spring

Explaining America

I passed my exams and have begun studying in level B1! Sadly, our teacher is a very rude woman and mocks students who don’t understand her lessons. I am of the opinion that that style of teaching leads to little or no learning.

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Mean teachers make me sad, so here’s a puppy.

This semester, I am the only American in my class and field a lot of questions about our culture and education system. I am grateful for my American citizenship, but I don’t think any one nation has a perfect government. Dealing with the particular questions I was posed, I could not always give an honestly positive view of America.

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

The first topic of discussion our teacher posed to the class concerned the education styles of our native countries. We have students from Bulgaria, China, Japan, Korea, and Greece who all gave very similar answers. Then I was asked to talk about the American education system and I explained that I had been homeschooled. All the students and our teacher were slightly horrified at this news. Our teacher explained that in Italy (as in many other countries) homeschooling will result in the children being removed from the parents’ home and placed in an institution. The Italian perspective is that homeschooling is another form of child abuse; that in some way, the child is not receiving the full developmental care he or she deserves.

I believe I benefitted from my education. Though I support parents’ right to make some choices concerning their children’s education, I do not support homeschooling in the state of Kansas. Homeschooling in the state of Kansas is completely unauthorized. As standardized testing is not required of homeschoolers, there is no guarantee that all homechooled students in the state of Kansas are even able to read or do basic math. Other states do require that homeschoolers are kept up to speed with their public and private school contemporaries, and in that case, I cannot find a reason to outlaw homeschooling.

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The right tower leans. Italy might not be good at towers.

The second question posed to the class resulted in a conclusion that was a little unfair. Comparing the history of Italy to the history of America is impossible. We were a penal colony and harbor for those suffering religious persecution. Italy was birthplace of the Roman empire. You can’t get two nations with more different origins.

In the northern part of Italy, there are two different regions characteristically different from the rest of Italy. In Valle d’Aosta the two official languages are French and Italian. In South Tyrol the two most prominent languages are German and Italian. This is a result of borders being redrawn many centuries ago and the inclusion of people from other nations into Italy. In this case it was people who would have considered themselves French and Austrian. To maintain their heritage, both languages are taught in school alongside Italian.

My teacher eventually got around to asking me if the native american languages are treated in the same way. Pointing out the complex differences between our nations in Italian is well beyond my grasp at this point. All I could answer was “No”. She asked if there is peaceful integration between the native americans and us immigrants. I responded that in general, no.

Though I do think her comparisons were unusual, I could not help but be reminded of the persecution and alienation there still is towards native peoples. I have begun asking myself why native tongues are dying out and so little is being done to preserve them.

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Pompeii Theatre

I think this is one of the greatest advantages to studying abroad. I am being forced to develop cogent thoughts concerning education and race in the state of Kansas. People in unfamiliar situations must begin to think critically about where they came from and where they are going. Studying abroad does this and creates people better able to serve their communities.

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Torino and Lake Como

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit Torino. Though a beautiful city, I was a little underwhelmed. Torino feels more like little Milan than a city of its own. But I did attend a 20th century art exhibit, ate agnolotti, and breathed in the River Po.

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Piazza San Carlo

I’m not very well versed in fauvist or cubist art styles, but I do appreciate the 20th century artists for their understanding of color. A body is painted in pinks, whites, and light browns with a beautiful blue outline. I never would have thought that the broad strokes and thick layers of paint could so effectively convey meaning. Matisse was the most prominently featured artist and I left with an increased appreciation for his work.  In contrast, I disliked almost every Picasso in the collection. I think I ought to stick with Renaissance art.

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#SorryNotSorry

After a lunch of agnolotti (roast beef filled ravioli), a very famous dish in the Piedmont region of Italy, I went to put my feet in the River Po. Unlike the River Arno that slices through Firenze, the Po is sparkling clear and beautiful. The riverwalk was a beautiful place to soak up some sun and enjoy the local architecture before moving back into the bustle of the city.

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Posing with street art

In celebration of Pasqua, I went to Lake Como. The city of Como was beautiful and warm today. The huge open air market being held in honor of the holiday was incredibly interesting. You could buy mops, dental equipment, and marzipan with everything in between. I don’t have a picture, I was too intent on eating, but they were selling little roasted chickens for lunch. Absolutely delicious.

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Cathedral of Como

The city surrounds one branch of the River Como and is a favorite location for the wealthy’s summer homes. Several of the historical villas feature beautiful statues and gardens. Many places boast of influential and historic guests like Napoleon Bonaparte and Czar Nicholas II.

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Villa Olmo

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View from Olmo

Como is a community of diverse interests. As the birthplace of Alessandro Volta, one of Italy’s most influential physicists, a strong tradition of study and devotion to the sciences has become characteristic of the city. Besides the academics, flight and boating enthusiasts flock to the city during the warm months.

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The “temple” to Alessandro Volta

Torino and Como were the two most northern cities on my list of “sights to see”. I’m very happy I had the weekend free to adventure and explore. Soon, I’ll be going to the most southern city on my list. Stay tuned for more!

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Milano Durante Pasqua

I’m visiting three Italian cities in three days. Here is update One!

The highlight of my day in Milan was a two hour visit of the primary cathedral, Santa Maria Nascente. The famous cathedral is a gothic structure with flying buttresses and countless spires. In contrast, the inside is quite barren. The high ceilings are supported by twenty or thirty immense pillars. The whole construction leaves you feeling very small.

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Gothic Architecture

 

Afterward, I climbed to the roof to view the gothic-ness up close. After climbing the roofs and domes of a few cathedrals, I feel like I can offer a slight critique. Climbing the dome in Firenze is a very different experience than climbing the roof of Santa Maria Nascente. Brunelleschi’s dome was built in such a way that those ascending and descending took separate paths to minimize obstruction of work flow. Once you arrive at the peak of the duomo, there is a simple catwalk surrounding the dome from which you can view the city. In contrast ascending and descending the roof of Milano’s cathedral must be done by the same path. Not exactly efficient. But, instead of a walking around a small circular path, you get to walk on a football field of gothic art. There are statues and gargoyles showcasing the absolute most that Milano could offer. Before the roof was opened to visitors, I don’t know who these wonders were meant for as many of these gothic beauties are impossible to see from the ground.

 

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Hidden Gems

My favorite meeting was with a food vendor who was very excited to have his photo taken.

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FRIED FOOD!!

For those who can’t wait for halloween, here’s a creepy yet famous statue of Saint Bartholomew.

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Musculature: On Point

For my closing notes on Milano, I have one question.

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Overalls

Why are overalls popular? My father has been trying to popularize this look for the last decade. So if someone can please explain this, I’m open to thoughts.

 

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Eating Brain

Even though Chef Boy O.V’s video ‘Eat Like a Fat Kid‘ is my life anthem, I will resist the urge to become a food blogger. All I will say is, I cooked and ate cow brain this week. ‘Cause I want to be that creepy psychologist when I grow up.

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I’m nearing the three month mark and have begun missing the States. I don’t know if it helps, but I’ve been watching movies and listening to music that remind me of home. I miss the variety of cultures – the difference between Texas and Chicago and Montana and Florida. I think I’m learning an appreciation of my home that I wouldn’t have developed without being away for so long. Italy will always have a special place in my heart, but nothing like my home.

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Bombolone

Again, I spent the weekend in Florence where I had the most serendipitous meeting of an old friend. We went to the second best club in all of Florence, Yab, and danced the night away. I’d never seen a German dance before, but I’m now convinced that that was the most German thing I’ve ever seen happen. A lot of stomping was involved.

My exploration of Italy continues. For Easter, or Pasqua, I’m looking to visit Torino and Milano again. The week after I might visit the Puglia region, located in the “heel” of Italy. I currently live in the Umbrian region, famous for chocolate, forests, and truffle hunting. To continued searching and adventures, we raise our glasses. Until next week, Lila.

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San Miniato al Monte

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The Kitchen Special

The University for Foreigners has an incredibly large population of Chinese students. Most are looking towards art or medical school when they come to study here. Unsurprisingly, there are many restaurants and supermarkets that cater to this large population. One of the best fast-food Chinese restaurants is very close to my house and is always full. It’s normal to wait 45 minutes for your food and many more to master the chopsticks.

Recently, I’d been invited to dine with some Chinese friends at their house. The food was absolutely astounding. The meat was so tender it fell off the bone. At this point I was tired of having to go out or impose on my friends every time I wanted Chinese food. So I decided I would learn how to cook “cibo Cinese” and I asked one of my friends to teach me.

Today I learned to make beef and potato stew, beef and egg stir-fry, cabbage stir-fry, and pasta with fried onions. I can barely use a fork and cook spaghetti while Zhang Liang can cook a four course meal and do it with two little batons of bamboo. Great culinary envy was experienced today.

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Assisi

Besides the Chinese food, I’ve also found an Indian restaurant. This foodie is happy!!!! I’m also happy because of the contemplative type of week I’ve had. I’ve had several important realizations about myself. I don’t do yoga, but I think it would feel the same and maybe have the same results.

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Madonna and Child

For the first time in years, I feel like I’ve had some relief from my chronic depression. Depression is a disease that makes your past a nightmare and your future a complete blank. I have never had any future beyond “get degree and get job”. There was no more substantial planning; no characteristics, no dreams, and no feeling of certainty. It was impossible to think any further than the end of the week. Even when I thought I was going to get married, thinking towards the future was nothing more than a game. Nothing felt possible or attainable.

Suddenly as of this week, I have a future. It’s simple. More like a crude sketch than a plan, but for me, this is a huge breakthrough. My plans to work in psychology are unchanged, but I know what I want in my private life. I want chickens and a few pigs. I grew up with all types of animals and have realized that I was always happiest looking after pigs, which are basically giant dogs. Chickens are just too useful. What’s a household without fresh eggs? The answer is: Barbarism.

Life is much simpler when you know who you are. Without the terrible, sickening cloud of depression, I feel like myself. I wish my grandmother and close friend, who both passed away late last year, could see me now. I think I’m a very different person than the last time I saw them.

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Milano

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Nothing Tastes Good

This week has been a little rough. I contracted influenza earlier this week and have been bedridden for a few days now. I was then lucky enough to receive an internet STD from a Facebook friend. I’m still trying to apologize for the explicit images that consumed my Facebook page. Adding insult to injury, the only thing that tastes good is popcorn. I’m in the promised land of food and everything is going to make me hurl.

As I’ve spent an inordinate number of hours horizontal, trying to calm my stomach, I’ve caught up on some reading. For those of you who have always wanted to but never found the time, I have finished Robert Graves’s Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina for you. Please, don’t thank me. I’ll sum up here.

First, there was Caesar Augustus; an alright dude and good leader.

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Caesar Augustus

Augustus was then followed by Tiberius and Claudius. Between these two, the Roman Empire was systematically bankrupted.

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Emperor Caligula

Enter our protagonist! Claudius become emperor and successfully rebuilt and extended the Roman Empire.

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Emperor Claudius

Claudius was followed by Nero. And as we all know, Nero was a megalomaniac and tore apart the empire once again.

The general take away from my bedrest and foray into historic novels? Well, as long as your predecessors and successors are really bad at their job and you do your best, they’ll make you a god. Literally, they’ll vote on it and add you to their pantheon.

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The Last Raphael

The great renaissance painter Raphael was trained in Perugia under Pietro Perugino. Only one fresco remains that can be certainly attributed to Raphael. This fresco can be found in the Cappella di San Severo.

Visiting was a fairly unusual experience. After paying a small fee, you walk into a small white room with high ceilings. Plastic chairs line the wall opposing the only remaining Raphael in Perugia. Raphael’s fresco features the holy trinity and multiple saints surrounding an ensconced, terracotta madonna and child. After contemplating the figures in their sterile surroundings, you walk out into the cool and humid Umbrian weather.

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Walls of the Old City

I am in Perugia studying Italian at l’Università per Stranieri or University for Foreigners. The main building of the university can be found in Piazza Fortebraccio. Stage right of this grand old building is an Etruscan arch built in 200 B.C.

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I’ve been placed in an elementary level class with around thirty other students. We represent 13 different countries including Israel, Russia, Iraq, America, and China. In the first few days of class, the discomfort between the Israelis and the other Arabs was palpable. After sharing a classroom, friends, and local bars, tempers are beginning to cool down.

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Ancient Roadsign for Perugia

After two months of study, improvement is apparent. This past week I was able to have a good conversation with some of our Chinese students. For the first time, we finally had a common language. Through Italian, an American student and two Chinese students were able to communicate and laugh together.

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Archeology and Assisi

This has been one of those weeks that’s only exciting for nerds and punks. I visited the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Dell’Umbria and the city of Assisi. I also got my third tattoo at XTC Tattoo and Piercing. Welcome to my dirt-devil mind!

The archeological museum collection is primarily composed of objects found in and near Perugia. Pieces date from the Bronze Age and continue into the Roman Empire. Whole rooms are devoted to amulets, house wares, signet rings, and burial urns.

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An urn for holding the remains of the deceased.

I recommend the archeological museum to all visitors of Perugia. The place is peaceful, inhabited by cats, open air, and well maintained. Massive sarcophagi and delicate earrings are all given the most reverent and delicate care.

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Museum Courtyard

Assisi is a 20 minute train ride from Perugia. The ancient and beautiful city is about two miles away from the train station. You can take a bus or taxi, but I think you are robbed of the beautiful scenery and farmland. I took a quite country road that sliced its way through green wheat fields without the noise and annoyance of traffic. I had the best vantage point to watch the city grow larger as I neared the foothills of the mountains.

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Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi

Many people make pilgrimages to Assisi and stretches of the road are specially cordoned off for pedestrians. At the end of the pilgrims’ road the city writes this welcome:

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Peace and Goodness

Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi is really fascinating. The architecture is distinguished by its two stories and double basilicas. Both the ground level and second story basilica are vaulted. It’s amazing to see the results of devotion and religious fervor. And underneath it all is the crypt and tomb of Francesco.

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Besides being studious and cultured, I went out and got a new tattoo! I decided to pay homage to two of my favorite childhood books, Peter Pan and Watership Down. The Black Rabbit of Inlè is the spiritual image of death to the rabbits. The significance of the phrase, “To die will be an awfully big adventure”, I discussed here. Shout out to Manu and his amazing workmanship!

 

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Childhood Immortalized

I promise not to get any more tattoos before I write again next week. Till then, Ciao!

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Chocolate Fairs and Romanesque Cathedrals

 

Typical winter weather in Florence, Italy; it rained all Valentine’s weekend. Sadly, photos from the cathedral San Miniato Al Monte were spoiled by the dark environment. Romanesque architecture is dominated by thick walls, small windows, and rounded arches. So when it’s dark outside, it’s dark inside. San Miniato is a over a mile outside of Florence, and as can be expected like a name ‘Al Monte’, it’s an uphill walk the whole way.

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The facade and interior of San Miniato are decorated in geometric patterns of green and white marble. Harkening back to Byzantine architectural style, the facade mural and apse are done in gold. I suggest taking time to buy some homemade food stuffs made by the Monks of San Miniato. The Cantuccini, hard almond and orange biscuits, go perfectly with sweet wine; a classic Tuscany dessert.

Outside Santa Maria Novella, in the city center, was a chocolate fair. I repeat, a fair solely devoted to the viewing, consumption, and buying of chocolate. It was difficult, but I was able to pull myself away before gaining ten pounds. I might have gained nine.IMG_0344

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Outdoor Gallery of the Uffizi

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Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River

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On Significance

This afternoon, I visited the Galleria Nazionale Dell’Umbria. This museum houses some of the artwork Perugia is most proud of. The art is primarily composed of Byzantine and Renaissance period works.

Looking at others’ life accomplishments and spiritual expression is a serious activity. We are given the opportunity to share a part of someone’s life hundreds of years after their death. This leaves our own significance and the products of our own life in question.

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The Virgin Mary

In the short time I’ve been here, my friends and I have had time to ask and discuss some of life’s most important questions. We’ve reached the end of our first month abroad and lost the traveler’s high. What are we leaving behind? What am I supposed to gain from these experiences? Why am I here? Not that we’re great philosophers, but I think our ruminations are worth writing down.

These questions come out of the human awareness that we all have an expiration date. There is a fear of the unknown and the imminent. I’ve found that the places of purpose, hope, and buoyancy differ for each person.

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San Sebastian

Many people turn to religion, art, careers, family, and relationships to find significance. We find something that gives our death a positive outcome; religion. We achieve false immortality; art and careers. Finally, we define ourselves within our sphere of influence; family and relationships.

Other’s take a different path entirely. “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everyone is gonna die,” Morty Smith. The complete lack of significance can be the very thing that gives us the hope and peace to make it through another day.

Personally, the most hopeful phrase I’ve ever read is a line from J.M. Barry’s Peter Pan.

“To die will be an awfully big adventure”.

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Illustration by Trina Hyman

Peter does not question his life. Life has inherent significance. The products of his life aren’t his to worry about; they’re for those left behind to do with as they please. The final realization is that death is just as much a part of life as birth.

In our subjective experience we feel that if everything is significant, nothing has significance. And that’s just defeatist. The purpose of life is to live. It’s simple. Don’t think too hard about it.

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