...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Sunday, May 28, 2006

We saw all four Ninja Turtles in one day. Sweet!

It's too bad Michaelangelo was the stoner Turtle because he's probably my favorite of the artists. (Jessica trivia: which Ninja Turtle did I have a crush on when I was seven? Answer at the end!) Anyways, today Sarah and I went to the Uffizi in Florence, the finest art gallery in Italy. We tried to get ticket reservations a few days ago to avoid the lines, but they were all booked up until June 2, so we got up at 6 (a.m., yo) to go stand in line. And it was worth it: the museum was fairly small and simple in layout (except for the lower rooms, which were a freaking maze), but jammed with breathtaking Renaissance paintings: 'The Birth of Venus' and 'Primavera' by Botticelli, 'The Venus of Urbino' by Tiziano, 'The Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist' by Michaelangelo, etc, etc. I ended up spending about four hours in there, but I think I could have stared at 'The Birth of Venus' all day. Tuesday, we're going to see Michaelangelo's 'David'!

Yesterday was probably the highlight of the trip so far. Sarah and I left Pisa around 9 to return to Florence by train, where we split up for the day: she did Florence stuff, while I took another train out to the Umbrian countryside village of Assisi. As in, 'St. Francis of.' The train ride there was ecstatically scenic, all poppies and vinyards and silvery-green olive trees, with crumbling villas and red-tiled roofs crowning the hills. Not wanting to miss any of the views, I didn't even know which side of the train to look out of; I practically got whiplash from turning my head from side to side so many times. Assisi is tucked away among the hills about two and half hours from Florence, a beautifully preserved little medieval village that for centures has been one of the principal Christian pilgramage sites.

The Basilicas of St. Francis (there are two, an upper and a lower one) were both daunting and intimate at the same time. Frescoes depicting the lives of Jesus and St. Francis--as the audioguide put it, 'the Passion of Christ and the compassion of St. Francis--lined the walls, guilded as in the Byzantine style. The ceiling of the Upper Basilica was painted a deep, vibrant blue, with gold stars; something in the paint had begun to oxidize, creating gorgeous Statue of Liberty-green streaks. I guess the best way to describe it is to just say that it felt like a holy place.

I spent about two and a half hours in the Basilicas and the Tomb of St. Francis, then walked across the tiny village to the church of St. Clare, who was also from Assisi. It seemed like every cobblestoned street led to a stunning viewpoint over the Umbrian countryside. Domed basilicas and marble fortresses rose out of the hills, which stretched out into infinity. Although the town was crowded with tourists and St. Francis kitsch (any kind of tacky souvenir you can imagine, they probably had it, plastered with his visage), it had a certain air of quiet and peace to it. As I wandered the streets away from the plaza and the two main churches, I was often alone. It was a lovely experience. When I come back to Italy, I think I will spend more time in Umbria and at least another day or two in Assisi.

Sarah's and my itinerary has changed slightly: we added in Verona, Pisa, Siena, Naples, Pompei, and added another day each in Paris and Venice. Due to a scheduling snafu we are actually only going to have three days in Athens. But, we will be in Paris for a week! We also deleted our crazy plan to squeeze in Barcelona or London (!) at the end. That was true craziness, but oh so tempting! Right now we're in Florence, as you know, and next we head to Rome. Love to all, and the postcard offer still stands!

(Answer: I had a crush on Raphael, the red Ninja Turtle. I don't know why, exactly, since people tell me that he was the jerkiest of the four, but I think I just liked the color red. I thought it was romantic!)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Venice is like Disneyland for grown-ups

We are completely under its spell. I don't have time to update now, except to say that our itinerary has changed slightly. We added Verona, Siena, Assisi (as in St. Francis of), Naples, Pompei, and an extra day each in Venice and Paris, and deleted Barcelona and London (that plan was truly crazy, but oh so tempting!).

Love to all!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Things I never thought I'd be doing, no. 148

Getting drunkish with two of my former high school literature teachers. I can say that Caron and Hyatt are funny drunks, with loud conversations about whether East of Eden was mysogynistic, and whether we just should watch Miami Vice with Spanish subtitles. Wooo! When we started, I was just to the three-glasses-of-wine stage of drunk where I can hold a conversation about anything and behave properly, if a little bit sway-y. Now I'm to the point where I'm all over-emphatic and using the adjective "smashing." And, yeah, I'm a little bit blurry. But dinner was delicious, and conversation--the Argentinians call it a sobremesa, or "over-the-table" conversation--was stimulation. Caron remembers a presentation I did for junior year lit class, and told me all about it. Sarah says that I'm "smashed" (after I used the adjective "smashing" to describe something), but it's not true. Really! Ask me anything!

Experiment in international living

Sarah's dad Hyatt is making lasagne, Sarah's journalling, mellow music is playing, and here I sit nursing a glass of red wine and blogging. Could anything be more idyllic? No. This is exactly where I want to be right now. It's a nice respite before the craziness of backpacking that begins tomorrow. Our schedule is roughly: Genova, Venice, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Bari, Athens, Milan, Paris, somewhere in the south of France, Genova, Barcelona (????), Genova, home. We have five full days in Greece and five full days in Paris, which will be nice. We're hoping to get together with our high school friend Nicole, who's been living in Paris on a Northwestern University study abroad for the year--I'm addicted to her LiveJournal, and I think it would be a blast to hear about her adventures first hand and see what it's like to be an expat in Paris.

Speaking of expatriates named Nicole (I never thought I'd use that transition!), today Sarah's family's friend Nicole came to visit from Torino, where she's been teaching at an international school. She's in her midtwenties and vivacious, friendly and so enthusiastic--it makes me itch to move abroad and do the teaching thing. Listening to her talk, I was trying to figure out the quickest path between me and Argentina (Uruguay in a pinch). The thing is, I might need official teaching credentials. But that lifestyle is so attractive to me, and I can so see myself doing it, maybe after I get my Masters and before I go back for my Ph.D.

Sarah made an interesting observation yesterday: people here frequently assume we're natives, and start talking to us in rapid-fire Italian. And it sucks, because of course we can't really respond besides a noncommital head nod or Non copisciamo italiano (We don't understand Italian), whereas in our respective study-abroad countries of Mexico and Chile, we actually could speak the language but were immediately recognizable as foreigners. I had to fight so hard against the gringa stereotype in Chile, proving that I actually was interested in the culture and the language and that I wanted to engage those things; no one would ever mistake me for a Chilean, at least not in Valparaíso. I remember talking with Julia and Carla about that, about how hard it is to travel in a country where you're assumed to be a native but can't actually speak the language. I wonder if the same thing would happen if I went to the Czech Republic, the country of my family's origin.

The solution? Travel in Argentina and Uruguay, Spanish-speaking countries with heavy European influence. An antique dealer in Uruguay asked me if I was Argentinian; it was one of the best compliments I received.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Air Dolomiti has the best plane food ever

On the hour-and-a-half flight from Munich to Genoa, they served us a little box with three slices of prosciutto, two mozzarella balls, a bunch of green grapes, a strawberry, a cherry tomato, and four cheese puff crackers, with red wine and mineral water to drink. Delicious!

Sarah and I arrived in Genoa, then took a bus to the city center, where her mom Caron met us. The thing about Sarah's parents is that her dad was our sophomore year literature teacher, and her mom was our junior year lit teacher. So I always think of them as Mr. and Mrs. X, and it's hard to get used to referring to them by their first names and interacting with them in a non-teacher context. They've been so nice.

After we settled in, Caron prepared a midday snack of brie, foccacia, and salami, which we took on their little balcony, overlooking the city--it was so relaxing. Then Sarah and I took a walk around their neighborhood, along the boardwalk overlooking the rocky coastline (we're in the extreme northwest of Italy). A lot of families were out, walking with strollers and their dogs, old men and women sat on the benches with their friends, talking a mile a minute, and young men sped by on scooters and motorcycles. It was so incredible to talk by and hear everyone speaking Italian, and the scenary was lovely.

Today we got together with the Sarah's family's former exchange student, Barbara, who lives in Genoa (Genova in Italian). She showed Sarah and me around downtown--we saw the medieval wall, the exquisitely ornate Catedral di San Lorenzo, the house of Christopher Columbus (he was from Genoa), and the aquarium, where Sarah and I were baffled by this huge sunfish (Mola mola). It's circular and huge--like, four or five feet in diameter--with long dorsal and anal fins, beady eyes, and fleshy lip. It's truly bizarre-looking. We also got gelato. This will be a recurring theme, I'm sure. Then we went back to Barbara's apartment and met her parents, and admired the view from the terrace on top of her apartment building. The view over the city was beautiful: tons of apartment buildings, most with roof-top terrazas and gardens, along with old buildings and cuppolas of churches. Sarah's parents took the three of us out to dinner at a pasta restaurant, where I had gnocchi casaro, or gnocchi with a tomato and riccota sauce, and a glass of Chianti.

Barbara's English is excellent, which is lucky because Italian is going completely over my head. I can say grazie (thank you), mi scusi (excuse me), posso fare foto? (can I take photos?), and Non capisco italiano (I don't understand Italian), and that's pretty much it. I'm pretty sure I could ask someone where something is (Dov'é...?) and after I gave up my seat on the bus to an elderly woman I used the phrasebook to figure out how to say "Do you want to sit down?" (Vuole sedere?, I think) in case the situation comes up again. Yeah, a lot of Italian resembles Spanish, and looking at signs and things I can usually figure out what they mean, but it's just different enough that I can't just add an Italian ending to a Spanish word and be understood. Being here, though, is making me really idealize my Spanish. A situation arises where I need to ask a question or something, or I want to make a comment to someone, and I think, "Man, if I were in Chile, I would know exactly what to say in this situation, and exactly how to say it." Or, "If they were speaking Spanish, I would understand exactly what those people were saying." It's foolish, because it's as though my Spanish were perfect, or that I always understood what Chileans were saying to me. Far from it. But being here and only catching every thirtieth word has really made me appreciate (in all senses of the word) how far I've come in Spanish.

Standing outside the aquarium, there's a line of palm trees and an overpass, and in the distance multicolored houses climbing up a hill. It looked so much like Valparaíso that it practically took my breath away. I felt right then like I could have been standing on Avenida Argentina, looking towards the Universidad and that overpass that turned onto Avenida Pedro Montt, with Cerro Barón in the background. It really made me miss Chile.

Tomorrow Sarah and I are going with her parents to a meeting at their school, then all of us are going to a little town that's around here for the afternoon. By the way, I'm serious about the postcard thing: I will send a postcard to anyone who emails me their address (jobanek@lclark.edu). I don't have anyone's home address, so if you'd like one, send me it!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Planes, trains, and automobiles (and bicycles)

Today was wonderful. I had to get up at about 8 for a dentist appointment--okay, that part wasn't so wonderful. But having to get up early ensured that I actually did a ton of stuff today, instead of sleeping until 1. I rode my bike all over town and along the bike paths in Alton Baker Park, read more of The Au Pairs over coffee at Barnes & Noble (few things I love more than trashy Young Adult fiction), met with my AP Spanish teacher at my old high school, went to conversation group (see below), and packed (see below!)

When I'm in Eugene I volunteer at this conversation program for adult ESL students. It's pretty casual; from 1-2pm Tuesdays and Thursdays you just show up at this place across from the library in downtown Eugene and get in small groups--like, one native English speaker and two or three immigrants--and talk about whatever strikes your fancy. I know how much of a help the "Intercambio de Idiomas" (Language Exchange) program at La Católica, the university in Chile, was for me linguistically and culturally, and how much I appreciated and enjoyed getting to know Daniela and Nichole through that, so I'm happy to hopefully provide the same kind of support for English learners here.

It's a different experience each time because there's no structure to the groups. Today I talked with a Japanese college-age girl, and a young Korean woman who brought her two-month-old son along. Their English was great and the Korean woman, especially, was practically fluent. I mean, she had an accent, and she sometimes struggled with vocabulary, but she spoke fluently and idiomatically. It was really a pleasure to talk with the two women; we had súper buena onda (good vibes; we hit it off).

One thing I found really interesting and surprising is that apparently, in Korea, the system for determining one's age is completely different. Koreans (according to her) start calculating age starting at conception--when a baby is born, it's already a year old. Plus, everyone turns a year older on New Year's Day, not on their actual birth date. So, for instance, this woman was born December 28. On that day, she turned one. Then, on New Year's, she turned two! According to our system, she would have only been three days old; according to Koreans, she was two. Children begin school with all other kids of their birthyear, regardless of whether they were born early or late in the year. So, mothers try to time their pregnancies so that their kids are born early in the year, and therefore will be bigger and more capable than other kids by the time they start school. Really interesting stuff.

And now for something completely different: travel! Tomorrow (actually, Wednesday morning in in about two hours--our plane leaves at 6am, so I just stayed up all night) Sarah and I are going to Italy!! Her parents have been living in Genoa and working as teachers for the past two years, and she invited me to go visit them with her before they pack up and move back stateside at the end of July. We'll be in Europe for a little more than a month! Plans are tentative (we're playing it by ear, which is my favorite way to travel--it makes me miss the glory days of last fall, traveling with Carla, Julia, Mariah, Kristin, and Jon throughout Chile and the Southern Cone) but we have Eurail passes for Italy, France, and Greece. We know that at some point, we're taking a ferry from Bari, Italy to Patmas (I believe), Greece, and then a bus to Athens. I talked with Kugler, my Religious Studies advisor, and he suggested that we make a day trip to Cape Sounion, south of Athens, to see the temple of Poseiden! Then we're flying from Athens to Milan, and taking the train from Milan to Paris. Everything else we will discover as it comes.

I would love to send postcards to all of you. So, please email me your address at jobanek@lclark.edu. Updates on the road might be sporadic, but I'm thinking of all of you and wish you the very best in your own adventures!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Kermit?

I think we may have one or more frogs living in the backyard. This is the second night I've been up late blogging to a soundtrack of ribbits.

Learn from my mistake: don't try to give yourself a haircut. Oh, Jessica.

My brother, of all people, is going to see American Dreamz with me, Monday after school (he's a senior in high school). The conversation went like this:

Andy: "I can't believe American Dreamz is already at the dollar-fifty. That came out, like, a week ago."
Me: "I know. I can't get Becca or Sarah to see it with me."
Andy: "Really? I want to see that!"
Me: "Really? Let's go, then!"

Today I had a pot of tea and read for awhile at Friendly Neighborhood Coffee Shop. Perpendicular to me sat a guy, college-age, maybe a little older, purple fuscia hair, taking notes from Martin Buber's I and Thou and nursing a coffee. Obviously a Religious Studies kind of a guy. Our eyes met for a second. I haven't read any Buber but I can hold my own in a conversation about Hasidic Judaism. I thought about saying someting but I chickened out and then we each went back to our own books and then twenty minutes later he left.

One of these days.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

American Dreamz! Dreamz with a Z! Come on, guys!

I can't believe that neither Becca nor Sarah want to see American Dreamz with me. Come on! It's only a dollar-fifty! And considering that these ladies accompanied me to 13 Going on 30 and The Perfect Man, I don't buy the arguments about taste. I guarantee this is going to be better than The Perfect Man, starring Hilary Duff and Heather Locklear. (Sample dialogue: "Take a protective cardboard sleeve for your coffee...and don't forget one for your heart.")

If you're in Eugene and want to see a bad movie, hit me up. Amy and Carla, where are you??

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I would make an excellent cruel governess

Okay, I know I have a lot to catch up on and I have a whole list of things to write about, but I wanted to pass on this before I forgot about it. Ha! The only change I would make is to substitute "koala bear" for "cave bear" as number 1. I'd make a great koala bear. (If only this came in adult sizes...)

In a week, Sarah and I will be in Europe.
Tomorrow, Becca comes back to Eugene. And American Dreamz (dreams with a z!) is already at the dollar-fifty theater. Oh, the joy!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Anatomy of an all-nighter

8:00pm: I return to the apartment from downtown, where I've been incredibly productive, studying-wise. Seriously: I read almost a hundred pages of foreign policy. When I return, I see that one of my roommates is entertaining friends. I'm not on particularly good terms with any of them, so I high-tail it to my room and go back to learning about the Hamiltonian school of foreign policy. Oh, knowledge!

8:35: Phone for me! It's my friend Sarah from home. We buy our Eurail passes for this summer. Exciting!!

9:30: Back to foreign policy. I finish the chapter, then start rummaging around my room, looking for some scholarship information that my mom sent me. The stuff needs to be in the mail, uh, today. I can't find it anywhere. Uh oh.

11:30: Are Roommate's friends gone? Mostly. Good. I can't type in my room--too distracting. I take my computer out to the counter that separates the kitchen from the living room and pull up a seat. Wait, I'm hungry. I make a salad. Then I write.

12:15: I call Amy to double-check a passage in Fight Club. Talk. Talk. Talk.

1:00: Other Roommate, the one I'm now closest to, comes home. We get into a long conversation.

2:30: Back to work. Type type type. My Gender Studies paper is on the function of violence in The Handmaid's Tale (Atwood), Fight Club (Palhiniuk, whatever), and Fury (Rushdie). It's a take-home final due by noon Monday; I have another question prompt to respond to after this one.

4:30: Other Roommate comes back out of his room and tells me about some book summaries he'd been reading on Wikipedia. Like, the series about what would have happened if the South had won the Civil War. And another series by the same author about this race of aliens that comes to Earth during WWII and takes over Australia, South Asia, and South America. They're green lizard-men and they're addicted to ginger. Ginger! We laugh for a long time at that one. Plus, the aliens are from a desert planet and are unable to handle snow, which prohibits them from taking over Chicago.

5:15: Back to work. Only...Other Roommate came out just as I had finished the violence essay, so it was a natural stopping place, and now it's not so easy to get back to work. I make a cup of tea and read an article in the New York Times Magazine about the Muslim evangelist. I really need to find that scholarship stuff, so I head over to the mail room to see if I left the packet of papers from my mom in my mail box.

5:50: Boo, it's not there. That means I have to tear my room apart when I get back, pretty much. I'm pretty sure the mail doesn't go out until 1pm or so, so I have some time to fill all the forms out, provided I can find the paperwork. But I did get my paycheck from the church, so that's good.

6:10: Blogging....blogging....blogging...

[Update!]

6:30: I return to the apartment from the computer lab and do one more sweep through my room to find the scholarship paperwork. Success! I fill it out.

7:30: Back to the second gender essay. It's about love and motherhood in Frankenstein versus The Handmaid's Tale.

8:30: Roommate and his friend, who slept over, stumble out of Roommate's room and off to class.

9:00: The essay, she is done. Now, for a shower, some breakfast (chicken noodle soup--my biorhythms are all off now) and off to the Registrar's office to order a transcript to be sent out today with the scholarship stuff.