Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Travel Edition Ricochet - Week 2

This week was somewhat more sedate, what with the school, the homework and the eating but there was still a lot to see and do.

19 Oct - First thing in the morning we toddled around the corner to the school we were attending to take our placement tests and find out which class we would each be in. I started the test cheerfully filling in answers, slowed down frowning at some of the trickier tenses, got completely lost on a couple of grammatical points and got placed in a class with students from all over the place: a Kiwi, a Russian, a German, a Norwegian, a Mexican, a Spaniard and me.
Our teacher Monica was a lovely woman who rolled her R's so much it sometimes sounded like she was speaking under water.
The first day was an exciting lesson in exactly how much Italian I've forgotten and how quickly I could pick different parts of it up again. When you're a foreigner learning Italian you start waving your hands around a lot, this is an attempt to distract people whilst you try and remember the word or conjugation you're looking for as an effort to fit in.
We had an Art History Class in Italian in the afternoon which was spectacularly baffling* but which included a slide-show of paintings to admire.
We went out for a stroll around town, stopping to stare at the river and Piazza Signora before returning to the apartment for dinner and to meet Paolo again so he could turn on the heating.
Most Italians don't turn on the heating before 1st November because the charges are significantly higher out of season but we'd been damn cold the night before and were willing to take that chance!

Hannibal Lecter and now Darth Vader!?

20 Oct - In the break between language sessions we headed down to our local café to get our daily hit of coffee and pastries *drool*, ran out of time to pick something up for lunch and sat back expecting to starve.
We did not starve.
Today was the first Cooking Class.
Holy Crap.
Our teacher Agostino is a middle-age Italian man who knows his way about the kitchen but who leaves you in no doubt that you are in a man's kitchen - flinging ingredients into bowls, flinging used bowls into the sink, opening packets with a Stanley knife**.
We learned how to make traditional lasagne and a grape torte which was ridiculously tasty.
I know this because at the end of the class we all whipped out plates and got to dig into the prepared food.
Best. Class. Ever.
Once we could face the idea of walking again we hauled our stuffed stomachs back on top of our legs and staggered off to do a lap around the Pitti Palace and over and around the Ponte Vecchio.

21 Oct - By the third day I was remembering more but also remembering how bad I am at doing homework. I am woeful. I get the homework. I take it home. I go 'Eh, later', 'Eh, dinner first', 'Eh, don't feel like it', 'Eh, bed time', 'Argh! Class is in 5 minutes!'.
Our regular café is shut on Wednesdays so we went for a walk around to Piazza Santa Croce and found a coffee and flaky indulgence there before remembering we still needed to go back for some advanced bilingual thinking.
Another round of semi-incomprehensible but still pretty Art History followed by a long stroll around town, admiring the Duomo and rolling our eyes at the people complaining they couldn't go in because there was some damn ceremony on or something. The damn ceremony is called Mass people, it is a church - doi!

22 Oct - After surviving another round of language class, conversation sessions and warning my fellow students to remember that 'preservativi' is a 'false friend' and doesn't in fact mean 'preservatives' and if you ask the baker if there are 'preservativi' in your bread you are asking them if it is full of condoms***! Don't trust internet translation programs people!
At Cooking Class today we made Ignudi Alla Fiorentina which is a spinach and ricotta version of gnocchi and a Torta di riso (it's a cake made with rice! Oh the insanity!).
When we could waddle away from Agostino's kitchen we turned ourselves towards the Galleria Dell'Accademia to go see that big naked fame-whore Michelangelo's David.
He continues to be large, made of marble and entirely awesome.
I will never get over the surprise of walking into a room and HOLY CRAP IT'S DAVID!
Look around at something else, look back and HOLY CRAP IT'S DAVID!
He's one of the things that don't disappoint when you see them in real life, he really is that great.
They also had a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition running which had some excellent photographs, they didn't have any of his more risqué pieces on display but the ones on the human form were already too spicy for some of the visitors. Despite the fact they'd come to stare at a bunch of paintings and sculptures of naked people...

Yes I know the last two photos have had nothing to do with what I was talking about but I like them so nyerh!

23 Oct - Today after we chattered through our classes and ordered our coffee and increasingly decadent pastries in broken Italian we went to see the inside of the Duomo and the Battistero. When you have a good look at the Rennaissance and Gothic churches in Europe you begin to understand why the people of a few centuries ago were so devout.
First of all, big ridiculously ornate buildings are quite intimidating.
Second, the art. Dear lord, look at a couple of the paintings of the Last Judgement and you know that you do NOT want to go to Hell! The paintings of demons eating lost souls at one end and pooping them out so they can eat them again are not very welcoming!
The mosaics in the Battistero are amazing, even with the 'Beware Your Sinful Ways You Bastards!' section, especially with that section, I can't lie, I love that stuff.
They also have a lot of floors tiled to emulate the patterns of arabian rugs in Florence, the artisans were brought in from the Christian Middle East at the time and obviously did a lot of work whilst they were over.
We went out to dinner at a restaurant called Osteria del Gatto e la Volpe which takes its name from the characters in the Pinocchio story. The pizza with the bresaola and rocket was really really good, almost supernaturally good.

24 Oct - Slept late this Saturday, shouldn't have but we remain unrepentant, once we had come to terms with our deviant ways we spent a few hours exploring the Boboli Gardens, took a pass on the museums inside the Palazzo Pitti this time (being slightly museum-ed out for the time being), staring at some of the creepier bits of porcelain in the one museum we accidentally wandered into because it looked kind of like a gazebo.
We had to hotfoot it from the gardens back to the school because they were running a walking tour of the city we wanted to take. When we got there it turned out it was just us three and Donato the Art History teacher who was going to be running the tour. So he decided to take us up to San Miniato Church, one of the oldest and most important churches in Florence and we got a personal guided tour of the church and the area leading up to it complete with history and art commentary. As we were walking along the hill Donato pointed out the wild laurel that grows everywhere in the area and picked some to use in his kitchen the next day. I would love to have the knowledge and confidence to pick ingredients straight from the world around me but I'm sure I would end up with poison ivy in my mouth or something so I leave it to professionals and cheerful art enthusiasts.

25 Oct - We got a little overambitious with today, the original plan was to see both Pisa and Lucca but we got rather distracted by the parade that we came across in the Piazza Duomo on our way to the train station - men in tights, ladies in period dress, flags and drugs and trumpets! All the things that you think are now relegated to sappy movies about going to other countries to 'find yourself' and have sex with their men and/or ladies and find the happiness that does not exist in your own darn country.
We finally broke free, found our way to Pisa on a train with a super stinky toilet, survived the rather excited bus ride to the Piazza Miracoli and immediately had to fortify ourselves with lunch. We'd all been up the tower before and the wait was somewhere around 5 hours so we passed on that and went to admire the Cathedral and the Battistero of Pisa instead. The Cathedral in Pisa is in some ways more impressive than the one in Florence, more ornate, much more busy and it just feels older.
In contrast the Battistero was a lot simpler than the one in Florence but had such well balanced acoustics that a person standing in the centre of it can sing rounds with themselves as an employee demonstrated for us whilst we were there.
It was dark by the time the train headed home and all the little houses on the hills and the church with a timely tolling bell were being lit from within and below. It was nice.

*For some silly reason I completely forgot to brush up on my art criticism vocabulary before we arrived!
**You know, one of those box-cutter dealies.
***I didn't do this but I saw another English speaking lady ask that very question and the baker laughed so hard he almost inhaled his stylish 1970s moustache!

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