Friday, October 29, 2010

Cafonalparty 2010 : No tact, No taste, No problem

The following story hinges on the understanding of a famous member of Italian society, the Cafone. Now, over the course of several weeks, I’ve managed to get a fairly good idea of who the Cafone is, and he can be summarized fairly easily. If you imagine the whitest guy you know and imagine him trying to be a pimp from the seventies, you’ve created the Cafone. But the Cafone doesn’t need your creation, so get lost.

To celebrate one of the most beloved Italian characters of all time, four graduates of the Collegio Ghislieri decided to hold a festival in homage to the Cafone. It was called, and shall forever be remembered as, Cafonalparty 2010.

The entire day was colored by nearly childish excitement on the part of every member of the college. The normally boisterous Italians were able to reach new heights of noise, laughter and general joy. After dinner, everyone went their separate ways, cognizant of the transformation that was about to take place in every room in the college as, one by one, people set aside their pride and good taste to don the traditional garb of the Cafone.

Our little group of foreigners, consisting of me, two English, an Anglo-American, a German, and a Swiss gathered in the Anglo-American Ashley’s room before to wait for the arrival of the shuttle to get to the party. After a while, we headed outside to wait on the front steps of the College. My British little sister Emily showcased her questionable intelligence by asking why everyone was wearing coats and then proceeding to shiver for the next half hour.

When the shuttle arrived (half an hour late) we, according to our ancient Anglo-Saxon traditions, lined up (queued up if you’re British). Unfortunately, we forgot that we were not in Anglo-Saxia, but Italy. The Italians lined up in their distinctive fashion which involves a lot of crowding and pushing to the front. Not surprisingly, we were the last to reach the door of the shuttle and by that time it was already full. A regretful Cafone at the door informed us that the Cafonalshuttle was already full of other Cafoni and that we would have to wait for our Cafonalturn to go the the Cafonalparty. Heads low in Cafonalshame, we headed back inside to sulk and make sure that Emily didn’t actually die from hypothermia.

We waited a bit inside and then returned to the steps for the next shuttle. We got to meet up a with a whole new group of Cafoni, and I have to say that these ones were more entertaining. For starters, there was Gaia la Romana who is a girl from the college who is almost incomprehensible because she speaks half in Roman dialect. She was dressed pretty heavily Cafone, but it was hard to tell because it was strangely akin to what she wears every day. There was also Amar, who wasn’t dressed up at all except for a pair of sunglasses. Most strikingly, there was Alarico, a really big friend of my who reminds me of my brother. He was wearing a mechanic’s jumpsuit, a beanie, a bandana, and sunglasses. I looked at him, started laughing and didn’t stop for quite some time. Throughout the evening, he was a constant source of entertainment for me.

When the next shuttle arrived, even later than the previous, we managed to make our way on board and we were off to the party. We drove for about half an hour until we finally reached the turnoff for the party, marked by a piece of cardboard stuck to a signpost that said simply ‘Cafonal’. The bus turned onto the narrow road that seemed to head off into a field. Before long, we were on a dirt road and seemed dangerously close to falling into a canal. We assumed we had arrived as the bus pulled into what looked to be some sort of poorly lit abandoned compound. Despite the fear we probably should have been feeling, spirits were high and we disembarked and headed toward the music.

I would have been about the fifth to enter the building, but after the first three entered, they came rushing back out looking extremely embarrassed. At this point, I noticed that the music coming from the building was not the normal house music of an Italian party, but fairly heavy rock music. Apparently a band had been practicing in this building and we’d given them a temporary audience. We retreated quickly, not wanting to encourage that particular genre of music and crossed the compound to where we could only assume the party would be.

We pushed our way into the building hoping the door wouldn’t fall off its rusting hinges and found ourselves in what appeared to be an old house. Despite its state of disrepair it was quite charming and it was full of amazing people. We quickly assimilated into the crowd waiting at the bar to grab some drinks. The ‘line’ was moving fairly slowly and when we finally made it to the front, we figured out why. The two bartenders, who resembled Eugene locals, were busy smoking a joint while they slowly and carefully made drinks. Despite the time and effort invested, the drinks were mediocre. Luckily, the Italians once again proved my theory about alcohol tolerance and were all drunkenly content.

Now reunited with many, many Italian friends, I made my way into the other room where the party was. My friend Caparezza, who had given me almost every piece of clothing I was wearing for the evening, was the DJ with the help of Sacco who was playing the part of MC. The two of them are an amazing team and I felt like I was in the best discoteca ever. The music was fantastic and everywhere I turned I ran into a friend. It was truly wonderful.

Before long, Stasi the clever Italian made a reappearance in my life. He showed up wearing a rabbit-fur coat. It was so soft that I couldn’t help but stroke it. After several seconds of stroking, he had the good sense to suggest a deal: I could stroke the coat as much as I’d like, but the stroking had to stop after that night. I was down. The coat stroking held a prominent place in the rest of my evening, right alongside laughing at Alarico every time I saw him.

After dancing for a while, I decided to head back to the bar. I had the good fortune to receive what I maintain to this day to be the worst cocktail of all time. I went around making people taste it until it was gone. Everyone was as disgusted as I was and I felt vindicated.

I returned to the writhing mass in the other room and proceeded to dance the night away with a hundred of my closest friends. I’d have to say that, all in all, the evening was a huge success and that the people here have a way of making me feel unreasonably welcome at all times. I can’t stress enough how eternally grateful I am to my fellow Ghisleriani for being generally amazing people, despite how ridiculous they all are.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cena Goliardica : This Shit Happens

Last night was a grand night for the Collegio Ghislieri. It was the infamous Cena Goliardica. We took part in the way that Ghisleriani have been doing for centuries. At first, the evening unfolded in the traditional Italian fashion. We all gathered in Portineria a good half hour after we had agreed on and mulled about talking for another half hour. Our intimate group of fifty-seven friends headed out from the college and along the streets of Pavia. It must have been a terrifying sight. Of course, as we passed other colleges, everyone did their best to remember fun little songs. One goes “Ignoranza sempre presente.” Clap clap clap clap clapclap clapclapclap. Clever Italians.

After a good half hour of seemingly aimless wandering, we stumbled upon a quaint little trattoria. I’d like to point out that I use quaint here to mean run-down. We crowded into the poor little business which I’m sure just wanted to die peacefully. In the back room, there was a table set up for us. All the older students set to squabbling over which matricola (freshman) they would own for the evening. I was surrounded by yells of “Cagamerda!” or “Furby!” or “Jar Jar Binks!” I guess it’s important here to take a tangent and explain that every male member of the college has a nickname. When the new matricole arrive, the older students assign all of them nicknames. The names are usually based on resemblance, and as evidenced above, are rarely nice.

After the older students had secured their new wards, we finally all sat down and got ready for dinner, and by this I mean that we chanted “Vino, vino, vino, vino” while pounding on the table. Before long the wine arrived. It was, it seemed, a special variety of wine. On first taste, it seemed kind of like gross water, but the more you drank, the more it tasted like a rich bouquet of autumnal flavors and industrial cleaner.

To avoid boredom while we waited for our meal, the Italians engaged in some other ancient traditions. These ranged everywhere from stealing articles of clothing from the matricole to making them stand on chairs and sing to other, less mentionable things. After twenty minutes or so, our antipasti arrived and the dinner got into full swing. The next two hours were a frenzy of eating, yelling, and above all, drinking.

When it comes to drinking, Italians are interesting. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Italians have the absolute lowest alcohol tolerance of any people. After a two glasses of wine, or a glass of spumante, or a good grappa, they get pretty goofy. When this happens to Italians, who are goofy genetically, the goof factor can get a bit out of control. This is what happened last night. There was an excess of goof everywhere.

I was seated next to a matricola who had a bit of a weird habit. The more he drank, the more he wanted to speak in English. The only problem is, the more I drink, the more I want to speak in Italian and the better I speak in Italian. I wanted to take advantage of my, by now, kick-ass Italian skills, so I was talking to every other Italian in Italian while an Italian talked at me in English. It was pretty ridiculous, kind of like that last sentence.

Our bottles of wine had a nasty habit of emptying themselves. After one such occasion, I finished my glass and was feeling a bit unfulfilled. Suddenly the Italian across the table from me, Stasi, miraculously had a bottle of wine. Proving his genius, he had hidden a bottle under the table to for our end. I was a little over-impressed and complimented him thoroughly for his cleverness. After several of the matricole had vomited (charming, I know) we had a little exodus and headed off to cause some trouble.

The now drunken gang of Italians marched through the streets singing some more clever songs. Before long, we arrived at our rival college, Borromeo. There was a phalanx of Borromaici out in front of the college, prepared for our approach. The others manned the windows ready to throw all sorts of disgusting things on the approaching army of Ghisleriani. The matricole were forced into a formation and almost all the male Ghisleriani surged forward toward the bastion of Borromeo, despite the rain of liquids from above. At this point my compatriots convinced me to do my sacred duty to fight Borromeo. So, like any good person, I went to pee on the side of a four hundred year old building. As I approached the building, a cute girl rounded the corner. I quickly zipped my pants back up, pretending to do anything else. As it turned out, the girl was a Borromaica. We had a good conversation while she waited for the entrance to be free of mildly epic Italian struggle. At a certain point, I had to excuse myself and ask that she didn’t look while I peed on her college.

We retreated in a strangely triumphant fashion, chanting and cheering in generally good humor. Before we made it even half a block, we encountered the female Ghisleriani who had just finished their Controcena (counterdinner). The two masses merged and the Ghisleriani army returned to Borromeo twice as large. There was more general struggle and everyone had a great time.

The second retreat was even more triumphant and all hundred and something of us walked down the main street of Pavia singing and dancing. Sure, it seems like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. This shit happened.

We returned to the college and I retrieved my jacket from Jar Jar who had been dying from the cold. A bunch of us ended up in someone’s room enjoying warm beverages. We all talked and enjoyed each other’s company late into the night.

Just as it seemed like the evening was ending, we went to the room of my half British, half American friend Ashley. She, Harry, and I talked about life, love, and all the things that matter most. Being a bit of an exhausting subject, sometime around six in the morning I decided to return to my room where I promptly fell asleep.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Arrivo a Pavia

I arrived at the collegio a couple days before my trip to England, but so little happened that it’s almost not worth mentioning. When I returned from the Motherland, the collegio was still almost completely empty. Because the mensa (cafeteria) wouldn’t open until the end of the month, I decided to do some shopping. As I passed through the portineria (entrance where we go to get mail) I decided to ask the porter at the front desk where a supermarket was. As he was explaining it to me, a small Asian girl came in. I say small in reference to normal people, as far as Asians go, she was average height. She overheard our conversation and invited me to go shopping with her. As we walked to the supermarket, I talked with her and learned all sorts of things, like her name, Valentina. She also informed me that there was a group of students who had returned to the college to study for and take exams throughout September. She invited me to dinner and I got to meet tons of Italians, who over the next three weeks would become my good friends.

I’d love to recount all the good times we had, but I’m lazy, so instead, I’ll give a brief summary. We all met up every day for lunch and dinner. We never had a meal that took less than three hours, so this didn’t leave much time for anything except getting to know my new friends. They’re an interesting bunch. Here at the collegio, every guy has a nickname that was assigned to him his first year so I learned quickly to only ask for nicknames and not real names. To this day I could probably call five guys by their actual names. Over the following weeks, our group slowly grew as more and more collegiates returned and came to join us.

Then came the day when our world turned upside down. An Erasmus student had arrived, and she was (according to our sources) hot. The excitement was tangible, especially when the most outgoing member of our group, Sacco (Short for Mano in Sacco, which means ‘hand in the bag’), invited her to dinner. That night, our normal table settings were made a bit more sophisticated by the addition of a table cloth. Here I should specify that the table cloth was in fact, just a blanket. In true Italian style, everyone dressed a bit better for this dinner because they wanted to impress the hot German. When she mentioned that she was 26 and had a boyfriend, the conversation slowed and I watched everyone’s disappointment. Everyone, that is, except for the 21 year old Sacco who proceeded to learn how to say ‘I’m 23’ in German.

The next Erasmus student that arrived, Harry, was greeted warmly, but without flair because he was male. He assimilated into our group without trouble because, despite the fact he studies at Oxford, he’s quite friendly. His part in this story will be short, because his arrival and that of the next Erasmus, Philippe (French) were overshadowed by the arrival of another figa (literally: vagina. Figuratively: hot girl). The girl frenzy recommenced. This time, it was a British named Emily, a student at Cambridge. Once again, the crowd was disappointed by the news of a boyfriend, but Sacco was not daunted by such an easily surmounted obstacle and continued to throw down some heavy flirting.

Over the next several weeks, the college came to life. After a strike at the university, which lasted two weeks for some departments, everyone had finally returned and started classes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

England: Borders of Steel

Following my trend of writin things down a month after they happen, here’s a recap of England. It was awesome. It’s grey and rainy and everyone has fantastic accents. They drive on the wrong side of the road and use all sorts of silly words. The humour is questionable at best and their spelling is worse. The food, believe it or not, is actually fantastic and the people are quite welcoming. I think I’m going to live there someday.

Yes, I did go to London, and it was pretty sweet. I also saw Oxford in all of its snooty, self-involved wonder. And, we went wandering in the British countryside, which is as amazing as it sounds. And now that I’ve thoroughly explained why I love England, I’ll share one anecdote, my first experience with the country.

After leaving my place at 4:30 in the morning and walking the empty streets of Pavia to the train station, I caught the 5am bus to Milan. As soon as I arrived at the airport, I did the only thing that made sense and got an espresso at the airport bar. Feeling a little more awake, I headed through security and tried to go to the British Airways area of the airport. It wasn’t open yet, so I went elsewhere and entertained myself for an hour or so.

When the plane arrived, we all lined up Italian-style; everyone pushed forward in a sort of mass reminiscent of a school of fish or a herd of lemmings rushing to the cliff. Luckily, there was no cliff, just a bus that took us to our plane. Somehow, despite a two thousand year-old tradition of being late for everything, our plane managed to take off early.

We made it to the foggy isles in almost no time at all. As we landed, I prepared myself to clap, but there was no applause. I guess the plane was mostly full of Brits, because Italians like to show their appreciation of pilots. We disembarked in a slightly orderly fashion and headed into the terminal. I was psyched to be in England and excited to see Alice, but what I hadn’t counted on was British immigration.

I came around a corner to see a giant mass. This mass was my mass. All the other people from the plane skirted it and headed to the EU citizens line which was moving in a brisk and orderly fashion. I, on the other hand, took my place in the line that would inevitably steal forty-five minutes of my life. I resigned myself to a bit of line-time and listened to music while I waited my turn.

Finally, I reached the front and it was my turn. I headed to one of the little glass cages where they keep immigration officials. The lady was cold and far from polite, but it was about what I’d expected from England, so I went with it. She asked me why I was in the country, and I told her that I was there to see a friend. In response, she stared at me blankly. I tried again, thinking along the lines of business or pleasure, I threw out “pleasure?” This didn’t please her, so she asked me again. I told her I was going to visit a friend and it sunk in the second time around.

Having passed the test, I watched excitedly for her to stamp my passport and let me go. But she was far from finished. The interrogation had just begun. She proceeded to ask me Alice’s name and citizenship, how we met, how long we’d known each other. Luckily, I was able to answer these questions. The problems arose when the lady asked me where I’d be staying for the week. Being a college-age student going to visit a friend, I had no idea about the specifics. This vexed the immigration witch to no end and she got very upset. After asking me how much money I had on my person (uh, dunno, 20 euro), she decided to make sure that IF she did let me into the country, I would at least leave. It went a little something like this:

“Do you have a ticket to leave in a week.”

“Well of course.”

“Can I see it?”

“Oh, sorry, no it’s…”

“An e-ticket?”

“Yeah, an e-ticket.”

“So can I see it?”

“Uh… no, it’s… online…”

Despite my impertinence, she was forgiving and offered a solution. Ten minutes later, I returned after having gone to stand in another line to wait for a print-out of my receipt from the British Airways counter. Unfortunately, my favorite inquisitor was busy emotionally destroying an African man. His interrogation was proceeding much as mine had. His problem arose when he didn’t know what his cousin did at the bank that he worked at. Let’s be honest, no one knows what a relative does at a bank, not because it’s complicated or secret, but because it’s unreasonably boring.

Unfortunately, another man in line was a good person and decided to help. He approached the beast’s pen and tried to say something. This was not a good idea, as the power-mad official flew into a rage and sent both men to the ‘departures lounge’. I’m, luckily, still unsure of what this lounge is. I imagine it as a well furnished lounge that looks vaguely like a hospital waiting room, but with refreshments. The only thing you can hear over the general sounds of sadness is the elevator music that’s not calming anyone down and that one guy yelling to his lawyer on his cell phone about how he has rights and how they can’t do this.

Returning to the matter at hand, after the expulsion of the two friendly African men, it was finally my turn to try again. Luckily, her rage was so profound that all she could do was mutter, be unfriendly and stamp my passport. I sprinted away covering my ears so she couldn’t call me back for more torture.

It took several days for England to redeem itself after I got to meet the hellspawn with which they man their borders. I’ve gotta say, it’s more effective than minutemen…