Sunday, February 27, 2011

Another Weekend in Florence

Ciao, Home-Folks!

Unfortunately with this week's post the words will have to speak for themselves-- I just didn't take any noteworthy photos to accompany the blog this week.

Before I get to my weekend, I'll fill you all in a bit more on my classes than I usually report.

Let's see, where to begin.  We've entered for real now into work on commedia dell'arte.  It's fantastic.  We have started work on the zanni, Arlecchino and Colombina (our teacher actually calls her something different which I can't recall at the moment, but she's the same character as Colombina just with a different name).  This artform is incredibly precise.  We're all sweating and huffing and puffing for the bulk of our three-hour classes (which we have every day).  We each have a chain of 7 movements that we put together on our first day of commedia, and we start each class repeating that chain over and over again for 30 minutes.  It's truly exhausting, and that's just the warm-up!  We experiment a lot with filling the space and changing the volume, tone, and rhythm of our movements.  We then move into stretches and isolations.  The isolations are imperative to commedia, each movement is so exact and each body part should be able to move independently of the rest of the body.

I especially enjoy Arlecchino.  He's very much like Homer Simpson- a bumbling fool who lives in the moment.  I've had so much fun exploring movements and thoughts as that character.  When practicing our entrances for the Colombina character, I got so excited that when it was my turn to demonstrate, I kicked my leg with so much enthusiasm that I fell right onto my ass.  Straight up.  The thing every student has nightmares about.  If I had been in front of any other crowd of people I would have probably been mortified, but I was easily able to laugh it off and take a bow.  To me, a good unplanned fall on the ass is comedy at it's finest.

I'm trying to make more of an effort to volunteer and be vocal in my classes.  In this place where everyone is an incredibly bright, gifted, passionate student, it's hard to show your professors you're exceptional.  But, I'm trying.

Each week there is a different group of students designated as the "events core," and they are encouraged to plan some sort of activity for us to participate in.  This week's core decided to have an improv night on Friday before dinner, and I hadn't realized just how much I had needed it!  It was very loose and chill; about 10-12 people showed up and we played a number of games, some more successful than others.  It was very reassuring to me, because I often find myself feeling somewhat inadequate in comparison to most of my classmates here in voice and movement classes.  I can't help but feel sometimes like everyone here is better than me at everything.  Well, at the risk of sounding conceited (but it's my blog... so why not), I'm pretty awesome at improv.  Better than folks here.  I know it's probably rude for me to think in these terms, but it was just nice to get that boost of confidence and raise my self-esteem a bit which has been dropping now and again since I've gotten here.  I just love feeling like I actually have some real promise at the things that I love to do the most.  I see a lot of improv, I study it, I practice it, I work hard at it.  It's nice to know those things pay off, considering that's what I'd most like to dedicate my life to.  It certainly made me miss Charcoal Pony.  When our core is up for events (not sure which week we have it) I intend to propose a running charades night.  I've gotten my improv fix to hold me for a bit, but I'm really missing me some good running charades.

Speaking of sharing my passions with my classmates on this side of the Atlantic, I've finally worked up the courage to sign up for one of our "Cabaret" performances.  The first two have both showcased some amazing talents.  This week's theme is "Collaboret," meaning we're supposed to collaborate on an act with at least one other person, preferably someone you don't often get to work with.  Well, I talked to the organizers and successfully convinced them that there's no better way to collaborate than by taking the finale spot of the evening and getting everyone on their feet for a contra dance.  Everyone I've talked to here has been really eager to learn contra, so I'm going to make the cabaret my first intro to it, just a big, easy circle mixer to get people interested.  Hopefully we'll have another night sometime where I can teach some good improper dances.  Everyone here is so talented with dance and movement that I know they'll catch on in an instant.  I did not like the thought of playing recorded music, so I'm recruiting a small band to work up a contra tune by Wednesday.  I have a piano player and guitar player.  Not the ideal combo, but we're gonna make it work, and it shall be glorious!  I've so missed contra and calling!

I guess that brings me to the weekend.  My two closest friends here, Elena and Trevor, and I decided we wanted to do Florence again, because even though we've seen it there's no way you can get everything out of that city in one weekend.  It was a new experience for me not having Chris and Julia to guide me this time; I actually had to rely on things like my sense of direction, which is probably not the more reliable.

We took the train over Saturday morning and checked into our hostel, which was very pleasant (the David Inn, right next to the Accademia).  We then headed straight to "Yellow," a fantastic restaurant that was a favorite of Chris and Julia.  Trevor had not been yet, and Elena and I would not stop raving about it from our last trip. It certainly surpassed expectations yet again.

Then, we went shopping.

"What's that, MJ?  I certainly must have misheard you... There's no way you of all people voluntarily decided to spend an entire afternoon shopping.  You're a tomboy!  A hippie!  You wouldn't know how to buy your own clothes to save your life!  You must have gone kicking and screaming!  You must have collapsed after one store! Surely!"

I know!  It's shocking!  But let me take this moment to announce to you all, my dear friends and loved ones:  I, Maggie Jo Saylor, shopped all afternoon and had a blast doing it.  I'm talking going into stores, looking at clothes, trying on clothes, and buying clothes.  Classy, stylish clothes.  Clothes that I'm going to wear next time I see you all and you'll say "Wow, where'd you get that?" and I'll say "Oh, this?  I got this in Italy.  When I went shopping."  I'm still amazed at the thought. 

I have been incredibly frugal up to this point in the semester and will of course continue to be, but it was nice to let go a little.  I really had not bought anything (besides juggling balls and food) in the whole month I've been here, and I'm in the most fashionable country in the world!  It's high time I lived a little!

I won't go into detail about each purchase, but I will tell you I got some super-classy, super-pirate, real made-in-Italy leather boots.  Exactly the ones I set out looking for.  It was no easy feat finding the perfect pair, but I eventually did it.

Okay, enough about the shopping.  Instead of dining out at a restaurant we opted for Appertivo at "Moyo," yet another wonderful spot passed onto us by Chris and Julia.  It's such a great deal.  You buy a 7 Euro drink, then you have access to a buffet of delicious pastas, salad, toast points, and even french fries.   After stuffing ourselves we went off in search of night life, all sporting our fabulous new duds purchased earlier in the day.  We found ourselves at an Irish pub watching a football (soccer) game with a mix of locals and other American students.  We had a couple rounds of some delicious Guiness.  I certainly love the wine here, but it's so refreshing to find some good beer in Italy every now and then to change things up.  It's not easy to do.

We left that pub and went to another that had karaoke.  Elena established herself as the belle of the ball early on by rocking a Madonna song.  Guys were all trying to buy her drinks and win her attention.  We kind of ended up ruining our reputation by the three of us performing a pretty horrendous rendition of "Hey ya" together.  It was fun, but we could tell we were not too popular with the Italians after that and we took that as our cue to leave.

It was at this point that we headed to "Tabasco," and kind of shady-looking gay bar we had heard about.  One thing I've noticed and have not enjoyed in Italy is that Italians don't dance.  Ever!  Even at bars or clubs with live music or a DJ it just doesn't seem to be a norm for them to cut a rug.  Well, one thing you can count on in any country; where there is MJ, there is dancing.  There was a very good DJ here who played requests and we got out there and started our ridiculous "Dionysian" dancing (as Elena called it) and pretty soon everyone there was surrounding us on the dance floor and joining in.  It was such a blast.  It's the first dancing of any sort I've really done since I've been here, and I never left the floor. 

We woke up this morning and went to "The Diner," which is in American-style diner in Florence.  I cannot tell you how delightful it was to eat an omelet with hashbrowns.  After a month of breakfast consisting solely of yogurt, toast, hard-boiled eggs, and Nutella, this was incredible.

We then trekked back over to the Accademia to see the David.  As we had heard from others, there really isn't much to the rest of the museum.  It was honestly rather forgettable, but the man himself really is every bit as impressive in real life as you imagine he would be.  I also did enjoy seeing some unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo's, which gives a sense of his process.  It's so impressive!

Well, I'm now back at school.  I'm trying to get my white outfit cleaned and dried for Commedia tomorrow morning.  Hope that works out, but chances are I'll be working in damp attire. 

I'm gleefully looking forward to the following: 1 week until Carnival in Venice (I know you're jealous),  2 weeks until Spring Break in Germany,  3 weeks until Mom and Pops visit, and 4 weeks until Rome!  Pretty sweet calendar, huh?

I apologize for the unnecessary length of this post.  Usually I get out most of my longing for conversation with you guys by writing it out in my journal, but apparently I just wanted to keep writing to you directly in the post this time!  Hopefully it wasn't all too boring.

Love and miss you all.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hiking local trails

Embarking on Week 4 here in Arezzo, which means one thing: Commedia!  Yes!  We will finally be starting our intense work in Commedia dell'Arte this week with Michele Bottini.  Just this week we have at least 3 hours every day, starting with 6 hours on Monday.  I'm incredibly excited!  Only downside will be laundry this week... we found out after arrival that Michele requests that we work in all white outfits every day.  We all came equipped with one white shirt and one white pair of pants each.  With no dryers, that basically means we're all going to smell even worse than usual during this unit.  Oh well!

This week has been up and down.  As the head of the school warned us we might when we arrived, I've started slipping pretty heavily into some third-week homesickness.  I had a good chat with Mom yesterday where she pointed out how normal that is considering I have such deep roots and close-knit communities both at home and at HPU.  It's actually made me kind of satisfied to know how much I miss HPU, considering it took me two years to admit it was the right place for me to be.  Don't get me wrong-- I'm not letting myself miss out on the greatness that is where I am right now, but I can't help got long for my loved ones back home, and sometimes for America in general.

So... what's the best cure for homesickness?  Why, organizing an epic hike that starts right outside your front door!  On Friday our voice teacher Kevin had mentioned a 5-6 hour hike that can be taken through the huge hills near our school from Arezzo to Anghari, a cool little mountain town.  I set out yesterday (Saturday) with my friends Jonny and Stuart knowing only where the trail begins, not even remembering the name of the town we were ultimately trying to get to.  It was magical.  I couldn't have picked to better companions.  We talked, laughed, and sang for hours going up and up into the hills.

Goin' up the hill!

...and up...

Motorbikers... Beware!

Stuart learning to commune with nature.

...and up...

...and up...

...past many beautiful orchards and vineyards.

Stuart overlooking the towns.

A gate that probably served a purpose at some point but now not so much.

The guard dogs around here are all really really cute.

More orchards

About 2 hours in, the trail forked and we could not tell which path to take, as both had the red and white markers that we had been following thus far.  At that moment a car drove up to the gates of a beautiful private property that we had just been ogling at, and Jonny (who knows the most Italian of the three of us) boldly attempted asking their advice.  This was a very old Italian couple who didn't speak English, but they motioned us to wait while they went and got the man who lived there who spoke English (though still very little).  He ended up not knowing much by way of trails, but did take us into his house (AMAZING! I wish I could have taken pictures; so quaint and rustic) and pull out a map for us to look at.  That's when we discovered that the town we were heading to was in fact Anghiari, and that we were still only about a third of the way.  We couldn't tell from the road map which trail to take still, but it was quite enjoyable to be helped by this old man, Silvano, nonetheless.

We left the house and picked the trail that more closely resembled a road, thinking this would be more likely to lead to some town, even if it wasn't Anghiari.  We continued seeing amazing views and stopped on a giant rock to eat lunch.  I must admit, there's nothing like sitting on a giant rock eating a sandwich (salami, mozzarella, and fresh tomato) with your friends and overlooking a Tuscan landscape.  I announced at that moment that it was the best meal I've ever eaten, and it might just have been true.

My favorite scenery picture.

Jonny and Me.

Best. Sandwich. Ever!

The rock where we ate lunch.
After continuing on a bit we started getting a bit worried about finding a town or somewhere that we could bus back to Arezzo, so we gave thought to turning back and returning the way we came just to be safe.  As we were turning around a cyclist came by who we stopped to ask advice from.  He spoke excellent English and told us that if we continued on the road in the direction we had been going, we would eventually hit San Polo, a very small town with a cool church that also had a bus that goes to Arezzo.  We regained momentum and continued down the road.  We peered over the road at some point and noticed that down below us there was a beautiful stream.  I, of course, insisted that we go down and frolic in it.  It was probably my favorite bit of nature that we enjoyed that day.

Heading down to the stream.  So gracefully...

...and less gracefully in Stuart's case.

The stream!

My other favorite picture... I definitely want to find this spot again.

I doubled up on HPU t-shirt and sweatshirt on this outing... perhaps something will make it into a newsletter or something.


We made our way to San Polo, and found someone standing outside of the church who let us in and showed us around.  We couldn't really understand one another well, but she was very nice and told us about the church's history, including that there was something in there (we think some of the columns) that were from 5 B.C.E.  It was pretty incredible.

Heading down the road to San Polo.  So many olive trees.  Everywhere.

Beautiful countryside in the town's outskirts.

Yeah... We found it!

Villa with a name kind of like mine.

Cool WWII memorial.

The church we loved!

We hopped on the bus back to Arezzo without buying tickets... Luckily they never checked.  We got off in town and walked right into a little convenience store and each bought a cold beer to drink as we walked around the city.  It's the first beer I had since leaving the states; quite enjoyable.  And so funny to be able to just walk around in the open downtown with a beer in hand.  We got some delicious pizza and looked around a few of the churches, including the main one of Arezzo which I had still not entered.  It was a good day, but trudging back up to the hill to the Villa I was spent.  I Skyped a bit with Mom and Pops afterward then basically fell into bed for the rest of the night.

I'm spending today just catching up and writing my first essay for Philosophy.  The assignment is to write a personal essay about an event in our life that caused us to look at life in a completely different way than before.  I'm writing about Pops' time in the hospital, which is always a hard one to revisit.  I'm trying to write a bit then break here and there so as not to stay with it for too long at any one given time.

Thanks for your continued good thoughts and messages!  Keep 'em coming!

Love you all!

Monday, February 14, 2011

First Florence Visit

Ciao, Loved Ones!

I’ve been meaning to keep you updated more regularly than once a week, but it’s looking like all that will really be worth reporting on will be happening on the weekends.  The weekdays thus far are class, food, and homework.  Very little time for anything else.  I have had some accomplishments that may interest you.  Firstly, I have gotten my showers down to under 5 minutes, seeing as that’s how long the hot water lasts.  On a good day.  Secondly, I can do headstands now!  Two different ways!  Whether this is a worthy accomplishment or not, I’m quite proud of it.  The handstands are still a ways off, I think, but I'm making slow progress in that direction.  Thirdly, I finally did my laundry for the first time since I’ve been here.  No dryer.  Hang dry only.  Success!

My accomplishment.
But enough about that boring stuff… I’m going to tell you all about my magnificent trip to Florence this weekend.  I can confidently say that the main reason I had such a wonderful time was the hospitality and guidance of Chris and Julia, who housed me, fed me, and showed me the ropes.  I’m so happy I got to spend time with them before they return to the states on Tuesday.  I took plenty of pictures, but I don’t think they can really capture what a special city this is, and how marvelous it was to enjoy it with family and good friends!

I came in Friday evening by myself.  I was quite frightened as this was my first Italian train trip and I was taking it alone, but all was well.  My one small misadventure was getting off at the wrong Florence stop, but with Chris’s help I was able to jump back on and make it just fine.

Chris and Julia live in a very cute apartment that has 78 steps leading up to it.  Quite a trek, but I was so grateful to have such a quaint place to stay.  Most of my peers were all crammed into rooms hostels.  I’m hoping to come back and stay again with Chris and Julia’s roommate Tracy, who left an open invitation for which I’m very grateful!

On Friday we ate dinner at a very cute restaurant, "Osterio Santo Spirito." It was lovely… we had nibbled on some finger foods at the apartment beforehand, so I decided to stick with plain old spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil.  Nothing too complicated or fancy, but damn was it delicious!  That night we walked around the city a bit and got gelato at the wonderful organic "Grom," where they told me how to identify which gelato places are better than others. 

On Saturday we started the morning with eggs made by Julia then headed off to the Central Market.  I saw such an assortment of meats, produce, cheeses, seafood, wines-- you name it!  I was admittedly a bit unnerved by the numerous displays of stomach and intestines, not parts of animals I’m used to seeing displayed so proudly.  We also strolled through the outdoor San Lorenzo market where I wanted to buy everything in sight.  Clothes, purses, boots.  I want them all.  I feel like such a girl walking around Italy and actually having the desire to shop for the first time in my life.

We also walked over the Arno river and saw the beautiful jewelry displays.  Again- as someone who usually holds no interest in jewelry, I was mesmerized.  I also loved this statue where people write their name on a lock with their sweetheart's name, then they attach the lock to the statue and throw the key in the river.  It's illegal now, but there are clearly some rebels out there who still do it.

We then trekked up to the Piazzale di Michelangelo, from which you can see the entire city of Florence.  I was floored.  I have so many pictures from the way up.  This was probably the highlight of my visit.  On the way up we saw several houses of famous artists and scientists, specifically Galileo and Tchaikovsky as you can see in the pictures.  We also stopped at the San Miniato a la Monte (a beautiful church overlooking the city) and looked around inside.  Beautiful.

We then went to lunch at “Yellow,” and I had my first pizza in Italy!  I’m going to be honest—I can’t say that I like it better than American pizza.  That’s not to say it’s not fantastic.  I just think the two are so different you almost can’t compare them.  There is certainly a healthier quality to the Italian pizza, but I can’t say that makes it better than American style.  Just different.  I loved it.

Then—another highlight.  The Chocolate Fair that was going on in town.  I’m pretty sure this is what heaven is like. Chocolate.  Delicious chocolate.  EVERYWHERE.  Where to begin... The most amusing stands had a lot of tools made of chocolate.  Apparently that's a thing.  Wrenches, locks, horseshoes, pliers, and then a lot of other creations like my favorites, the chocolate shoes.  My other favorite, which Chris actually got, was the chocolate kebab, which you can see in the pictures.  There is a giant pillar of chocolate which is shaved into a flat piece of cake, then instead of the sauce you'd see in a real kebab there is a raspberry sauce.  Absolutely unbelievable.

After the chocolate fair we went into a really cool store called "Signum" which is full of delightful knick-knacks and cool stuff.  I bought a bunch of really cool postcards and also a set of juggling balls.  Jonny, one of my good friends here, is an excellent juggler and he has offered to juggle with me.  

After Signum we hit my favorite store in Florence.  No, not one of the fancy, one-of-a-kind leather shops or fashion boutiques... the toy store.  Where there is a toy store, there are board games.  I geeked out for a while in the board game room, and took plenty of pictures of cool looking Italian versions of my favorite games.  I probably won't be able to come back home without at least one Italian board game.  I feel that I should start researching now.

After that we went to the Duomo and walked inside to the part that's free.  Sometime perhaps on another trip I want to walk all the way up inside the dome, that looks like it will be amazing.  It was here that we found my fellow ADA kids who had finally come to Florence, and Chris and Julia became the official "cool people to know," and earned me a lot of cool points by association.  They gave us all kinds of great pointers on where to go and what to do while we're here.  Outside the Duomo a number of us got sucked into some parading singing and dancing Hare Krishnas.  That was a funny experience, and they didn't want to let us go!

We ate dinner that night with a large group of my theatre friends at ADA at a restaurant near the apartment.  Again, they had all called me to make sure Chris and Julia were going to be wherever I was so they could pick their brains some more.  We all got great food and kicked back some wine, then the rest of the group left to find alcohol and clubs while Chris, Julia, my friend Elena, and I went to a nice little bar called "Moyo."  It was a great time, Chris and I exchanging family gossip, Elena and I exchanging ADA gossip.  It concluded a truly fabulous day in Florence.
Sunday I thought about joining the rest of the group at the Uffizi, but the line was incredibly long and I know I will be seeing that with Mom and Pops next month.  Instead we went to the Bargello, which has a ton of cool sculptures.  My favorite room might have been "the dish room," or so I felt it should have been called (though no one around me at that time caught the reference like I know Mom, Pops, and probably Rankin will).  There was such ornate pieces all throughout.  It's hard to imagine things like that were ever used for washing or eating.

We ate lunch again at "Yellow," this time bringing Stuart and Elena along, and I had the single best dish I've had yet in Italy: Spaghetti alla Carbonara.  This was unlike any imitation I have ever had in the United States.  I literally licked my plate it was so good.  That is a delicious, affordable restaurant that I'm sure I'll be returning to on future visits.

Well... I think that just about covers it.  I received an amazing letter from Rankin written in the style of a Confederate soldier writing from the battlefront, complete with smudges and stained paper.  It is undoubtedly the best letter I have ever gotten, and I continue to read it over and over again.  I had great Skype sessions with both Zach and Tom last night.  I do so miss my boys on Valentine's Day.  There is a party in town tonight that I think most of us will be gearing up for.  I have no idea what a piazza party in Arezzo is like, but I'm sure it will be something!  I'll leave you all with some more photos that I forgot to put in earlier in the blog.  I have about twice as many as what I'm including on this blog... Perhaps they'll make their way to facebook one of these days.

Love you all, and happy Valentine's Day!