I am spending two months here, to return home for medical school in August. I didn't really know what to expect at first, but i knew i would probably like it.. I like that I'm not a "tourist" and most of the time I spend is learning the culture and observing everyday life here. I figure I can always come back for more sightseeing in the future-- and not all alone! For now, most of my time is spend enjoying il dolce far niente. I've certainly noticed that I've slowed my pace and take my time with everything.. not as I expected to be. Back home I've always been prompt about things and doing as much as possible in the least amount of time, constantly running around. I expected to come to Italy and see everything there is to see quickly and efficiently. Instead, I've found myself spending an hour in the coffeeshop, or just sitting in the park for long periods observing everything. Oftentimes I'm also caught by the beauty of a *single* particular thing or path and always ALWAYS go off-track from whatever my "plans" were to see for that day. I enjoy being distracted and not really needing to be at a certain place at a certain time. I am not so concerned as I used to be with doing A, B, and C one after another. Amazing how this atmosphere has transformed me!
There have been a few disappointments. You think "oh i'm really going to be independent, on my own!" etc, like you can do whatever you want whenever you want (within the limits of your morals). I mean it has been a mostly positive experience, knowing that i can get by on my own, and deal with any problem that comes along (with a little help from all the nice people in this country, of course..), but the big disappointment was how remote of a location I'm in. This is obvious heh, because high energy/particle accelerator laboratories are always in isolated/agricultural areas, but i thought it would be easier to get around WHENEVER I wanted. Not quite so... the buses stop running at 8:30PM! It's still light outside! Today the busdrivers are on strike so I am sitting here on Friday writing this. My professor and colleagues also leave the lab very late in the day so it doesn't occur to me to leave earlier to do things. This will be remedied soon though, if i manage to acquire a bicycle. It has taken me a while to be comfortable with myself as a solo traveler/exchange-student. I felt very shy here for the first couple weeks, only going out to make transactions and whatnot if it was totally necessary. I avoided eating until I absolutely was starving and simply had to interact with the public who would undoubtedly look me up-and-down and probably ridicule my lack of knowledge of the language and customs... Nevermind that I'm American, of all things!~ Heh, over time I've realized I don't need to be self-conscious, I have no problem going into a new store/cafe/restaurant and letting them know I barely know what they are saying. and I've learned enough Italian to make a transaction or express how lost I am. Anyway, people are very nice.
The great thing is it's so so SAFE here. Ican walk outside as late as I want in any part of this province (not so in Detroit..)! And people are pretty trustworthy, honest and willing to help out even if you can't communicate verbally.. though if you don't actively seek that help, no one pays attention to you (I'm sure i seem out of place but no one cares). Before I came here, I was worried that wearing hijab might be difficult-- considering how these Catholics feel about new mosques being built in their land and whatnot--, but it's super super easy. People don't care what you believe in or how you dress, and only the other Muslims mention it (like "oh you're pakistani/american?? i totally thought you were iranian/morroccan/turkish.." generalizing and whatnot since there are few Pakistanis or Americans around, nevermind ones that look like me :D). In short, people don't treat me like a freak :). If there is any hatred towards my appearance, it has never been expressed.
Not knowing the Italian language has been the most difficult thing by far-- otherwise I would have adjusted much quicker and not felt so self-conscious about being the "foreigner". In the town nearby, virtually NO ONE speaks english except the pharmacist. They are helpful anyway, but I guess that's customer service/hospitality for you. In the laboratory, of course they speak english, but usually use italian amongst themselves anyway.. Once in a while I ask for translation but most of the time I just sit there trying to figure it out or daydreaming. Unfortunately, I am way too distracted to put time and effort into learning more italian as I'm here.. heh. oh I know enough to get by.. Anyway all the virtual "quiet" time makes it easy for me to keenly observe all the little things that I wouldn't pay attention to if I was occupied with conversation!
Italians treat eating like an art, for sure. At the end of a meal, my plate is always the ugliest.. lol. Coffee(caffe) is also an art, and no complaints with that. My professor makes everything look like an art, though.. He is neat about everything (except his desk, of course he IS still a professor). I guess that would be considered obsessive compulsive, but since the pace is slower, one has the time to be meticulous and perfect everything you do. you should see the man at work when he's wrapping biological samples in foil.. (I thought physics in America was slow but it's twice as slow here). He also got mad at me the first time we sat to eat lunch and I mixed the primi and the secondi (first and second plates of food). Also, one time I tried to have two primi - pasta AND soup -- and they were like you can't have two primis! Either pasta OR soup. ONE primi, ONE secondi. There are rules to these things.. Anyway I'm sick of pasta. and I've discovered that I only like certain cheeses and not others, no matter how PROUD the italians are of their cheese!
The culture is definitely a change.. the long, drawn out lunches with several courses.. the same routine that everyone seems to have here, which I love observing.. The "properness" i'm expected to adhere to when i eat ( I use my hands when they're not looking). And the coffee, which is divine. I am definitely addicted, and I never drank coffee in america (except a well-roasted import on occasion..). I don't know how I'm going to get over the espresso and gelato here. I guess I'll have to buy some coffee to take home, and an espresso machine? and i like how italians stick to their LOCAL tastes and cheeses, you never see foods out of season here (which is how it's supposed to be, naturally.. but god bless America and our GMOs or something?) Italians are proud of so many of their traditions and foods (especially my professor! i guess he's a connoiseur). They eat A LOT but they are active. I think the most rewarding things about this trip is learning the culture in all it's nuances. I feel that 2 months in a country is a must, if you want to figure it all out. In venice, I can tell how different I am from all the tourists walking around, who don't know that you save money if you drink your coffee standing up at the counter rather than grabbing a seat, who complain often, who don't know how to validate their bus tickets, and other little things like that. I also have no problem pretending I'm Italian sometimes and saying "Bravo!" or "e bellisimo!" etc, and of course, "Permesso, grazie, scusi, Prego!". Heh. I'm finding life far far more interesting than sightseeing the beauties of roman history/renaissance/middle ages/whatever. One amusing thing -- they all listen to American pop music here. I also meet many people from around Europe and surroundings here at work. I'm most captivated by the outdoor markets! If I spend every weekend at the marketplace I wouldn't find it a waste of a trip. Shopping in Italy is truly INSANE. I've probably become addicted to fashion as much as I am to the cappuccini. That reminds me of another disappointment -- at most places they only accept cash, and I've grown so accustomed to pulling out the plastic. I'm really not feeling the euro-- and having to carry around so much change (since 1 and 2 Euros are coins)! I mean it is more logical to use cash more than credit, and I appreciate that, but it sucks for me since credit gets the best exchange rate.. Life is pretty expensive here.
On the weekends, I go out to the city, Padua, or Venice (which is gorgeous, but I like life in Padova far far far more.. I never thought I could feel overloaded by art and craftmanship that Venice thrives on, but maybe it's all the tourism and how whimsically silly I find San Marco to be), and I'll be taking many day or weekend trips to other parts of the country. Lined up: Verona, Florence, Rome, Milano, Trent, Cortina d'Ampezzo, and playing the other destinations by ear though time is running out (most likely a day at the beach also-- where I get to re-live my feelings of self-conscious as covered head to toe and surrounded by beautiful half-naked people). Seriously, the women here are beautiful as all hell.. People told me "watch out for those italian men" but forget that (the men look too much like women to me), I can't take my eyes off these blonde haired blue eyed and/or dark-haired models on every corner and they are not shy to show skin/leg. People are fashion slaves here (outside of the laboratory--scientists are too busy for accessorizing). The best is the site of girls wearing high heel stilettos and riding bicycles. I also enjoy seeing men in armani suits on bicycles. Everyone rides bikes. I love that. Beauty is everywhere, art and people. I try to not stick out like some kinda outsider/tourist, but most of the time a specimen of architecture just stops me in my tracks and I stare buildings up and down. I am a huge fan of street-art also, so I'm often seen snapping away at the graffiti on the walls here.. Graffiti just makes me happy, can't explain it.
The laboratory campus is beautiful also.. there are soo many birds and they become so loud to wake you up, I want to look up all the different bird songs I hear. The RABBITS(hares in fact) are the best.. so beautiful. they just look... different, and picturesque. I see them out after sunset. It's so amazing to watch them hopping from one side to the other, and sometimes stopping, gorgeous.. I try to leave vegetables in the grass sometimes for them. I've also seen huge frogs, geckos, and many butterflies. (By the way, did I mention how obsessed Italians are with flowers? MMMM) There's a huge farm next to us and horses grazing nearby.. It's pretty nice. Eventually I'm going to go buy some fresh milk straight from a cow, but I know I better communicate what i want in italian first!
I've made a few friendships so far, but no kindred spirit yet.. I hope that I connect with somebody here on a deeper level of friendship and feel close, but as of now I'm just shy. It's kinda a good thing since I won't be here long. I guess I connect with the barista at the caffeteria here in the campus, the sweetest lady named Norma. She doesn't speak a word of english but we understand each other perfectly.
*istikhara is a special prayer act in Islam that one performs when asking guidance from God to make an important decision.
Oh yeah, here's some photos.
this guy's music sounded on the accordian like the godfather soundtrack, but original. love the sound. classy.
That's Padua.. i'll try to make a separate post with more photos (including venice and other places). til next time, A presto mi amici!