Life And All Its Ups And Downs

So instead of having 5 hours of conversation class this month, I get to go on various tours with a guide from the school!  On Tuesday we visited the Medici Palace, which has an astoundingly beautiful chapel inside with enormous, floor-to-ceiling paintings.  Besides the chapel, there is a gorgeous hall of mirrors, with fresco-ed ceilings and walls, and even the mirrors are painted with different representations of places in Florence.  There is also a really nice room with centuries-old tapestries hanging on the walls, in which they still hold meetings and conferences with important members of the state.  Quite the location!  However, the most impressive thing of all was the exhibition that is going on right now.  There is a Belgian artist, Isabella de Borchgrave, who specializes in the art of paper sculptures.  She has recreated many examples of Renaissance clothing from the paintings in the Uffizi, and dressed paper-covered mannequins with these incredibly opulent dresses, jewels, and such, each made entirely out of paper and painted by hand!  It sounds a bit strange, but I declare, it was one of the most amazing exhibitions I have ever seen.  It is almost a shame to post this link because the photos don’t really do it justice, but for a loose idea of what I am talking about, click here.  So that was definitely an “up.”

Yesterday I had lunch at this restaurant near school that I have been meaning to try for quite some time now.  It is called Marione, and is popular with Florentines and tourists alike (always a good sign).  I was alone because this month, unfortunately, there are not many people in my class.  Of course Andre is still there, but he had to run off somewhere so I decided to have a nice, leisurely lunch.  I sat down in the bustling restaurant at a tiny table right next to two older men who were obviously regulars.  The one closest to me kept looking on as I was doing my homework, waiting for my food to arrive.  He finally realized that I was learning Italian and decided to help me with my exercises!  So he corrected all my mistakes (of which there weren’t many, because I am a good student!) and we got to talking a bit.  The owner of the restaurant obviously overheard, because before I knew it he had sent over a glass of wine and a cheese plate with chutney and honey!  It was amazing!  That is something I really love about Italian restaurants: if you get on their good side, you are totally taken care of.  It is not uncommon to receive a free bottle of wine, a shot of limoncello (lemon liquor), or a free appetizer or dessert if you make friends with your waiter.  And if you are a regular, you are treated like a king!  So I was really happy and totally content, especially because the food was amazing.  I had this pasta that resembled really large ravioli, stuffed with ricotta and spinach, and then topped with a pumpkin sauce.  Wow!  I also decided to go for it and try the tirimisu… and it just might have been the best tirimisu that I have ever had!  So a delightful lunch, another big “up!”

After lunch, I had a little bit of time on my hands and decided to explore the other side of the river.  I stepped into this tiny, adorable little boutique, and it was like instantly being transported back to California!  I talked to the owner a bit in Italian, and she asked me, “come stai?” (How are you?).  I instantly realized that she is not Itlalian, but American, because though it is extremely common for someone in America to ask you how you are, no Italian shop-keep would ever, in a million years, ask you how you are doing unless they know you.  So anyway, I asked her where she was from (in English), and she said, “Oh I’m from San Fran.”  I was like, “Woah, really?!?”  It was funny meeting Hannah from Durham, NC and this girl, Allie, from San Francisco.  But then again I tend to find significance in the smallest of things.  Anyway, she was really sweet and it was nice to talk to someone with whom I had something in common.  I think I’ll go back and visit sometime soon.  Obviously, an “up.”

I have been looking for a language tandem partner (a native speaker of Italian who wants to learn English, so we can talk for a bit in Italian, and then a bit in English and everyone benefits) for quite awhile now, and have met with two Italian guys.  The first one was a little odd, and not very considerate in the way he spoke to me.  He used many colloquialisms with which I am not familiar, and he spoke so quickly that it was nearly impossible for me to keep up.  He also had a lisp, which I normally would not even think twice about, but combined with his rapid speech I knew that I would not learn much from him.  So I decided to look for another partner.  A few days later I met with Michele, who works for General Electrics between Florence and Pisa.  I liked him better than the first guy (he was at least a little more normal), but the conversation still didn’t flow like I would have liked.  Of course it is awkward speaking with someone in a foreign language, but we just didn’t have a ton in common.  So I accepted another offer from a girl, Corinna, and we met yesterday afternoon.  As soon as I met her, I felt like I have known her for awhile.  In spite of the expected awkwardness of not being able to communicate perfectly, I can tell that we are going to become good friends.  We sat and talked for an hour and a half, and the time just flew.  She is 27 and a design student, and just as sweet and good-natured as can be.  She has already invited me to go skiing with her and her friends, and said that she would let me know if they took any trips or anything so I could tag along.  I can’t wait to meet her again!  So I am beginning to think that the title of this post should be “Life And All Its Ups,” because this was definitely an “up.”

I guess I did have a small “down” yesterday: after my meeting with Corinna I went to the gym, but since I am a little turned around now that I have changed houses, I got a little lost.  This is normally not a problem for me because I love to wander around, but I just bought a new pair of boots, which are gorgeous but need to be broken in.  Thus, I finally arrived home last night with blisters on my heels.  Ouch!

I woke up this morning to a bit of bad news, so here is the biggest “down” of the post.  I was accepted into the Stanford summer program for which I applied, but I was not given a scholarship.  It is $10,000, which is obviously way too expensive for me to afford.  So it looks like I need to make some other plans this summer, like finally getting a real job somewhere.  I was really disappointed because I thought I was an ideal candidate for the scholarship, but apparently they were looking for someone else.  I did receive a nice, personal letter from the guy at Stanford letting me know that I was a very strong candidate and “blah blah blah… BUT“, which was thoughtful but it’s not going to get me very far.  So that was a pretty major let-down.

I had a pick-me-up this afternoon, because I got my hair cut!  I was SO nervous because I didn’t want to look like a trashy Italian girl, but I got a wonderful stylist named Sebastian who took really good care of me.  I couldn’t explain much, just that I wanted it shorter and I wanted it to have a lot of movement, with some bangs, and then he worked his magic.  Andre took a picture so you can all see!  There was a bit of a wind, so it is kind of blowing in my face… but you can at least get an idea!


Obviously an “up!”

Another “up” followed closely behind, when Andre and I decided to go to the “best” gelateria (ice cream shop) in Florence.  Neither of us had ever been there, but it is pretty close to my new house so we decided to give it a try.  We stopped by my house so I could drop off my books and my umbrella, which I decided I did not need because it was a gorgeous day.  So we set out on our mission and– BY GOD– I think we discovered the best gelato (ice cream) in Florence!  There is this flavor, Buontalenti, which I discussed in one of my previous blogs.  Come to find out that this is the gelateria in which that particular flavor was born!  I got a medium-sized cup with three flavors: coconut, Indian Fig, and Buontalenti.  Coconut has always been my absolute favorite, and though it was good (the fig was also amazing, and really refreshing), the Buontalenti totally knocked my socks off.  I envision many, many, many more afternoons spent in the company of this gelateria!

So I said goodbye to Andre, and put him on a bus back to his house.  I decided to explore my new neighborhood further, so I set out in the direction away from home.  About 10 minutes into my walk (I was about 20 minutes from home), the heavens opened and a terrible rain started pouring down on me!  Of course, as I said before, I had left my umbrella at home because it was such a nice day, so I had no escape.  This really adorable and sweet Italian girl noticed my plight (and my white T-shirt, that was now nearly see-through… good thing I wore a tank top under it!) and shared her umbrella with me for a minute or so.  However, we were not going in the same direction, so I didn’t have refuge for long.  But still, it was the sweetest thing, and most unexpected.  Anyway, so I was sure that I was going the right way towards home, but I had taken a lot of turns and ended up making a huge circle!  Finally I got my bearings and headed in the right direction, and when I was about 2 minutes from home the rain stopped and the sun returned, the birds were singing, and I was cursing under my breath as I sloshed up the stairs, peeled off my soaking wet clothing, and climbed into the hot shower.  Of course afterwards I couldn’t do anything besides laugh at my fortune!  I am glad Andre had taken a photo of my new haircut when I was still happy and dry, because I am sure I looked like a drowned rat when it was all over with!  So though I am in good spirits now, I will still count this as a “down.”

So all in all, I have to say that I am extremely blessed.  My downs are few and far between, and my ups are both frequent and potent.  I think that every morning I wake up more enamored with this place and my life here than I was the night before.  I am pretty nervous about what I will do when this all comes to an end, but luckily it is still far from my mind.  Besides, thus far I have led an incredibly charmed life, and though there will always be some variable lurking in the distance, I can rest assured knowing that everything has always worked out for the very best, and I have no reason to think that that will change.  I just have to keep working hard and trying to be the best person I can be, and things will take care of themselves.


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