Monday, March 15, 2010

Ciao, Italia

Thus concludes Spring Break 2010. Back to the humdrum and routine, I surely will miss Italy and all its opportunities, spontaneity and luster. I would just like to be over the jet lag, however.

I am so blessed to have had this opportunity, and I certainly learned a lot about myself, life and my career. I got a lot closer with people who I have had classes with, but never really got to know too well.

My professors got to see many sides of each of us.. our happy and non-sleep deprived faces, our "it's-three-in-the-morning-and-this-computer-program-won't-work," livid faces, our giggly "it's-three-in-the-morning-and-we're-still-procrastinating" faces, and our faces when we experienced new things, including seeing opportunities and breaking out of our comfort zone.

We were let out from under our professors' wings.

We got to be reporters for a week, with no one to report to directly, no one to watch over us, no one to hover and say, "That's wrong according to AP style," or, "That shot should be on the rule of thirds."

I'm excited to see where life will lead. Who knows? I rubbed the pig's nose at the market. Maybe it'll lead me back to Italy, back to the land my ancestors came from.

Arrivederci e ti voglio bene, Italia.

Sunday... the extra day.

I woke Sunday morning to the ringing of a telephone, which was my wake-up call. Let me just tell you... there are few worse ways to wake up in the morning. The first... being shaken awake. The second, that annoying beeping noise no one actually likes on an alarm clock. The third... a telephone ring. And not one of those fun ones like on a cell phone.. no. The good old-fashioned "ring, ring" of a telephone.

I was not a happy camper.

After a nice, long, hot shower at 5:15 am, I put on the SAME clothes as the day before, since our luggage was all in transit from the previous day, and all we had was our carry-ons. My carry-on consisted of my laptop and all the fragile souvenirs I was bringing back to the States.

If my life depended on myself and that backpack, I would have died.

Luckily, I didn't have to depend only on my bag, because my luggage made it through to the next airport. After a nice breakfast (paid for by Lufthansa for making us miss our flight..) we found our gate and waited to fly from Munich to Frankfurt, Germany.

Then we waited to fly to Atlanta. Our international flight was 9 1/2 hours, and I barely slept. I slept probably two to three hours, thanks solely to the benedryl I had popped earlier. I was upset I couldn't sleep more.

The view, however, was GORGEOUS. There are fewer things more beautiful I have seen than the Alps from such a high view.. and whatever was more beautiful I'm pretty sure I saw in Italy.

When we got to Atlanta, we had an hour and-a-half to make our connecting flight to Little Rock. Piece of cake, right? I wish it was so easy.

We had to go through immigration and customs, then passport control, re-check our bags onto the plane to Little Rock, get screened through security yet again and find our desk for Delta so we could get our boarding passes at the gate... all in an hour and-a-half.

Sweat perspiring on our foreheads as we ran through the airport, we made it to the gate... somehow with time to spare.

The last flight was so easy; it was only an hour. Our seats were in row one, which meant we had some extra foot room. The view out the window was gorgeous; above the clouds, the sunset honestly had every color of a rainbow. I would have taken pictures but the camera was in the overhead compartment and I might have got shot if I turned on my phone in the air.

It was so spectacular though; I wish I could share.

When we hit the ground in Little Rock, we breathed a sigh of relief. I had never been so excited to be back in Searcy-- we had been traveling for just about 48 hours at this point. We just wanted clean clothes, a shower and a warm bed.

Thankfully, Penny's parents were at the airport, ready to pick us up when we got there. We were worried we were going to tell them the wrong time due to the time difference in Italy, the time change from Atlanta to Little Rock and also taking daylight savings into account.

We drove back to Searcy and made it to Harding at about 8:30 pm central time.. or 2:30 am Italy time (after daylights savings, of course.) It was the longest trip of my life. It was longer than driving to school from New Hampshire within a course of two days.

Being back in Searcy has thoroughly excited... and depressed me. I love seeing my friends that I haven't seen or been able to communicate with in so long, but I miss seeing new things everyday. I miss meeting random people and hearing their stories, but most of all, I miss the art and beauty of Italy. At least their grass was green.

"Grazie! Oh sorry! What country am I in? I mean, Danke."

Saturday morning we woke up super early to packed suitcases and one last, scrumptious Italian breakfast. We loaded the vans, crammed everyone in and headed to the Florence airport. Sara Shaban completely made my morning, and was officially my favorite person in Florence that day. She made up songs about April, Coca-Cola and I'm pretty sure there was some High School Musical twisted in there. She had me laughing until my stomach hurt.

When we got to our gate at the airport, we all just passed out in a row of chairs... and Stephen- the floor. (Well, some people grammar-checked Dr. Miller's students' papers for him...) We waited for our plane. And we waited. And ten minutes before our plane was scheduled to take off... yup, we were still waiting.

Outside, the sky was blue and the clouds were white and puffy. Okay, well, it was slightly gray and foggy. But still mostly blue, with puffy clouds. While we were all questioning why we were not headed on our super long trip.. (our plan was to drive to Florence, get on a plane to Munich, Germany, head to Chicago, fly to Little Rock, then drive the 45 minutes back to school from there) Jeremy came over and said the Florence airport felt the weather conditions were too risky and the pilot did not feel comfortable flying in it.

Don't let the blue sky fool you, we understood how risky that puffy cloud can be.

We were going to be bussed an hour to the airport in Pisa.

Okay. So we have a plan now. Let's execute it. Or... not? We waited about a good 45 minutes to an hour to even be loaded onto the bus. By this time it was noon when we started to go outside, and then we had to drive an hour to Pisa, fly an hour to Munich, and catch our flight at 3:25. Hmmm.. anyone else see a problem?

Honestly, I didn't mind being bussed to Pisa. It was like a final tour of Italy. While everyone was sleeping, I fought exhaustion and gazed upon what is the gorgeous countryside of Italy. I sat back, let the sun shine on me as I let Michael Buble, James Taylor and Rod Stewart serenade me across the countryside. I was just so happy to be in Italy for an extra hour that I wasn't even worried about getting back to school. I knew I'd get there eventually; why not take a little extra time and enjoy the sights slightly longer?

Since everyone on the bus and van was headed to Munich, we figured, "oh, hey, once we get there we can all just jump on the plane and leave." False. We waited a good hour before they started loading us on. That was our demise. That final hour wait. For when we got to Munich, we had missed our connecting flight to America by... yup. That's right. An hour.

When we first got inside the airport we saw a woman holding a sign with a single word on it: Chicago.

We had never been so excited. We couldn't believe they held the plane for us!

"What if they're just bringing us to get hotel arrangements?" Sara nervously laughed.

We all laughed. Surely not. I mean she had a legitimate piece of paper with CHICAGO written on it. They don't do that for people they're just putting up in hotels for the night.

Or.... they do.

A few hours later, there were 22 American students sitting on the floor of the Munich airport and making free phone calls to the States. We each had new plane tickets, hotel and shuttle vouchers in hand, and headed off to the place where we'd spend our Saturday night instead of in Searcy: Munich, Germany.

We wanted to go into the city, but it was 40 minutes and eight euro one way. Plus, we'd have to get a taxi to the subway, and it wasn't worth it since I had to get up at 5:15 the next morning to (hopefully) catch our flight to America.

After a free dinner, a LOT of laughs, free dessert and cappuccino thanks to Dr. James, a visit to the heated pool and Fantastic Four in German, Rachel and I headed up to our hotel room. I passed out nearly instantly, dreading the sound of the ringing phone that was supposed to wake me up all too early the next morning.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

They didn't build Rome in a day, but we saw it in one!

Well, let's just see now. I owe a blog from Friday, Saturday and of course, my adventures from today. For readability sake, I still split them up. This one is recapping Friday, our free travel day.

First, let's just say this:

I was born in the wrong era.

Friday, a bunch of us went to Rome. The art, churches and architecture there was just jaw-dropping. I can't believe I live in a time where none of that is important anymore- the buildings America make now are not built to last like these Roman ones. American buildings are made efficiently, to better fulfill the time element rather than the sustainability and longevity. It's really quite sad. Plus, the beauty nowadays doesn't even compare to a fraction of the work that was put into anything back then. A man spent 75 years, his entire lifetime, working on the Duomo baptistery to get the doors perfect. Who is the equivalent to that in America? We're so concerned about being free, about being able to have freedom of speech and say whatever we want and have certain rights, but Americans hardly do anything extravagant when it comes to expressing themselves or culture artistically.

Anyway, we split up when we got there depending on what we wanted to do and what we wanted to see. A bunch of people had been before and didn't want to do the whole "tourist of Rome" thing, but of course I wanted to; I had never been!

Gabrielle, Janet, Stephen and I took a taxi to St. Peter's church when we first arrived. On the way, though, we got stuck at a street due to a bus strike. There was also a train strike that day; strikes are common in Italy. So we got out and walked when they blockaded the street for minutes at a time and we saw our euros being thrown out the window as we sat and idled in the street.

After we walked to St. Peter's and stood through the long line for security, we went inside. Breathtaking. Beautiful. The beauty of Italy just amazes me in so many ways. These people took so long to create something that would stand the tests of time and remain flawlessly intact.

At this point we had been in Rome probably less than an hour. When I took a picture for about hmmm... 1/250th of a second and turned around... Gabrielle and Janet were gone. Nowhere to be seen. They had said they were going over to the statue, but when Stephen and I went over there we couldn't see them. There was just way too many people.

I was frustrated. I couldn't believe we had just got to Rome and now we were all separated for the day. After getting angry at some guard who just DID NOT understand what I was asking.. (I asked for the nearest phone.. he thought I wanted to use a phone in the church. We had a little heated argument with accents), we went outside to go find the phone in the courtyard to call Dr. Miller when I heard my name. Gabrielle and Janet were outside trying to figure out what their next step was in finding us.... or moving on.

That was really lucky we found them.

From there we walked to the Trevi Fountain... in the pouring rain. We had to huddle in a corner of a McDonald's to avoid the torrential downpour. When it finally settled down we went out to the fountain. It was pretty epic, I'm not going to lie. I know I keep raving about the architecture and art, but if you saw it, you'd just understand. Pictures hardly do justice; it might be better to not even post any since it would only defer your thinking of what it really looks like.

The thing that surprised me most was the fact the fountain was in the middle of a random center.. with gelato and other shops sprinkled nearby, and then oh! Trevi fountain. This majestic piece of art is just chillin by itself, aloof from what was ancient Rome...

And it was a lot smaller than you would think, too. It looked so different than the pictures you see in textbooks and online- not all of us have the luxury of unrestrained lighting and flattering, wide-angle lenses.

After making wishes by throwing coins over our shoulders at the fountain, we went across the street to get Gabrielle her nutella-filled crepe. From there we made our way to the Colosseum. On the walk over we saw the Roman Forum. It was very random. We were wandering down the street, just looking at the modern churches and oh! Hey! There's ancient Rome. Just right there.


There were just arbitrary columns and other ruins in the middle of the city. People who you could tell were native to the country were just walking by, not at all amazed by what they were passing. We, of course, snapped about 4,000 pictures of the ruins, each from a different angle.

Then, as we walked down the street we took a turn and COLOSSEUM! Right in front of us. Right next to a busy street, with street lights and honking horns. (That is another thing that is not foreign to Rome-- honking. So much honking.) Outside the Colosseum were people dressed as Roman guards. We were trying to figure out how everyone got such a clear picture of the Colosseum-- there was stuff in front of it from every angle, whether it be merchants and vendors, or streets, street lights and immense traffic.

After that we went shopping and caught a train back to Florence. Though we didn't get to see some of the stuff we wanted to see, like the Spanish steps and the Sistine Chapel, we were exhausted. We were especially tired since it was the last day we were in Italy and had been up late working all week. If we were to enjoy free travel, we think it should have been in the beginning of the week rather than the end, after we were all ready to pass out as soon as we woke up. Plus, we all would have looked cute in pictures from the beginning of the week, before the look of extreme exhaustion became written on our faces, and still have yet to be wiped off.

We got back and pretty much went to bed and passed out.. especially since we had to be up early the next morning to fly home to America. Or we thought we were going to fly home....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Medici Chapel and the David

Today we got up and went to the Medici Chapel, which was breathtaking and utterly stunning. The chapel itself had ceilings so high that were painted for people who were obviously wealthy. There were even sarcophagi? on the walls.

The lower piece of the high altar in the Medici's own private chapel was solely made of rocks and rice mosaics. Even looking at them up close it seemed nearly impossible to tell it was a mosaic; it looked like a painting.

Beautiful, beautiful art. I only wish they would let us take pictures of these amazing things!!!!

Next, we went to the Bargello, a museum primarily featuring statues. That was pretty interesting, but the tour was pretty long. Since the Link crew didn't have headphones, it was extremely hard to hear the tour guide unless you were right up next to her while she was talking. So we explored by ourselves.

It's so interesting to see the aspects that make the art: the brush strokes, the chisel marks, the flaws, the reconstructions.... you can't see that in a textbook. Also, seeing unfinished art was fascinating since you got to see the process. I saw so much beauty today.

After we went to the Bargello and lunch, Gabrielle and I went to the Accademia to see the David. Let me just tell you a little bit about that experience.

First, (this should be no surprise with Gabrielle and me, two directionally challenged people..) we couldn't find the Accademia. We walked around until we saw on the map about where it was supposed to be. When we saw the word Accademia on the wall of a building around that spot, we walked into it. There were all these statues, but nowhere to pay. And we thought that was strange. So we wandered around, asking ourselves and each other, "where is the David?" Yeah. Soon enough we realized the place we were was not THE Accademia, but the school of art for licensure.

When we finally found the Accademia, (a door in a rundown building with graffiti on the outside..) we thought surely this could not be where it was! It is not quite the glamorous Galleria dell' Accademia anyone would think it would be. I mean, Michelangelo carved the DAVID out of a single piece of leftover marble he found in a back alley. It deserves a grandiose building, not a rundown one. But alas, it was! After we went inside and took a gander at the paintings in the front room and the unfinished sculptures in the second- there it was in all its glory.

The David.

At first, when we walked into the unfinished sculpture room we didn't notice the giant statue at the end of the hallway. When I first saw it I just stopped and said to Gabrielle "uh....statue. STATUE."



I just pointed. There was nothing else I could really do or say. Our reactions spoke for themselves. We walked to the back where David stood, eternally posing.

We just stared.

And stared. And walked around and stared some more.

I can't describe how magnificent this piece of artwork is. And I tried. Surely this giant man was real just posing to be a statue. He was so lifelike that there was no way that was inanimate.

His ribcage looked like he was just holding his breath, about to breathe at any second. His hamstring literally looked stretched due to the position that he was in, and you could almost imagine the ligament extending, connecting the bones.

His neck muscles were perfectly portrayed for the direction he was looking, and his kneecaps were so intricately detailed I thought it could be a real knee.

But oh, his hair! Each curl, delicately shaped... each carved so carefully from marble.. and it still fell flawlessly over his forehead.

What really got me, however, was the veins in his hands. I teared up when I noticed them; I turned to Gabrielle and just whispered, "There are veins in his hands."

I just never could imagine art to be so beautiful.

Gabrielle and I didn't talk much. We just stood in awe. When she did speak, however, it said everything. "..Wow." I said, "Yeah." And that's pretty much how I can describe it.

You could SEE the chisel marks where Michelangelo carved away at David's toes. His back muscles flexed as his arms raised. The shoulder strap to his leather sling hung in the perfect spot.

I just can't believe something that spectacular was created by chipping away at a block. Nothing was built up; every indent was created by taking away some marble. What happened if you chipped off too much? Would the nose come off like the Sphinx? It just blows my mind that someone can take something solid and structurally sound, and take away little pieces until it produces something as extraordinary, moving and inspirational as the David.

Staring at his face, he seemed as if he was going to turn at me and walk away. He seemed like he should actually be seeing- like he was really staring at the wall full of extremely realistic paintings that looked like HD photographs. I felt like he saw me.

I grew up a bit today.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It is what it is: a day simply FILLED with laughter.

I went to bed so very early last night (12:15) and I was proud of myself! Plus, this morning we got to sleep in until our meeting at 10 am. Let me just tell you- it was blissful! BLISS. FUL. We got up and had our meeting over a wonderful Italian hot breakfast and left for the Villa.

When we got there, we sat in on the HUF students humanities class which today consisted of an interview between Dr. Shock and Jay Russell, an esteemed film director for movies such as "My Dog Skip," "Tuck Everlasting," "Ladder 49" and "The Water Horse." He has also produced a few movies and wrote "The End of the Line." When Dr. Shock was done asking questions, it was our turn. We just sat around, picking this man's brain- his 'go-to' actor is Kevin Bacon.

Also visiting the Villa were a lot of highly esteemed people in Italian culture, including people of the Italian Consulate. They were invited by HUF director Robbie Shackleford for the 30th anniversary of HUF itself. We listened to a guest sing opera and I got an audio clip of it. It was so beautiful to hear that in Italian!

Then we had a wonderful lunch at the Villa. I'm going to miss this food so much when I go home... which is in 3 days! I can't believe that it's Wednesday already. We free travel on Friday and then Saturday we are headed back to the good ol' United States. Tomorrow will also fly by because we're going to all the different museums all day. I feel like I haven't even got to see anything that IS Italy yet... there is no way you can just spend 10 days here and see everything. I also really wish I could go to Venice and Sicily, where my ancestors are from. I guess that just means I'll have to come back. And I AM coming back, because at the Piggy Market the other day I touched the pig's nose. The superstition is that if you rub the nose of the bronze swine outside the market you will return to Italy. I was not taking that risk: I practically wanted to run to that pig and rub away.

After lunch I went upstairs and worked on my story for the day: the little differences no one tells you between Italy and America. It was actually really interesting! And I must say, I was interested in this story and had the idea because many (if not all) happened to me or I didn't know about.

After we worked and hung out for awhile, we went out to dinner with the HUF group and a intercultural exchange program from Albania who was studying in Italy as welll.

After a delicious dinner and much laughter, we went to the Florence Church of Christ for some Albanian dancing. I must say, dancing with them was a lot of fun!! There was so much laughter on the walk to the church, at the church and on the way back to the college. So many new inside jokes. Gabrielle was in tears and my abs were in so much pain from the constant laughter.

It kind of hit us that tonight is WEDNESDAY night and our free day is Friday, and then we're headed back the United States. GAH! I just want to experience all that is Italy-- breathe it, soak it all in... I'm definitely not ready to go back to Broadcast Performance and Life of Christ on Monday. Sitting in a classroom, reading and learning about life is definitely not the same as being out here experiencing it. It is such a blessing to have this opportunity to be here, doing what our life one day might be... and I think about that every morning when I get up. I wake up in Italy every day. Can you believe that? Because I definitely can't! I am so honored to be on this trip and to have the faith of my professors and those around me.

We finally started to get comfortable with going out and saying "here's what we're doing today" instead of asking if it was okay. We're adults. We're going to go out and do our job, come back and produce something real- whether that be something informative, funny or emotional. I am so glad I get to bring those elements of people who usually don't get interviewed.. who don't have a chance to tell their story. We are bringing voice to the voiceless. That is what is so appealing to me about being a journalist.

Unfortunately, we're coming home soon. We started calling this college home. I will take this experience to heart and remember the lessons I've learned along the way, like staying up to 3:30 am multiple days in a row makes me want to smash tables or flip them over when the internet dies or the computer freezes. However, I did also learn that around that time of night there is a lot of laughter and you hear the most ridiculous things you might have ever hear anyone say, ever. Period.

Case-in-point: Shower caps. Pruitt smash. Voting off islands. Terra-sooey. Discos. Paisley ties. Crosswalks. Japanese. The Liasons. Etccccc. Times 2384237423423. That might just be beginning extent of the craziness.

I came here with a bunch of people I knew, but not too well. I knew a few pretty well. I'm leaving with people I feel so close to, who make me laugh every second I'm around them, with interesting stories that we have reported and created ourselves.

I am being cultured.

Sadly I am almost done being cultured. For this trip anyway. I still have Australia coming up in the fall!

Mission tomorrow: Medici Chapel, the Bargello, the David at the Galleria dell' Accademia and the Piazza del Michelangelo before we head back to work on some stories. Then a jazz concert as our last "hoorah" (I did not coin this term, the HUF staff did for the record...) Then off to Rome on Friday! Then the long flight home.... to class Monday.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"I don't DO disco."

Today was another really great, successful day! The HUF students went into various cities via train to go on a photo scavenger hunt of the city. Gabrielle and my assigned city was Arezzo. When I found out Arezzo was the city where the movie "Life is Beautiful" was filmed, I was so ecstatic to check out the city. That is one of my favorite movies of all time. It was the cutest little city ever- and it really wasn't big at all! Walking around the entire city front to back only took probably 20 minutes. It actually is the biggest city in eastern Tuscany!

While on the train it started snowing. I feel as if I jynxed us by saying I wanted it to snow in Italy... (I don't know, it just seemed romantic)... because we were really cold and had soaking wet "snow hair" after about 10 minutes outside. It was not a pretty sight. It looked like I got straight out of the shower.

We found all the major spots where the movie was filmed and took a million and five pictures. Yes, I counted, and there was a million and five, give or take a few. That is clearly not a hyperbole.

We also went to the different churches. We got to see the Legend of the True Cross that Piero della Francesca painted and hangs in the Church of San Francesco. I was upset that we couldn't take any pictures inside, and to be honest, I even teared up at one point looking at the beautiful artwork. I just sat there in awe for minutes, staring. The stained glass was simply breathtaking. I really can't even describe how gorgeous it is. Pictures would not do justice anyway, so I guess it really doesn't matter that we couldn't take any, though I really wanted to. I did sneak this one off a sign though...

There were a ton of other sites we saw of statues, churches and piazzas that were just so beautiful. Unfortunately, due to the snow and the freezing cold weather we just wanted to get back and take a hot, hot, very hot shower.

By the time we got back on the train to go back to Florence, I took my hair down and it was soaking wet, which meant it was curly curly curly! To prove how unattractive it was, I had Gabrielle take a picture.
Yes. Point proven.

Anyway, we were wet, freezing, tired and extremely exuberant which was clear from our obnoxious laughter that turned heads on the bus. Literally. Heads turned, noses snubbed us but we just did. not. care. We were headed back to the Bible College for a hot shower.

Apparently not everyone minded, however, because a man that was about 30 years old and had hair with gray pieces sprinkling his head asked what we were doing tonight. I was planning on saying "going to church" but then I realized it was Tuesday. So I simply told him the truth- we were working on our stories because we're journalists and our work seems to never end. (This is evident to our staying up to 3 or 3:30 every morning finishing our stories...) He asked for our numbers in case we wanted to go out with him tonight. When we told him it didn't work overseas, he asked for the number to the place where we were staying. (Sorry you have to read this mom.) He said he was asking because he wanted to take us to the disco. The best part of the day, let me just tell you, is my response and my facial expression to this preposterous request.

"....I don't DO disco." This is when he said "ciao," got off the bus, and left. Then we laughed some more. Gabrielle and I decided every time an Italian male hits on us from now on we will act obnoxious and they will be so embarrassed they will just leave.

What were we thinking though?!?? I mean... this could have been us! Why on earth would we turn that down? Stupido Americano touristas.