Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Renaissance Man

I'm out on the front lawn again, Florentine sun shining through the memory of last nights thunderstorm. The grass is dewy, the frogs in the fountain are quiet, and the turning black, marble statues watch me with infinitely open eyes. I'm done with my 50 page paper, done with my 2000 page book. It seems like it really has been continuous, I'm not done when I stop writing or reading because that's only one chapter and even though the chapters are oh so thick, I still have more to go before the last page.
But I'm done. I'm out on the lawn and I'm done.

When I first learned that I was going to Italy this summer I was kinda embarrassed to tell people. Paying money instead of making it? And paying to learn about Galileo, the Renaissance, a language I don't know and never will? You may be reading and disbelieving, but can't you understand where my trepidation came from?
It was about two weeks ago, sitting in my honors seminar class (wow, nerd), and I was healed; I was confident in my experience. We were talking about "Renaissance Men". The term usually means someone well versed, someone with many talents, someone multifaceted. And the term stewed and boiled and I stopped paying attention. Renaissance Man. I am a Renaissance Man. Spot on.
It's taken me a very long time to chose my major compared to most other college students. And in a way, I was forced to make a decision that I did not want to make... plus I ended up choosing the most open, accommodating major out there. Most college students decide their majors quickly, some even before they arrive on campus. Then, once trapped on a path, the only other types of classes are requirements. When I took creative writing and econ, music composition and great books, Sociology and Political Science, I felt almost stupid: I was flailing around. But discussing the value of having deep knowledge in other areas made me feel... great. I knew that I could be a Renaissance Man- how's that for a major?
In Italian, the literal meaning of Renaissance Man is "Universal Man". Perfect, huh?

I've learned some things about Italy and in turn about home... my Gli Stati Uniti home, that is. I want to share them with you. Although I am leaving here soon, you can imagine yourself living here. Imagine a new life. Get on a plane, a boat, a hot airballoon, a dream...
-Gas is very expensive here. I have yet to buy some so I cannot really claim expertise but I think it's up in the teens of Euros per gallon. This, as well as the fact that the streets here were all made before cars were (and therefore very small and usually one way), means that the cars here are all very small. I don't think that the horrible maroon family van that I drive at home would fit down any street here.
-In Florence, there is also a law that only people who live in the city can drive cars there. This and gas prices means lots of motorcycles. Now I have been told by some certain guys friends here that I am not allowed to call them motorcycles: They are vespas. All I know is that here they are smaller and don't have big shiny pipes all over and big black leather seats and flames down the sides. Italians call them motorinos. But the point still stands: There are no stereotypes about motorcycle riders here. Any common person can ride a motorino: a business man, an old man, even a woman! A female can drive her own motorino- no submissive back seat necessary. And there are no handlebar mustaches and no leather fringed chaps here either (Thank God). I've found this to be true, even more so, in Paris. It must just be Americans. No wonder we have a bad rap.
-Cars check. Motorcycles check. Sidewalks: this difference took a while to hit me. After walking for about a week in Florence and around Sesto, I realized that the sidewalks are so difficult because they are not their own entity. In the US the sidewalks are flat and wide and not surrounded on all sides. Here they are stuck onto the sides of buildings like an afterthought, small enough for one person to walk abreast on the tilting stones, until you have to step into the street to avoid the huge metal grates around each window (which then means you are a sitting duck in the middle of a Florentine street). Plus, people don't clean up after their dogs (dogs which walk in the vicinity of their owner instead of walking on leashes). They say here that stepping in dog poo is good luck (but even so I avoid it at all costs).
-One of the most annoying things here are business hours. It's not that stores are not open late, it's not that stores don't open early enough, it's not that they close in the middle of the day, it's not that they are only open some days of the week, it's all of the above. ALL. I do not understand.
-Restaurants seem to be a little more regular although they open much later here that in the States. It is the way that restaurants run that is the biggest difference. If you're getting coffee or something to go, sitting at one of the cafe's tables will cost you more. You do not tip. But at a sit down place you pay either for the bread or the table (about 2-3 euros a person usually). You also must pay for water because if you want any it comes in a sealed glass bottle (about 2 Euros a bottle). Food is pretty averagely priced- Pizza is very cheap and you get an entire pizza (and I'm not talkin crappy personal sized). The pizzas are very thin crust; the cheese on them is usually amazing. They take very little time to cook and at many restaurants here they will bring out your food as it is ready (no waiting for every dish to be cooked before they deliver them). Almost all restaurants here have great pasta and pizza.
-My last item is PDA. Public Displays of Affection for those of you
behind the times. Now, I am hesitant to put this on here because this might be universal in hotspot travel places. But, in general, I have seen much more PDA here than at home. Like I said, I think
it could be caused by the overload of cutesy couples on their cutesy travels together. Plus, just the fact that Cutesy Couple A is doing it makes Cutesy Couple B more likely to do it. And what do they care anyways? We're all just strangers here, right?
There you go. Now you can imagine yourself with your present/future Significant Other living in Italy. You can be Cutsey Couple C. Awwww.

I'm leaving tomorrow at 7:10 for Rome. I get off the final train at 9:45. I made a reservation at a hostel (which I can hopefully find). I plan to meet up with two of the Opera students that I met here (and who left yesterday morning) at the Pantheon at 11am. I'll spend the day crushing every piece of Rome I can into my pocket and then I'm flying out the next afternoon (18th) for Copenhagen. I get in around 4pm and I am meeting up with my cousin's friend (who I have never met) in the train station at 5:30 to pick up keys to her apartment. I will then proceed there by myself- she'll be back later. The next morning my two cousins are flying in from New York. They are crazy and I love them: hopefully I'll tell some stories in the next week about our adventures together. I am also supposed to be meeting up with another friend from Michigan State but very few details have been hashed out about that.
I fly out of Amsterdam on the morning of the 27th for Madrid so we'll have about 7 days to hopefully see Copenhagen, Berlin, and Amsterdam. I get into Madrid around noon and have 4 hours to take the train to Salamanca and meet my fellow UMich students and my host family (which I currently know nothing about... let's just hope I have one).
So that's the plan. I'm just telling you so that when I describe what really happens it will be that much funnier. I also want to ask, of those of you who have been to Rome, Copenhagen, Berlin, Amsterdam, Madrid, or Salamanca-- what do I need to do in these places? Those of you at home with guide books are also free to help me out. I am guidebook-less and hoping to avoid the "you didn't go to the ______ when you were in ______?!?" blowups when I go home.
I'm done. I feel good, confident. I've learned so much. I've met wonderful people. I've made a new home in this new Universe. I am a Renaissance Man.

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