The End of Another Italian Adventure

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The Palazzo Ducale on a misty evening! Photo credit: Caterina Novelliere November 2016

Here I sit contemplating the end of another semester abroad. As usual, the semester flew by way too fast once courses got into full swing and thesis research commenced. I didn’t regularly blog. I didn’t get half the things done I planned nor did I write as much on the thesis as I anticipated. I learned that advanced field research is exceptionally challenging and rewarding if you find items overseas. Still, I had an incredible semester. I explored old and new places in Italy, returned to England for a week, enjoyed Spain for a few days, and had a fantastic two days in Morocco.

This study abroad was very different from others I participated in. My peers consisted of younger students with a wider range of majors than the prior two cohorts. I really enjoyed their energy and perspective on a number of things. If you don’t surround yourself with a variety of age groups, consider changing that. We can learn from young and old alike. Younger folks can really remind you of ways to creatively view the world. Contrary to popular stereotypes, there are millennials that have some wonderful ideas and thoughts on how the world can move forward. They also have the work ethic and ability to take those concepts forward with some mentoring. I study and work with them daily.

Our courses focused on ways to read history, culture, and heritage in a country through film, cuisine, agriculture, and beverages. At first that may sound like such an easy and fun course load, but believe me when I say it isn’t easy. (I’ll give you the fun part. It was amazing to sample everything we studied and to watch great Italian films.) You merely scratch the surface by learning what wines, foods, and films are made in a region. You must go deeper than that to really understand how those items emerged in a particular place and the importance of them. We regularly delved into:

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Antipasti of formaggio and salami. To drink, I enjoyed a glass of Piklr, a Marche wine from the Bruscia Winery. These tasty items can be enjoyed at the Trattoria del Leone in Urbino. Photo Credit: Caterina Novelliere November 2016

  • The theories and politics behind food/film
  • Was a food/beverage really native to Italy or did it migrate in an earlier time?
  • What was the production methodology for an agricultural product?
  • Does production preserve tradition?
  • Did the food way and production methodology change over the centuries?
  • How had economics along with watershed events reshaped regional cuisine in Italy?
  • How had these things shaped and changed diets and cuisines around the world?
  • Complicating the discussions, was how did the outsider like a tourist or agency with global reach alter a region’s cuisine or filmmaking?

Our readings had to be completed for our weekly field trips and visits by experts to make sense, which meant really managing our time. I challenge you to learn about the food you eat and what you drink from a tradition and roots perspective. Use the prompts above if they are helpful to make you think about cuisine at a deeper level than gastronomy. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Earthquakes rocked our Renaissance city regularly from the end of October forward. Thankfully, they only caused minor damage to Urbino. Two of the tremors required a building evacuation. I learned I could put my shoes on and run down three flights of stairs in mere seconds after shaking and rumbling woke me from a dead sleep early in the morning. If you read my earlier post about which eyes to view Italy through, the catastrophe adjuster found her picturesque landscape reminding her of how quickly life can change and to value the nonmaterial items like friends and family more. Italy and I need to find a way to compromise on how many times I am knocked out of my happy place and back into natural disasters. The Italians are growing tired of the regular tremoring too.

The best thing about this semester (besides eating great foods and drinking fabulous wines) is that it produced multiple moments of laughter and adventure. During downtime, we played rounds of a card game called Mao. We danced at the local discoteca. On Halloween, we and the Irish students costumed it up. For each trip we took, the group worked together making up fun improbable histories or tours. An improbable history is mixing fact and fiction to tell a story of a place. The words “Fano” and “bricks” can never be said without a round of laughter immediately following them. We successfully navigated a crazy transport system, enjoyed the sights and smells of leather, food, and spices in multiple markets at each location we visited, and Italy gave us some spectacular sunsets to marvel at.

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The “piggy” in question

My language skills are always a source of entertainment. I am ashamed to say my Italian did not come back at the level I hoped it would. Part of that was on me, the other part of that was due to how rigidly structured the Italy Program is now. My classmate fluent in Italian laughed after I messaged our hosts in Pompeii that we “borrowed” the train. I couldn’t help smirking as I pictured Antonio or Iolonda reading it and thinking, “What? They stole the train?” Or the time I couldn’t remember the word for pig and asked a vendor “Quanto per piggy?” The look I got was priceless. I and my travel buddy laughed so hard I almost cried. When working with a foreign language, always try and maintain a sense of humor to prevent becoming too frustrated with it or your mistakes. The Italians are great sports at letting you practice and will happily help you out with words or phrases if they elude you. Google translate can be a lifesaver, but use it with caution.

All in all this semester created new opportunities and things to think about. It broadened my horizons yet again. It also reminded me of how fortunate I am and how some matters we stress about are truly trivial in the grand scheme of things. I need to finish packing up.

May you have a wonderful day or night wherever you are!

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Happy trails and safe travels to everyone out there!  My travel camel and I preparing for another long haul together, but this time we are heading home.

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Returning to Italy

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Urbino Historic Center Photo Credit: Caterina Novelliere Sept 2016

I had not realized how emotional it would be for me to return to Italy. Seeing familiar sights and hearing a language that hasn’t so completely filled my ears for almost three years now moved me to the point of tears several times. Awake for over 24 hours, I managed to communicate effectively with several Italians in their beautiful native tongue my first day on the ground. It is amazing how quickly a language can emerge from the depths of the mind with little prompting. Throughout the bus ride from Bologna into the gently rising hills of Marche, a sense of coming home overwhelmed me. I hadn’t expected that at all. I prepared for being excited, tired, stressed and a sense of the familiar, but never such a strong feeling of returning to one’s roots. While I have ancestors who lived in Italy, I have not personally lived in Italy long term. But a beautiful sunny day warmed my face after a brief nap to help fight through jet lag welcoming me back to Marche! As always, nightfall was magical offering another interesting view of the Palazzo Ducale.

After a somewhat restful night as sleep played games with me, our first two orientation days allowed me to start seeing Urbino through new eyes: those of someone thankful to return to an amazing place and those of the historian interpreting space/place along with spotting important, but sometimes overlooked details.

On Day 2, we dined on some wonderful food at a restaurant called Rago d’Oro positioned on the top end of Via Raffaello. Roberta and Mirko saved us the quad and lung killing direct climb up the monster hill by taking the easier winding back road up to the rear walls of the city. If you’ve ever been to Urbino, you know exactly what I am talking about. If you haven’t, just picture a 120 degree climb for about a mile. In adjuster speak, that would probably be an 11/12 pitch from hell made out of uneven cobblestones rough on the soles of the feet even in good shoes. The commercial center that was under construction in 2013 now is a buzzing hive of buses and people. The 10 level structure houses stores, a wine bar, coffee shop, a cash exchange, and a new fairly large coop to buy groceries. Wandering through the historic center, I was sad to see a few of my favorite old shops no longer exist in their former homes. I am hoping to discover they merely moved locations as the semester goes on.

Our third day consisted of touring the historically significant sites of the city. We walked the walls, visited two of the well-known oratorios, the Fortessa – a medieval and Renaissance fort, and the Palazzo Ducale. Sadly, the duomo is closed for some restoration work. In San Giovanni I knelt down to photograph the iron work on the bottom of the alter. As I zoomed in on the center star, I noticed a pair of hands. I quietly moved closer to the alter to see if my eyes played tricks on me. I indeed discovered a carefully displayed body that I never saw three years ago. I am not sure if I was too awed by the amazing frescoes in the oratorio or just overwhelmed by being in Italy in general back in 2013. However, this early founding brother peacefully slumbers within the ornate alter for several centuries now. I was also able to rephotograph the beautiful Venetian glass chandelier my old camera so nicely refused to capture in all of its glory hanging from the decorated ceiling of the Oratorio di San Guiseppe.

Well, Somnus is lulling me to sleep with the hour being late. Stand by for future posts as I venture through Italy once again.

Sogni d’oro to all of you!

Caterina

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Urbino Historic Center Photo Credit: Caterina Novelliere Sept 2016