Hello from California! — Update

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My Mind on Returning Home in a Few Days

Hello! It’s definitely been a while since I’ve managed to scrape aside time from life here to blog — I’ve been using every spare moment to get extra sleep, and I’ve also been enjoying the company of the friends I’ve made here.

Piazza Signoria.

It feels like a lifetime ago that I lived in California, ignorant of the everyday bits of life that make Florence special. I love living in Florence. I love Italy. I’ve made friends and good acquaintances here, American and Italian.

I’ve been locked away indoors the past two weeks scrambling to work on final projects for all of my classes. I don’t think I’ll be able to see much of Florence these remaining few days; it’s the sacrifice I make to salvage my academics this semester — it’s been tough balancing this adventure with schoolwork when the outside world is fascinating.

I won’t make this blog post my final good bye to Italy.

I’ve just had so many thoughts go through my head these past many days. In some ways it’s a pity I’ll be leaving just as I feel I’ve gotten the hang of things here, but there are also things I’m excited for when I return home — seeing friends, my boyfriend, and dogs. Getting to mountain bike again, and take the liberty of sleeping in. I’m excited to have access to certain foods too, like good Mexican food and all the gluten-free things that await me at home.

However, I’m also aware of the things I’ll lose; I’ll lose the freedom of stepping out my front door and entering a city of adventure. I’ll miss being able to take a stroll around the city and stopping by my friends’ apartments to say hello or have some tea. I’ll miss seeing my Italian buddies around the city in restaurants and my neighborhood Tabacchi (a small store that sells stamps, loto tickets, cigarettes, candy, water and the like), from which I’d manically buy stamps and water bottles.

I drew on a postcard and gave it to the Via dei Macci Tabbachi store owners yesterday. Buona Pasqua = Happy Easter. I’ll be trying to draw little things for my Florentine buddies before I go.

I’ll miss laughing at the creeper Italian men with my friends, and maybe even the gypsies (only a little).

What I’m counting on is that I’ll take with me the things that matter. I’ll keep the moments, stories and the things I’ve seen.

View of the Arno out of the Vasari Corridor.
View out of the Vasari Corridor (the hallway that runs along the top of the Ponte Vecchio).

I’ll be seeing Leonard! He’s a service dog in training from Bergin University of Canine Studies that my mom and I have been raising. I’m excited to see (and hug) this boy when I get home! I’ve been skyping him 🙂
(Not my photo)
And finally, Ibarra will be coming to visit me. He is one of the other service dogs I’ve raised for a year. He’s currently in-training with an associate student at Bergin University of Canine Studies.
More posts to follow, as I fill this blog with all of my adventures  (and photos) 🙂

Italian Cooking Class 2 — With Dessert Salami

Hello!

I’ve been wildly busy; my days are filled with schoolwork, friends, food, some sleep, skyping my mom and boyfriend, photography and blogging, weekend trips, and Florence. I’ve finished blogging about Rome! I have Switzerland left, Vinci, Bologna and Prague, as well as the second soccer game, San Gimignano and Siena. I pour my heart and hours of time into my blog, which is why the posts are flowing  s l o w  and steady.

Anyway, today I had my second cooking class! So much fun!! Here’s the link to my first cooking class.

Ingredients! (Those are gluten-free cookies, an adjustment made just for me ❤ ).

My classmates with one of the chefs (the guy on the very right).
My Nor-Cal people: (L-R) Katerina S., Elizabeth M., Kaitlin J., Cameron F., and that one chef-guy. On the left are some of the So-Cal girls also studying abroad with AIFS.
Preparing the eggplant Caprese salad ingredients.

Mixing the gluten-free gnocchi at my table.

Then rolling them out into strips and chopping them up into little pieces!
Fun fact: the gluten-free gnocchi won’t stick to each other like the regular pieces will.
Our instructor Francesco instructing.

The gluten-free gnocchi and eggplant Caprese at my table!!

Elizabeth M. and Cameron F.’s hand trying to ruin her gnocchi-modelling.
Potato Gnocchi in Sugo al’Aglione (Tomato & Garlic Pasta Sauce).
Francesco demonstrating how to roll up the chocolatey dessert mix that is called “Sweet ‘Salami’.”
(It’s made of sugar, egg yolks, butter, bitter cocoa powder, sweet liquor, and crumbled cookies. They substituted the cookies for gluten-free ones!).
It’s wrapped up in foil, and its shape resembled a piece of salami. It is typically frozen for about 2 hours (but in the restaurant’s super-powerful freezer it only took 20 minutes).
My gluten-free “Sweet Salami” !!
It tasted really good! I had Elizabeth M. taste-test the difference between my gluten-free sweet salami and the regular one — mine tasted chocolatier and she liked it better.
The brave, gluten-free-Italian-cooking AIFS classmates at my table, including Katelyn C., Katie G., Carly B., Jackie P., and Ayla B.
Kaitlin J., Katerina S. and Elizabeth M., my dinner buddies!
I really like the AIFS cooking classes, and the efforts the restaurant (In Tavola) made to adjust to my food-needs was really awesome. I had a great, gluten-free vegetarian dinner with my AIFS people.
The restaurant did remarkably well tolerating me poking into every group to snap pictures and following Francesco about to listen to his instructions to other groups. We ate dinner below the restaurant like last time (see the previous Italian cooking class post here). We even all received little recipe menus afterward, just like last time 🙂
It’s a fun experience — I definitely recommend taking an Italian cooking class, especially through AIFS! Just let AIFS/your program know before-hand if you have any dietary-restrictions 🙂
Tips for Italian cooking classes:
  • Definitely take one!
  • Don’t wear black/clothes you’re worried about getting dirty. It’s unlikely, but it could happen.
  • Don’t walk home alone afterward if it ends late in the evening!!! Have someone walk you. I walked with some AIFS girls that live near my house this time.
  • Bring a jacket for when it gets cold on the way home.

AIFS Photo Challenge/Fiona’s Thoughts

AIFS (my study abroad program) organised a cool photo challenge for this week among all the student ambassadors/bloggers. This is my entry 🙂

Criteria:

1. One photo of yourself with something famous in Florence (taken by someone else or a self-portrait).

2. A landscape/background/building with personal significance.


2. “The call to adventure.”

One of the statues by Pio Fedi in the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza Signoria.

[Warning: A particularly long story follows. Feel free to skim. -Fiona]

     This statue is so emotionally gripping and drastic. The twisting figures and the image of a girl being grabbed and about to be taken away (even though in this case it’s not a positive departure; the piece is called The Rape of Polyxena ).

Putting aside the statues mythological content, I can interpret this statue as a call to adventure, which is the beckoning of an adventure to a “hero.”

Joseph Campbell writes:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”

    I’m a 19-year-old student living away from home for the first time. I’ve ventured from my common day into what feels like a supernatural wonder. I feel like I’ve been stolen into an adventure, and can sometimes feel a secret burst of exhilaration that I’m living in Florence; I’m living an adventure.

But, once in a while, I feel a twinge of homesickness. A few months before I had any notion of studying abroad, I was curled up on the sofa in California watching a movie with my mom, as we often do. We were watching the 1985 version of A Room with a View, which is based on a novel by E.M. Forester (you can read the novel for free here, at Project Gutenberg).

A young English girl living during the Edwardian Era in England, Lucy Honeychurch, comes to visit Florence with an overbearing cousin/chaperone to experience foreign culture. It is, perhaps, an overly optimistic and romantic movie, and not something I’d typically take any interest in, but I like relaxing with a cup of tea and my mom. The old views of Italy seemed distant and exotic.

Lucy actually ends up walking about some of Florence’s streets, witnesses a murder (she faints) in the Piazza della Signoria (which is right by the Palazzo Vecchio and the statue pictured above),  and visits the Santa Croce church (which is only a few blocks from my apartment)!

To me, this movie is symbolic of the huge shift in my perspective since having lived here for 2 months. It’s hard to describe the feeling of re-watching snippets of this movie. The scenes that recently seemed foreign and exotic and now feel familiar and are easily identifiable, as I walked through them nearly daily. It’s a feeling of pride, like I’m on the in on a special secret. I can give directions to central piazzas, Churches, and can recommend gelaterias. I enter stores/restaurants and am greeted by name by the locals I’ve made friends with. I no longer feel lost and tiny in an intimidating city; Florence feels like a new home.

This also sparked some curiosity about how much living here has really changed me. I suppose I’ll have to wait for the culture shock of returning home,and feedback from my friends and family back home, to really grasp this. I think that living here has, of course, been an amazing travel experience. My perspective of the world has grown. I’m pretty young, and I know I’ve had something of a growing-up experience. I know that I will walk away from Italy — in one short month — a more worldly person that has been changed by what she’s seen.

This may sound cliché, but I can hope that I can return a more mature person, and a better sister, daughter and friend.

And I can only wish (and plot) my return to Florence, whenever that may be. I know that this won’t be my last visit. I suppose this one of those moments where I have to tell you to take any opportunity to travel you can get. The point of travel is that you cannot anticipate what you will experience and (more importantly) how you will change. You can leave a place, that place will never truly leave you.

No matter your age or economic status, there is always some way to travel. “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” When pondering the difficulties of life, I often think to myself “is there really no way I could accomplish this? I have the rest of my life to figure it out.” Somehow feeling the abundance of life still left to me inspires me to do my best.

Thank you for reading/skimming,

-Fiona 🙂

[I will later link the blog posts of my fellow AIFS student bloggers so that you can take a look and decide on who you think won the photo challenge!]

Trattoria la Casalinga — Restaurant Review

I went to have lunch alone at Trattoria La Casalinga, an AIFS meal voucher place on the left bank of the river. I went out of curiosity, as this particular place is often packed with locals.

I decided to wander off and have lunch on my own, and went to Trattoria La Casalinga. They’re actually quite familiar with gluten-free things, and have some nice options.

They serve pretty large portions (I could barely finish my first course of gluten-free tomato spaghetti), although I prefer the taste of Golden View’s food (that’s my favourite place to go, partly because I’m fond of the staff there).

Cultural Differences: In the Restaurant

One of the experiences that constantly teaches me new things about Italian behaviour standards is going out to eat dinner. I’ve mostly been making my own food at home (a lot of rice and veggies; also, I recently found some gluten-free tamari/soy sauce! Yay!), but I do go out every few days for dinner (often using the AIFS meal vouchers, which I highly recommend).

My two favourite restaurants so far are Masticabrodo and Golden View. (I’ll write restaurant reviews about these two places soon. Also, both participate in with AIFS’s meal voucher plan).

First off, Italians serve their food in courses. Even when ordering a simple dinner, they’ll sometimes ask which course you would like first. I’m used to having all of my meal available during dinner, so it has been interesting eating dinner this way.

My delicious (vegetarian and gluten free) minestrone soup at Masticabrodo. I was having dinner alone, and I think the waitress figured that I may as well have all my food — you can spot the (delicious) roasted potatoes in the background.

Water is not always included free with the meal. Italians often drink “fizzy” or mineral water, so the waiter always asks whether you’d prefer the water still or mineral. They do not serve water with ice, something very typical of American culture. I never drink iced water, so I actually really like this. Also, water is typically served out of a bottle, instead of the sneaky tap water you get in the U.S.

Ice cream is not as common a dessert item in Florence as is tiramisu, cheesecake and (sometimes) panna cotta. Crème brûlée and various types of mousse are also available in nicer restaurants. In the U.S., ice cream is a very common item on the dessert menu (often available in Japanese and Indian restaurants).

From what I’ve seen, gelato does not usually appear on restaurant menus. Gelato is found in “Gelaterias” (gelato booths/sweets stores) or in grocery stores.

Also, in Italy customers are not generally shepherded out a café or restaurant after the meal is over. I think this stems from the more Italian culture of enjoying a meal with family or friends; time is spend enjoying life through some leisure. In the U.S., it is socially expected of the diners to leave after finishing their meal. In a coffee shop, you are expected to purchase something every hour; there is basically a “drink minimum.” This is not part of Italian culture. If you buy one coffee, you may sit in a café for the rest of the day; you will not be asked to leave. America’s approach to meals is much more business like: once the goal of satisfying hunger is accomplished, the person leaves. In Italy places value on the process of appreciating the meal relishing the moment.

Random Cultural Differences:

America: It is polite to keep your hands in your lap/off of the table.

Italy: It is polite to keep your hands both on the table.

America: The waiter brings you the bill near the end of your meal/during dessert.

Italy: The waiters will not bring the bill until it is requested. Confused tourists/new study abroad students sometimes spend a confusingly long amount of time waiting around until this is realised. A simple “Il conto, per favore” is sufficient to request the bill.

America: Alcohol is treated a little differently — In Italy is it considered “American” to drink to get drunk.

Italy: Alcohol (like wine) is a part of Italian culture, and has its own way of fitting into social behaviour.

Age Limits: In America the legal age limit for purchasing alcohol is 21. In Italy, no one asks for proof of age when purchasing alcohol.

Italian Cooking Class 1 — With Panna Cotta

I signed up to take the Italian cooking class offered through my study abroad program, AIFS!

Ponte Vecchio = Old Bridge.

We met on the Ponte Vecchio and were led to the kitchen of the restaurant “In Tavola” across the bridge by an AIFS staff member. I let AIFS know before hand that I’m gluten free so that they could inform the restaurant and make adjustments for me.

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We entered the kitchen through a back street, put on plastic aprons, and right after that the lead chef yelled out “who is my gluten-free?!” I yelled back “me!” and immediately got put in charge of stirring panna cotta on the stove top.

The menu:

  • Ravioli di spinaci e ricotta (Spinach and ricotta ravioli).
  • Sformato di verdure (An artichoke soufflé).
  • Panna Cotta (A cold, Italian custard).

A group of my classmates blending the sformato.

Mikaela and I in our awesome plastic aprons.

My team making the (spinach) ravioli filling.
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The teacher/chef demonstrating how to make the ravioli pasta.
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We got to use a pasta machine!

We learned how to shape raviolis too! (These are not gluten free)

Since the sformato contained some gluten, the teacher/chef made me an artichoke appetizer.
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The sformato.
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Sformato di verdure!
After we finished cooking, we were led downstairs to a room of the restaurant where we got to eat the dinner we had made together 🙂
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Ravioli di spinaci e ricotta!

The teacher/chef made me my own (huge) bowl of gluten free pasta with tomato sauce — it was really good.
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Dinner in a cool, underground room!

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And finally.. Panna cotta for dessert! There is some strawberry sauce poured on top (just strawberries and sugar blended into smithereens). I’m a panna cotta fan so I enjoyed myself!
At the end we were given a little booklet with all the recipes we’d made that day.
Tips for Italian cooking classes:
  • Sign up for one!
  • Don’t wear black — the flour can go everywhere.
  • If you don’t get a booklet of recipes, write everything down!
  • If your class ends in the evening, make sure someone walks you home! A classmate walked me home and it was great to not walk back in the dark alone!