Olive trees.

I thought of Paca when taking this photograph.

It was the first time I thought I was seeing a picturesque image of the Tuscan countryside.  But don't be fooled, this isn't the countryside.  It's the outskirts of Florence and the surrounding area wasn't entirely beautiful; or at least not my stereotyped image of Italy.  Don't get me wrong though, the neighborhood has it's charm.  

There is an olive orchard...

But sometimes it's disappointing to see how similar things can be or look here to what I'm accustomed to.  On the train ride to Pisa, I saw vast expanses of evidence of Italy's relatively recent industrialization as well as developments and towns strangely reminiscent of American suburbs.  It's often a let down when these places look so different from what I imagined.  It's a ridiculous idea anyway, thinking that Italy is going to be as 'perfect' as I think it should be.  This place is still real, still has its problems..

I'm getting lost in my thoughts, but Pisa was a prime example of what I mean.  My pictures don't show it, because I only photographed the beautiful things, but the reality is that that complex feels displaced from the city.  I expected it to be the life of the city, a cultural and social hub.  In reality, it's set at the edge of town, partially fortified against an old (ancient?) city wall.  As we drew nearer to the tower, the city became less lively, the streets almost started to shrivel, and then suddenly we were in an architecture amusement park...dysfunctional, failed, architectural spectacle and all.

Sorry if I'm being so pessimistic.  I don't mean to be.  But I think it is important to recognize Italy's reality rather than hyping up everything just because I'm stupid enough to be swooned by its high points.  

Still searching...


Friday we went to Pisa, just a short train ride west of Florence. This is what happened.

The sched.

Today concludes the first full week of classes here at the Palazzo de Cerchi in Florence. To allow for travel on the weekends, classes end on Thursday creating a three day weekend. My schedule is both jam-packed and quite open, since I have one lecture on Monday, a crazy day on Tuesday and Thursday, and no classes on Wednesday. BUT, most importantly, I find all of my classes to be at least mildly amusing...a big improvement compared to the unreasonable, mandatory, and technical classes of last semester (Yes, that would be Environmental Technology and Methods & Materials. And yes, I did beyond horrible in both classes.)

The schedule (roughly) is as follows >>>

Monday // 11:00 – 2:45a Forces That Shape Cities > Marcello Fantoni
Tuesday // 8:30 – 10a Basic Conversational Italian > Roberto
10 – 12p Sketching and Drawing > Sylvie
12 – 2p Italian Art from Giotto to Bernini > Rocky Ruggiero
2 – 6p Third Year Design Studio > Alberto Francini
Wednesday // nothing!
Thursday // same as Tuesday. (And yes, that leaves no time for lunch in case you were wondering.)
Friday – Sunday // romping about Europe

Other classes // Reading cities > includes 4 mandatory weekend field trips to different cities in Italy
Urban Design > writing intensive component to Studio course

In total > 20 credit hours.

One of the pleasant differences between Kent campus classes and my current classes is that most are held within the city itself, outside of the classroom. Today, our lecture about the history of Florence in Italian Art was spent in the buildings or within the public squares we were actually learning about. Later, we will be taking class-time trips to the many museums and galleries within Florence to do the same. I can't tell you how incredible and beneficial it is to see the work in reality, rather than the slide. In fact, one upcoming lecture will be held on the top of the Duomo - extreme lecturing. (We are excused from that lecture if we have claustrophobia or a fear of heights.) In any case, the classes are much more immersive, interactive, and personal than anything I've experienced on the main campus. A welcome change, no doubt.

I will update on other more personal matters some time this weekend. A lot has been running through my head, but I'm not yet sure how to put it into coherent sentences.

This and that.

Classes start Monday. There is a lot I have yet to do here in Florence, but classes starting will help me fill my time. Plus, I'm excited to start learning and doing intellectual 'stuff' again and have, hopefully, a turn-around successful semester.

In other news, we can't get our washing machine to work. My clothes have been sitting there all day in hopes that the thing will just start working. But I doubt that will happen. I read the directions, I did what they told me, but to no avail. Italy wins again and I'm out of clean socks.

The power of pop stars.

The last place I want to hear Rihanna squealing her lastest single is while contemplating the fenestration on the Duomo, but in Florence American music is the sound of the city.

The prevalence of American pop music is astounding. This was something I wasn't expecting in the least. As an example we were entertained by Shania Twain, The Bee Gees, and I think Busta Rhymes while eating in a quaint little snack bar today for lunch. I never realized the power that these pop stars hold, especially if the entire world is listening to their work. Is it a shame, or a benefit?

Figuring out italy.

For someone who has never been abroad (okay, I've visited Canada but we can all agree that hardly counts), studying in Italy this semester is a big change. And being transplanted from cow-town Ohio, maybe even more so.

Orientation week started yesterday. This is meant to help us in our transition to Italian life, and also to complete necessary tasks and documents associated with our extended stay. We heard from the Florence program director, Marcello Fantoni, first. Even though his welcome was far from brief, he said some very important things that shed light on some the troubles I have been experiencing since my arrival here in Florence. Amongst them, and the most notable to me, is that Fantoni made a remark comparing Florence to an American mall or amusement park. He claimed the two to be very similar, especially considering themes, but where the theme in a mall tends toward a “tropical” environment with palm trees and foliage, here, the theme is the Renaissance. He warned us to not be deceived by the appearance of it all. And taking a second look around with his words in mind I now see clearly why I had the uncomfortable feeling that the city was a fabricated movie set from the very beginning. Because that's exactly what it is. Of course, Florence has its moments of truth I am sure (and am even more motivated to discover them), the real intent behind the city isn't so obvious. I am still feeling it out, but the city will have to prove itself to me as I get to know it better.

Fantoni urged us to seek out the real Italy and the real Europe, which he believes exists outside of the main tourist cities. This has had me thinking a lot over the past day. It appeared that Fantoni essentially dismissed the substantially of entire cities based on their touristy status. He offered another example when explaining his experiences traveling to the States. Specifically, he believes New York City is not an accurate depiction of the United States as a whole. While I agree with him, I also disagree because I do believe there is truth there. But being a citizen of the country familiar with its customs, habits, political landscape, and history, I can decipher somewhat easily what is reality and what is fake or for show in a comparatively familiar place. This however is not true for me in Italy. Since I know almost nothing about the country, I cannot fully understand one thing from another. It's people, it's buildings, the customs, the language, and other elements of the whole I come into contact with on a daily basis must be taken as they are, yet there exists a reason and a history for all of these things. For example, I must take everyone I see on the streets as they appear to me, but to me almost everyone looks Italian. Except for a few obvious exceptions, I cannot decipher who is a native, a businessman, a tourist, an illegal immigrant, likely poor, likely wealthy, or from other parts of Europe. To Italians, understanding the typology of the local population seems very important when considering day to day life and current issues, for reasons I don't yet understand. What troubles me, and causes me slight paranoia, is that I am told everyone in this country can likely determine just by sight my status as an American student (a label, I learned, that holds certain connotations).

This was pointed out by an Italian police officer that spoke to us yesterday in addition to Fantoni, and was also successful in shedding some light on the conditions we now find ourselves in. When coming here I didn't expect quite what I have experienced so far. I of course expected differences from my life in the U.S., but being here puts a new spin and perspective on so many elements of my existence in this world that goes beyond what I could have imagined. My hope is to discover the true Italy and maybe even the truer me. Time will tell, but one thing is definitely unquestionable: this experience is changing me.

And it has only been four days.

First engagments.

The taxi cab from the airport dropped me off right at the door of my new home.

The first sights of Italy and Florence were....I don't really know how to describe it...not exactly mind-blowing or impressive but just existing. There it was and here I was looking through glass at it all. I immediately felt as if the city wasn't a reality but a lie meticulously constructed to fool and deceive; much like a film setting. And not a movie set in the romantic sense, but in the Disneyland sense....a fake. Maybe because I hadn't yet come into tangible contact with the place, but I still can not shake the feeling, even after two days.

I had a slight snafu right after this. I walked in the building where my apartment was supposed to be, but there was no light and the space was pitch black. A sensory light flicked on and I ascended the corridor-like staircase to the second floor. The problem was I didn't realize that what we consider to be the first floor is considered the ground floor in Italy. Likewise, what we consider the second floor is known as the first floor and so on. I called the landlord and quickly discovered the painful language barrier and had no other contacts yet in my phone. It took me about ten minutes to find the right door when the unnamed man found me frustrated, scared, and confused a floor down. Ultimately, no big deal.

However the apartment is incredible. I had wanted to hit the jackpot since we were randomly assigned housing and decided I would be disappointed with anything less. The whole apartment was recently remodeled as in, I can clearly smell the aromas of construction. These sensory clues suggest the job was completed hours before we got there...the smell is unfortunately very strong. The kitchen and dining is the entry space including a new flat-screen television with cable and brand new contemporary cabinets/appliances with stunning views of the Duomo. This leads to the “living” room (more like a passage way) with access to a single bedroom and full bath. This bedroom has a shocking view of the Duomo that puts the first glimpse to utter shame.

This is the view I required. . .(fulfilled in the dinning room)

. . . And this is the view we got. (or that my roommate Dan stole.)

Further on another full bath and two double beds. Since there is one extra bed in our apartment for four, I have one double to myself with views of the street below.

All rooms are decked out in Ikea furniture and fittings, also never before used. In the heart of the city with a five minute walk to school, a relatively inexpensive bar below with free wi-fi, and a few doors down a grocery, I couldn't have asked for a better space to spend the next 4 ½ months.

After settling in we went out to experience Florentine nightlife and for me, my first time being of age. A few observations...Since the streets here are so narrow, they are constantly shifting between roadway for vehicular traffic and walkway for pedestrians. Most people seem to disregard the small cars buzzing between the ancient buildings, stepping up to the small sidewalk only if they have to. I am finding that I tend to want to walk on the sidewalk (which is more like navigating a balance beam) out of habit. Jay-walking here does not exist which opens up incredible potential for public space in the city. Also, open containers in the streets are permitted. This new absence of laws renders Italy more like an anarchy in relation to the States so far, but something I don't see being difficult to get used to.

A group of us went out to an American bar (I don't understand the point of having a bar themed American) called Red Garter to meet up with a large portion of the other program participants. As my first bar experience, it was somewhat disappointing. Karaoke followed by a band of male Italians covering Van Morrison and Katy Perry. While standing in the street outside the bar before moving on something notable did happen though. A young dude, wiry with a curly overgrown head of hair, arranged his hand in the appearance of a gun and placed his two fingers literally on my face between the eyes while making shooting noises. I have no idea of his intentions or his nationality, but it was odd, unexpected and unnerving, since slight anti-American sentiment exists here.

Thus, I will reconsider my place in Italian nightlife.

Micah, 1. Italy, 1.


So, in order for this to work, as in provide somewhat regular updates, I've realized I need to operate in a more stream-of-consciousness manner with regards to posting, despite how unintelligent I think I sound. Which I gather is the point and heart of blogging anyway, but I've always had trouble with giving up control.

Living and traveling throughout Europe will likely help me change that.

So on to the big news. ITALY. I arrived yesterday around 6pm Florentine time - 12pm u.s. eastern time. I have traveled by plane before, but this time was significantly different being that the destination was someplace so unfamiliar. The oddity lied in how traveling itself was ironically so non-unfamiliar. Even when we landed for our layover in Paris, it didn't seem like we were actually in France. An airport could be anywhere. So emerging from the Florence airport for the first time was a strange experience. It makes me think that airports are teleporters. I step in the doors of the Detroit airport and somehow step out in Florence.

Upon arrival we met with someone from the KSU-Florence staff at the airport and she gave us our keys to our apartments. I do not know yet who this woman and her colleagues were, which is something I've noticed so far about Italians. They don't introduce themselves like we do in the U.S. I don't yet know if this is an accurate impression, but in addition to this woman, I had similar experiences with the man I met at the apartment and the landlord both in separate events. Eventually our landlord, Laura (who does not speak a sentence of English), participated in a round of introductions after about ten minutes of showing myself and my roommates how this and that worked. This is initial observation is something I'll keep in mind for upcoming interactions with the Italians.

However, trying to communicate with Laura was different experience for sure, feeling like an idiot for not being able to understand what a person is saying. Something I'll have to get used to. My usual reaction so far has been to just stare blankly at the speaker. Maybe I'm trying to communicate with my eyes or telepathically instead. But being so frustrated in these situations really gives me a better understanding of similar situations I have encountered in the States where I am the one who speaks the language and someone else does not.

I will update on the rest of my arrival soon. But for now I am meeting Liz, her roommates, and others for dinner at their apartment. Pictures soon. Ciao!