I have officially been in Italy one week and Siena six days. How has it been? Well, I have been reminded twice recently that the first week of anything is very rough! The first week out of my job was spent doing some terribly boring and time consuming things like straightening out my contacts, e-mail addresses / updating on-line accounts, and figuring out some kind of routine for myself, etc.
It has been a similar thing here in Italy but more of an information / sensory overload. Where is my apartment? Where is the supermarket? Where can I find free wifi? Where is school? How does the washing machine work! Where is anything! Where exactly am I at all!? And of course, everything is in the metric system, Euro, and in Italian, too! I get the metric system and Euro but adding Italian and all the other knew factors is just a bit overwhelming at times.
Then there was school itself. I jumped into the third week of class so had to learn the system; i.e. how my instructor runs the class. It is a mix of conversation, reading from materials, writing passages, etc. Sometimes exercises are done alone, sometimes in groups of two or three. Then there is homework, too! It has been fun, but it is also difficile (dee-fee’-chee-lay)!
The prepositions in particular are a struggle for all of us. There are so many and learning when/how they are contracted is one thing, but they are also used differently depending on whether you are referring to a person, a city, small town, a mode of transportation, etc. The verbs not only include tense but also the person involved in the action. So instead of just switching the pronoun, i.e. I eat, you eat, they eat, the verb ending has to change, i.e. mangio, mangi, mangiano, etc., and you still might include the pronoun in the sentence, too. Further, you have to be sensitive to the formal/informal use of “you”. I’m sure many of you will recall this fondly from high school!
Everyone at the school is very nice! The students all mingle, regardless of their level which is great. About half of the students are at least my age and about half of the students are also very advanced.
Every day at 10:30 my class takes a short break and we walk down the Via to a little cafè for some caffè (I finally found the blogs accented letters/symbols!). Class finishes at 12:15 but many of the students hang around to do their homework or use the wifi or wait for private lessons, etc. That is how I have met some of the more advanced students. I am particularly fond of a woman named Vera who is from Sao Paolo, Brazil. I connect with a lot of people due to my travels and while I haven’t been to Sao Paolo I have been to Rio so we have bonded!
Vera is in her 50s, has two grown children and has been married three times. Once very briefly to a Frenchman, then to a Uruguayan who is the father of the children, and now is married to a Brazilian. (Leslie, if you are reading, this I told her about you living in Montevideo!).
You can pretty easily arrange to have lunch, dinner, drinks, etc, with (a) classmate(s) but at the same time need to be careful about expenses as eating out can add up in Italy! The Italians know how to squeeze a penny out of the tourists and most of the restaurants have “cover charges” of about €2 ($3) just to sit down. As such, the students have all become pretty savvy about where to go to avoid these fees and where / how to stretch their money. Same thing goes for a coffee, if you order to drink it standing at the counter it is generally about €0.50 ($0.75) cheaper than sitting down.
It has been a lot of fun, though! Together with classmates I have taken a walking tour of the city, a free phonetics class presented by a member of the local theatre (very interactive and funny!), gone to a contrada dinner, etc.
Yesterday afternoon/evening I went to Cortona with Vera and two other middle-aged female students from Spain who are also in the advanced class. Cortona is a very cute walled city about 40 minutes away. One of the Spaniards has an element of Salma Hayek but definitely not as good-looking. The other one scares me a bit, I am not sure if she is the bull or the matador but either way I feel a little threatened! I also find her very hard to understand. I am not sure if it is because of her accent, the speed at which she talks, her advanced language skills, or just the hard look she gives me like this is a sport of life or death!
Anyway, it is both good and bad to be with the advanced students. For a point of comparison, I am at level 1.5 and they are at 4.5, the highest level the school offers (I believe). The advanced students are essentially completely fluent and have been actively learning Italian in some way for several years. They are great to be with for the practice of listening and speaking and they will correct you if you say something wrong which is very helpful. The downside is that they keep on talking and asking questions at such a rate and level that it can be very tiring! All good in the end, though!
Today I went up to the Duomo (cathedral) which is at the highest point in town. I loved it! I had a bit of a Stendhal Syndrome moment! I will add a separate post on that phenomenon.