Friday, October 30, 2009

Mal di Gola

Translation - I lost my voice. Italians have a very interesting perspective on sickness and the process of getting sick. They believe that if your neck gets cold, or any part of your body, you will get sick. This afternoon my fake mom heard my voice and told me that I got sick because I left the window open and it was cold in our room. Very interesting. Italians are also very willing to share their opinions about sickness or dressing for the weather, even if you are a complete stranger to them. Eli got reprimanded by a complete stranger for wearing flip-flops in normal fall-type weather.

On a funnier note, last night we had a fun little slumber party with two other girls from our program. Annie, Eli, and I went to the city center and met up with Hillary. Annie and I decided to ride the bus home early. Although we warned Annie to grab her bus pass, she said, "It will be fine, they won't check tickets tonight." Ok, ok. As we were about to get on a bus to go home we saw the officers that check your tickets - we didn't get on that bus - we chose the other one thinking that we weaseled our way past the system. Little did we know that those buses have the same first stop and the officers got off on that stop and switched lines onto our bus. Annie immediately pushed the button to get off but she was caught. She hopped off the bus without me and all I could imagine was cute little Annie without her bus pass, money, or ID being thrown in the slammer for the whole night because she rode the bus without her pass. Needless to say, she got a ticket that included a hefty 40 Euro fine. It was slightly scary at the time but she handled it well and it makes for a good story now. After that, our sleepover was so fun - we pushed 3 beds together and slept any way we would fit. My back is sore and I'm exhausted but it was definitely worth it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Castagne e Funghi

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose....Who knows what chestnuts are anyway? I always thought they were just an easy joke for the immature and perverted mind, I didn't know that they truly existed and that people actually ate them. Sunday I finally found meaning to this yuletide carol nut because I went hunting for them in the forest with my fake family. Hilarious! Chestnuts are enclosed in this shell that is similar in spikiness to a sea urchin and there is a certain technique you use with your feet to open and expose the nuts. I feel like I'm telling the polar bear joke. Anyway, we found a lot of chestnuts that I am going to preserve and send home so that we can all try them! They have a good flavor and they are sort of chalky in texture. Interesting.
What a chestnut looks like
My basket full of chestnuts

The gorgeous forest
The sun peeking in around the trees
We also found some mushrooms in the forest. It was so hard because Benny kept pointing to different types of mushrooms and was quizzing me on the type of species and if it was toxic, edible, fatal, or just plain not good to eat. I was getting frustrated because once I got one type down he would switch to another and I kept getting them so mixed up. He would look at me disappointedly when I didn't know the answer. Oops.

Benny's two favorite things: Funghi and Eli
Beautiful Fungus
Upside-down Fungus
Previously in the week (Saturday) I went to a mushroom convention with Benny. There he taught me some of the species and classifications of mushrooms (hence the quiz the following afternoon in the forest). I got to meet the President and Vice President of the Mushroom Association - both of which know every species and classification of mushroom. Little did I know how popular mushroom hunting was here or that it even existed. I told my program director about this hobby and he said, "Imagine organizing an Elder's Quorum activity to go mushroom hunting in the forest, scarves included." Never in a million years BUT that's why I love Italy.
Man- Pres Woman- Vice (notice the man's scarf - he's handsome)

Cooking in the Tuscan Countryside

9 AM: Looking at this
10 AM: Baking with these two fun people

11 AM: Listening to Norah Jones
12 PM: Cooking pasta

1 PM: Cleaning my little loves
2 PM: Finished
We ate an amazing lunch with the shrimp pasta dish we made and ate the two different cakes we baked for dessert later that night. I've realized how amazing this opportunity is many times before but this experience truly engrained it into my memory for good. Who can beat listening to Norah Jones while cooking with the view of the Italian countryside? Breathtaking and simply perfect.


Mmmmm. Imagine streets and piazzas lined with beautifully organized chocolate stands, free samples, and even a chocolate climbing wall. Perugia's chocolate festival is one of the most famous in all of Europe and for good reason. There were so many different types and styles of chocolate that I felt like I was in heaven (I knew I wasn't quite there-no gelato). It rained the entire time but it made it possibly more fun because it somehow felt more ok to consume disgusting amounts of rich and super sweet treats. 30 Euro later and probably 10 pounds heavier, I don't regret visiting Perugia for a fun little getaway.

Chocolate purchased
Chocolate purchased by everyone in the group, lovely sight to behold

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sardines Anyone? Chocolate?

Tonight Benny brought out fish pasta. I was a little nervous because Eli hates fish and whenever some sort of seafood dish comes out she gets a little nervous and her gag reflexes heighten. Usually if she can't see the shape of the creature she's fine. This pasta dish worked well for her - little chunks of fish, no big deal. Then he brought out a whole basket of fried sardines - still in tact from head to tail with a little batter on them. Insert classic Eli face here, one of courage combined with disgust. She did a great job and ate everything - minus the spines - she couldn't eat those. Way to go Eli!! Most girls wouldn't even touch a sardine let alone de-spine and eat 30 or so.
Me, being the human garbage disposal, loved everything, spines included and even contemplated eating Eli's leftover spines...let's just say that I think I'm ready to be invited to the next General Conference Priesthood Afterparty because I'm a newfound convert to SARDINES (except I won't burp on you, I'm way more polite than that)!!
Tomorrow I'm going to Europe's most famous Chocolate Festival in Perugia, what some would consider a step up from sardines. Let me know if you want anything....mmmm

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Freud was Right

Me being sad and cold in my fake room

Dreams are truly a pathway to the subconscious. Last night I had a dream where I was sitting in the living room of my fake family apartment and Benny started talking to me without speaking slowly or clearly. He then asked, "Hai capito?" (Did you understand?) He repeated what he said and then again asked, "Hai capito?" Everything in my dream was wearing on me and I finally exploded. I burst into tears and I said, "No, non ho capito niente!! (No, I didn't understand anything)." (Maybe it's a good sign, I'm speaking Italian in my dreams). I then continued by saying, "I can't wait to just go home and speak in English where everyone understands me and I understand everyone." Then I woke up. It was a good day. I haven't really felt that intense about not understanding consciously- maybe it truly is my subconscious speaking - I have a midterm in Italian tomorrow.

I do agree with my dream though, all I want is to be understood. It's difficult to imagine myself fluent in Italian and it frustrates me even more when I see little bambini (babies) babbling and speaking in Italian more efficiently than I do. Maybe I will just live in America for good. Problem solved.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Discoteca & Other Less Important Things

Discoteca: Just what it sounds like - a sincere disco dance hall. Well, the one I went to was more of a social pub than a discoteca but regardless, it was amazing. I went with a large group of girls from my group and we had so many fun experiences and interesting social situations together.

We got to the dance pub at about 11 and it wasn't too exciting at that point. We figured that it would pick up later so we ordered a few drinks - not the kind of drinks you expect - and we waited. Eventually some fun songs came on and we couldn't hold back our urge to dance any longer. (Unbeknownst to us, nobody really sincerely dances at this pub but we created a really good dance party on our own). Boys were approaching us and all of the girls were being pretty harsh and rejecting any guy who was even trying to talk to us. I just decided to make it fun and start dancing with boys. It was fun and even a good idea in theory but I soon felt like fly paper in the middle of a cow farm. Thankfully I had very good friends who fought the boys off and helped me out.

At one point I went outside to find all of my friends but they weren't there. Oops. The boys followed me out there and wanted me to take pictures and they even tried to convince me that it would be a good idea to go home with them. No thanks.

Then I met Max. He's this cute boy from Rome who is studying here in Siena. He was completely what you would expect from a typical smooth Italian man. He was telling people that I was his girlfriend and that I was the most beautiful girl that he had ever seen. I wonder how many girls he has really told that to? Too many to flatter me. Anyway, we danced and talked a little (in Italian - thankfully he was patient and super interested or it wouldn't have worked so well) and it was fairly sweet. Imagine this, a tall, dark, and handsome man whispering Italian into your ear while holding you close, then looking at you with his gorgeous smile and dark eyes waiting for your response. Dang, watch out Stephanie Meyer, I think I'm in the running for writing the next hit romantic teen novel. Anyway, although I knew that it would never go anywhere, who can resist that situation? Not me! He tried to get my phone number and tried to set up a time to meet again but I figured that things should end there. Dating is not allowed on the program and that's sketchy anyway. So, right before I was about to leave, Max, my Italian boyfriend for the night, totally kissed me - he stole it from me. I was so shocked and so were all of my friends who saw it. I was so embarrassed BUT - who can say that they kissed a cute Roman boy in Italy? I can. It's bittersweet I suppose, but mostly just funny!
My dancing buddy - for a while
All of these girls are dancing queens

Secondary things:

Earlier on Friday (discoteca night) I went to Florence and found some cute pants, shoes, and scarves.

Saturday: I went to Arezzo and saw Vasari's house as well as the place where Life is Beautiful (a touching Italian film) was filmed. There was also and international market where there was food from all around the world. They also had bread the size of an alligator, it was pretty awesome!
My cute new coat I got for 20 Euro
The view in Arezzo - beautiful
Alligator sized bread
I also went to a pizza birthday party of my fake little brother, Giuseppe. How cute - little boys here have pizza parties for their birthday's too! He just turned 12. The party was hopping with a bunch of cute little boys right around his age. They all pitched in and gave him a really nice cell phone - hilarious. Imagine Nick having a cell phone. Also, during dinner the boys had their own little room and they were being super obnoxious and rowdy. Boys were yelling and betting over arm-wrestling, some were talking on their phones, and others were arguing about whose turn it was on the Nintendo DS. I could imagine them 60 years from now doing the same thing, but just as little old Italian men - probably arguing over Scopa (an Italian card game) or calcio matches (soccer). It was quite the sight to behold. Needless to say, I loved every second, it reminded me of home with all of the little yahoos running around all the time (strangely I realized how much miss it).
The craziness
The arm-wrestling competition

Eventful weekend! I'm understanding more Italian every day! HOORAY!! Thanks for your prayers!

Gelato Count: 23 - Ah, I'm getting behind my one a day goal.

*One sad story: A busy 10 bus means a lost umbrella and guess what - it's supposed to rain tomorrow. Thanks for buying it anyway mom! I loved it and used it for a good week or so of rain.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Judaism, Haircuts, and Food

These are the things that I have done this week.

1) Jewish Synagogue - loved it. It was very different from the 10,000 Catholic Churches (slight exaggeration) I have seen and it was also neat because we were able to have a question & answer session with the group leader of the Jews in Siena. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met and the discussion was very interesting. I learned a lot about Judaism. He also told us that in Jerusalem the Mormon Church has donated a lot of money to help with their church programs. He said that the Jews and Mormons have a very good relationship and he respects our religious beliefs very much. It was cool to hear. No pictures allowed inside. Sorry.

2) I got a haircut here in Siena and it was SO MUCH FUN!! I was a little nervous because of the language barrier but it ended up being so cute.

It was interesting because a woman washed my hair, two men worked on cutting my hair (hairdressers here are typically male), and the same woman styled it after the men were done. 3 people. One haircut. It also took forever - 2 hours.

The best part about the haircut was just watching the men do their job. They were singing to American music and cutting hair in a very dramatic way. They would bend down backwards to get closer to my hair and once they would cut the hair they would throw it in the air - he was being totally serious, he wasn't trying to entertain at all, he was just in the "zone". It was so entertaining. After my hair was dry he did some last minute touch ups with his scissors. I felt like a poodle being groomed - my hair was literally flying all over the room. It was hilarious.
To make the whole situation funnier, after he finished the touch ups he grabbed two blow dryers, one in each hand, (stick 'em up partner) and started blowing my hair all over the place as the other man sprayed hairspray all over my crazy hair. Talk about blowing me away with their manliness :) I loved every minute!!

My hair - It's hard to see the layers

3) Cooking Class Menu: PIZZA!! All kinds of pizza. One with corn, tuna, and grilled onions (this one was my favorite), all of the others were pretty normal pizzas. It was delicious. We also had spinach and carrot something or other. Divine. We finished off with mint chocolate flan with strawberries on the side. Buonissimo!!

Tuna, Corn, and Grilled Onion Pizza

Spinach and Carrot something

Chocolate Mint Flan with Strawberries

Monday, October 12, 2009

Vacanza with the Vicinanza's

We had the wonderful opportunity of going to Salerno (Southern Italy near Napoli) with my host family. It was very interesting but so worth it.
Some of my favorite things that happened this trip:
-Watching my fake brothers play on my iPod - they love JellyCar just like my real little brothers
-We arrived late Friday night under very sketchy circumstances. Salerno isn't quite as quaint or picturesque as other towns I've visited. My first impression of Salerno was: dirty, scary, gangster, traffic, and stinky.

What Salerno looks like from a distance - it's deceivingly beautiful

-That night we ate a lovely large meal with all of Benny's family. It was so fun to see him interact with his family - Italians are so loving. We ate an 8 course dinner and all of the family accepted us as their own. So kind. They also gave us three courses worth of dessert. Yum!

This man was the best - so cute

-We then went to the apartment where we were going to sleep. Everyone was speaking so fast and it was really overwhelming to understand. We just opted out of that social situation and retired for the evening.
-The next morning we went shopping at the market with Alberto and Anna. I was tired and really didn't want to be there - their style is so weird - but I made it through - no purchases were made.
-We came home to Benny who was in his official mushroom hunting outfit including a scarf tied around the neck, lightweight button-up shirt and pants, cap, and hiking boots. So darling, quite possibly my favorite part of the trip.

Benny and his mushroom he found in the forest (notice the scarf)

-Visited old town and walked up the shore-line with the family. Benny then found a ceramic shop bought something for me. Heaven knows what it is for. He explained it in Italian but...yep, still don't know...
My fake family

-We had another amazing meal including langostine, shrimp, oysters, clams, octopus (twice), some sort of raw fish, and another fish that was caught fresh that day - topped off with a chocolate souffle. DIVINE. I love seafood.

Benny, his friend (restaurant owner) and fish

-Then we drove in the coast on our way back home (for way too long) and stopped in Minori (near Amalfi) and Positano. They are both so lovely. The road was windy and Benny imitated his Ferrari skills through the turns.

Positano is lovely
Benny and his "Ferrari"

-We left at 10 AM and returned to Siena at 8PM. LONG, and yes, it only took us 4 hours on the way there.
Overall it was a very fun weekend and I'm glad I got to see my host family in their true element but man is it good to be "home".

*The pictures aren't the greatest quality but that is what it is allowing me to post so hopefully that is better than nothing!!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cinque Terre Norwegian Style

Hiking, wonderful food, tanning, swimming, and shopping - what more could a girl ask for?

We arrived in Riomaggiore on Friday evening and took pictures, then caught a train to Vernazza and ate dinner there. We sat right above the ocean on the edge of a cliff. The view was amazing and the food was delicious (squid and shrimp - yum). The next day we hiked through all of the cities (approximately 5.5 hours). It was very tiring but very worth it because of the lovely view and lovely beach at the very last city of the hike. We jumped in the water, swam for a while, and tanned in the middle of a sincere European bathing territory. My lucky day right? Europe is tainting my innocence.

This is when the story gets good so if you are still reading you are in luck my friend. We went to dinner in Monterosso, the last city. After we ate dinner (sea-bass, pear and cheese ravioli, and chocolate souffle) we went to purchase our train tickets to get home. The ticket booth was closed so we had to use the non-English automatic ticket machine. We figured out how to purchase ours when 4 Norwegians came and asked us to help them buy tickets. I willingly accepted because I knew what to do (and wanted to be the hero). We got their tickets all figured out (and I got a hug from the cute man) but they needed help stamping their tickets too. The same man immediately grabbed my hand (and didn't let go) and pulled me along saying, "You come with me, we need help". Flattered, I went to help but it was broken. I thought, "No big deal, the men never come by to check tickets so they'll be fine". Did the ticket checkers come this time? Yes, of course they did, it's Murphy's Law. The man got mad at the Norwegians because their tickets weren't validated and because their tickets weren't correct. Dang. It was literally all my fault. I accidentally purchased an upgrade to a ticket rather than actually buying a ticket - although they look absolutely the same. To make it even worse, the entire group of girls I traveled with had the same incorrect ticket as well. Double Oops. The ticket man wasn't too mad, they just required us to pay an extra Euro but the nice Norwegian man paid for all of us. Proof that there are still amazingly nice people in the world. We got off the train laughing and we said our goodbyes with our newfound friends.

The next morning for breakfast we went to a cute pirate cafe in Vernazza. On our way out, I was putting my wallet in my backpack and as I looked up and saw the biggest grinning face about 10 feet away. It was my cute hugging and hand holding Norwegian friend!! We all laughed hysterically and took pictures. I now have friends in Norway (although they weren't too excited to say where they were from - they didn't want us to think people in Norway were dumb because they couldn't purchase their own tickets).
Our cute Norwegian Friends
Almost there
The view from the hike
Eli and I on the rocks
Gelato Count: 21

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Five City Weekend

Tomorrow I am leaving for Cinque Terre. It consists of five cities that you hike to and the last one has a gorgeous beach. It's known to be one of the loveliest places in Italy. I'm very excited to go for the weekend to hike, hang out with my darling friends, and go to the beach. I realized today that General Conference is this weekend and I was instantly glad that I had planned to do something fun so I don't get too homesick. Our family will make any excuse to party but General Conference weekend in particular consists of constant partying. I got a little sad that I would be missing it. Who am I to complain? I'm in Italy AND I won't have sardine breath blown into my face! Have a wonderful conference weekend!