Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lecce a Pezzi

This last Sunday, we went to our usual pub downtown to watch the finals of i mondiali (the World Cup). The place was absolutely packed and there were some Spaniards and a very friendly Dutch man who, due to his lack of faith in his team, had planned his vacation very poorly. It was an amazing game and the teams were so evenly matched that every moment was a nail-biter. In the end, the Spaniards prevailed and and our local Spaniards bought our local Hollander a drink.

I've become a veritable sculptor. I'm nearly finished with and exceedingly plain and unadorned bowl made of the local stone, Pietra Leccese. After sinking about six hours into it, I've managed to make a chunk of rock look like a chunk of rock with a dip in it. I never thought I'd be a craftsman of such impressive ability, but Italy is a land of surprises.

My life has been a veritable drought when it comes to nicknames (you can't shorten Keith much), but, thanks to the ingenuity of the Italian populace, the rain has come. My friend Desiree has imbued me with the most charming of nicknames. As of last weekend at the beach, I've become Mozzarellino (a cute, masculine version of Mozzarella). This, not surprisingly, refers to the nearly translucent tone of my skin. Of course, long nicknames serve no purpose, so a drunken Spencer in a nicknaming frenzy truncated my name and I've now become, for better or worse, Mozz.

I've made my first enemy, and it's not an over-dressed, heavily muscled Italian man, but and older Austrian lady who seems to be able to understand words, but has no idea how to control which ones spew from her mouth. She's more like a caricature than an actual human being, because all of her faults seem exaggerated to the point of hilarity and I've yet to find redeeming qualities. She is, without a doubt, the most critical woman on this planet. Someone will walk by her and, in her thick German accent, she'll ask, "But vy are zey valking so quickly? Zey must realize how ztupid zey luk." Responses laced with sarcasm, irony, or even pure rage seem to be unable to penetrate her sphere of judgment and may not even be heard at all. Of course, she will inform you just how stupid you look when you talk, or that your hair looks like some sort of German dish that when searched on Google, doesn't exist.
For me, my casual enjoyment of her offensiveness was heightened to dislike during our sculpture class. I had just finished scraping a dent in a chunk of stone that would later become the inside of my bowl. She stopped her work on what seemed to be a perfect rendition of a chipped piece of stone and, with a sharp intake of breath, said, "Oh. I don't like ze looks of zat." Forgetting what it was adressing me at the moment, I got a little concerned, so I asked what was wrong. With the smug smile of someone from a country whose greatest achievement was making bad sausages fit in a tiny can, the Austrian turned back to the rock she was currently pulverizing with a hammer, saying ominously, "Oh. Ve'll see how it goes..." I returned to my beautiful piece of mediocrity, assuring myself that at least it would be a recognizable bowl and that her stone would finish in ruin.

There's a cafe near our school where we go on our break. It's always busy, and kind of a fight to get an order in. Luckily, the barista solved this problem for me by knowing just what I want every day. When he sees me, he grabs me a croissant with nutella and starts making a caffe macchiato, and without missing a beat, takes care of eight to ten more orders.

Every week, our school shows an Italian film. The film is, of course, in Italian, but they turn on Italian subtitles so we can follow better. Of course, technology and Italy have always been, more or less, mutually exclusive; so the subtitles are below the visible screen. Only if there is a lot of dialogue do we get to see any subtitles at all, and these are usually unimportant, like, "Yes, I saw him... No, he didn't!... In fact, yes... Yes, a pizza please." While it seems as though something compelling has just happened, we really have no idea. We have learned however, that you can assume that the plot of any Italian movie is centered on infidelity. In the most recent movie, we only learned of the husband's gay lover after he is shown being knocked in the air and hit by at least four cars. I think it's safe to say that the high point in Italian art was probably the last 2,000+ years, and that it's coming to a sad, sad end.

I've made friends with several street vendors from Africa. Whenever I see them, they greet me with a hearty ciao, hello, or bon soir and we proceed from there with conversations in Frenglitalian (French/English/Italian). It's always a challenge, but I like getting to practice my French and they like speaking English. And we use Italian to fill in the gaps.

An interesting thing happened today when Spencer and I went to the Macelleria (fresh meat shop). Spencer was handing some coins to the proprietor when one fell into the meat case and landed on some meat. Spencer and I yelled in a concerned fashion and started reaching for a new coin to replace it. None of the Italians in the shop seemed at all upset about the incident, and the proprietor grabbed the coin and put it in the till. It was nice that it wasn't a big deal, but after that I couldn't help but wonder how much of the money I handle every day has been in intimate contact with raw meat.

Yesterday, I went to the cafe' on my break. When I entered, I passed a barbone (literally: giant beard, colloquially: a homeless guy). He was talking to himself and keeping a careful eye on his shopping cart adorned with a string of cans. I had my usual colazione and headed inside to pay. There was all sorts of ruckus and I realised that they were discussing the barbone. "Is he breathing?" "I don't think so." "Call an ambulance." As I left the cafe, the ambulance arrived and the paramedics started performing CPR on the collapsed man. My friend Shelby Joy and I watched in shock, until the point when the paramedics stood up, defeated. And, for the first time in my life, I saw someone die. I had no connection with this man; I hadn't even wished him a good day as I entered the cafe, but I can't say I felt nothing. And I definitely couldn't stop thinking about earlier that day when I told Mark that it was so hot I could just die.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Photos of Otranto

I haven't quite mastered posting pictures yet. These were supposed to be attached to the last post.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Otranto, la Notte Bianca,

On Friday, I had my first experience with an Italian beach. A bunch of us Americans and one British got together and found our way to the beach in a little town called Otranto on the coast of the Adriatic sea. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I even managed not to get burned.
The next day, we headed back to the Otranto area with one of our guides from school, Desiree. We went to a different beach. The beach was enormous, but it was cordoned off by random hotels in the area and we crammed into the tiny section still controlled by the locals. It was yet another beautiful day and we swam and basked joyously. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to avoid the ire of the sun this day and I ended up with a little bit of burn on the backs of my knees and in a nice line across my back which illustrated the area that I can't reach by myself. Always have a friend get your back (with sunscreen and in fights).
After the beach we all loaded back onto the bus and headed into Otranto to see the city. It's an adorable little town (pictures attached!). While there, my friend Spencer and I took to some wandering. We found an ancient castle and some pretty little streets, and then we met back up with everyone else outside the cattedrale. This particular church is amazing because it contains the bones of eight hundred martyrs who were decapitated by the Turks for not converting to Islam. It was crazy.
We returned to Lecce in the afternoon and I headed over to my favorite supermercato. It's owned by a man and his wife and they and I are becoming fast friends. Every time I go into the shop (at least once a day) I'm greeted with a hearty ciao and some suggestions on what to buy. It's really great. Also, they make AMAZING panini.
After food, a couple of us headed over to a local bar to watch the Spain-Paraguay match, which was amazing. I just wish Paraguay had won. My disappointment, however, was quickly remedied by la Notte Bianca. Every city in Italy celebrates it on a different night and I was lucky enough to be around for Lecce's. All the shops stay open all night, there are six to eight stages with live music going the entire time, and thousands of people show up to have one hell of a party. It was wild. I made some new Italian friends and we just had a great time until about five in the morning. I walked my friends Alice and Emily home and Alice and I sat on the balcony and watched the morning sun light up the sky. I then promptly retired to her couch and passed out.
They next day was more or less a recovery day. I did almost nothing all day. My roommates and I headed to the opposite side of town to try to find any supermercato that might be open on a sunday. We did not succeed, but we did find a fruit vendor. We bought a watermelon, some apples, and some peaches and he charged us double a reasonable price. I was so out of it that I didn't realise until we were several blocks away. Dammit, Italian guy! At least the nectarines are amazing. After I fell victim to a basic tourist trap, we headed over to our friend's apartment to celebrate Independence day. This involved eating watermelon and spitting the seeds off the balcony. Seemed rude enough to celebrate America.
Then we went in search of dinner. There was much discussion and some raised voices and we eventually ended up at an awesome little pizzeria in centro. Seated at a table just outside were two extremely attractive Italian girls, so I felt it was my duty to strike up a conversation with them. There names were Francesca and Celeste and we had a nice little talk, and afterwards, they hopped on their scooter and scooted away. It was pretty great. There was some confusion around pizza orders and I got to be mediator and translator for an Italian cook and a guy on my trip that is Ohio's version of Carsten Thede. It was difficult to say the least, but we got everything figured out and the cook and I parted ways on good terms.
We then headed to Piazzetta Santa Chiara where we ran into our friends Alessandro and Antonio. I talked to them for a couple hours while swarms of random Italian men gathered around the American girls. One guy shared some Italian wisdom with me, "In bed, we all speak the same language." Thank you sir, you are creepy.
We parted ways around midnight and I walked my friend Alice home. We had a great convo about how awesome Italia is and I got back to my place in time to Skype with two really good friends of mine. It was a great night.