Monday, June 27, 2011

La Vita è Bella

Preface: Please excuse the corny title for it has been selected with good reason.

Alright now we can begin. Gio and I went to Arezzo for the day with some of her friends to visit the Citadella della Pace (the little city of peace), where young people from conflict zones around the world live and study in community. Imagine an Israeli and a Palestinian on kitchen duty together! It really puts our world's problems in close perspective.

We lunched at their "castle", toured the grounds, spent some time tapping in to our inner children by the Arno, and also took a peek around the historic center of Arezzo.

I had had no idea how much "cultural stuff" overlapped with this quaint Tuscan area. First, we visited the Ponte Buriano that crosses the Arno, which Leonardo da Vinci showcased in his eminent Mona Lisa. I kept expecting someone to ask to paint me while we were relaxing by the bridge, but apparently no one brought their oil and canvas that day.

Ponte Buriano

Ehm, ehm: Mona Lisa
Emerging from her left shoulder you can see the arches of the bridge.

Our absurdly international group

There was lots of fun stuff to do by the river, like eat cotton candy and ride the kiddy train.

Gran and Gramps turning the train

Choo choo!

The second interesting pop cultural reference to Arezzo is, (you guessed it!), the film La Vita è Bella, which used Arezzo as its setting for a multitude of scenes. I had never seen the film until I buckled down yesterday after our trip and watched it. On the surface level, it was so neat seeing Roberto Benigni run and twirl through the piazza in which I had just done the same, and on a deeper level, the film was simply magnificent, so bittersweet. I can't believe I had never seen it--it even won three Academy Awards. Please do yourself a favor and watch it. If you've already seen it, go watch it again!

Piazza Grande, Arezzo

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Summer Group

This month we have had a short program here at the villa that takes place annually and is led by English Professor John Pfordresher. He brings along with him a graduate T.A., Sarah from Atlanta, who is my age and whom I have really enjoyed getting to know! She did the villa program herself several years ago, while I was in Bologna. We've taken a couple of nice weekend trips as a group, including one to San Gimignano and Siena and another through Tuscany to Monte Oliveto, Sant'Antimo, Pienza, and Montepulciano.

A toast in San Gimignano

Sarah and me at the Villa's Cena Toscana

Group shot at the abbey of Sant'Antimo

Another with Ernello at his pecorino cheese farm

And as always happens, the program drew to a close. Sarah and I took advantage of our last night out on the town together, witnessing a stunning sunset and scoring a window table for drinks at a swanky riverside restaurant on the Oltrarno called Golden View.

I'm sure gonna miss that girl!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The night is young and so are we

Another weekend spent in Bologna, and it just never gets old. I'm not sure whether it's more the beautiful pallet of colors, my happy memories of studying abroad, or the heavenly smells wafting through the streets, but Bologna has a charm and an energy that makes me fall in love anew each time I visit.

Touring the city becomes superfluous, so instead on our first day together we enjoy just walking around and popping into some shops. We also, of course, indulge in gelato at Castiglione, an experience that continues to surprise me with its awesomeness each and every time. Some other Bologna highlights included Gio preparing Turkish meatballs, encountering a man I believe was Father Time out dancing one night, hanging out in Villa Spada's lovely park, and eating at a Bolognese restaurant near Gio's house. Just imagine-tortelloni filled with pumpkin and covered in a balsamic reduction, maccheroncini dressed in a creamy sauce with sausage and porcini, and ricotta-and-eggplant-stuffed ravioli with a cold, pink tomato sauce.

Villa Spada, and the view over Bologna

While we had a great time in Bologna, the climax of the weekend was our evening in Padova. Giacomo, a Bolognese that studied abroad at UCSD our senior year, drove us to Padova for a big reunion dinner with several other UCSD alum, both Italian and American. Having always wanted to visit Padova, I was glad to have the chance to explore the town center, even if just for an hour before dinner. Padova was actually my alternate option for studying abroad, and while I'm infinitely glad I ended up in Bologna, I can see now that Padova would have been a wonderful place to study as well.

Padova has one of the largest squares in all of Europe, filled with a sort of moat and a plethora of statues. It seems like a lovely space to have a picnic or spend an afternoon reading.

Daniele, Ryan, Gio, me, Giacomo

We stopped for aperitivo in one of Padova's bustling piazzas. The city felt so alive, brimming with people and markets and outdoor tables for everyone to enjoy. I got such a hard time for ordering a Bellini instead of a Spritz, but I do not appreciate the taste of aperol. Plus, then my Bellini was AWESOME, garnished with delectable tropical fruit, so I didn't care.

After aperitivo, we piled back into the car to drive through the Veneto region and find the restaurant. We fortunately made a couple wrong turns, because we got to see increasingly beautiful landscapes and breathe in the freshest air, many scents of which reminded me of home. It was an ideal summer dusk, warm with a cool breeze, and we found ourselves driving among vineyards and mountains suffused with countryside smells, looking up at the stars with the wind blowing through our hair.

Dinner was a treat, not only for the cuisine but the fine company. The owner of the restaurant, a rotund, rumpled lady who at first appeared austere but was easily-charmed, rattled off the menu like an auctioneer and then promptly took our orders. We tried some interesting new things, including pasta with a duck ragu' and stuffed dove. It was fascinating catching up with everyone and hearing of everyone's travels; one guy is interning in Austria and another was about to move to Munich. I also thought it was so neat that three out of the eight UCSD people at this reunion are Americans living in Italy. Study abroad will do that to you-everyone's scattered all over the place!

Go Tritons!

Monday, June 6, 2011

What's the Crack Throwback

My parents are always on my case when I state phrases like, "I've never been to Ireland before," because they are not, in fact, true. Having been born just outside of London while my dad was stationed there working with the R.A.F., we did a lot of traveling just the three of us in my very early years. I can hardly say it made the biggest impact on my travel repertoire, but I have actually been to even more incredible places (and have wonderful 80s pics to show for it!) than I can remember. Please enjoy this one, all the way from Blarney Castle, Ireland, circa July 1988.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


As if there weren't enough young Americans in Firenze, MTV has decided to make this city of art and culture and Renaissance history the backdrop for the third season of the Jersey Shore. Not being a Shore enthusiast myself (to put it lightly), I was mortified at how this would change the modern image of Florence-and Italy in general-for Americans. I mean, think about it: Jersey had a bad enough rap before the Situation came on the scene, and I don't see them bouncing back any time soon.

Nevertheless, I can't say I wasn't excited when Gio and I ran into the cast and crew at a club called Space in the city--it's still always a trip to see famous people in person (this is my third in a month-what's up with that?). Here's Snooki and the girls chillin':

Plus, Gio watches the show religiously, so you can imagine her excitement.

I can't say they appeared to be having the most wild night of their lives (and who comes to Florence for the nightlife, anyway?) and so after a couple gin & juices, I felt no inhibitions in walking up to the bar with Snooki and talking to her. Transcript:

Me: You must get so bored here.
Snooki: Ugh, it sucks.

And that was my encounter with Nicole Polizzi. Who knew we'd ever agree on something?

Since that night they have continued to wreak havoc on and consume many a dinner conversation in the area. My new summer students have already encountered them once at a bar called Astor and I think I stumbled upon their lavish apartment around the corner from the Duomo last week, as the corner was thronged with bodyguards, random paparazzi, and eager young Americans vying for a glance of a bump-it. In other news, Snooki crashed her Panda car into a police escort vehicle a few days ago, so things are looking up.