Monday, April 26, 2010

Ti amo, Italia.

Well here I am, sitting at home in Wisconsin in my warm bed, and my study abroad experience has ended.
I apologize for not writing – there was so much to do in the last week and I felt that I couldn’t waste time at the computer.
What a week.
Clowning with Allesandro and Stefano was definitely the highlight in terms of academics. They were absolutely incredible – so high energy! They are completely different from each other which was perfect when co-teaching a class because they each brought different things to the table. Stefano was CRAZY and full of energy and Allesandro was a bit more slow paced.
They taught us several different “rules” of clowning but the main thing we focused on for the four ½ days we had with them was just finding our own personal clown. We did so by watching each other walk normally, then exaggerating our own personal walks, finding how our clown runs, and the little “nervous ticks” that our clown might have. We played a million different games – simple little kid games like tag, cops and robbers, soccer, cat and mouse, jump rope, and although all of us were having a ton of fun we were sort of wondering how all these games would come into use. Well, after we found our clown we played these games as our clowns. Let's just say they became very different games all of a sudden. haha
We had clown outfits, complete with red noses (although they told us that the red nose is more of a training tool. Most clowns don’t actually wear them because they tend to bring the stereotype of "clowning at little kid’s birthday parties" which is not the kind of clowning we are doing).
Then, after we got a general overall feeling for our clown, we had to stand in front of them and they named us. Here is me: Florinda. Also known as “the worst in the class” :) Clowning is a huge test of strength. It’s incredibly vulnerable work and it makes you feel very uncreative and untalented at times. One of the exercises we did, the clown had to stand at one end of the room behind a rope, and the rest of the class stood with plastic bottles at the opposite end of the room. The clown had to entertain and try to “stop” the audience. The audience walked closer unless they were intrigued. As soon as they got close enough, the audience would smack the clown with the plastic bottles. So basically – if you weren’t funny or somehow captivating you got beat. Literally.
They made a point in saying that the way they treat us as clowns is as clowns, not as people. When we were our clowns we were sort of like dogs to them. They would whistle and say "come here Florinda. Florinda. SHUTUP! What are you doing? You are the worst in the class." Etc etc etc.
Despite their tough nature with all of us I don’t want you to think they were slave drivers – they were really amazing teachers and their method for teaching clown is exactly the way I think clown has to be taught. You have to build up tough skin.
At the end of the class Stefano mentioned he was happy we were a smaller group. He said with big groups it is hard because he “needs time to destroy the people” which I thought was pretty brilliant.
We had a clown presentation on Friday, and then again on Saturday. After our clown presentation we did our commedia presentation which I personally wasn’t too keen on. I mean, we hadn’t done commedia in….4 weeks? So basically it was shit. But this leads me to my next point.

Biggest lesson I learned at the Accademia? How to Fail. How to fail and be okay with it. All semester long, I FAILED. OVER. And OVER. And OVER again. Our commedia presentation? Not as together as it should have been. Our clowns? Individually, they were great, but our presentation? Crickets. Even in class exercises, I made HUGE failures. I used to be the kind of person who had to feel good about something before I presented it. Here there wasn’t time. With improv, you just have to get up and do it. I think the ability to be okay with failing in the end gives me exactly what I came to the Accademia for. I wanted to find the “playfulness” that actors have in their work; the ability to get in rehearsal, make BOLD choices, fail, and then try new bold choices. It was definitely emotionally and physically draining. Failing messes with your mind a lot - - and to be honest I’ve had three months of failure and now I’m ready to succeed at SOMETHING. But I will say, that learning how to fail and admitting to failure is probably one of the biggest successes I’ve ever had. I couldn’t be leaving more proud of what I’ve learned. All the sweat, tears, sore muscles – completely worth it.
Aside from class this week we had tons of events. MFA presentations, a dance presentation, a concert on Tuesday done by Italian musicians that were visiting the villa - - on Friday all of us performed in Cortona for the Italian public in a beautiful theatre. It was mostly a show for the dancers – a culmination of their work for the semester and then after a brief intermission the MFA students did their final semester scenes. The theatre track did an acrobatic piece in the middle. I will say, though, the one downfall to this program that I think most, if not all, of the theatre track would agree with is that we wish we could have gotten the opportunity to perform more. We had amazing workshops with teachers who were beyond comprehension and everything we learned in class was incredibly insightful – but we only had our commedia and clown presentations. I also told the Accademia in our feedback session with them on Saturday that I think they should try to do more outreach stuff with Arezzo. It's such a small community; there are ways to involve them more, and that way we would be more immersed in the Italian culture too! :)

Saying goodbye was rough. Despite various bouts of homesickness and me getting fed up with people at times (natural; we were all working, sleeping, eating, studying, and breathing together 24 hours a day) the people here were pretty amazing. I’m kicking myself for not getting to know certain people better but I am so thankful that I was able to be in the presence of them for the time that I was.
Saturday night we had a dinner party (I was packing for most of it) and then we went out and sat on the aquaduct, singing, drumming, and staring out at the dark, deep, Tuscan mountains and night sky. It was a perfect way to end the semester.

Pictures taken by other people - but I love them. I miss you already, Arezzo.

I didn't sleep at all that night because we were all hanging out so late and my taxi came at four in the morning. Kadie, Marissa, Elaina, and I all took it to the Florence airport (about an hour drive). I said my goodbyes, as I was the first to leave, and got on my hour and a half flight to Munich. Once in Munich, I had a four hour layover and then a 8 1/2 hour flight home to Chicago. No, I did not run into any volcanic ash. :) YAY!
It was such an odd experience. Packing, getting into the taxi, being on the plane - - I was so tired that I felt as though someone was literally picking me up and carrying me through all of those things. I didn't have time to process what was happening. To be honest, I don't think I have processed it yet. Leaving came far too soon - I can't even begin to fathom it.

So that is that. I am home - completely exhausted both mentally and physically - but in one piece. I had dinner last night with family and then passed out - I woke up at five this morning starving (lunch time in Italy!). Let the jet lag begin.

For those of you from the Accademia who may be reading this - Thank you Thank you Thank you for everything. I had the time of my life. For those of you not from the Accademia, thanks for reading :) and thank you for your support. It is good to be home.

Until next time...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ashes Ashes we all fall down.

I dreamt last night that volcanic ash was taking over Italy and they were sending hot air balloons up in the sky to collect all of it.
Hmm. Wonder where I got that idea?

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure you've all heard about the huge airline catastrophe otherwise known as IceAsh. For the first time today I got a tad bit concerned about my anticipated arrival home in a week. Kadie (my roomie), her boyfriend was scheduled to leave today. His flight got canceled, and because of how backed up the airports are he is now staying until Thursday; an additional FIVE days. Kadie is, of course, really happy but the poor guy is supposed to be back at work so although he's not arguing about staying here, his boss isn't too happy. Luckily for him, the rest of the world is currently in the same situation so hopefully the boss will be understanding. All the girls today were saying, "What if they don't let us stay in the school? What if we have to pay for hotels! They don't have to feed us!" and while I assured them that I'm almost positive this won't be the case, I can't help but wonder what would happen if we were all stuck here. I mean, don't get me wrong, being stuck in Italy would not be the worst thing in the world. There are way worse places to be stuck - - however I do want to get home safely. I guess we'll have to see.

This last week marked the end of academics here at the Accademia. Last monday we performed our Italian skits. My group decided to do a "lost scene" from the movie "Toy Story". We all picked a toy and wrote a skit in which Andy took all the toys with him on his trip to Italy. (Buzz and Woody not included in the suitcase because they were in Andy's carry-on). Mr. Potato Head (me) had a bad dream that he was stuck in Italy and that the toys were turning against him. Sounds like excellent writing, huh?
Anyway, here we are...costumes and all. :)

Rex, Ham, Slink, ME (Mr Potato Head), and Alien.

Wednesday we had our final "Tramonto" where we all had to create a page for the "ADA scrapbook" that sits in the common area. It's filled with pages of advice for future students as well as random notes. My page was "Italia I-Pod" otherwise known as the main songs I've listened to this semester. I figured, there are only so many pages that say "Ubu is a crazy guard dog, don't mind him" and "Eat Kebab at Istanbul Kebab every weekend"...why not share music instead? Then they handed out awards. I got the "Most likely to be a Norwegian Mafia Member" award. My family should be so proud.

We finished up voice, Italian, and Philosophy on Thursday. In voice we were working on our new monologues all week - doing crazy exercises involving finding colors and elements in our pieces. It was really helpful. I have never had a voice class like the one I had with Kevin, and overall I learned a ton in his class. For our last day of Italian we had our final. EEK! I hope that it went well. Even though it was only a week, I think I lost my Italian in Norway. Ever since I got back from spring break, it was super hard to speak it, write it, everything. It's frustrating - I can read it just fine! Even walking through the streets, I know exactly what people are saying but I get all tongue tied when I have to say anything to them. I know that the class is over, but I really want to keep up with Italian when I get home. I don't know how realistic that is seeing as I will hopefully be working a lot this summer and then once fall starts I have school again - but I REALLY want to. I've come this far...I might as well keep it going. Although I do want to learn Norwegian too...
I wish all foreign languages just magically found a way into my mouth.
For our last day of Philosophy, Scott invited the entire class (dance and theatre students) over to his house which is remarkably close to the school. His house is BEAUTIFUL. It's filled with the best artwork, the best books - one corner was a bookshelf, a desk with a pile of philosophical readings on Pinocchio, a blank piece of paper, a pencil, all sitting right by a window that overlooks his gorgeous, green, flower-blooming, pond-glistening yard. His kitchen SCREAMS Italian, as does the fireplace in the dining room. The upstairs bathroom is teeny tiny with wooden floors and an old-school bathtub. It's all Italian chic, yet simple, yet probably costs an absolute fortune. Did I mention that he lives on the same property as the COUNT. Arezzo has a COUNT.

Thursday night we had our final cabaret. I got asked sort of last minute to be the MC, so I asked Courtney if she would do it with me. (The girl who looks like me here). She wore my commedia clothes/mask and I wore her dance gear. I guess it worked because later when Courtney performed in a dance, Dave (Kadie's boyfriend) thought it was me. HA. I ended up singing and playing Djembe which was cool. I haven't ever really performed my drum-skills save for a few random sessions in front of Parkside students with Allison, so it was nice to do it for people.

Friday we finished up our movement class with Claudia. I'm kind of in denial about this fact, but writing it out makes it all the more true. We finished movement class. The last day we were supposed to do a bunch of different things but we ended up just learning acrobatic tricks the entire time because we were having way too much fun with it. Kadie and I did two person cartwheels (like a cartwheel except you are holding on to and "wheeling" with eachother.) Hard to explain in writing but OH MY GOD! It was SO much fun. I wanted to learn how to do that so bad and we did! Claudia also taught us this crazy lift where she was laying on the ground with her hands and feet straight up in the air, and I grabbed onto her arms and then did a little bunny-hop into an upside down position where my head was between her feet and my body was in the air. So basically I was doing a handstand but a good two/three feet off the ground; my only support being her hands pressing up on my hands and her feet holding my head and shoulders. AHHH!! Out of control. I can't believe half the stuff I learned in that class. Not only did I gain a greater amount of awareness for my body, but I also learned a lot about patience, trust, and taking risks. So much of what was required of us we just had to dive head first into (sometimes literally), so it felt good to let yourself go to that point. I will definitely miss that class.

This weekend I stuck around Arezzo.
Saturday I woke up and went to the market with Courtney. I bought a Salami e formaggio panino, fresh fruit, and Pecorino Fresco cheese (DELICIOUS). Then I came back to the villa and had a massive cleaning/laundry session. Saturday night was spent working on my philosophy paper, which is what I spent all of today doing as well. Good news though, I am finished! (Almost..I just have to do a works cited). Once the paper is turned in tomorrow, school is officially done.

Well...sort of... although, this week is an entire week of pure clowning and clowning to me doesn't even begin to equate with school. These two guys Stefano Locati and Allesandro Vallin (otherwise known as "Freak Clown") are teaching us starting tomorrow! We work with them all week and then have a presentation on Friday of what we've learned.

And, that's it! A week at this time I will be home - that is if operation IceAsh gets resolved. I know I've been saying this a lot lately...but seriously. WHERE HAS TIME GONE?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rome if you want to, Rome around the world.

Ciao Amici

This week has been absolutely insane. Finals week here in the yellow villa so I've been very preoccupied and haven't had time to write!

ROMA! What a weekend.
The girls and I left Saturday morning. It was in the 70's and sunny all day - absolutely gorgeous. With weather like that, we had to stay outside so we decided to make the Colosseum and the ruins are number one priority. Well, on our way to the Colosseum we ran into a couple crazies. One man was leaning against a car, staring at us, and masturbating for the world to see in the middle of the street at 11:30 am broad daylight! Needless to say, that was a bit unnerving, and made me pretty sketched out about Rome at first. This was followed by another man who asked us to take his picture in front of the Colosseum and then said, "Now, you join me in the picture?" thank you. Lots of fast walking.

Once we were SAFE inside the Colosseum, it was incredible. What a building. What history.

This next picture is definitely one of my favorites.

I love the bride, but the two "pink men" make it for me. haha. SO Italian.
PS. We saw four brides right after each other outside the Colosseum. Don't know if they were together (it didn't appear that way) but regardless - what a beautiful day to get married!
After exploring the Colosseum for a while we went through the rest of the ruins. (Our ticket covered both areas, which was nice.)

For you, Dad. ^

The great thing about Rome is that it is completely walk-able (as is basically any European city) but I was amazed at how much ground we covered for the short amount of time that we had there.

"Love is like the summer. When it starts, you hope it lasts forever."
Next, we hit up the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps.

Pantheon ceiling

The most badass street musicians I've seen so far (I wanted them to have a CD SO badly but they didn't.)

Me, Emily, Elaina

The Spanish Steps are absolutely beautiful but there are street venders EVERYWHERE. Street venders in Italy sell the strangest things too - it's nothing you would ever want to buy. Sure, there are men with roses, but there are copious amounts of men with flashing devil horns, these globs of gunk that splat on the wall when you throw them and then morph back into balls, weird bubble blowing devices. The best street vender, however, was this man who came up to us with this weird noise-maker and he said, "Boom Shaka Laka" while sticking this thing in our faces and Emily said with the BEST tone of voice and the BEST expression on her face ever, "no no, non Boom Shaka Laka". Oh man. I wish I was able to recreate it for you in writing - it was hysterical. We sat in the sun for a while on the steps and then headed to the Trevi Fountain.

Man - I HATE that the Trevi fountain is such a tourist attraction because aside from the unbearable swarms of people around it, it really is a magical place. We stopped by before dinner to throw our coins in, then had dinner, and then came back. Seeing it at night is a completely different feeling. SO beautiful. I wish there would have been less of a crowd - I could have sat there all night.

Sunday. Sadly, the Vatican Museum is closed on Sundays and because the day was so gorgeous on Saturday, we didn't want to spend all day inside. Needless to say, I didn't do the museum but I did go to Vatican City.
I was greeted by these strapping young men:

How would you like to go to work every day wearing that?
All the men who are guards at the Vatican (and cantors in St. Peter's Basilica for that matter) are young, 20 something year old, good looking guys. I swear, it was like a modeling contest to see who the prettiest guard was.
Vatican City is by far one of the most overwhelmingly gorgeous places I've been in Italy. Everything about it is huge. Everything about it is pretty. Everything about it is...well..just see for yourself.

Of course, the city is also home to this little thing called St. Peter's Basilica. You walk into it and you cannot help but get teary eyed. It is BEAUTY. Manmade Beauty. How the HELL do people build something like that? Lucky for Emily and I, we were in time for mass so we attended a full hour long Catholic Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. Ahhh it was so amazing. I am not Catholic, nor do I speak enough Italian, but it was such an experience. I am so happy we got to attend mass! Being in St. Peter's - - THE place, with all the late great popes surrounding you while listening to an Italian service.

Afterwards we grabbed some food and headed on the train back to Arezzo.
Overall, it was such a wonderful weekend. We did a lot for only having a day and a half there, and despite the rocky start with all the crazies, Rome was pretty incredible.

I'll update you more on academic stuff/finals week tomorrow. As for now, it is 2:30 am and I need to get some sleep!

Buona Notte

Friday, April 9, 2010

Under the Tuscan Sun with Zio Lino


I cannot believe it is already Friday but alas, time here in the yellow villa continues to fly by.

All this week we have been mask-making with Lino Spadaro, an actor and mask-maker here in Italy. (Coincidentally, Allison, directly before he came here he was acting in St. Petersburg. I swear - our "places" have connected in so many random ways. Fate.) We were required to make two masks - one for the Accademia and one to take home and we could choose any character. I chose Zanni 1) because I think he is hysterical and 2) Zanni is the original Commedia mask and all the masks following were built off of him. We finished both masks today :) It was a long process, but actually not as hard as I thought it would be.

We started by building the mask with clay on top of a neutral face base. We first covered the neutral base and then added the facial elements that are specifically for our character (for instance, the most important feature on Zanni is his long nose). Then we built a clay platform around the mask and poured plaster on top of it. We let this dry overnight. The next day, we took away the extra clay and pulled the mold we had created away from the base. After this, we cleaned out the mold (which was basically just a big imprint of the mask that we had made) and coated it with a layer of latex followed by two more layers of latex and fiber glass. After letting this dry for a while in the sun, we pulled the layer of latex and fiber glass out of the mold and voila! There was our mask! We cut away the extra material surrrounding the face, cut out the eyes and nostrils, and trimmed up all the edges so that they were smooth. Then we painted it with a primer (mosquito poop...literally! eeewww) and then painted the base coat, the shadows and the highlights. Afterwards we attached the strap and coated it with a layer of protective shine. Then, we used the same mold and made an identical mask for the school. TA DA! Two masks completed in one week. Pretty awesome.
Lino was amazing too - an old man with not a word of English in him, but a really great teacher with a very funny personality. (It was nice having to speak Italian in a class other than Italian). We called him Zio Lino at the end of class today (Uncle Lino). He really was a character - I'm sad that he's already leaving, but he's a busy man! Here's my mask :)

Pretty cool, huh? I'm really happy with how it turned out.

Mask-making was our main focus this week, but we had a couple Italian, philosophy, and voice classes sprinkled in. It's been absolutely gorgeous weather here so at lunch I've been laying on top of the Teatrino Balcony and catching some sun - - or getting sunburnt I should said.

Tomorrow morning I leave for ROMA!!! :)
Only two more weeks.
Time, where have you gone?

Monday, April 5, 2010

"I think it's all downhill from here, Eva" - Way to Jinx it Lizbie

Early Saturday morning, Lizbie and I left to spend our three day Easter weekend in Cinque Terre! Our train went from Arezzo to Firenze, where we had a changeover. Then from Firenze we went to La Spezia and upon arriving there we took a short train ride to Riomaggiore (the first city out of the five, and also the city where our hostel was). Our hostel was great - two beds, a private bathroom, clean and only a three minute walk from the ocean; not to mention the people who owned it were really friendly. We got to Riomaggiore around lunch and after dropping off our things and grabbing a slice of pizza, we went down to the water.In Cinque Terre there are no museums, no massive cathedrals - just small cities, long hiking trails, good restaurants, and the ocean. It was definitely the most relaxing weekend I've had here - and my favorite part of Italy so far. NATURE, man. NATURE.

Lizbie and I hiked the nature trail first. If you are in Riomaggiore, it's the trail going to the left (whereas the trail to the right leads you to the next city).

Riomaggiore from above :)

One of my favorites.

She followed this cat everywhere...

Afterwards, Lizbie and I walked from Riomaggiore to the second city, Manarola. This walk is really easy because it's not a hike, it's basically a bridge along the coast. It's called "Via dell'Amore" or the lover's road. Along the way, there are locks that couples have written their names on. It was cute, but pretty depressing seeing as the walk was lined with all sorts of people holding hands and kissing. I think Cinque Terre in general must be the honeymoon capital of the world. Everywhere we went there were young girls with HUGE rocks on their fingers, and it was clear by the way they were walking with their "other" that they were "new". Very romantic. Some people took it a little too far though. I mean...sleeping bags and pillows on the rocks? Maybe I was just jealous...ha.

Lizbie and I stopped along the path, got a beer, watched the sunset, and then had dinner in Manarola (the second town), took the train back to Riomaggiore (it was way too dark to walk back) and went to bed early!

Sunday (Buona Pasqua!) We woke up and were out the door by 10:00. Our mission for the day: To hike from Riomaggiore all the way to Monterosso (the 5th city). There are a bunch of different trails to take; we decided to take the coastal path which the map told us would be a five hour hike. Well, we were champions because we hiked it in five hours but that included lunch in Corniglia (the third city), dessert in Vernazza (the fourth city) and spending time walking around each city. Go us! It was cloudy all day and apparently was supposed to rain - I almost bought a rain jacket about five different times but I'm glad I didn't because it barely sprinkled. Two hardest trails = the one from Corniglia to Vernazza and the one from Vernazza to Monterosso. Coincidently, they are also the last two trails so by the end my feet were ready to fall off. Some of the paths were super narrow - seriously, you had to watch your footing!
Manarola (City 2)

On the way to Corniglia...

In Corniglia

Ciao Corniglia. Andiamo Vernazza!

Vernazza was my favorite city. Not sure why - maybe the layout of the city streets?

Maybe because this was one of the first things I encountered; an old Italian man helping his "mini me" down the stairs. (Complete with "cheers" by the old man each time one step was accomplished.)

Maybe the colored umbrellas?

Maybe these two boys playing on the beach? They were hysterical.

The view never got old..

Whatever it was...Vernazza was perfect. As we were leaving we bumped into the other girls from the Accademia that were in Cinque Terre for the weekend so we hiked the last trail with them.
Just to give you an idea of the narrow trails..

This one was much better (lower, and it had a rail!)


Once we got to the final city, we all stopped at a bar. The girls got drinks and I got an iced coffee. Then Lizbie and I took the train back to our hostel and we showered before dinner. All of us ate Easter dinner together. One of the girls said a prayer; although I'm not the most religious person in the world, it was really nice. I can't speak for everyone, but I know for me personally it was weird being away from family on Easter so to have some sort of "family-ish" meal was comforting. It served as a great ending to a long hiking-filled day.

So of course, after an overcast weekend, it decided this morning to be sunny and radiant outside as we were leaving. Luckily, we got to enjoy it a little bit. We found a cafe by the water with milkshakes (YES!) After splitting a sandwich and drinking our shakes, we left for the train station and the rest of the day was spent getting home.
My gorgeous red-headed amica buying some snacks for the train.

Yes yes yes to Strawberry Milkshakes. MUAHAHA I manage to find them even when outside the states! :)

Cinque Terre Champions

Four day week this week, and only three more weeks to go here in the villa.
Craziness. All of this is flying by..

Hope everyone had a "Buona Pasqua". You were missed by me. <3
Tanti Baci!