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.


  1. For the record, I love Vienna Sausages. That was the point of this blog right?

  2. So nice reading you Keath!
    I agree with u about the Austrian woman and her over-all critical point of view. Don't care about her, just learn how different people can be...nobody is u (BUGIAAAAAA)!!

    And i'm too sorry for the homeless man...god, i knew him, in the way i've always seen him in that place...poor guy... :(

    Anyway, get ready to dance PIZZICA...I want to see u dancing tomorrow afternoon ...i'll find another irritating nickname for the occasion!! jejeje

    See ya