Friday, March 28, 2014

One month in Italy! The little things…

It's hard to believe that I have been in Italy for nearly a month. One month! I definitely miss my husband and our furry friends very much; however, little things around here make me smile everyday. In no particular order, here are a few little things that have made the first month in Padua memorable.

1. Walking. Fresh air, sunshine (most of the time), interesting people, and beautiful, historic landmarks make walking around town a joy every day. I also appreciate the guys who play music on the streets: there is a clarinetist near Saint Anthony's cathedral, an accordionist downtown, and sometimes small bands by the Palazzio Bo that really liven up graduations. Music brings even more energy and life to the streets of Padua. I should also mention that strolling downtown often involves eating gelato.

2. Dogs. So many people in Padua have dogs, and they are always out walking or hanging out with their people at outdoor cafes. In parks and grassy areas, people here are relaxed about letting their dogs off-leash, and the dogs really enjoy the freedom. Whenever I see happy canines walking down the street, looking up at their people with those sweet, expectant, doggy eyes, it always makes me smile.

3. Church bells. I have always loved the sound of church bells and, in Italy, you hear them all the time. I can even hear them from my apartment. On a practical note, since I never wear a watch, church bells can be useful for figuring out what time it is.

4. Shopkeepers. Thanks to my participation in the Italian street culture I wrote about previously, I have developed a little network of shopkeepers whom I can always count on for good food and a substantial conversations in Italian. For example, there's the guy with the beautiful fruit/veggie shop (on the way to the U.), who calls everyone "cara", teaches me the difference between "blond" and red oranges, and tells me I will learn plenty of Italian, "con calma". There's the kid at another great fruit/veggie shop (on the way downtown) who moved to Italy from China at age 12. Because he acquired Italian -and a few other languages- as second-languages, he is sincerely interested in my research on bilingual writing. He always asks how the project is going and points out improvements in my Italian when I stop by.

5. Food. Fresh pasta on a daily basis. What more can I say about this one?
Orecchiette con pesto: my go-to dish
Overall, my first month in Italy has been excellent. I am collaborating with talented and hard-working colleagues at the University. I am getting involved in the community through work with schools and organizations. The teachers and students participating in our research project have been welcoming and enthusiastic. My Italian is OK! Tutto va essere bene. Gracias a la vida!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Graduation: Posters, eggs, and other mischief

Yesterday at the tiny supermarket near the university, a couple of guys were stocking up on eggs, flour, and vinegar. I heard the cashier say, "Poverino!… o poverina?" (Poor him!… or poor her?). They replied, "Poverini!" (poor them!). Who are these poor people who were about to get eggs smashed on them, flour dumped on them, and vinegar poured on them? GRADUATES! 

My research is not thorough, but it seems that, since medieval times (remember, the University of Padua was founded in 1222), groups of rebellious (and, nowadays, pretty much all) students participate in a tradition known as "goliardia". Goliardia is a pretty broad term, but over the centuries has evolved to encompass the tradition of celebrating graduates with small, street parties involving costumes, garlands, posters, chanting, and general mischief (e.g., egging the graduate). 

It's spring here and many people are graduating! However, in Italy, there are not formal graduation ceremonies like in the U.S. Instead, grads are celebrated individually -and publicly- by family and friends, whenever they happen to finish their degrees.  

For example, at least every day now, I  hear groups of  people running around chanting, "Dottore! Dottore!" when someone completes their PhD. I also see graduates walking around town, surrounded by friends and family, wearing crowns/garlands of green leaves.

The flower shop conveniently located across from Il Bo sells crowns of leaves for grads, like the one hanging here
Both flower shops and printers are very busy at this time of year, as graduates are also celebrated on posters (papiri), created by friends and pasted all around the university grounds (outdoors). These posters include caricatures of the grad, photos, silly bios, and, of course, the official seal of the U., the person's name and newly minted degree.   

Example of a papiro
Finally, there seems to be some sort of "ceremony" in which all of these elements come together, right in the center of town, outside the historic Palazzo del Bo (known as simply, Il Bo), the heart of the university. Groups gather to celebrate the grads, dressing them in silly costumes related to their field of study, and then cover them with eggs, flour, and vinegar while they read their papiri to the groups.
A grad, probably in the health professions, dressed for her "ceremony".
Another "povera"… can't distinguish the costume, but she is covered in eggs and generally gross stuff, as she reads her papiro to the crowd. 

Maybe it's all worth it, as afterwards everyone comes into Il Bo to take pictures in this beautiful, historic setting.

It's all in good fun, and certainly a memorable way to celebrate graduation. However, the University makes a point to not be officially involved in any of this nonsense:
"Warning to Graduates of Psychology: Family and friends of the graduates are kindly invited to wait and party outside the university buildings. Any form of disturbance to normal teaching and working activities will not be tolerated".  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nello studio (At the office)

For the past two weeks in Padua, I have been out and about, settling in, meeting with teachers at participating schools, setting things up, doing errands, etc. With brief stops in and out, I have felt rather isolated at the university. Maybe there is some sort of threshold for meeting people such that, before you reach the threshold, you feel alone in a new place.

Today, somehow, my perspective changed. The morning started with a "coffee-meeting" (tea for me; I resisted the hot chocolate!) with my mentor here. I walked into our usual cafe, and felt I knew the guy there well enough -after two weeks of ordering tea and pastries- to ask if "my friend had arrived yet". Happily, he recognized me and knew who I was talking about.

I subsequently met with the previously unknown colleague in Cognitive Psych. who has been setting up the cognitive tests that our participants will complete on a computer. I learned all about the tests, tried them out myself, and tried scoring. My scope of work contacts quickly widened by one, as later I was able to ask this guy for help with my own technology issues.

Related to technology, it may sound elementary, but being able to print from my very own computer, in the department, was a highlight of my day today. Simple things like printing/making copies here seem to depend on other people and take more time than one would normally think. Somehow, printing directly from my "visiting professor" office gave me a sense of place.

Finally, I met yet another colleague who has been helping to arrange a "seminario" (presentation) I will do in the department next week. She was so friendly, interested, and excited about our research and the upcoming talk! It was really encouraging. She even told me to stop by anytime. A nice offer for a visiting researcher with a very small circle of contacts.  

So, simple things like talking to interested people, widening my circle of acquaintances, and knowing people in town, made me feel happy and comfortable today in this, I'll admit, somewhat intimidating university environment. Want to see my office?

My office! 

Shared and sparse, at least there is a sunny window. Also, since no one else ever shows up,
I have plenty of space, peace, and quiet. 

To conclude, a couple of observations. A big difference between here and universities I have experienced in the US is that here, almost everyone keeps their office doors closed. No "open-door policy" in this department! In their defense, the hallways are very noisy: even I close my door or else I hear people going in and out of the bathroom all day. The problem is, walking around the department, you can't really pop in to say hi to people. 

On the other hand, most people here share offices, so when you do finally get into one, you are pretty much guaranteed to see at least two, maybe more, people. Also, people put stuff on their doors, like they do in the US: drawings made by their kids, interesting articles, flyers for events of interest, etc. This helps distinguish among all the closed doors. My office has no decor and nothing on the door, yet. However, as of today, there are quite a few piles on the desk! Data collection has commenced!   

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bilingualism = Resonance

Thanks to my recent experiences in Italy, I have another new theory of bilingualism that uses as a metaphor a concept I have been teaching for years in Speech Science: Resonance. The idea of resonance is that everything (vocal cords, strings on a musical instrument, a table, a chair…) vibrates at a natural frequency. Acoustically, when one object vibrates at the same frequency as another, the first will set the second into vibration, causing the sound to amplify (increasing the volume). Think of a vibrating string on a violin. The body of the violin resonates with the vibrations of the strings, amplifying the sound.

Standing waves like this are an example of acoustic resonance. 

I had an experience today in which I was listening to someone present to a group of people (including me) in Italian and, like a flash, I forgot that I was listening to Italian! I suddenly realized that, for that instant, I was not trying to focus on the meanings of words, pay attention to verb conjugations, or pick up new words or phrases: I was just simply listening, naturally, like we do in our native language from the time we are infants. This was a moment of great linguistic RESONANCE! I felt so free!

Aha! So the idea of bilingualism as resonance would suggest that the metaphorical linguistic "vibrations" of a second language are being internalized by the learner over time such that, at a certain point, when one uses the language, the vibrations begin to match, resulting in a feeling of complete ease (and, some might say, proficiency) in the language. In this way, just like in acoustic resonance, when one experiences linguistic resonance, comprehension and production of the language are facilitated or, metaphorically, "amplified".

This concept is definitely related to my previous post on "Bilingualism and the Body", which theorized that bilingualism is when our inner voice matches our outer voice. Similarly, the idea of linguistic resonance is making a connection between what's going on inside of us as language-learners with what's going on, linguistically, outside. The difference of course is the use of the resonance metaphor. Maybe we can say that this is just a second step in the development of my theory.

So, let's consider a couple of examples of linguistic resonance (or non-resonance, i.e., dissonance) that I have recently experienced:

1. One night while preparing dinner, I turned on the TV and saw a typical, USA series that has been dubbed into Italian. In the scene that appears, two blond children in an expansive, suburban kitchen are  making their school lunches by spreading peanut butter on bread, while speaking in Italian. >> Dissonance! (you might argue that this example is more cultural than linguistic, but it's difficult to separate the two!)

2. Today, I turned on the TV while making lunch, and got sucked into a dubbed US film I had never seen (and still don't know what it is!). I only saw the last half-hour of the movie; however, I caught that it was set in Philadelphia, maybe in the 1940's, and focused on the relationship of a little boy and  his dying grandfather. The scene in which the grandfather tells his adoring grandson his final wish and then passes away made me cry, even though I understood about 75% of what he was saying. >> Resonance!

It is interesting to note that, so far, I have only had resonant experiences in the comprehension of spoken Italian… not in production. That is, to speak Italian, I still have to concentrate, think about what I am saying, and make an effort to use correct grammar, pronunciation, etc. I can't just forget myself and talk naturally, like I do in English (and usually Spanish). Getting to that point in spoken Italian will be a wonderful feeling of resonance!

If you want to know more about acoustic resonance, here are a couple of really cool videos about resonance that I have used in Speech Science class:
Awesome Resonance Experiment
Breaking a wine glass with resonance
Grandpa John and the tuning forks

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Graffiti a Padova

I was told before I came here that Padua has great graffiti. There definitely is a lot! I wish I could understand more about the cryptic messages I see sprayed on the walls around town.

Basically, I have observed four different types of graffiti . The first is only writing: political messages or poetic musings scrawled on walls. I've seen things that vary from, "No more fascists at the University," to "Love is everywhere" (written in English). Here is an example:

"What do I have in my head? What do I have in my shoes? No… I don't know what."
There are messages from BIOS LAB all around the city. 
There are also written messages illustrated by pictures. This dude, "Red", has a couple of quasi-eco-friendly/ironical messages I pass everyday. One is pictured below (translated in the caption). The other, right next to it, says, "Make your region your religion", and has a similar drawing: 

"Dear Ivo, you want Padua to become a more ecological city with your 'goodbike', 
but at the same time you steal our bikes."
The most mysterious graffiti are the small stencils of symbols, about the size of a dinner plate. They are all over town, and usually red or black. I have seen several euro symbols, houses, hearts, and a couple others. Apparently stencil graffiti is a whole genre. Check these out in the next three pics: 

Another written message I have seen in several places! Notice the small euro symbol stencil under the U, and the house stencil next to it. I see these stencils everywhere, but don't know what they mean. 
A frequently sighted stencil… like the euro symbol and the house… they are all about the size of a dinner plate. 
Bunny stencil. Unlike the others, I have only seen one of these. Is it me, or is he holding a gun? 
The most aesthetically pleasing, of course, are the pictorial, artwork graffitis. The one below is right downtown, and I have passed it several times. It's a great image; I love the bird and the cat.

Photo by Kenny Random,,com_kunena/Itemid,96/catid,4/func,view/id,25127/ 
Want to see more Padua graffiti? Check this out! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

La vita nelle strade (Street life)

Bikers and walkers at the daily market in Piazza della Frutta, Padua
Maybe the best thing about Italy is the street life, what I like to call la cultura delle piazze (piazza culture). This is something I am very familiar with from living in Latin America, where life is similar: At almost any hour, people out and about, walking around, toting groceries, going to work or class, and eating gelato (in the evenings people are lined up for it!). There are so many benefits to this lifestyle!

1. No driving! I totally LOVE that I can walk everywhere I need to go. There is absolutely no need for a car here and, obviously, I am not the only one without one. Everyday I see tons of people, young and old (and very-old!), doing errands on foot or by bike -I even saw a nun on a bike last weekend! It's great exercise (almost everyone here is fit and trim), and a wonderful way to learn my way around town. Bonus: the weather has been awesome, but if it rains, you just walk under the portici (porticos).

2. Social life. When you are out walking in a small city like Padua, it is likely you will run into people you know. I don't know many people here yet, but I clearly remember that after living in Concepción, Chile, for a while (where I also walked everywhere), I would see up to 10 people I knew on my daily routes: maybe 5-6 that I recognized from some aspect of life, 2-3 that I was acquainted with through work/study, and 1-2 direct friends or colleagues. Here, I see people greeting each other on the street, and I know one day I will be so happy when I can do the same.  

3. Mercati, e altre cose da mangiare (markets, and other things to eat).
An open-air cafe in Piazza della Frutta
With piazza culture, you are not limited to buying groceries at the supermarket. The outdoor markets are open here daily, in Piazza della Frutta and Piazza delle erbe, among others. Shopping at markets, I can get fresh fruits and veggies at good prices and, more importantly, practice Italian!

Now that it's spring, all the cafes and restaurants have tables outside, so you can people-watch while you eat. As I already mentioned, gelato is a critical outdoor food. On Sunday evening, I happened to be in Piazza dei Signori, and had to wait in a huge line for gelato! It seemed like every family in Padova was out with their kids, getting gelato, walking around the piazza. I chose pistachio… Yum!  

This picture needs no explanation… I might just have to run out now to get some gelato! 
All the walking can be tiring (e.g., carrying groceries around), but overall, it is the best thing about Padua. Outdoor time, fresh air, and being able to watch and listen to people all around really enriches the quality of life. Throw in a gelato and, veramente, quest'è la dolce vita! 

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Containers on the street for various types of waste: yellow lid = paper/cardboard, green = non-recyclable solid waste, small blue container = glass/plastic, brown = food waste (compost!)

I never thought I would write a blog post about, of all things, garbage in Italy. However, while I'm sure the system has its flaws, the complex and ecological "trash separation" campaign that seems to be in place here suggests a do-it-yourself, earth-friendly culture of little waste that I really appreciate.

I quickly realized that, in my apartment building, there is no convenient "garbage shoot" or even shared trash containers in some common location. When I asked where to throw out the trash and recyclables, I was informed of the detailed separation system for garbage and directed to look for various containers for non-recyclable solids, paper/cardboard, glass/plastic, and "organico" food waste, on the street.

After a couple of days, I decided to find the recycle containers for glass/plastic and paper. Turns out the closest ones are about two blocks away, so, as with all activities here, recycling involves walking! Since that day, I have noticed people of all ages and walks of life carrying small bags of trash/recycles to toss into the street bins on their way to work or wherever. No garbage pick-up here! Also, thankfully on one of my many walks I noticed a woman throwing trash into one of the larger, "non-recyclable solids" bins. I had been wondering how I was going to lift the huge lid and simultaneously get my trash in… no fear! There is a foot pedal I had not noticed. I saw this woman step on the pedal and, voila! The lid opens, you toss in your trash, and don't even have to touch the gross bin. Awesome.

I should mention that the trash separation system is also supported by the set-up of small trash bins inside the individual apartments here. There is a small bin in the bathroom (solid waste, not recyclable), and a surprisingly tiny box with a drawer, under the kitchen sink, holding two very small containers (each for a supermarket-size bag). I decided to use one for "organico" (food waste) and the other for regular trash (solids). I put the glass/plastic and paper on top of the box. Basically, my whole trash set-up is about the size of two shoeboxes. Compare this to the giant trash bins we use in the U.S.!

However, the system is working! I am in awe of the tiny amount of trash I produced in one week here.
My trash after one week. The bag on the far left is my backpack, included to show the small size of the garbage bags. So, after the backpack, there are the bathroom and kitchen "solid waste" bags, my recycles in the white paper bag (including one pizza box!), and the "organico" food waste in the small bag on the right. 
As someone who has always wanted to compost but never actually did, I am happy they make it so easy here in Italy. 
Yesterday, after one week, I took out all the trash, using the foot pedal to dump the actual garbage, and walking an extra block to the recycle/compost containers. One more detail… I also noticed, here in the apartment building, in one of the common areas, students have taken initiative to collect plastic caps (which are not recyclable the same way as the bottles), and have set up a small container right here in the building. I guess now I will have to set those caps aside, too…

Save the caps! 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bilingualism and the body

There's been a lot of great research in the news lately about bilingualism and the brain, but I wonder if anyone has explored the idea of bilingualism and the body. That is, how does acquiring another language and/or living in multiple languages actually impact our physical selves?

Because this is a personal reflection and not a research paper, I am going to -for now- resist the urge to open up an academic search engine and look for articles on this topic. I am, however, going to start out with some anecdotes from my own research, specifically, the insightful comments of two bilingual teenagers on the subject of what it means to be bilingual.  

A few years ago, I worked with an 8th grade boy from Mexico who had been living in the US for about two years. This student described learning another language as being born again: "No sé, es muy difícil, como… es como si estuviera volviendo a nacer porque es otro idioma" (I don't know, it's very difficult, like… it's like being born again because it's another language). 

Being born again? That would obviously affect your entire self -mind and body. In this view, acculturating and living in a new language entails becoming a completely new person. Obviously language and identity are strongly connected. I remember struggling with this on earlier visits abroad: Was I a different person when I was speaking Spanish? Eventually, these disparate identities become integrated to some extent… at least that is my theory.   

Another great language-body reference regarding bilingualism comes from a 10th grader, also of Mexican heritage. He stated, "English, if you learn it and then, after that you like, handle it, you have it good, like, on your hands". 

Hmmm… to have a language on/in your hands. That is so interesting! It also relates to a conference presentation I saw a couple years ago. Although I can't recall who gave talk or where they were from, I remember that, in their research, they were asking bilingual people, "What is the language in your heart? What is the language in your head? What language is in your hands?" The implications, of course, have to do with the use and context of our language practices. What language/s do we speak in personal, intimate situations? What language/s do we speak for work or professional purposes? What about daily interactions on the street?  

So, from these two inspiring students, and my own experiences over the past few days in Italy, I had a brainstorm about a new way to define "bilingual" that involves the whole self. It's something like this: bilingual is when the language on the inside matches the language on the outside: when your inner voice matches your outer voice. 

I am thinking this because, as I go through my day in Italy, I try to think in Italian. However, I lack so many words. I can't make my minute-by-minute decisions, create my mental to-do list, or evaluate what I'm seeing, in 100% Italian. English and Spanish words pop into my mental flow; the interrupt my inner voice. Then, I stop to get a slice of pizza, and the my outer voice has to be Italian. The point is, here in Italy, my inner voice does not yet match my outer voice. 

What effect does this have on the body? It is tiring! I am constantly making an effort to understand and speak. Culturally, I am in hyper-observation mode, watching people and trying to figure out all sorts of things: how to validate my train ticket, how to cross the street safely, how to get the trash into those giant bins on the street. 

This is how language and culture affect the body. You watch, listen, learn… yesterday, my colleague asked if I got to "exercise" my Italian with her student. Right! "Esercitare" = "to practice", in Italian, and yes, it is an exercise, mental and physical! But it is worth it. Once I really know Italian, "have it on my hands", have it "in my heart" (it sort of already is), my inner voice will match my outer voice and, linguistically at least, I will be born again!   

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mardi Gras in Venice

I couldn't miss the chance to write about my adventure yesterday, at the Venice Mardi Gras... Carnevale a Venezia! Everyone I had spoken with swore it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not to be missed: I had to go! To prepare just a bit, I watched a brief, Rick Steves video about Venice the night before; his advice was helpful as always.   

Venice was a marvel as soon as I stepped out of the train station. Right there was the Canal Grande, with the vaporetti (water busses) busily carrying passengers around town (there are no cars in Venice!). Even before 10:00 am, many, colorful tables were set up to paint faces, and carnival masks were on display for sale everywhere. Since I had followed the costumed people in Padua to be sure I was getting on the right train, I decided to continue to follow them. They would lead me to the Piazza San Marco, the heart of the city, and the place where all the best carnival events were taking place, right?  

Carnival masks for sale on the streets of Venice
Not so easy! I started walking, following masked and caped revelers and watching for signs that said, "Via San Marco". Of course, I had to make a few detours: to take pictures, check out the various types of masks, peer into bakery windows, and buy a few postcards. I knew that, before arriving in San Marco, I wanted to be wearing a  mask, too! I finally found a fairly affordable one that was still made -or at least, painted- in Venice, and tied it on immediately. At that point, Venice became truly mysterious as I wandered its labyrinth, feeling invincible in my cat mask.

Somewhere on the Ponte di Rialto, I asked a shopkeeper for directions to San Marco. A language point: he attempted to respond to me in Spanish. Ha! This has actually happened a few times already, not on this trip, but when David and I came to Italy for vacation in 2011. At that time, of course, my Italian was less developed, and I suppose it was more obvious that I was basing a lot of the language on what I already knew in Spanish. At any rate, yesterday, we made due with Italiañol, and I learned that the Piazza San Marco was under water! Yes, flooded. Should I even try to go there? What would happen to all the carnival events?

Determined to at least get a glimpse of the piazza, I pressed on to San Marco, and finally arrived. Wow… while there was a lot of flooding, it was full of people who literally were not going to let their parade get rained on. I saw spectacular costumes everywhere, some, I later learned, have been passed down in families for centuries. There was also music, theater, and tons of confetti, floating in the water.

Elaborate costumes in the Piazza San Marco  
See the water below the steps? 
There is so much more to tell, but I will summarize! I was not able to enter the famous Basilica di San Marco due to the flooding, so I decided to hit a couple other churches recommended by Rick Steves. I hopped on a vaporetto and visited Santa Maria della Salute and the Chiesa Dei Frari, both of which house several works of art by Titian and other Renaissance painters. Both stops were glorious. 

Finally, I entered a cafe to have lunch and get the hot chocolate I had been craving. Thankfully, it was not raining, but Venice was cold! Overall, it was a wonderful day and I am so grateful I could be there for Carnevale. Truly a unique and magical place, Venice is breathtaking and I can't wait to go back!  

Ciao, Venezia! Ci vediamo presto!

Monday, March 3, 2014


This blog is about language and culture and, as everyone knows, when it comes to the Italian culture, food is of the essence. I can only imagine how many times I will want to write about food here… I have only been here two days and already need to do it some justice.

Wandering the city in search of "il centro", I continuously walk down adorable, narrow streets and look into the windows of unique shops I fear I will never be able to find again. Yesterday I stopped in one of these places to buy some fresh pasta: spinach and cheese ravioli, gnocchi, and some jarred "sugo pomodoro e basilico" from Sicily. On a language-related note, I found it charming that yesterday's standard leave-taking expression was, "buona domenica" (happy Sunday).

My Sunday lunch, before cooking. It didn't last long enough for an after picture. 
The ravioli were as delicious as they looked. I have to admit, however, that I ruined the gnocchi. :( On the walk home, they got completely squished together. I pulled them apart as best I could and put them in the freezer, hoping to restore their sense of independence. Nope… tonight, when I tried to make them for dinner, they had mostly stuck to the paper. The ones I did salvage came out tasting gooey and raw, even though I experimented with cooking times. Sorry, gnocchi! For now, I will stick with (no pun intended) the heartier varieties of homemade pasta. They are much easier to cook!

The food highlight of today was a fabulous salad I made at home. Since I had failed twice to find the center of town, I walked again this afternoon and finally made it, albeit in a very long and winding way. At a veggie market in Piazza della frutta, I bought what turned out to be some very zingy arugula, some other, very fresh, mixed salad greens, cherry tomatoes on the vine that actually tasted like tomatoes, and a sweet and juicy yellow bell pepper (which, I learned, is called a 'peperone'). Such is the inconsistency of my Italian language abilities: I can explain my research project on bilingual writing, but cannot ask for a handful of lettuce. Mamma mia!

In another quick stop at a local supermarket, I bought inexpensive olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Both turned out to be quite good. I can't wait to chop up the carrots I have been craving. This is probably not exactly the food blog you were expecting, eh? What about dessert?!?

Well, I could mention that today on my walk around town I also ate the best. gelato. ever. Now I know how I am going to get fat in Italy. Actually, I selected two very healthy flavors: pear + yogurt, in a "coppetta piccola" (I should also note that I look up every Italian word I write to be sure it is correct, and so far I have misspelled most -darn double consonants!). The gelato was seriously amazing. I wish I could explain how the server scooped it out and swirled both flavors into a beautiful work of art. Next time, photo! With all this good food around, it's a good thing I am always lost. Gotta keep on walking!  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sono arrivata! (I am here!)

Hot chocolate here is thick like pudding... I ate it with a spoon. Great comfort on a cold, wet, tired day. 

I arrived in Padua today in pouring rain -pioggia. Good thing I forced those huge rain boots into my suitcase. Ironically, on the flight over, I saw a picture of my exact same boots in a catalogue, all folded up into tiny, flat rectangles! I had no idea I could do this with my boots! Good to know for the way back!

At any rate, I have had lots of language adventures already. As they say, "Getting there is half the fun". This morning, I flew into Venice, where Carnival is going full swing. Hope I can go back before it ends to get a taste of this historic and famous event. 

I flew Iberia, the Spanish airline, so last night I quickly found myself in my most challenging, multilingual context: having to use Spanish and Italian at the same time. Confusing!!! Before we took off, a young couple approached me and asked, in very effortful, quasi-Spanish, if I could trade seats with one of them so they could sit together. Turned out they were Italian, from Bologna. I really liked my seat, so I stayed, and thus attempted to converse with the wife in Italian off and on all night. Simultaneously, I communicated with the flight attendants in Spanish, and read my book in English. Things seemed to be going fairly smoothly until we reached Madrid, at about 5:40 AM. With just a couple hours of sleep, it became difficult to speak any coherent language at all!

Waiting for the connecting flight at the gate in Madrid, I glanced around and heard Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and German -no English (although I still had my awesome book open). This is when it hit me: I am in Europe! Normally, I thrive on this multilingual environment, but at that moment, I felt a flash of "foreignness". Realty set in: I am here, in Europe, and I am a foreigner with sketchy Italian skills on my way to Italy, for four months! With this thought in mind, I boarded the plane to Venice.

Gratefully, my colleague in Padua picked me up at the airport. To that point, all of our communications had been in writing, mainly in English. However, when we met up live, we greeted each other and made small talk in Italian as we exited the airport. She was surprised at my "excellent pronunciation"; however, once we were in the car, it became clear that I had a lot of holes in my lexicon so she switched us back to English. Basically, I speak Italian somewhat "fluently", but very "errorfully". It's a mess, really, and I lack a lot of vocabulary... but I will keep trying!

One last anecdote. My colleague took me to the university apartment where they were waiting for me to check in. The "portiere" (doorman), who shares the name of the saint that makes this city famous, was very adept at explaining all the apartment details to foreign students/faculty in basic Italian. Part concierge, part kindergarten-teacher, he used a map, gestures, and writing to support his explanations in well-scaffolded, Italian-as-a-second-language. He even said, "if you don't understand something, tell me". He will be a great resource!

Hopefully, after a good night's sleep, I will be ready to get my Italian game on tomorrow!