Tuesday, January 31, 2006

We all had to go to the police station in Marino (the next suburb to the east) in order to fill out our permisso di siggorno papers. Now, we filled all the forms out a the school, so when I arrived at the station all I had to do was sign three pieces of paper which I could not have read, even if I had been given the time, because they were written in Italian, take my passport back (the school had them all week to make sure that nothing happened to them between the campus and the station, apperantly they have learned this leason the hard way), and fingerprint me.

Now the only other time I have had my prints taken was at the DPS when I got my driver's licence. There all I had to do was stick my right thumb on this little computer scanner deally-bob and it was done. Here they did not just take one thumb print, and they did not use a computer. I guy in a lab coat covered my hands with increasingly large amounts of ink, as he took prints of first my finger tips alone, then all of my fingers from where they meet the palm to the tip, and then both hands. I looked like I had taken up juggling coal.

I was then shuffled into the next room, a bathroom, to wash my hands. The ink was sticky, the water was bitterly cold, and the soap wasn't much to look at. I must have stood there and scrubbed my hands for ten minutes, and even now, four days latter, the color of my finger tips is a little darker than it was at the start of this trip.

While I'm on the subject of the police station...

There was no smoking allowed in the lobby, just like you can't smoke in any public building in the States, but it was permitted in the office, a fact someone had taken advantage of more then once. There was a paper shredder next to the chair I was sitting in (it was a teeny tiny little office) with an ashtray sitting on top of it. Wierd.
Run to the falling elevator!

That's how I interprited these signs the first time I saw them. I talked to my roomates, and my suitmates, and a few of the guys, and everyone has admited to making the same mistake. Green is just not a color that gets used on indoor signage in the US. The runinng man I can understand as meaning that one needs to travel, and the arrows clearly mean this/that way, but the white boxes confused me. This campus is alone is covered in random staircases and changes of ground level, and it is relativly new and modern but there is only one elevator and it doesn't make much sense to have signs in the Mensa when the machine in question is in the dorm.

It wasn't until I saw a sign in a Metro station that had the word Uscita written on it next to the falling elevator sign that I realized that these were exit signs.
In Amercia, we freeze all manner of food in ways God never intended them to be frozen. We also package things so that one buys more plastic and styrofoam than food. Not so in Italy, here frozen food is sold in bulk. It sits in little tubs in the freezer and waits for you to come buy and scoop it up. They do not just have the things one finds in the states, such as french fries or per-breaded chicken patties (or at least I hope that's chicken) they have all manner of mostly fresh seafood, such as these baby octopi.

Now I can understand the two liter bottle, after all, that has been the standard unit of American soda for years, but here in Italy (soon I will travel to other countries and see if this phenomenom extends past the Alps) the most common size bottle for anything is the 1.5 liter bottle. I've located Coke sold in 2 liter bottles (which are a different shape than the ones we have back home), but nothing asside from Milk (not useful since I don't have access to a fridge) and gasoline (non-potable in any form) have I found sold by the liter. Even water comes like this, six 1.5 liter bottles are sold for .79 EUR at the supermarket. If you can carry it back to school it's a deal.
I mentioned this fence once before in a previous post, and here's a picture to illustrate my point. It was cloudy and kind of rainy on the day I took this, and the sky in the photo is just the right shade of grey to make it seem like it was taken inside, but I promise you, dear reader, that this was taken on a sidewalk along the Via Appia Nuova, if you look at the background closely you can see buildings. The globe behind Nick's head is a streetlight, the large green and white fence next to him is a law-suit waiting to happen.

Photos of Real Italian Culture

There are a lot of pictures in this series, so bear with me.

The thing that has affected me the most has of course been my bathrobe. You see, I left mine in Texas. Now I had gotten used to the way things are back in Catherine Hall, were all the showers have a small changing area, and at home, where I can have the entire bathroom to myself. Not so here, where there are not only no changing areas but six people sharing a bathroom. Rapidly I realized the necessity of having a robe to get myself to and from the shower and for warmth in my pajamas.

A consultation with a well-intentioned guidebook revealed the name of a store that ought to have sold such things. For all I no it did, as I never managed to find the place. When we went looking, Treco, Anna, and I instead managed to locate Chinatown. I did not even know Rome had a Chinatown, but in a few weeks when I finally break under the strain of eating pasta two meals a day every day, I will know where to find alternate food.

The next day, chastised by our inability to opperate a guidebook properly, we went to the supermarket down the street, where we found amongst a truly random assortment of goods -- many of which were not legal for sale in the US -- bathrobes. Now I had three color choices: white, which I rejected on the grounds of being hard to keep clean; pink, which I rejected on princepal; and the third, which by lack of other choices I was forced to accept, which is a color that I describe as "prison jump-suit orange". Asside from one little eye-scorching detail, it's a pretty nice robe.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Details, details

I signed up for a 1 credit, pass fail course here in Rome where we go teach English in one of the local schools. I figured that my Italian isn't very good, and their English isn't very good, so working together one of us has to learn something. The thing is, I was ready to sware, until about five hours ago, that we were going to an elementary school.

Now either the Italian devision of schools is vastly different from the one we use in Texas (not unlikly) or I was just mistaken (also not unlikly). The point is, that the kids, who I will be tutoring, are not what we would call elementary school age in the states. There are mostly in the 13-14 year old range. That would be 7th or 8th grade back home. That would be middle school.

This could get interesting.

Today we just introduced ourselves (14-5 odd of UD students, I didn't count) and played a short game. This ran overtime because there were 13 year olds who had to stop and discuss everything. For the next month or so we're going to write letters back and forth (i.e. the students will write us letters, we'll correct their grammer and write back, and then they will write again) before we go back to the school. At the end of the class in April they are going to come to a luncheon on our campus.

This could get interesting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Baby steps

Baby steps are important when doing new things.

Baby step 1:

The Doppleganger, the Trec, Nick, and I wanted food. It was two in the afternoon and it was Sunday. We had two options, since the Capp Bar and the Mensa were both closed: we could either 1.) go into Rome and wander around until we found something or 2.)stay in Due Santi and wander around until we found something. We chose option two, and started walking. Now the pizzaria just outside the gate is closed for remodeling, so we started for the grocery store. 15 minutes later, we arrived only to be forcably reminded that the natives are not heathens like us Americans, and that the store was closed on Sunday. We walked back to the intersection (of 3 roads in one spot, it boggles the mind) near the school all the way debating on whether it would be better to a.)walk to Albano, b.)go into Rome, or c.)wait another three hours for dinner in the Mensa. We were on the verge of making a decision when three other UDers came out of the bar accross the street, and after crossing, tell us that it is not only open, but there is food and the lady working there is nice. So, we had lunch there. Baby Step 1: operation cross the street is complete.

Baby Step 2:

We got cocky. Spured on by our success in crossing the street, we went into Rome on Monday evening. The purpose of our visit was to buy a bathrobe for me. [I left mine in Texas, and was starting to slowly go mad, as there is no changing area for the showers in my suit, or any of the others for that matter.] I had consulted the guidebook, found the address of a store that ought to have had such a thing, located the store on the map, and written directions from the metro station to the store. Thus armed, the Doppleganger and the Trec joined me for an adventure.

We cought the bus into the city without problems. We got on the correct train without a hitch. We got off at the correct station with no problems. We steped off of the metro and into the Twilight Zone. We followed the signs to la uscita, the exit*, which led us up an out of service elscalator. Out of service things are not unusual over here, so we climbed up and got our exercise for the month. We reached the summit to descover tha it had been blocked off at the top and that we had apparantly gone up the extra down escalator. Trying to appear as nonchalant and non-tourist-like as possible, we left the station.

We emerged on the serface to descover three things: 1.) the sun had set while we were underground; 2.) most of the buildings in the area had some sort of scafalding on them; 3.) we were in Chinatown. I did not even know that there was such a place, but there we were, surrounded by Chinese resturaunts and stores for blocks around. The next time I get really sick of the food in the Mensa I'm going back there. I consulted the directions, and we proceded down the street and around the piazza, and failed completly to find the place.

Just after we had thrown in the towel and started back towards the metro station, we were approached by a group of half a dozen Chinese tourists who were even more lost than we were. We were between Manzoni and San Giovanni, and they were looking for Termini, which is the main train station two stops further down the line. We tried to give them subway directions, and when that failed, we told them to follow us, because we were going that way anyway. We were most of the way back to the station when they finally decided that we didn't know any more than they did, and stopped to ask directions from some of the locals. They did not come running to catch up with us, so I can only hope that they eventually got wherever they were going.

The three of us got back to the station with no further event. The train back to Anagnia was packed, because it was Monday and rush hour, so we spent the twenty minute ride standing. We got to our bus, and found that it was also packed, and had to stand for the ride back to Due Santi. Said ride lasted about 45 minutes because it was the evening rush hour as I said, and traffic was bad, and we made more stops than we had coming in. It was cold outside, and there were a lot of people onboard, so the upperwindows, the ones that we could see out of while standing, fogged up. Luckly the Doppleganger was able to snag a seat after another guy got off. She took a short nap, and woke up while were stopped at a light, then turned to me, nodded to the window and said "Isn't that our bar?"

I bent down to look and sure enough it was the bar at which we had eaten the day before, looking ahead through the front window I saw the car dealership. I alerted the Trec, who reported that someone else had already pushed the button to request a stop. So the light changed, the bus went through the intersection and pulled up to the stop, which is about a 100 yards down on the other side of the light. We squized our way out the door and made it back to campus just in time for dinner.

1.)get to Rome: sucess;
2.)find something in Rome: failure;
3.)direct Chinese tourists all the way back to their hotel: failure;
4.)eat food somewhere other than the Mensa: failure;
5.)buy a bathrobe: failure;
6.)get back to campus: failure

Over all: Operation buy a bathrobe in Rome was a failure. Nothing bad happened to us exactly, no one was assulted, or had their pockets picked, or was kidnapped by gypsies, but we didn't do any of the things we tried to do either. We decided to go back to taking baby steps.

Baby Step 3:

Tuesday, in order to not allow our momentum to be slowed by the previous day's failure set off for the Leon Supermarket. This was the same market which had been closed on Sunday, but we were willing to give it a second chance because breakfast is served in the Mensa at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m., in preperation for 8 a.m. classes**, and we were all pretty sure that we will sleep through breakfast more than once this semester. It's about a 15 minute walk from campus, and uneventful except for the dangers presented by Italian traffic.

Texans and Italians share a disregard for the speed limit. For instance, on the road right in front of the campus -- which is wide enough for two vehicals to pass each other if they are both Vespas -- the speed limit is 50 km/h. I'm not sure what that translates to in miles, other then know that the allowable speed would be a smaller number if expressed in the Imperial system. What it means is that as one walks along the edge of the street (because there is no sidewalk until one gets out to the main road and even then everyone has let their hedge overgrow and it is only possible to walk one abrest) there are cars whipping by at speeds closer to 90 km/h. The other big hazard to pedestrians on this walk is the nursery just next door to the supermarket. It has a six foot high fence*** with some very serious looking spikes on top of it. So far we've made two trips to Leon and back, and none of us have been impaled upon this thing yet. Stay tuned for future developments on that front.

At the supermarket we find food. Cheap food. Good food. Sodas in 1.5 liter bottles, for less than 2 euros. Kindereggs for 75 cents. They also had a random assortment of other things which amazed us uncultured American barbarians, such as frozen baby octopi, sold in bulk. The Trec and I were sucked into the display of books**** which is why the Doppleganger was the first one to spot that the grocery store also sold bathrobes.

1.) get to grocery store: sucess;
2.)procure Nutella and crackers for breakfast: sucess;
3.)find a bathrobe: sucess;
4.)return to campus with spoils: sucess.

Baby step 3: operation walk down the street is a sucess.

Our next step will either be to go to Albano, the next town down the bus line, and explore. Or follow Dr. F's directions and go into Rome and find the Temple of Hercules an the Temple of Saturn. Whatever we decide, I'll have the story here, along with pictures of more Italian cultural oddities.*****


*The Italian exit signs are green, with a white rectangle on them that is evidently supposed to represent a door. These rectangles are accompanied by white arrows to indicate which direction one must go in order to reach an exit. The viginette is completed by a little stick-figure man, of the type that addorn restroom signs the world over, bent into an attitude which is either a sorry attempt at the Thinker or running. As an American, I interprate these signs to mean that one should run to the falling white rectangle. It took me a few days to realize what they really meant, used as I am to glowing signs that say EXIT in six inch high red letters.

**A practice which would be illigal in any civilized country.

***six foot = head height for the Trec and Nick and too close for comfort for me.

****I am taking insturuction from Mark Twain's essay "Italian without a Master" and grabbed the first Harry Potter book in an effort to improve my Italian by reading it.

*****If I can find an Office Supply store, I am going to get myself one of those falling-rectangle exit signs.

Monday, January 23, 2006

This is the first post in a series...

...a series on the theame of "I'm in ______ and you're not!" But I'll get to that in a moment.

So between the last post and now Christmas happened. It was nice, the family did family things, the Church did Churchy things, and a good time was had by all.

Before Christmas, the semester ended and I ended up with a B average, which is not bad for UD. Now comes the fun part. This semester, I'm in Rome, as in the capital of Italy, not the town in Texas. More accuratly I'm in a suburb that is about 45 minutes out of the city by bus, but it's still cool.

Last Saturday morning, I attended mass at the Vatican, in St. Peter's Basilica. The alter at which we were was in one of the basement catacome-y things, so on the other side of the alter was a hallway, with a window in the wall opposite us, through which could be seen the tomb of St. Peter. On our left was the tomb of Pius XI and on our right was the tomb of JPII.

From the Vatican we went on a walking tour, and saw the Spanish Steps and Trevi fountain before meeting with the rest our groups on the Campdolio(sp?). That is one of the most popular places in the city for weddings, and we are in some couples photos, cheering maddly because they were nice, and put up with their photographer's shenanagans. From their, we walked down the back of Capitoline Hill into the Forum. When they say "all roads lead to Rome" this is where the proverbial roads are leading. That's what the picture above is -- my feet on the road leading down into the forum.

The lady running the bar accross the street* was really nice to us, and the closest thing within walking distance that is open on Sunday. So, many fun things going on. Stay tuned as the Doppelganger, the Trec, Nick, and I go looking for a comic shop (we have a map and directions to the place, if we don't get at least one funny story out of this than something is wrong) and we attempt to get tickets to the Olympics.

There is a new link in the side bar to my new photo bucket where I will be posting the best of my pictures this semester.

*the Italian 'bar' is more like what Americans call a 'cafe', it serves cappucino, pasteries, and the like.