Wednesday, 27 January 2016

In the popular fashion of 'throwback to'...

Last night I met with an Australian that I hadn't seen for over a year. Our fleeting 2 week relationship, of singing English songs and painting our hair feels like a different life time. Living a whole world away from each other, casually thinking back as you flick through a picture, notice a Facebook status or find that ever loved red t-shirt and then bumping into each other in bustle of Liverpool Street Station. There is such a strong intensity of international friends, having not seen each other for so long but it becomes irrelevant. The gossips over a bottle of wine, in the candle-lit alcove of a very British pub, in the very brisk British, January weather, just flow with excitement, congratulations, memories and genuine happiness that you are both in the same time-zone.

Our recollections of children, tutors, host families and the beautiful heat got me reminiscing. My experiences in Italy since the very first time I stood in a piazza in Venice, at 10pm and at 30 degrees, have changed my world. The chinking of espresso cups and thick heat when I was just 12 sparked my love for my second home country. The obvious lessons of learning to live alone, to adapt, to travel efficiently, stay safe etc seem completely irrelevant when you suddenly have a little throwback memory. I'm quite pleased that the world of technology has moved on from tapes as I would've worn out Theme Park's 2015 album during this summer. I played it endless to remind me of home, my boyfriend, laying in his garden in the slightly weaker British sun. Now, even the first sound, I'm thrown back to one host family's garden. Feeling the burn of the sun, the children squabbling in Italian (in the shade, of course), lesson planning. The same album reminds me of my last camp, having the same song on repeat with the kids coursing round the classroom. A song from that album takes me to my 2nd camp this summer, with the most hilarious dancing from both the tutors and children, and laying under the trees at lunch. The smile I had on my face when Queen's Breakthru came on and I was on my way to Verona to meet my man. I was in an empty carriage, all the windows down and genuinely felt like Freddie, on top of the world. The things you should take from travelling are not trivial 'travellers' lessons, like 'how to read the Milanese metro map,' or 'feeling like a local' but really it's about treasuring that time. Those memories bring a smile to my face when I'm least expecting it. When you grow up, you realize that you might not see friends for years, but when you do, it's worth the wait. You realize that things do not go to plan, you miss a train, you get ill, but remembering what came from those wrong plans are the best bits.

I am amazingly fortunate to have been offered a funded PhD; I have moved in with Tim after the struggles of a long-distance relationship, which really wasn't that bad, and I have new thrills and life challenges. Unfortunately, this will be the first year I won't be spending my summer in Italy. I'm already having withdrawal symptoms from the beautiful country and will do everything in my power to return as often as I can. I am the person I am today because of my time in Italy, it was so precious and I thoroughly encourage anyone to saver their time there.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

An electric shock, an earthquake and bronchitis

The breeze across the lake has been beautiful this week. The breaking waves and dancing leaves during lunches and dinner, while everyone is chattering in Italian (which makes things sound far more funny than in your own language) and laughing over stories told with the odd word from another language thrown in. To fill yourself silly with lunch and then to potter 5 minutes up the road and awkwardly lay on the stoney beach is something every university should consider allowing their students to do. After the rocks have imprinted adequately on both sides of your body, you head back to the Palazzo, via the gelateria, of course. A cup with pistachio and niociola.
The days have been beautiful but of course, we have also been so lucky to have amazing lecturers and lessons. Not only are we pushed in the lessons (sometimes a little left behind) but the professors themselves are great company and friends. They truly make all of us feel comfortable to speak and be completely immersed in our language. I am blown away by their dedicated and patience with us and am extremely lucky to have been accepted on this course of Italian life experience, let alone for the formal learning.
Whilst living, eating, socialising and studying all with the same group of people you come to have many experiences where it's always wise to just laugh it off. There is a certain, Slovenia woman here who has come to be known throughout the whole course, including the lecturers, and not in a positive manner. However, I was beginning to worry where all the hormones were in a course full of 32 females. Even my sweet, little room mate is a tad "uncultured" in her understanding of space and time having done her clothes washing at 3am, forgotten to turn her alarm off (that's set to her home country time and subsequently goes off at 5am) and not told me that she wants to sleep while I'm casually chilling, all lights ablaze!
To add to the difficulties of living in the pocket of a complete stranger for 3 weeks, I was marched to the doctors for a slight bark that I'd had for a while and found out I'd been jumping round with bronchitis for 2 weeks. Subsequently, the antibiotics have been marvellous, adding to the sweltering heat and sleepless nights. Although, the afternoons at the beach and relaxing weekend definitely helped. In fact while the school were hiking in the mountains on a sweaty Sunday afternoon, I sat outside with 2 of the professors, eating a lovely salad and chatting about nothing (without thinking it was in Italian.) Adding to the unexpected events of the week, I was on FaceTime to Timothy, showing off the beautiful scenery, stretching my hand out of the window. All of a sudden I spun round, involuntarily screaming at the top of my voice after it felt like someone had put an axe in my lower back. No one was there and as I regained my breath two of the girls ran in. Apparently, there's a very strong electric cable running along the window sill to keep out the birds. On the same day, we were sitting in the kitchen after a filling spread of meats and cheeses and a few glasses of wine, when the building swayed. This was not a result of the Italian equivalent to Lambrini but in fact an earthquake. There were another two tremors during which we all just stared at each other. Another odd experience to tick off my list.
To continue my rave about this amazing experience, we were amazingly fortunate to have a trip to Verona Arena organised for us. The Verona Arena. Italian Opera in THE Italian city of romance, opera and beauty. As the sun set behind the remains of this beautiful piece of art, the conductor raised his baton and I was lost. There are seas of people but even with the stone ledge that you're perched on, it feels like it's just you. That Soprano is confessing her love to you. The orchestra is playing for you, especially that piccolo solo dancing with the melody of the chorus on stage. The set was breathtaking, with 20 foot hedges and 6 foot wide red roses. The incredible voices of these admirable people rung throughout the audience in the arena. A truly beautiful and indescribable experience. Although we saw Barber of Seville, a traditional comedic opera, it was very emotional for me. I am very lucky and am thankful for everyone who has helped me as it has been my dream to be in Italy, let alone watch an opera here. At the end the arena was illuminated with fireworks set along the steps behind the stage. A spectacular ending to a beautiful evening. We all clambered into the bus that swerved along the tiny streets along Lago Garda, that would make the most experienced traveller ill.
And there started the final week. Not only the last week in this beautiful location with some truly wonderful friends, but my last week in this amazing country that I'm incredibly lucky to have called my home for this summer. I'm looking forward to a few more nights out with the girls and then to leave this beautiful and ancient building where the question of the course has been "Oggi, c'รจ wi-fi?" (In English, is the fucking wifi working yet!!)

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The beautiful lake side town of Gargnano

I've spent just a week now in the beautiful lake-side town of Gargnano. To be studying in Italy in general is an amazing experience but to be studying in a beautiful palazzo that backs onto the lake, to have lectures on the floor below where you sleep and to eat communal meals on the back patio makes it more than incredible. We are living like a boarding school on the top floor, sharing rooms. This, in itself, is a new experience for me. I have never shared a room like this, especially with someone from a completely different culture. My room mate is especially different. She's very sweet but from a very different background, a tiny part of life's rich tapestry. 

The first few days were very intense with a variety of tests and information overload. Everyone was pretty tired, most of them having arrived a few days before the course but all made an effort to chat. We were spilt into classes for the first half of the day and then all meet for lunch. The quantity of food is something that I've experienced a lot in Italy but this is something else. It's really difficult not to eat all 3 types of carbs during the meal, even if you're stuffed from the first bowl of pasta. But it's wonderful to sit in the shade of the fur trees, with the sound of the waves and beautiful surrounding landscape, chatting with people from all over the world in your second language. It's very interesting that our common language is our second language, a demanding concept having to speak a second language all the time but such an eye opening experience. Also, interestingly enough, groups have gravitated together and mostly with common cultures or first languages. This has resulted in me having a wonderful group of girl friends all from Canada, America and Australia. 

The town that we're in is quaint and small enough to wander around in 10 minutes. The beach is a 5 minute walk from the university building, the gelateria is across the road and the local beach club is in the next town, a 15 minute stumble away. It's idyllic and means when walking round you'll always bump into another student or lecturer and in fact become a local in the super market and bars. 

By the Friday we were knackered and headed to the local bar, after sitting at the dinner table till 10.30 putting the world to rights. We had a few drinks by the light of the bonfire, with some hilarious Italian man singing along to the Police. It was so Italian. The next day the majority of people woke up at the crack of dawn (including my roommate who couldn't have made any more noise) and ventured to Milan for the EXPO whereas me and 4 other girlies woke up late and within 10 minutes were on the lake side with coffee and brioche for breakfast. It started to rain so we all had a bit of time chilling in our rooms and sorting and then all headed down into the television room. We looked like refugees all snuggled up with blankets and jumpers watching a film while the rain poured outside. It was so cosy and I was actually blessed to feel a bit cold after the weeks of 40 degree heat and screaming children. We scampered to the supermarket and bought an array of meats and cheeses for a buffet type dinner. We all squeezed into the little kitchen with music, wine and card games. It was a beautiful and hilarious evening. The following day we laid on the beach, playing games, chatting and eating left over watermelon. Slightly bronzed and sleepy, we curled up together, watched some awful Italian television and headed to bed. I would love to stop there and say that we all drifted off pleasantly, but this is Italy. Due to the rain on Saturday, the festival in the town had been postponed to the following night. It honestly sounded as if it was in the room next door. The awful 80's tunes rung throughout the town, louder than the endless church bells that hammered round our hangover heads that very morning. Oh Italy. 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

From a tutor to a student

To feel at home at another families house, what a feeling. I had a few wonderful days with my host family in Cremona. Some amazing lay-ins without a grandma peeking round the corner, an afternoon at one of the biggest water parks I've seen and real conversations about meaningful things that we were all interested in, rather than small talk about the complexities of what my father does for a living. "He creates food for gli animali?!" Great food, laying in the sun in the garden (yet being plied with sun cream) and a lovely family.

Last Thursday I got on a train and headed to Verona. Checked in to a beautiful hotel, that was weirdly only 2 star, and was reminded how easy it is to waste time in a hotel. I pranced about, laid all my clothes pristinely in the wardrobe, read the little soap packages with excitement and stood at the window watching the Veronese world go by. This sounds ridiculous but it's a great feeling being completely alone and doing what you want. Feeling far too excited and a little bit sick, I headed out at 8 for a wander and potentially some kind of pizza or pasta, not a difficult request in Italy. After 10 minutes gawping at the beautiful architecture and window flower pots, dodging the mopeds and weaving through the bars that have spilled into the street, I turned the corner into what seemed like the centre. It was buzzing with people and a line of restaurants and bars created the background music of wine glasses and cutlery on plates. I had no idea that within 2 minutes I would be utterly breath taken by the Verona Arena. It is outstanding. In the middle of the city, an ancient building, towering over everything else. It's as if it's from another world. I had dinner and a glass of wine in ore at this magnificent piece of art. I struggled to sleep and woke early, heading to the airport.

The weekend with my best friend was perfect. I've used that word far too much but I cannot explain how amazing it was. Not a single thing I would've change. We laughed, pottered about, fantasised, drunk wine from plastic cups, laughed, chilled the wine in the bidet, had a picnic in our room, laughed sat on the balcony and put the world to rights. It completely flew. Cannot thank him enough, I loved it.

Monday morning we parted at Verona train station and I sat uncomfortably on a packed train back to where I started in Milan. I met a group of people awkwardly standing around a man in an orange polo shirt, the one in the picture in the email that I was sent a week ago. We clambered onto a bus and headed for Gargnano on Lake Garda. I chatted to a lovely girl on the coach and then nodded off. As I opened my eyes we were driving through a tunnel under some mountains and as we came through the other side we saw the beautiful spectacle that is Lago Garda. The rolling mountains created a picturesque backdrop for the shimmering water and collection of idyllic, Italian villas. It was another breath taking sight that I've been fortunate enough to have experience. Words cannot describe the beauty. We followed the lake round to the quaint town of Gargnano. We created a marvellous sight for any locals as we all dragged suitcases and bags through the cobbled streets to our palace of accommodation. Huge stone pillars tower the doorway, fantastic chandeliers hang in the halls and beautiful paintings are scattered throughout what will be our home for the next three weeks.  

Monday, 20 July 2015

An evening in Venice

So our final final show was at 8pm on the friday night. It was immensly warm with all the children and parents packed into the hall of the school, with not only the 5 shows from each class but also 3 videos and 2 videos of pictures. By the end of it, the shower that I had taken after camp seemed pointless and I was reminded of why I don't wear makeup in Italy. After, we headed into the centre of Treviso, all packed into 3 cars and again, followed the Italian tradition of standing around for half an hour before heading off to a bar. It was a lovely evening in the warmth of Italy, with spritz and underaged helpers being unable to hold their drink.

I had a wonderful lay-in the following morning despite the 2 year old playing the recorder outside my window at 6am. My lay-in was so good in fact that my host grandma kept popping her head round my door to see if I was still breathing. I had my first proper lazy day in a while and then got ready to go to the Saint's festival in Venice. We headed off about 5pm, all packed in the car with the pushchair on the laps of the people in the far backseat. We took the train from Treviso and arrived in Venezia. It's such a fascinatingly beautiful place and was absolutely rammed with people. We pottered through the masses of people from the train station all the way across the island to Basilico San Marco, lifting the pram over the countless bridges that crossed the canals. It was absolutely breathtaking. Walking round the corner through the thousands of people into the most beautiful piazza, with the sound of glasses cheering, espresso cups chinking their saucers and a band playing an Italian Aria. We found a place to sit and had homemade paninis for dinner. Now, usually, if the fireworks don't start until 11.30 and you had a 2 year old, you would've thought we would have arrived a little later or brought a proper picnic and blankets to sit on but this is Italy. So we sat from 6pm round until the fireworks during which the 2 year old was madly weaving in and out of the people walking past and the 10 year old complaining that his dad kept telling him the wrong start time for the fireworks. The display itself was magnificent and went on for 40 minutes. However, the baby and grandma slept through them, the mum was antsy to go and the son was scared of them. So at 12.30 we were swept through with the crowd as everyone wandered back to the station, stepping over numerous glass bottles and ice cream cones. Upon our arrival we looked at the train times and saw that the next wasn't until 4 in the morning. My host mum hadn't looked up the times of the trains before leaving. Another 'Oh Italy' moment. Luckily I have become accustomed to sleeping in any place I can, so with an empty stomach and in the 30 degree heat, I laid on the train station floor, with the 10 year old in the pram and the 2 year old coursing round the train station, and I slept. We eventually arrived home after standing on a train full of sweaty people and all piling back into the car with the pram back on our laps. But of course when we got back we had to eat breakfast...

So every week you get off the last of 4 or 5 sweaty and uncomfortable trains that have flown you through the beautiful Italian country, picturesque villas and quaint towns until you're so sweaty and you bundle off the train and see the welcoming arms of your host family. However this journey back to my first host family had been slightly more demanding. I got off the second train, only to have found that my connecting train had been cancelled. (I have had such great luck with Italian public transport that it was bound to happen at some point). I rang my host family who said there was another train in 2 hours. I pulled up a chair and got a coffee but at this point I had only slept a few hours since my last long wait in a train station so wasn't feeling my best. My previous host mum had given me a goody bag for the journey, which was full of 4 peaches and 2 apples, which I couldn't actually fit into my luggage and all I really wanted was a bottle of water. But it's so sweet. I eventually arrived back in Cremona and felt wonderful. I was welcomed back so lovingly and fell into bed. I cannot believe that now I have a few days to recuperate before getting to see my boyfriend for a long weekend after 6 weeks away. I am absolutely buzzing.

The last camp of summer 2015

And I'm writing the final certificates for my last camp this summer. Where has it gone? I spent two weeks of camps with just one other tutor, a wonderfully mad Canadian, that was painfully organised and lacked the ability to multi-task. I learnt never to even try to start, continue or finish a conversation with her as soon as she lost eye contact. Regardless, I couldn't have wished for a better tutor to have worked with and a better friend to have spent 2 weeks being the only other fluent English speaker. We rolled our eyes at the length of dinners with host families, we worked out ways to get to leave the dinner table when the children did, we played games to retain a little sanity, made innapropriate and incomprehensible jokes during story time, and fell asleep in the office for 20 minutes before the final show. We sprayed each other with mosquito replant, spent an afternoon in an Italian hospital, laughed hysterical at the children copying our over-exaggerated dance moves and fantasised about mad "what if" stories. We nearly got run over on various bike rides, took artistic pictures and sweated profusely in one of the hottest weeks of the summer. We shared life stories, laughs and then said goodbye. It's such a strange feeling, after dinner out on a Friday night, you hug, get into your host family's car and wave. That's it. You'll occasionally Facebook message and hope you'll bump into them at some point but the foreseeable future involves a new set of people.

So, I packed and left my IOW postcard on the table and headed for Treviso, my last camp. After a few weeks of small camps it was such a relief to spend some time with people of my own age. We had a mass of 8 helpers and 5 tutors, which meant we spent a few evenings out together. In fact my class of this camp was probably the best company I've had all summer. After researching how children learn and having weeks of experience of teaching different ages I feel like I've finally sussed out how to get the right balance between letting them go crazy and bundling me and actually willingly speaking English. Now, obviously, any teacher, instructor or tutor will know that some children just do not give a shit. They are there to make that teacher vein in your forehead come out but I didn't have any of them this week. The camp director had warned me about a certain boy who had been at City Camps for 3 years now and was always the cause of said protruding vein but he was an absolute star. I let him paint my face, played piggy back wars and laughed every time the class
 repeated any word I said (which lasted for a good 15 minutes). Subsequently, this boy, along with the rest of the class, not only learnt their show words perfectly but tried to explain and ask everything in English. Having this 9 year old 'troublemaker' in front of you, getting all aggigtated, hopping from one foot to the other trying to find the words to tell you about the fact he has a t shirt at home with the name of the football player that he is in the final show, is more rewarding than when they repeat the present continuous to you. I was completely blown away by all of them. On the Monday evening we all went to the camp director's house for a pizza and a 2 hour after camp meeting. This definitely set the tone of how the camp director wanted this week to run. Despite the eye rolling between tutors over the table and pointless conversations that went round and round, we had a hilarious dinner with the helpers, sharing random stories and then headed into the town where the streets were buzzing with people for the carnival. We followed the Italian ritual of going to a place and standing around for a good 20/30 minutes before heading somewhere else and continuing the waiting. It is impossible to go out with a group of Italians and not experience this. Yet it was a beautiful evening and we all rolled into camp the next morning looking like death warmed up after getting back home after 2am. Oh Italy.

Despite the slight disagreement between the camp director and tutors, it was a fantastic week. Had such fun and it made me want a 2 week camp but I'm so proud to have ended on such a high. I am so blessed to have had such a wonderful range of camps, tutors, classes and families. I can't believe that's the end of drawing pictures of sheep, teaching directions with blind folded children clambering over tables and smiling ridiculously at the final show when the children are singing their hearts out and your wobbling on a chair at the back of room making faces to make them smile.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Time is flying away

It's crazy how last week completely flew by as I am now half way through my third week of camp.
It's always such a heart warming moment seeing the child that hasn't said anything for the last two weeks stand in front of an audience of parents that are frantically fanning themselves and talking and proudly state "my name is Giovanni. I have 6 reers old." You can't contain the want to run up to little Giovanni and hug him so tightly. It's even better when Martina is standing in the front row of the choir, playing with the rocks on the ground and giggling, despite having gone over and over the words. Then they just leave. It's just over. Like that. You watch them all potter off with a pile of portfolios, certificates and bits and pieces, to only remember you as 'that English girl at that summer camp.' And you therapeutically tear down the posters in your classroom, collect up all the pens (and pen lids) that were thrown during the pen fight whilst you were out getting paper, and take down the city camp flag whist leaving. Despite this, it's still such a beautiful feeling. I'm not happy because the children have memorised the words to 'Reach for the stars' or because they can now tell me if the bear is in front or behind the box but because I know I have made some sort of impact on these children. I saw them smile and scream and laugh and that's really what this is about.

So as much as the final show is difficult, having to leave the group of fantastic tutors that you have bonded with so quickly over the last few weeks is in another league. This gang of 5 has been wonderfully brilliant and I cannot thank them enough for their support, hard work and shimmy lessons. To be able to pick each other up, make each other laugh and share the weirdest and craziest stories with is something special. It's hard to describe how you can become so close with people in such a short space of time, and this is an overused phrase, but some people just click. I will treasure the memories of our private jokes, ridiculous public embarrassment and loving support. Despite how many times you do it, and how much you learn from doing it, saying goodbye is bloody difficult.

Luckily my next camp was only a 20 minute drive so I didn't have too long to sit and ponder. With only two tutors and older students this camp has been a complete change in pace. Unfortunately, the horrific organisation of our italian company has meant that all our teaching materials are based on a different age group than we have. This has resulted in more work than we should be doing but it's been nice to work together, even if a little demanding.


This deserves it's own paragraph. Being next to the river Po has meant that the moquisitoes are awful. And I'm not being dramatic. The type of mozzies here are called 'Tiger' Mosquitioes and their bites reflect their name. Unfortunately, they love me. Swarm to me. I can stand outside and get 4 or 5 bites within a minute. It's marvellous. Obviously I'm trying everything, several repellents, after bite, cold compresses but my legs look like a dot-to-dot.

Aside from these small inconveniences, the camp is lovely, the family is wonderful (although a tad mad), the tutor I'm working with is becoming a great friend and the kids are bravissimi. AND it's only 22 days until I get to see a certain someone.