Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Nineteenth Tale: Italian Bliss

F*ck, I love Italy. Excuse my language...but, today I was walking back to my host family's house from work and I just couldn't help but appreciate my surroundings to the fullest. I'm in Jesi, which is a small town near Ancona, in the Marché region.

This place is beautiful (which is definitely an understatement). Walking home I was surrounded by the mountains, which are green and just look like massive rolling hills. I followed the signs to the Palazzo dello Sport and wound up on a bike path filled with people doing their daily jog or walk. There were corn fields on my left, and to my right old Italian style houses with laundry hanging up outside, drying like raisins outside on the line in the mellow evening sun. Finally, I recognized the small peach colored apartment building, which looks so industrialized and modern compared to the rest of the city.

Inside my small room, I am gazing out the window, and what I see is beyond gorgeous. There are double doors which open out onto a small balcony. Hanging on the edge of the balcony is a box of petunias that are tenderly looked after by my host mother. Looking out I can see a modern church steeple, whose bells are happy to call out at 9:30 am. Beyond this I see the gorgeous hilly mountains of green and white and tan, all dotted with tiny specks of white that represent other small surrounding villages. The air is the cleanest I've ever felt and breathed, no doubt due to the gorgeous vegetation. Since Korea, I appreciate vegetation more than I ever have before.

The sounds are numerous, and include car motors starting and stopping and people cheering and clapping while whistles blow for a soccer match across the street. Motorcycles buzz and sputter by, and cars slowly woosh past.

My host family is lovely, and include a middle aged man called Renato, his wife Federica, and their two boys aged 12 and 7, Francesco and Alessandro. The boys are quiet and well-behaved, and Francesco patiently helps his mother translate her Italian to English so that she can communicate with me. "Come si dice??" she asks frantically. As is typical in Italy, the husband (Renato) speaks better English than Federica because he travels more internationally for his job. They are interestingly enough both in the furniture business; he is in some kind of furniture information technology, and she designs and sells furniture. I also met Federica's brother Luca, who is studying to be an architect. The whole family is from Jesi many years back, and Luca is the only outcast who was bold enough to venture out to Rome. It is clear that Federica wants him back here, as she speaks her broken English and waves her spoon at him menacingly, "you MAST come back to Yay-si!" (as they pronounce Jesi).

Federica is an excellent cook, and the family feeds me ridiculous amounts of food (as is also typical in Italy). These people eat more than I have ever seen in my youth or adult life, and yet they are so slim. My first dinner consisted of prosciutto, toasted pita slices, three different kinds of cheese (ricotta, mozarella and a local cheese), fresh basil salad with tomatoes and olive oil, roasted zucchini and breaded stuffed olives. "Mangiare!" they insist, as soon as my fork appears to waver for even a moment. Federica was upset that my first day of camp I only ate half a slice of the coffee cake and coffee for breakfast; I tried to explain that I was still full from the night before, nervous and stressed and just plain not hungry, but that didn't seem to appease her at all. Now she says at breakfast, "eat, eat, eat!" and she tells her husband in Italian that I eat such a small amount (even though I ate two breaded chicken breasts last night at her insistence). My nightly routine has become popping two Tums 750 and saying prayers that I don't throw up my dinner.

Camp has been going much better than the last two camps I had in 2008. I chalk this up to the fact that I have the older kids, who are much calmer, and that I'm in a smaller town, so the children are better behaved. My kids are good and they actually enjoy down time, so that makes me happy. They have a wide range of interests and their English comprehension is much better than all of the kids I've taught in the past.

So, all in all, life right now is excellent. Alora, speaking of food, I have just been informed by Federica that my dinner is ready.

I'll update everyone again ASAP.

Love you all,
Anna <3

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Eighteenth Tale: A Little Taste of Madrid...

It's 12:34 AM on Sunday and I'm sitting awake in my bed after trying (obviously, unsuccessfully) to fall asleep. I leave the hostel in less than three hours and have approximately two more hours to sleep...so, instead, I decided to blog.

Chueca, the district in Madrid where my hostel is located, is still bustling insanely at this hour, and it will continue to do so until about 5 in the morning. Even with my earplugs in, I can hear and feel bass from a neighboring dance club (most likely a gay club, as this is the well-known gay district). Different intonations and accents meld together and glide through the panes of glass in my windows; laughter can be heard distinctly above the din. This is Madrid: alive at all hours of the day and night.

During the day, the weather here has been absolutely perfect- mid 70s-mid 80s, and always a breeze. The breeze carries with it smells of tapas, jamon and spices, freshly baked bread and occasionally, perfume.

Today was spent with a new friend, Caitlyn, whom I met through my longtime friend, Paul. She will soon be completing her thesis with a program called Network Of Humanitarian Action or NOHA, and has been living in Germany for the past year. She moved to Spain to do an internship with an NGO here, and knows quite a bit more Spanish than I do. We had a really great time together, sitting at the cafes both outside and in, having meals and discussing life.

The great thing about traveling is finding a lot of like-minded people...people who believe in learning about the world and other people in it, people who are interested in humanitarian action, people who believe in maintaining an open mind about others, people who enjoy having more philosophical discussions about life in general. I won't say that everyone I've met has been like this (especially in Korea), but I have found that many who travel abroad do seem to share these qualities.

As an aside, I should mention that another great quality Caitlyn had was being extremely helpful to me...because of course, I had only been here for two days, and managed to roll my ankle by falling down some extremely uneven, antiquated stairs here at the hostel. Luckily, nothing seemed too serious, but my foot did swell on the left side and turned black and blue. So, Caitlyn also volunteered to be my crutch, helped me locate ice, an ankle brace, even bought me snacks. How wonderful is it to meet people that will treat you so well upon first introduction? I felt quite guilty for taking so much advantage of someone whom I had just met. When I thanked her profusely for her actions and told her that I felt bad she had to do all of those things for me, she said "think, if the situation were reversed, you know you would do the same for me." I thought about it, and came to the conclusion that what she said was quite true. Wouldn't I do the same thing? So, I decided I should just be thankful and resolve to do the same for someone else, if it is needed. :)

The timing of the ankle roll was quite perfect, in true Anna style, because I am leaving for Madrid and will start training camp in San Remo tomorrow, which is very physical. I really am hoping that they will take a little pity on me and let me rest the ankle a bit the first couple of days, so that I can recover fully before starting camp. The ankle/foot itself already seems much better than it was when it first happened yesterday morning, and has been reduced to only one black and blue spot, and seems to support my full weight better than before. Anyway, always a reminder from the universe to slow down and take care of myself...just wish I wouldn't get that reminder when upcoming outward events require that I speed UP!

So...all in all, I am grateful that my ankle seems to be healing quite well; grateful to have met a new friend, grateful to have spent time with an old friend, and grateful to have gotten a little taste of Madrid. I am hopeful that the feelings of disorientation that come along with starting a new journey and taking lots of short trips will subside soon. I can't help still feeling a bit homesick already at times and missing friends and family. As I remember, I felt pretty similar upon my arrival in Korea, and I think it's only a natural feeling, especially for me. Just gotta "give myself some Grace", as my friend Kate says, and as much TLC as possible. :)

Missing you all, wish you were here experiencing life with me, but grateful that you can even get this close.

Much, much love,
Anna <3

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Seventeenth Tale: Ready or Not, Here I...Am?

This is by far the strangest I've felt going on any trip I've ever had. Sitting in airplanes and airports for hours is starting to feel very familiar...they all look relatively the same.

However, the feeling I had while starting this trip is wholly unfamiliar. I think this is the first time I've gone overseas and actually consciously second-guessed my decision to do so, and felt SO nervous about it. Panicked, even. I could feel myself starting to get panicky on the plane, realizing that I am all alone right now. If something happens to me here, I am alone. I don't remember feeling this nervous at all about going to Korea. I remember feeling really excited, but not nervous. Part of me is saying, "what the hell am I doing?!" But then, I consider going back to my comfort zone, and although there are attractive aspects of that idea, I don't want to.

Then I look around, and even though this airport looks relatively the same, all of a sudden it's hitting me that I'M SITTING IN DUBLIN, IRELAND! That in and of itself is pretty cool.

So, I guess that, even if it doesn't feel normal, it absolutely IS normal that I'm feeling the way that I am (especially considering that I have basically been up for almost 24 hours straight now, and lack of sleep if certainly having an effect). Given that fact, I have decided that the thing to do for now is: 1)Focus on one task at a time, and 2) Live in the moment, or I will miss out on what it happening around me. It's so easy to worry. period...that's why paying attention to what is around you is so important.

So...what's happening around me right now? Bet you wanted to know. There is a group of Irish girlfriends chatting away merrily about a magazine they're reading. There's a small group of Chinese people to my left, annoying me with the tonal nature of their native tongue. To my right is a group of older, attractively well-dressed French ladies, chattering away so fast I can only decipher "l'avion" out of the plethora of words. The direction signs are all written in Gaelic and English, so "Gates" reads "Geatai", and airline lounges are "Tolglanna Aerlinte". I passed a shop selling Irish gear and of course right away am tempted to buy a fitted green soccer jacket that says "Ireland" in white letters across the front, accented by white cuffs and collar with pink stripes. Ah, but that 26.50 Euro is too steep a price tag for my budget at the moment, and I'd have no room to pack it, anyway.

There are lots of attractive people here; also a few unattractive. I hate to say it, but the most unattractive people are usually Americans and can be spotted from what seems like miles away. Sometimes I am embarrassed by my fellow countrymen while I am traveling abroad. For example, behind me just a moment ago was a rather impressively large lady who was clearly from the U.S., somewhere in the south. She had a thick drawl and felt it fine to take the liberty (quite unabashedly) to practically yell across the aisle (a good 10 feet away) to her counterpart, a younger southern American woman. Nobody could ignore the conversation about "creamed corn" and "cooking broccoli to mush", gotta be careful not to do that...in her opinion. While I might agree with that opinion, I cannot say that I would have cared to be let in on it in the first place. I simply don't understand why we Americans do not adjust ourselves according to the tone of other cultures when we are visiting them. Have we no perception of what is going on around us? We are such a loud breed. I can understand why people perceive Americans as obnoxious. So, take a tip from me: if no one else around you in another country besides the US is yelling, you probably shouldn't be, either. Can that creamed corn and broccoli mush. Or shut your pie-hole, whichever you prefer.

And another thing, Americans- don't dress like crap abroad, please. YEA. I'm talking to you, miss giant oversized Boston Red Sox Tee Shirt woman. Yea. You. In fact, you should probably throw that shirt out altogether...or at least wear it in the privacy of your own home, where it belongs. People should not be subjected to your dirty fashion faux-pas.

So, that's that for now...I'm off to the airport pub for lunch and a pint. Need something to calm the nerves, and have a sneaking suspicion that Guiness may be the best solution to that problem.

Stay tuned, folks...more updates coming your way, ASAP.

<3, Me