Well, I have some catching up to do! Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, Firenze has never seemed more festive in all of my time here! I cannot even describe how absolutely wonderful it is to be going through the hectic preparations for “Natale,” popping in and out of little specialty shops and walking through the grand open markets of Saint Ambrogio and Santa Croce. Although the Italians surely know how to celebrate their Christmas holiday, it sure is strange how they don’t quite understand the Thanksgiving holiday. Half of them seem to believe that it is just a big eating day once a year, yet they also can’t fathom why we wouldn’t have pasta as our first course and then our turkey afterwards. The other half thinks that we are either celebrating our independence after the war from the British or something about the Native Americans. Either scenario is comical, especially since most of the restaurants attempt to make some close resemblance to a turkey (tucchino) with stuffing (ripieno), and in their valiant efforts, they cook it the day before and the majority of Fiorentini — the people of Florence — were saying “Happy Thanksgiving” on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Despite all of these comical cultural differences, Thanksgiving was a huge success, and I felt completely fulfilled as having a half American, half Italian celebration.
Amanda, one of the other students in our Holy Cross group and one of my good friends from school, went to the English speaking mass at the Duomo two weeks ago and stumbled upon a religious group for American students studying abroad called the St. Thomas More Society. It’s run primarily by students and directed by Fr. Mario, an incredible young priest who is from America but also speaks five languages and is a serious advocate of having active youth in the Church, including while studying abroad! Amanda and I have been attending some of the events that are offered, and we signed up to help with the baking for the big Thanksgiving feast. Most of the weekly dinners are held at this cute little restaurant, “Gusto Leo,” a two-minute walk from the Duomo where the owners always reserve a full room just for our group to meet. For Thanksgiving, we had an entire room with two long tables for almost 30 people, including students from Fairfield University, California State University, and other places scattered throughout the U.S. There were also two Italians interested in having a little English-Italian conversation, Jada and Marco. Amanda and I met up with one of the student coordinators, Jana (pronounced “Yana”), in the afternoon, and together with her friend from the States, Kaitlyn, we concocted our own versions of apple pies, pumpkin pies, and chocolate chip cookies from the available American-type ingredients that Italian supermarkets offer. Quite the entertaining experience! And with a house smelling of all the “homey goodness” of the holiday season, who wouldn’t be in the festive spirit? As we took our many pies and cookies on the city bus with us, all heads turned to what we were holding with complete interest until one Italian finally asked about the pumpkin pie. When he heard that it was pumpkin, he had a look of complete shock and he exclaimed, “Ma come si fa???” In other words, but how can you do that?!
The dinner itself was nothing short of a dream Thanksgiving celebration for me. Surrounded by not only this wonderful group, and with Amanda, Jen, and Jenny’s company from Holy Cross, we feasted like no other Thanksgiving. And I’m being completely literal because we not only had a turkey and potatoes; but we also had pasta, cheese, and foccacia bread due to the Italian chefs’ insistence. As the Italians say, “Sempre cosi,”or,“This is always the case.” We finished the meal with our delicious desserts, and by the end, it was midnight before the chefs were wishing us a good night and a happy end to the holiday. I’ve always said that the Italians know how to enjoy themselves, and after that night, I definitely learned how true I was!
Now, only two weeks before I make my big homecoming to Pennsylvania, I can’t get enough of Florence. I would absolutely love to see all the celebrations here, in the piazzas, by the Duomo…it must be beautiful! As the lights are being strung throughout the streets, walking through the city always feels right out of a movie. I recently had a house change into the downtown area, and although I’m still adjusting, being closer to all the action of the city has been incredible. My new host family, Katia, and her adopted 12-year-old daughter, Ami, keep the apartment alive and hopping everyday. It’s always reminding me of life back in high school where my brother and sister and I were always out and about with my parents going from one event to the next. The only challenge is that I have to keep up with their fast-paced talking! This upcoming weekend is one of the biggest religious festivals in Italy, the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8; many Italian families get their Christmas trees at this time and everyone has school and work off! My cousins from Foligno invited me to spend this time with them and do some Christmas shopping for my family away from the hustle and bustle of the Florence streets. I’m so excited! I’ll make sure to have lots of details about the festival as soon as I get back.