January 19, 2009

 Last Wednesday was one of those days that reminded me of the word I heard so much when I was applying to the Study Abroad program: immersion. After all of the built-up apprehension and pre-exam jitters, I did it. I made it through my first Italian exam! Although it was a written exam instead of the typical oral one that differentiates Italy’s academic system from ours, it was an amazing feeling passing in that test! I’d refer to my post-exam mood as an “Italy high”, or as we say more frequently amongst our group here, “a good Italy day.” I don’t know if I’ve used this expression before, but it’s become a phrase that is very appropriate for my study abroad experience. Now that my everyday routine has gradually lessened the magical awe of Italy from when I first arrived, it’s always very noticeable to me when I’m doing something very Italian. Luckily, our director from the Universita’ degli Studi a Firenze, Elisa, plans monthly cultural events for us where we can have these types of Italian experiences. Our events have run the gamut from a Chianti wine and olive tour to a night out for dinner and a variety show at the famous Teatro Verdi. Last Wednesday, our cultural event took a more artistic turn as we all got our chance to learn the history of the Teatro della Pergola, an ancient theatre right on my home street in Florence, followed by our own workshop time at an “artigianato” (handicraft) typical of Italy and Toscana. Our group was split up into two — one that created their own picture frames and mine that created our own leather-bound notebooks or journals, whatever purpose we would choose for them. Passing by the theatre everyday on my walk to school always made me want to pop in and see the beautiful interior, but I never had a good reason to enter before since I wasn’t buying any tickets or things of that sort. We had a wonderful tour guide who spoke with such a passion for the theatre that even in the overheated rooms, I couldn’t help but to listen as she spoke of the famous ancient families of Toscany that had their reserved viewing boxes, elegantly displayed by each family’s respective coat of arms that are still saved to this day in the entrance room of the theater! We received a complete tour of the theater, including both the back and front stage views as well as a glimpse to the ancient devices used for sound effects such as wind and rain. This upcoming weekend, we will actually be attending a play there so I’ll have to update soon on how one of the theater’s annual 160 plays fares with the Holy Crossers and myself. Chi sa! Who knows!

Right after the theatre visit, we went our separate ways, and with Elisa’s upbeat and energetic assistant, Cristina, we walked to a little artisan store a couple blocks from the Ponte Vecchio called “Il Torchio.” The shop was quaint and exactly what I imagined a traditional handicraft store to be. It was run by a lovely, older Italian woman named Anna, who works closely with a young, Canadian girl, Erin, teaching her the ways of the trade. It was a great afternoon, and I particularly enjoyed watching Erin work with Anna. Not only was Erin’s Italian impeccable after being in Italy for only two years, but the grandmother-granddaughter relationship between the two was simply comical and a pleasure to watch. They instructed us from start to finish on the initial sewing of the pages together; adding the hard covers with the messy and very intense glue; meticulously applying the leather pieces to the spine and the angles for a balanced finish with our personally selected paper designs; and cleaning up our mess with a finisher over the leather. The whole process lasted over 3 hours, but it was a true glance into the painstakingly slow and precise world of the artisan. All of the shop’s books, calendars, agendas, photo albums, and things of the like were handmade. And with a shop being run by just these two ladies, you can only imagine how much time and energy is put into the work! And so, with yet another monthly peek into the secret cultural world of Florence that I hope to continue to unravel, I can only say that it simply was a “good Italy day.”

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