salame Dolce, a sort of trick desert that looks exactly like an actual log of salame once rolled. Granted, it’s like the worst thing for you with straight up sugar, cocoa powder, butter, and dessert wine composing the majority of the “filling,” then you have some animal crackers thrown in just for fun. After dousing it in powdered sugar, you have a genuine false salame roll. Apparently it’s very popular come Mardi Gras time, so I’ll be looking forward to loads of it next spring!

Again, if anyone’s interested in the recipes, let me know and give my your email addresses! I can’t send it if I don’t know where to send it to!

On the way back to my apartment post-food coma, my friend Daniel and I ran into a crowd of people watching a street performer dressed like Charlie Chaplin. I have to say that if he’d done many of the things in his performance back in the States, he’d have been strung up for harassment. Of course, that made it all the more entertaining! Video footage up shortly!

Cooking Classes – Round 1

This is a long time coming, but, finally, I had my first cooking class with the lovely Mrs. F!! Granted, this happened last Wednesday and as usual, I’m horrible about updating on time, but let’s just get into the nitty-gritty. Mrs. F is an American woman from Iowa who’s been living here in Florence for the past 35 years, having married an Italian man (named Fabio) and settled in the city where she’d studied abroad for a semester. Actually, she just never left once that semester was done. Funny how I’m meeting all these women who just dropped everything to live out the rest of their lives here . . . Sign, anybody?

In any case, the cooking classes include five three-hour sessions encompassing the Tuscan meal, meaning four courses: antipasti, primi piatti, secondo, and dolce. After we learn about the respective history of each dish we happen to make that day, we get to eat. Of course, this all comes at a price and after factoring in the cost of the ingredients, time, and such, we all had to shell out 170€ to enjoy this little course. Not too bad, considering we’re going to be using these skills for a while, but I definitely haven’t been as frivolous with my money since dropping that cash.

Mrs. F. also provided us with a cookbook of our lesson-meals that she wrote herself entitled: Cucina Italiana: From Scratch. Appropriate, since we are literally building from the most basic up. I think we’re going to start every lesson with flour, water, butter, and eggs. She wants us to be able to use everything we come into contact with in a versatile manner.

Our antipasti assigned was meant to be Polenta piastra con pecorino (grilled polenta with cheese), but since Wednesday topped the charts at a whopping 92˚, we went for a cooler dish instead, a broken-down version of bruschetta whose name for the life of me I cannot remember. Basically, it consisted of hardened bread nubs watered down into crummy bits, cuts of fresh onion and tomato, and copious amounts of olive oil. Yes, Mom, I ate everything, even the raw onion.

Bread, tomato, onion, olive oil mush thing = good

Accordingly, the primi piatti was supposed to be Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato-bread soup), but it was way too hot so that was shunted down the line of alternative recipes to Polenta Pasticciata, which is essentially a lasagna with cold polenta slices instead of noodles. It came out of the oven bubbling like a pit of hell, but it tasted divine (haha, oh, sooo corny . . . points for puns). I’m pretty sure that the two boys in my class and I finished off half of the dish to ourselves. Mrs. F keeps talking about how she often has to cook more for the boys in her class, but I’m pretty bent on convincing her that she has to cook more for me too.

Polenta Pasticciata

Secondo was the frittata di porri e patate (leek-and-potato frittata), and those of my family should know this because of that one time we did Iron Chef for Easter some four or five years ago (maybe more?). I think Dad and Marc were the pair with potato as the secret ingredient and they threw together a frittata. This one more resembled the Spanish tortilla, though there was definitely more egg than I’m used to. Granted, it tasted delicious and it was quick and easy to make. The only qualms I’d have about doing this at home would be the flipping part. Not sure how well that’d go. This was served with a side of fagiolini in umido (stew green beans) which were a bit soggy, but I like my green beans with lots of crunch. I pigged out.

Frittata di Porri e Patate

Fagiolini in Umido

Finally for dessert was the crostata di more (blackberry torte). If you’ve ever seen Paula Dean on the Food Network, you know that she loves butter. Apparently, so does Mrs. F. We put half a stick of butter into the dough, and boy could you taste it in the AIR when that torte came out of the oven. She told us that the torte could be made with a variety of jams in it, and as proof, we used a plum jam she’d made herself from the seasonal plums on sale at the market this month. The dough could also be used for cookies. Imma have to get me some flour next time I go to the supermarket. And some jam. This thing was delicious. I felt fat rolling myself home after that class was finished.

Crostata di More

All in all, I’m excited to be cooking again this coming Wednesday. I’ve taken a look at the menu, and we’ll be having focaccia, pasta soup, lemon chicken and eggplant parmesan, and some sort of sweet fake salame? Not sure about that one. Of course, I’ll try everything, even though eggplant has a funny texture. Slimy. Yay. I can hear thunder out my window now, and the clouds are booking it across the sky. I wonder if that means rain for tomorrow? Joy. Anyway, hope you’ve enjoyed the photos! If you’re interested in the recipes of my weekly classes, shoot me an email at via.firenze.sa@gmail.com or write a comment down below!

IMPORTANT: I have a History of Food class paper to write, and I have a couple of ideas for the topic, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on my choices. Let me know in the poll below, and I’ll announce on Wednesday what I’ve decided to do! Thanks!

First Class Experiences

As of today, I’ve officially been to all five of my classes. My schedule’s not too bad save for the fact that I start every day at 9:30AM, which is a nightmare. I always schedule my time back at ASU so that I get up for my first class some time around 11:30. This is something of a change. I’m up at 7:30 every morning just to make sure I have some mirror space, since we only have one useable mirror when the bathrooms are occupied. It’s a hard life here in Florence.

So. Classes. On Mondays I have Italian I, History and Culture of Food, and Fresco. It’s a long day, as Fresco is a studio class that has us working with materials for three hours straight, but luckily I have a break in between Food and Fresco, which lets me get some food before looking at frescos! Thankfully, I stumbled upon a little forno shoved in the wall that sells calzoni nearly a foot long for only €2, and they’re good. I only wish they had one with tomato sauce and mozzarella on the inside. Prosciutto and mozzarella is nice, but I keep remembering one calzone I had in Venice and it was damn good . . .

Anyway, Italian’s going well. Spanish helps a lot in regards to speaking, but I’ve heard the grammar can mess people up that follow Spanish too closely. We’ll see how that works out. My professor is very Italian, hand gestures, bright pants, and scruffy facial hair included. He’s very loud, though. VERY loud. My ears are ringing when I go to History of Food in ITALY which is taught by a GERMAN man with a Ph.D in nuclear history. Yeah, read that again. It’s still true. I did a “huh?” the first time I heard that, too. He was very thorough in explaining the ideals of the class, and my parents will tell you that the activities I get to do are worth a ticket out here just for a week of following me around class. Chocolate tasting in the Market anyone? That’s right. Chocolate tasting. Oh, there’s a 10 page paper, too, but that’s hardly anything to an English major. That’s a short paper for me, actually. I think a few kids might drop because of it, though. Not everyone’s majors require a lot of writing. I’ll probably be the only one to enjoy it. The paper topic is anything to do with food.

Suggestions?? Leave me a comment.

Fresco should be an interesting class, considering only four of us are taking it. Should be a very intimate setting, I should think. Our professor, Titziano, seems to think we’re like puppies because as soon as we sat down, he whipped out a box of cookies, saying they were for good behavior in advance. I’ll be a damn good puppy if he keeps bringing those cookies. The class content (the important stuff) has us mixing our own colors from scratch and essentially doing a review of the entire history of painting. Like, we’ll be making tempura or acrylic paint from scratch (with EGGS and stuff) and using the techniques to paint with them like the old age masters used. Gotta say, it was a call back to when I wanted to be an artist in sixth grade. This should be a fun class.

Today I had my first Photography and Dante’s Literature classes. My Dante professor is appropriately brilliant with multiple Masters and Ph.Ds from all over the world. He cuts a very distinguished Italian figure with his salt-and-pepper hair and smart vest, though he kind of ruined it by gushing over ACDC for a portion of the class. How it related to Dante I’m still not sure, but I’ll let you know when I figure it out. He did mention ending classes with gregorian chant music, so that should be fun. Photography sounds like a great class, too. My professor is from Alicante. ALICANTE!!! Family, how crazy is that? My prof. is from our summer home town. That was a crazy random happenstance. We shoot photos in the field on Tuesdays and do computer work/theory on Thursdays, so I’m switching from my side bag to my backpack because I just have too much crap to haul around now. Never knew I would be so weighed down with texts! Ah well. Should be fun anyway.

Now that a routine is finally getting off the ground, I think everything should fall shortly into place. I think some of the girls are starting to really miss home. They might not show it sometimes, but other times I’ve come across tears. It’s very strange to see that. I don’t think I’ve ever been so homesick before. I’ve just gotten used to being around so many different places now that “home” isn’t necessarily a place but a feeling. Upsides and downsides to that mode of thinking, I guess. We’ll see how everyone shapes up after the so-called “honeymoon phase.”