Uffizi! Pitti! Ponte Vecchio! Pecorino!

As promised, I spent today at the Uffizi Gallery and then the Pitti Palace, getting a massive dose of art, history, and culture. Or rather, being confronted by the many gaps in my own education. The Medici: why were there so many of them? How were they allied to the other crowned heads of Europe (Hapsburg, Lorraine, Bourbon, etc.)? Why did so many end up in the Church? Were they all named Cosimo? Why can’t I tell saints apart in paintings or remember gods’ and goddesses’ attributes? Why is John the Baptist in so many paintings with the baby Jesus? I know what the Annunciation is but what’s the Assumption? Answers on a postcard, please.

I do think the Uffizi has the intended effect even if one does not know all the historical and religious details behind it. The sheer amount of art on view suggests the extent of the Medici family’s wealth, power, and influence. Seeing a Leonardo or a Caravaggio or a Velasquez is incredible, of course, but I was most impressed by the long hallways lined with portraits, busts, and statues: classical antiquity literally under the gaze of powerful Renaissance figures. The Pitti shows off the dynastic excess of the Medici in a whole different way. Room after room of frescoed ceilings, silk-hung walls, paintings, decorative arts, jewelry, and more. After a while I wondered if they ever got tired of looking at it all. Did any Medici ever long for an Ikea couch and plain white walls? Anyway, since I was on my own I just stayed for as long as I wanted, took pictures of things I thought were interesting, and took breaks when I felt like it. I highly recommend this approach to museum-going, especially since there’s so much to see that you’re bound to miss something and should not feel bad when that’s the case.

So the rest of this post will be my pictures with captions—definitely not a knowledgeable tour of the Uffizi and Pitti given by an expert art historian. In fact, if you are reverent about art, you may get annoyed with me! Don’t forget to click and enlarge the pictures.

Portraits along the crown molding and busts alternating with statues, all the way down three long hallways.

Portraits of the Duke & Duchess of Urbino. The placard described their appearance as “completely unruffled by emotion or anxiety” but I think they just look supercilious.

La Tribuna: if the Uffizi is extra, the Tribuna is EXTRA extra. I read that in the 18th century it was a popular stop on the Grand Tour. Judging by the crowds, some things never change.

The domed ceiling of the Tribuna, inlaid with shells.

Alongside the Tribuna is a room of miniature classical statues and other curiosities including this “big toe broken off from a monumental statue.”

Looking out a window at Uffizi–you can see how long those long hallway galleries are.

The Uffizi is full of Holy Family paintings but this one caught my attention because they seem to be reading to baby Jesus. Good parenting!

 

The Cranach portraits of Martin Luther and his wife. Don’t they just look like people who could invent Protestantism?

Madonna and Child paintings are all over the Uffizi as well, but this one distinguishes itself by making its subjects look extremely unappealing.

Looking toward the Duomo from the Uffizi balcony.

I submit that Titian only had one dog, who was very sleepy, and he wanted to put it in all his pictures.

Ignore the gory beheading and look at Judith and her maid’s faces. That no-nonsense look is so familiar to any woman who has ever cleaned up vomit, taken innards out of a turkey, or washed hockey gear. No surprise that a woman painted it: Artemisia Gentileschi.

I love (a) “night light” paintings and (b) Annunciation scenes in which Mary looks extremely nonplussed.

Now we go from the Uffizi to the Pitti. Come along!

This is the Ponte Vecchio. Easy to imagine a time when all the bridges over the Arno (and the Seine, etc.) were occupied with these chockablock little shops or homes.

The costume gallery at Palazzo Pitti. This is an exhibit about dialogues between art and fashion.

YES PLZ

Ballgown with pockets!

Jacket with Florence on it

I just love 18C portraits. And portraits in general, really.

An enormous 19th-century music box

The plaque says this is some Grand Duke or other but this is clearly Prince Albert from _Victoria_ and I will not be told otherwise.

Not physically like our dog Zouki at all, but definitely a similar attitude!

Looking up the “Monumental Staircase” in the Pitti.

Looking up from the Pitti courtyard toward the Giardino Boboli, which I missed visiting because of the intermittent rain.

This painting is a Botticelli and therefore Important, but I want to shout back through time at the model, “STAND UP STRAIGHT!”

This is about the time when I started to think wistfully of midcentury modernism.

I always meet friends at these museums.

“What? These are my casual reading clothes.”

Curtained beds give me the yips.

Ferdinando III, whose “traveling nécessaire” this was, did not subscribe to the elitist culture of packing light.

This is a salt cellar. When my grandmother collected salt cellars they did not look like this!

Finally found a Medici family tree (hand-drawn in 1699) on display around 3 p.m. after needing one all day. They should hand out copies at the entrance.

Outside the Pitti. It’s pretty forbidding-looking.

And back to my hotel via some window shopping and at least one cappuccino (not pictured):

Dostoevsky wrote _The Idiot_ in this house.

Looking down the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio.

One last attempt to get the whole Duomo complex in one picture. I’m pretty proud of this shot.

Now back from my last dinner in Florence (*snif*) and I must recommend my new favorite antipasto:

Pecorino Romano with honey and thyme. Eat this immediately!

And so to bed. Thanks for coming along on my all-Medici day! Tomorrow I leave Florence at a time so early that I refuse to think about it right now. I’d rather go to bed tonight with visions of great artworks dancing in my head.

Buongiorno Siena: All’s well that ends well

It’s 8:40 p.m. in Siena where I am ensconced in my hotel after a big day. Or day and a half? I left Atlanta at 4:30 p.m. EDT yesterday (Monday) afternoon, landed in Paris at 6:00 CET (Central European Time) this morning (Tuesday), missed my connection to Florence and had to be rebooked, and finally made it to Florence at 11:30 a.m. only to discover that my suitcase did not make the trip to Florence along with me. At least I feel validated in my decision to put a change of clothes in my carry-on!

I had to file a claim at the Florence airport for the suitcase, which will hopefully be delivered tomorrow. After that was done, I met up with Dr. Jim Anderson (former Director of International Education at Armstrong State University, now consultant to the Dante Alighieri Institute here in Florence) and Dr. Dorothée Mertz-Weigel (Director of International Education at Georgia Southern University) for the drive from Florence to Siena. We dropped off our stuff at the hotel, where we were met by Luca Bonomi and Sonia di Centa from the Dante Alighieri Institute, and headed straight to lunch at a small restaurant that Luca knows. Need I specify that the food was delicious? I had “pici”–sort of fat spaghetti with a garlic tomato sauce–and shared in the antipasti ordered for the table: bruschetta (always good; extra good when made with super-fresh olive oil), and wedges of aged Pecorino Romano drizzled with honey and a little pepper (you should eat this right now!). I’m so glad the meal ended with a double espresso or I’d have needed a nap right then and there.

Instead of a nap (remember: no naps on your first day in Europe!), we walked over to the Piazza Publico (public square), popularly called “el Campo,” and toured the city museum. I am glad I am already learning at least a tiny bit about this city’s history, but there’s so much more to learn. Italy is a young country but an old culture, which is interesting: the museum is housed in a building that’s over 600 years old and features 14th-century frescoes but also contains a room from the 19th century celebrating Italy’s unification. I took some pictures:

This building houses the city museum. Tomorrow I will work on finding out what it’s called.

Here’s Luca telling us about the 15th-century fresco depicting an allegory of good government.

Another 15C fresco–Mary and Jesus surrounded by saints as Mary gives a message to the city of Siena.

I photographed this espresso machine so that my espresso machine would have something to aspire to.

In the late afternoon we met for an hour with the 7 students from Georgia Southern who are spending their spring semester here. They were fantastic! Meeting students is always my favorite part of these visits. It’s clear that this group has become expert travelers and gained a lot of confidence and self-awareness by participating in this program. I am looking forward to seeing them again tomorrow evening when we get to join in their cooking class and then eat dinner (i.e., the dinner we will have cooked) with them.

This year’s students with Dr. Jim Anderson

By the time we were done with the students it was too early for dinner by Italian standards, and we’d had a late lunch, so we ended the day with a glass of wine and some appetizers at a patio bar on the Campo. We discussed the 2019 program a little bit this afternoon and evening  but tomorrow we’ll be meeting with Luca and Sonia to really start working out details. Luca is also going to tell us more about the contrade (the neighborhoods that form individual cultural identities within Siena) and take us to the museum celebrating his contrada, Tower. I do not quite understand the contrada phenomenon yet, so tune in tomorrow.

More soon–hoping to do some more Facebook Live or an Instagram video during the cooking class. Everybody hold a good thought for the arrival of my suitcase, please!

On the Road (or Plane) Again: Semester in Siena visit coming up

I’m excited to be posting again after a very long silence! Last June I had to bail out on blogging altogether due to mysterious posting problems that seem to be solved now. It’s a good time to have a functioning travel blog as I am setting off for Siena, Italy on Monday (12 March) to visit the Semester in Siena program that Middle Georgia State University is now offering in cooperation with Georgia Southern University and the Dante Alighieri Institute in Siena. This program is a major expansion of our international offerings and a great opportunity for students to immerse themselves in Italian culture for an entire semester. I can’t wait to learn more about it, experience some of the highlights firsthand, and share it with everybody. Hoping to do lots of photos and/or video, blogging, and social media posts during my trip, which will include 2 days on my own in Florence (sounds better in Italian: Firenze) before I return to the States on Sunday 18 March. This will be my first trip on my freshly renewed passport, I have my packing list ready to swing into action this weekend, and I’ve been working diligently on my Italian, learning sentences I probably will not use (e.g. “Vorrei dare una festa” and “La camera non mi piace”) plus some I will (“Sono vegetariana” and “Quanto costa un cappucino?”). I think I am almost ready!

If you’re a member of the Middle Georgia State University community, please make sure you’re following the Office of International Programs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as I’ll be posting there as well as here as much as I can.

Stay tuned!

25 May 2017: Knights Impact does Concrete Floors & Caribbean Culture

As promised, today was a big day! My cohort had wanted to do the “Concrete Floors in Community Homes” activity as a group but it filled up quickly. By chance, I was the only one who got a spot in it. So at 8:00 this morning I was back in my grubby clothes from Reforestation and rolling out on the bus toward a tiny neighborhood called San Marcos. To reach San Marcos we had to get off the bus on the side of the highway, more or less, and cross a swaying wooden footbridge to reach a dirt road lined with at most a dozen houses. We were working in 3 houses: two that had just one room each needing a floor, and a third that was getting concrete put in throughout the house. I ended up working in the third house. The facilitators introduced us to the owners of the houses, who were incredibly nice but a bit shy. One facilitator mentioned that San Marcos had never had such large groups of visitors before. I am sure they did not know what to make of us. But the owner of the house I worked in warmed up enough to want to show me a picture of his family on the wall, as well as the pigs he was raising in the back yard. I asked the facilitator how people in San Marcos provide for themselves and she said they might work in town but they also raise their own livestock, fruits, and vegetables. We saw cows, chickens, ducks, and a donkey during our morning there as well as the pigs.

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We got organized into a bucket brigade pretty quickly while a few volunteers mixed and shoveled the concrete in the middle of the dirt road (N. B.: This arrangement requires work to halt briefly when cows are coming through). Full buckets went in, empty buckets went out, and the few professional construction workers on the site spread and leveled the concrete as well as adding a layer of colored pigment over the smoothed concrete. This gentleman will have a great-looking yellow floor—in fact, probably already has it, by now, because another group was coming through in the afternoon to complete the work that we did not have time to finish. It was hard work passing the buckets and I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow, but it is really rewarding to think that in just one day we hugely improved someone’s quality of life. Imagine how hard it would be to clean up after a flood—flooding happens here, and San Marcos is right up against a river—if you had dirt floors in your house. For that matter, how much harder is it to keep a clean house from day to day if floors are dirt? All the owners were very pleased as well as a little disbelieving. One woman said she didn’t believe she was really getting a concrete floor until the supplies started showing up. She said that politicians sometimes come to their neighborhood and make promises, and then nothing ever happens. That touched me as much as anything because I pride myself on living up to what I say I’m going to do. I’d like to meet the politician who could make an empty promise to a soft-spoken woman and her baby daughter living in a cinderblock house with a dirt floor—but that politician probably doesn’t want to meet me.

One downside to doing concrete floors is that one gets incredibly dirty. 50% sweat, 50% concrete smudges, and I even got some yellow coloring powder on the strap of my bag. Luckily I had time to shower, change, and eat lunch before reporting back to Amber Cove to leave for the Caribbean Culture tour. True confession about Caribbean Culture: when I did it in January I enjoyed it, but felt like the tour guide’s talk was not as in-depth as I’d have liked. Nevertheless, I recommended it to my students as the cultural activity for our group because it offered the most cultural/historical content in a fairly short timeframe. I ended up glad I stuck with it because we had an excellent tour guide today (shout out to Mr. Oscar Rodriguez!): funny, knowledgeable, open to questions, obviously enjoyed his work. We went to the San Felipe Fortress first but cut that a bit short because it was incredibly windy (the fort is right on the coast). I kept having to hold my dress down because I’m not ready for Puerto Plata to know me quite that well yet. Second stop was the town square and San Felipe cathedral, which I love. It came back to me in a flash that the last time I was here, the Christmas decorations were still up. We drank coconut water, bought souvenirs, and got to see a cigar-making demonstration (fun cigar fact: some of the best cigar wrapper leaves come from Connecticut). Then the last stop was at the gorgeous botanical garden owned by Rafy Vasquez, a Dominican-born, Canadian-educated artist whose family has owned his property for three generations. It was great to see everything again and hear about it from Oscar, who was agreeably critical of (1) Catholicism as a state religion, (2) people’s misunderstandings about voodoo, (3) Christopher Columbus, (4) corrupt bureaucracy, (5) Dominican drivers.

(N. B.: My experience suggests that sensible people in general should be critical of Dominican drivers.)

On the way back to the port we drove along Ocean View Avenue, known locally as the Malecon. Oscar called an audible and let us stop for pictures of the statue of Neptune that stands on a rock out in the water. That was cool enough, but the sunset was incredible and the beach is gorgeous. I almost didn’t get out and now I’m really glad I did.

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Puerto Plata central square–Plaza Independencia

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San Felipe Cathedral

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Fresh coconut water

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Last time I saw this gazebo it had Christmas lights on it.

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Look closely. Ice cream shop takes Bitcoin?

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Cigar-rolling demonstration

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Fort San Felipe

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Students at the fort

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Outside the fort (inside the bus)

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DR’s flag is the only one in the world with a Bible on it.

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Sunset at the beach

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Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

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Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

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Students on the beach

 

Now it is after 10 p.m. and I am waiting on my laundry to dry while watching a Top Gear episode before bed. Tomorrow is our last activity; we sail around noon. Our time here goes so fast. I shed a few tears when we sailed away last time and I’m sure I’ll do the same tomorrow.

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 5: Cultural excursion—5 January 2017

I spent the morning today in Amber Cove working on the program documentation and inflicting my Spanish on innocent Dominicans who deserve better. One drawback of this type of travel is that it isn’t an immersive language experience unless you go out of your way to make it more immersive. But I figured out that if I told the Dominican employees at Amber Cove (and elsewhere) that I was practicing my Spanish, they would help me by speaking Spanish to me, slowing down, and also seeing when I didn’t understand and going back to English. As always, people are grateful when we make even a small effort to speak their language. Today I learned how to say “I am learning” (Estoy aprendida) and I learned what rum that isn’t white is called: dorado (golden). I figured café (brown) couldn’t possibly be right! I also learned the word for “ice cubes” but I have forgotten it. Luckily I rarely use ice cubes, so no great loss. Most of all I am proud of myself for successfully asking “Do you have an espresso machine?” which is an important inquiry to be able to make. Tienes una maquina de espresso? (Note to self: learn how to type the upside-down question mark before a sentence and learn what it is called.)

My afternoon today was the “Caribbean Culture” excursion, a visit to a few important sites in Puerto Plata with a guide who taught us some basic cultural and historical information along the way. We began in the town square, which features some Victorian architecture, a cathedral, and statues of two heroes from Dominican history, Juan Pablo Duarte and General Gregorio Luperon. Facing the square is the bright-yellow Neoclassical-style town hall featuring the arms of the city. On the coat of arms appear an F and a Y for Ferdinand and Isabella, a reference to this island’s history as a Spanish colony.

The gazebo in the town square

The gazebo in the town square

The city hall

The city hall

The square from across the street

The square from across the street

The cathedral, San Felipe, is of course vastly different from the elaborate stone edifices seen in Europe but it fits the architecture of the square and the reality of the climate. Our guide mentioned that the cathedral was restored and improved most recently in 2010, including the addition of air conditioning for Sundays when everyone comes to Mass. Today, a Thursday, the A/C was off and the windows and doors were wide open. I did not get to follow my usual practice of lighting a candle at the Sacred Heart shrine (I am not Catholic but I have cultivated a habit of doing this when I visit cathedrals) because this cathedral did not have candles available in exchange for donations. BYOC: Bring Your Own Candle. I will know for next time and proceed accordingly.

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Sacred Heart altar

Sacred Heart altar

Leaving the square we crossed the street to a vendor’s cart; he had fresh coconuts, a machete, and straws and we all got to have fresh coconut water. That was a minor revelation to me: I have had packaged coconut water a few times and don’t care for it because it always tastes, well, packaged. This coconut water had a very mild taste that combined sweetness and a sort of vegetable freshness. I enjoyed it and am convinced that it helped keep me from getting dehydrated during the tour.

Intimidatingly large!

Intimidatingly large!

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Next step: souvenirs! We visited a large souvenir shop that was about 1/3 jewelry made from amber and larimar. The DR produces a lot of amber and they are very proud of their amber production. We learned that real amber will float in saltwater whereas fake amber will sink. Good to know, right? Larimar is a blue stone that is apparently found only in the DR. I had never heard of it but had noticed it even in the gift shops here on the ship. It is pale blue to deep aqua blue veined with white and the story goes that the person who discovered it named it for his daughter’s name plus “mar” for the sea. To me it really does look like some of the colors I saw in the water as the ship was sailing along.

With souvenirs in hand we went on to Fort San Felipe. The fort is on the coast and was built in the 16th century to protect the entrance to the city and its sugar refineries. It was also used in the 19th century as a jail and Juan Pablo Duarte was imprisoned there at one time. I was struck by how broadly similar the construction was to that of William the Conqueror’s castle in Normandy and Cahir Castle in Ireland, though those structures are not really close chronologically. Maybe there are only so many ways to build a fort if you’re a European? One room inside the fort held a series of placards announcing “firsts” in the Americas that belong to the Dominican Republic: first cities to be awarded a coat of arms, first book written in Castilian, first university. One could argue that those firsts are problematic as they all belong to the country’s Spanish colonial background, but it’s clear that the country is proud of them.

Fort San Felipe

Fort San Felipe

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

The final stop was a fascinating place called Mares that houses a restaurant, art gallery, gift shop, and a small botanical garden growing beautiful orchids. After a few days’ exposure to more disadvantaged areas it was interesting to see that there is more economic diversity in Puerto Plata than I realized—the area around Mares is more residential and established, with paved streets and larger houses. And after a warm day and a fair amount of walking and looking, it was nice to spend some time in this unexpected oasis. We had fresh fruit and chips with fresh salsa between photographing the orchids and chatting with the artist whose work was on display. It was a pleasant way to end the day.

Inside the botanical garden

Inside the botanical garden

Our route back to Amber Cove took us along a 7-kilometer stretch of beach and past a statue of Neptune that stands on a small island offshore. It also took us through a gas station and past a tire shop because our bus had a tire that was leaking air. Not to worry, though: we got back with no problem in time to have dinner and talk about our adventures. Tomorrow the ship sails at noon and I can’t believe this adventure is nearly over.

One final note: today I tore one of my contact lenses as I was cleaning them! In thirty years wearing lenses this is only the second time I’ve torn a lens. Because I never tear lenses and I was only going to be gone a week, I did not bring an extra pair. To my chagrin I am stuck wearing my battered 8-year-old glasses for the rest of the trip. Be prepared, dear readers! Bring the extra lenses!

Don't let this happen to you!

Don’t let this happen to you!

Un regard ouvert sur la Grande Mosquée

On my first trip to France in 2004 (when I was a student rather than a professor on Study Abroad), we had a little cultural orientation at the beginning of our stay and we learned that Americans have un regard ouvert, which means “an open look.” Compared to other cultures we look other people in the eye more readily and we are quicker to presume or create relationships with others whereas the French are more private. We were told about this idea in the context of a warning: be careful about looking people in the eye on the street (it’s not done) and be ready for more formality and social distance than you are used to. So over lunch today I told my students about this idea. They readily understood and agreed that it was correct, but also said that they think un regard ouvert is good because it means you’re open to new people and situations, and you are willing to take an interest in others. From their perspective, I can’t disagree, and they carry their open eyes into our class and our field trips in a very positive way.

So today we took our American openness to the Grande Mosquée and then to its attached café for lunch. Dr. Yahgoobi brought her class to the mosque with us as well. Click through for the details and pictures, s’il vous plaît?

We had the same tour guide, Yemina, as last year. She is very friendly, obviously loves her faith and is a great ambassador for a religion that is not always regarded positively. She’s also patient with my imperfect skills as a translator, so I was happy to see her again!

The mosque was constructed between 1922 and 1926 from stone, marble, plaster, ceramic, and wood, with decorations in mosaic tile, stucco, and cedar of Lebanon. Most of the woodwork, several chandeliers, and some of the wall hangings were donated by imams and kings from other countries.

The horseshoe-shaped arches are typical of the “hispano-mauresque” style.

Stucco decorations–made of marble dust mixed with plaster. See the calligraphy inset?

Mosaic decoration–the dark brown tile above the mosaic has calligraphy that tells the story of the mosque in verse as well as representing some Koranic verses.

Yemina explained that helping construct a mosque is thought of as something like a donation and that it makes you a part of the mosque’s history. Since Islam does not practice iconography at all (no images of people or animals) the whole mosque is decorated only with geometric patterns and calligraphy. The garden contains beautiful rose bushes (still in bloom–I told Yemina that roses in Georgia finished blooming weeks ago), citrus trees, and fig trees as well as fountains and little basins.

The crescent represents the Muslim lunar calendar. The star represents the 5 pillars of Islam: the shahadah, prayer 5 times a day, giving to the poor, observing Ramadan, and the hajj.

A square minaret, typical of North African mosques.

The students were very attentive through the tour and asked some good questions. I got a little tangled up in what I thought I remembered about Islam (from my high school World Religions class in 1990, cough cough) and Yemina had to set me straight but it all worked out. I learned from Dr. Yaghoobi that “shahadah,” the name of the Muslim profession of faith (“There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet, may peace be upon him”) means “testimony.” When Yemina recited it in French she said “Je temoigne que . . . ” at the beginning: “I testify that . . . ”  Somehow the whole thing made a lot more sense to me after that.

We took pictures together:

Then we ate in the café. For unfamiliar food it’s good to have un regard ouvert. If we learned nothing else today we learned what couscous is, what a tagine is, and why mint tea is a good idea. One student ordered “pastilla” and was surprised, although not displeased, to receive a meat pie. This is what I love about study abroad: you learn something everywhere you go!
Mint tea, y’all.

From “What’s couscous?” to “Can we get more couscous?” in 1 hour or less.

Chow Italia, Part 2

It was late by the time we returned from Alberobello on Friday night, so Saturday we blew off a trip to the beach (probably a bad decision, in retrospect) in favor of relaxing, watching Italian TV (i.e. American TV dubbed in Italian, plus some baffling infomercials), and spending time with Karine and Antonio’s kittens. In Italian, “kittens” is “gattini.” Easy to remember because kittens are teeny!
This is Maurice Ravel.

This is Coco Chanel.
(also pictured: the nifty tile floors in the apartment)
In the afternoon I went with Karine to buy cheese and vegetables at some of the small shops in Corato. The whole weekend was a linguistic and cultural adventure and this may have been the highlight. The man who runs the cheese shop loves Karine so he dished out some fresh mozzarella knots for us to try as soon as we came in the door. Then he chatted with her while taking her order even though there was a line and some people were griping at him to hurry it along. Karine says she is not always accepted everywhere in Corato but obviously she is well beloved at the cheese shop and at the fruit-and-vegetable shop where she got guidance about her lemon trees. It was fun just to tag along even though I couldn’t understand everything or contribute much. Karine would just point at me and say “Famiglia!”
That night after serving as Antonio’s roadies (broken elevator, music gear up 6 flights of stairs: let’s try to forget that this ever happened) we went and got takeout pizza from a place called Pizza Teatro. It was jam-packed and boiling hot with a disorderly queue and one beleaguered waiter rushing back and forth with pizzas for the people eating at the tables outside the restaurant. Naturally, the pizza was delicious. I had a “Caprese” which was black olives, fresh tomatoes, and onion on a thin crust cooked in a brick oven. Worth the wait and the strange drama of ordering and paying there. Afterward I told Karine that it’s called Pizza Teatro because they could film a reality show in the restaurant.
It was very interesting being a native English speaker/second-language French speaker on this trip. Daniel and Karine have French as their first language and English as their second. Antonio is a native Italian speaker (of course) with English as his second language and no French. And Karine has learned to speak Italian incredibly well in only a year and a half. So when Daniel, Karine, and I or just Karine and I were together we would speak French because she doesn’t get to speak French very often. When the 4 of us were together we would speak English, and I would be the only one without (to my own ears) a melodious accent. But I learned a few words in Italian, such as “Molto bene!” which means “Very good.” Lots of things in Italy are molto bene.
Yesterday morning we went to the Adriatic coast for a photo op before heading to the airport. It was very crowded but so pretty!

Cousin love!

Look, I was there!
Soon it was time to take our flight back and our Italian adventure was over. Karine says we need to come for 2 weeks next time so we can travel around. Good idea or GREAT idea? In any case I am so grateful for the warm welcome we received there and the fun and relaxing time we had. Hooray, Italy! 

Chow Italia, Part 1

Daniel and I are back in Paris after a fantastic weekend in Italy with his cousin Karine and her boyfriend Antonio. It was terribly hot the whole time we were there, and neither of us speaks any Italian, and we flew Ryanair, and the whole thing could have been disaster, but instead we had a great time. Karine and Antonio are excellent hosts! Let’s click through, shall we?
Thursday afternoon we took the Paris Beauvais Airport shuttle from Porte Maillot to the Beauvais airport. It calls itself “Paris Beauvais” but is actually an hour and fifteen minutes away. On that logic I am going to start calling our house Paris Lizella. However, the shuttle is pretty convenient and quite cheap: 32€ per person round-trip if you book online, which is less expensive than the Groome shuttle and it’s a much nicer bus! Ryanair was a better experience than I expected as well. They do charge for EVERYTHING (drinks, snacks, newspapers, checked bags, printing your boarding pass) but the flights ran right on time and the planes seemed decently maintained (albeit not pristinely tidy because their turnaround times are very short). I would definitely do Ryanair or another low-cost carrier again if I travel within Europe for a weekend. As long as you travel light it’s an excellent deal.

We landed in Bari, which is about 35 minutes from Corato, the city where Karine and Antonio live, and they picked us up at the airport. Let me just say right now that everything you have heard about Italian driving is true. Antonio is an excellent “Italian style” driver; I am both terrified by and jealous of his skills. He says he does not drive fast compared to his fellow citizens, which is probably true. “What if I had an Audi?” he speculated.

After a stop at their apartment to drop off bags and freshen up, we headed out to dinner and that’s when the real fun began. They are regulars at a local restaurant called Le Stagioni di Puglia that does typical cuisine from the Puglia region (which grows a lot of olives and other vegetables as as making some unbeatable cheeses). First we got a crash course in Italian dining, which goes like this:
1. Start late. 8:30 is about the earliest you can eat dinner.
2. Antipasti: small dishes of preserved meats, cheese, or cooked vegetables
3. Primi: pasta
4. Secondi: meat or fish dishes
5. Dessert
6. Depart restaurant in a wheelbarrow, probably.
We gave Aldo, the owner, free rein to choose antipasti for us, and they just did not stop coming. Moreover, everything Francesco, the waiter, brought out was delicious: ham, salami, pecorino, parmesan, stuffed mushrooms, grilled zucchini, bruschetta, fresh olives, cooked zucchini leaves (who knew?), grilled string beans . . . It was all so good but we were expecting 2-3 more courses. Finally we had to ask them to stop bringing out antipasti!

This was AFTER we’d already eaten so much we thought we might die.
We had pasta (I had orecchietti with I forget what but it was yummy), canceled our secondi, and went straight to dessert. Karine was not feeling well but she did perk up after a chocolate mousse. I tried limoncello for the first time. It was good but I’m not sure I will order it again. Liqueurs are just not my thing, maybe. Meanwhile I’m still wondering if we should have canceled our pastas as well and just eaten antipasti all night. 
After traveling and a late dinner we simply did not get a jump on the day Friday but sat on the terrace at the apartment most of the morning:
Views from the 6th floor!

Corner apartment = Lots of skyline

At right, one of Karine’s lemon trees. 
Karine & Antonio’s apartment is big and very pretty; the only drawback is that it’s on the 6th floor and the elevator is not 100% reliable (as we learned!). We did eventually get dressed and venture out for lunch at a small café called Cofy Cloud (panini: average, gelato pops: A++++). 
Daniel wanted to rest but Karine and I decided to take the train to visit Alberobello, Alberobello is known for its domed houses called trulli, for which it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The train journey was a little grueling and we thought we would not have much time to visit before needing to catch the train back. But Karine had the excellent idea to call Antonio and invite him to come out with Daniel in the car and meet us for dinner. So we had time to take quite a few pictures, taste some locally made liqueurs, and sit down for a beer before the gentlemen arrived. Here are some of my pics. I’m so glad we went to Alberobello. I might never have known there was such a place and it is unique and beautiful.

Antonio and Karine

. . . and Daniel

Looking down on the beer festival in Alberobello just before we left
We ate another huge meal Friday night: I had bruschetta and orecchietti (again) plus part of a grilled cheese entrée that Antonio ordered. It was literally a thick slice of a gouda-like cheese, cooked on a grill. Unbelievably delicious and I want to try making something similar at home. By the time dinner was over we had to go straight back to Corato as Antonio, who is a musician, had a gig the next day. Did I fall asleep on the autostrada? I’ll never tell . . . 
Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the Italy Report, featuring KITTENS!

Anatomy of a Steak Tartare

This blog is teetering on the edge of total disarray because so much has been going on that I almost can’t keep up with it. In addition to teaching, field trips, and a couple of other fun excursions, I’ve been to the doctor three times this week with sick or injured faculty or students. THREE TIMES. Today when I sat down in his office, “our” doctor looked at me across the desk and said “Vous savez, nous sommes fermé le dimanche.”* Everybody wash your hands and be careful out there, okay?

So in between trips to the doctor’s office I have managed to get in some top-quality cultural experiences. Last night with Dr. Kirk’s class I saw L’Anatomie de la sensation by Wayne McGregor at the Paris Opera Ballet. It was an incredible experience. I have plenty of background with ballet but none with contemporary ballets such as this one, set to a piece of music titled “Blood on the Floor” and featuring a high-tech movable set. The dancing was simply extraordinary. Contemporary dance is fairly easy to do badly but incredibly evocative when done well. This ballet does not have a storyline but instead focuses on the quality of movement and the shifting relationships among the dancers, so it really shows off the artistry and the technical prowess of the company.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to see it and disappointed when it was over–I probably won’t get a chance but I was tempted to attend a second performance just to study the dancing again.

Today’s highlight was a visit to Les Tontons with the 4 students who had signed up for my “Dinner Club.” Dinner Club is one of the optional activities our program is offering; professors choose a restaurant for dinner and students sign up to go with them. I picked Les Tontons on my Parisian friend’s recommendation because their specialty is beef tartare. Two years ago I discovered that I love tartare. Meanwhile, most Americans probably haven’t tried it and/or are horrified by the idea of eating uncooked chopped beef. So I was surprised when I posted my Dinner Club on Facebook and 4 students immediately signed up. Three of them ordered tartare poêlé (seared), which I think is cheating, but you have to start somewhere, right? They were all very enthusiastic and everyone cleaned their plates, so I’m calling this Dinner Club a success. Les Tontons is relaxed and friendly, not at all touristique, and of course the food is excellent. Next time I might splurge and get the Tartare A.O.C.–see if my little American palate can tell the difference.

My choice: tartare traditionnel, frites, salade (not pictured: a 1664 en pression and a chocolate mousse for dessert).

The students with their meals.

Tomorrow we go to the Loire Valley to see the châteaux for the weekend. I am so excited. Get ready for LOTS of pictures.

*”You know, we are closed on Sundays.” He was teasing me, and in fact I was amused and touched that he cracked a joke because he has seemed very deadpan and shy in the past.

Monday, July 28: Bonus photos

Today was a regular teaching-and-meetings day, highlighted by the news that on our departure day we have to be ready to get on the bus at 2:45 a.m. TWO. FORTY. FIVE. Even if I write that French-style (2h45), it’s still appalling. So let’s just move on, shall we?

Saturday morning I visited the Musée Marmottan Monet but then didn’t have a chance to post the pictures because other stuff came up. Both the building and the collections were donated to the Academie des Beaux-Arts on the deaths of their former owners, including, in the case of the Monet collection, Claude Monet’s second son, Michel. People go for the Impressionist collections, of course, but there’s also a room full of medieval illuminated manuscripts, and I probably spent the most time looking at those! It’s a little off the beaten track, just off a garden called Ranelagh (a tribute to/imitation of the famous 18C English pleasure garden) via the metro stop La Muette on the #9 line. I did not know the neighborhood at all and thus was utterly flummoxed when a couple asked me if I knew where a grocery store was! They turned out to be German tourists so it was definitely the blind leading the blind. At least I redeemed myself today when someone asked me for directions in the metro. We were waiting for a southbound #4 train at Montparnasse-Bienvenue and a man wanted to know if that train would take him to Gare de l’Est. Having just done it on Saturday, I could confidently tell him that he’d need a northbound #4 to go to Gare de l’Est. I felt like a total Paris expert.

Anyway! Here, belatedly, are a few photos from around the Marmottan–none from inside the museum because they are not allowed. Click through . . .

Dr. Kirk and I have decided that this is La Fontaine

Outside the Marmottan

Another view of the exterior of the Marmottan

One-seater car!

Some great flowers in a Square behind the Marmottan

A tree was planted in memory of writers who died fighting for France.

This is the tree.

Beautiful day, flowers in bloom, Hausmann architecture doing its best as always