Sunday, January 31, 2010

The dish on my living situation

I know I'm in Europe. I came here in full understanding that I was coming to a country that wasn't America. Certainly that means I should have expected to be in a country lacking some of the modern conveiniences that I enjoy. But seriously, Europe, what the fuck? For my electricity to be out for two solid days now is just a little ridiculous. I mean, I know that this is Europe and you folks over here need to deal with much older buildings and not alot of space, but how the hell long have you been developing your cities? Why haven't you been able to figure out electricity yet? I'm currently sitting in the laundry room two floors up because there is no light in my apartment. I need something to do with my time, and without any lights in our room it feels like a dungeon. The laundry room is the only alternative because there aren't any plugs in our hallway. I need a computer with which I have some forms of entertainment, which will die if I don't plug it in. In addition, the lights in the laundry room don't turn off after ten minutes. Trying to do your makeup in the hallway with lights that automatically shut off after ten minutes is fun experience.

So here's the deal about the electricity. The Italian Government decided they wanted to control the utilities that were alotted to each home or apartment in this country. Let me paint you a picture. Say you want to turn your computer on, sit in the light, and blow dry your hair at the same time. If you're a person living alone in your home or aparment, this won't happen. The Italian Government will automatically turn your electricity off and you'll be in the dark. You'll need to know how to walk in the dark to your circuit breaker and turn your electricity back on, but only after everything that was on gets turned off. So you're still in the dark. Come on, Italy? Seriously? You need to update your system. Please just think about how dangerous that is. You could potentially kill a person if the lights suddenly go out like that. They could trip, they could walk down a flight of stairs, they could accidentally impale themselves on something. You could be murdering your own citizens.

And what the hell is up with this heat? People don't like to be cold. People like to be warm. WHY ARE YOU REFUSING TO ALLOW PEOPLE TO PUT THEIR HEAT ON? Don't you want warm, happy citizens? In this country, readers, the government also regulates the amount of heat the apartments get. So at around 3 in the afternoon when no one is home the heat goes on. But it goes off while I'm sleeping at night and I freeze. The heat goes on for maybe a half an hour at a time, and we bask in it and sit on our heaters. After that half hour you'd better be prepared to dress in layers in your apartment because you're not gonna be warm again for a while. Don't ever ever take your socks off, either. You WILL get frostbite on your toes. And potentially loose a leg. The floors are permenantly freezing cold. If I were stupider I'd mistake these floors for an ice rink and try to skate on them.

I know. "Stop complaining, you're in Italy, Gab." You try this for a week and see how you do, you pampered Americans! Just take a shower here, and you'll be on board with me. Our shower head is about the size of a silver dollar pancake. The water pressure isn't miserably low but it's certainly not the best; it's a good thing because our shower curtain only covers approximately 1/3 of the shower. It's also broken and falling off of the wall, so the very small area that is enclosed by curtain is unavailable for standing in because it's occupied by broken shower. I could deal with it if it weren't for the fact that it is neccesary to turn the shower off during your bathing time. Get wet, turn the shower off. Lather up, turn the shower on. Rinse, repeat. Do not, for the love of God, use any more water than you absolutely have to. Instead, stand in your shower naked and cold for twenty minutes. I understand why Italian women have hairy legs and pits. Shaving is a bitch. I don't want to be cold and naked any longer than I have to. I don't even want to use the water sometimes because it comes out orange every once in a while. Bright, neon orange. Again, if I were stupider I'd call it a phenomenon. I haven't even gotten to the part that sucks the most yet. We've been instructed to shower once every other day in order to save water. I tried it. FUCK THAT! The people here smell pretty bad and I know why. As much as I want to orient myself into the Italian culture while I'm here, that is just one leap I will not take. I will not add my B.O. into the collective here. No, thank you.

Lo and behold, our lights are back on! All this whining made Italy self-conscious and she decided to be nice and give me my lights back. I discovered a switch I hadn't noticed before with the help of a neighbor (bless her) and was able to turn my power back on. Take that, Europe! After a celebration in my bedroom which involved shouting, dancing, and jumping up and down on my bed, I retrieved my computer and am now completing this blog. I need to go pretend my bedroom light is a strobe light for the next twenty minutes. Arrevederci, for now!


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Out on the town, Florentine style

The first thing you need to know about going out to Florentine clubs and bars is that THEY STINK. I love the Italians. They're fun and easy-going (most of the time). Some are funny, some are sweet, some are charming, some are friendly, and mostly all of them are absolutely beautiful. Seriously, I've seen more handsome men concentrated in this city than I have ever seen in my life. They dress commendably, so much so that on more thn one occasion I've found myself gawking, definitely open-mouthed, at someone walking by. All the women in this town dress elegantly without being ostentatious and I'm never subjected to the displeasure of walking behind a group of young guys all wearing their pants below their asses with bright yellow spongebob boxers on. But they seriously, seriously reek. We Americans are used to a certain standard of hygiene, and these Florentines just don't own up. The guys back home, generally speaking, take pride in the cologne they wear. They like to smell good. I mean, honestly, we've got more versions of Axe than Italians have versions of wine. Somewhere along the course of the cultural development of the Italians someone forgot to mention that society had developed an adversity toward smelly people. After a few nights out in clubs where the collective body-odor was so bad it wafted out the door, I've been earnestly considering bringing along some perfume to spray up my own nostrils.

Odor aside, the nightlife here is pretty wild. Not wild in the sense that everyone is wasted and guys are slipping roofies into drinks, nor is it wild in the out-of-control drug scene, raver type of nightlife. The discos are just PACKED, and no two bar or disco has the same vibe to it. At least not so far. I've got a lot more bars and clubs to hit up before I leave; Firenze is a little city but they've got lots and lots of different clubs and scenes to get involved in. The best part of these nights out is that they last quite a while. Bars don't stop serving alcohol until around 4 or 5 a.m. at many places and I've had some really lengthy nights. People don't even start going out until around 11 or 12 at night, unlike America where nights out start as early as 9 p.m. The second best part is that a single drink, albiet expensive, is enough to last you the whole night. I've mentioned in my last post that bartenders pour their drinks charitably. I've been told by my school advisors at our orientations that they do this in the interest of getting more people drunk, faster. They think that by getting us as drunk as possible, we'll buy more drinks. PSHAW! What are they, idiots? The more drunk you get me, the less likely I am to buy another drink. Bartenders back home have the right idea. Water your drinks down so Americans will buy more; mostly all of us are out to get wasted and get there fast, so we buy drink after drink at home because they are so weak. The minute you get me to the point where I'm buzzed and feeling good, Italian bartenders, I'm not going to buy another drink until that feeling starts to fade. They charge alot for their drinks, 7 euro, but a little pre-gaming and one good drink makes for a full night out in this town!

Speaking of pre-gaming, I'd like to tell you readers something I love about the right way to do that here. Pretty much everyone with half a brain knows that the best place to go for wine in the world is Tuscany. Lucky me, Firenze is smack dab in the middle of Tuscany. The young Italians and the Americans here do not ever ever take this for granted. We pre-game with wine. In glasses, mugs, bowls, whatever we can find. The very best way to pre-game here is with a couple 20 euro bottles of wine. You might not guess it at first, but wine gets you feeling pretty good and keeps you feeling pretty good for a pretty long time. It is also DELICIOUS! Even the 20 euro bottles that the young kids drink here are better than any wine you can find from home. You see most people in the clubs holding glasses of wine and not mixed drinks or beers. I can see myself joining in on that phenomenon. Who'd have thought I'd ever become such a wine enthusiast in only a few days?

Once you're locked and loaded and geared up to hit the town, consider what you're wearing very carefully. If you're a girl, you probably shouldn't be wearing heels. Most girls do, but I've more than once seen idiot Americans, drunk as can be, stumbling along on these cobblestone via's barely able to keep themselves from falling. Don't bring your purses, you'll probably get pick pocketed, and try not to bring a coat. It is difficult in this cold weather, but just ask my roommate, coat-check REALLY sucks. Italians do not know how to stand in orderly lines. It is something they were never taught to do. The pandemonium one encounters at the coat check is so maniacal its best not to even bother. My poor roommate was so angry by the end of her coat-check experience she was ready to bust heads.

The clubs are all unique. I started off my club sampling a few nights ago at Club 21, which even at 11 (the time it friggin' opened) was totally dead. About 6 American guys and the DJ were there and it didn't pick up for a while, so my friends and I left and went instead to a lounge called Moya. This place was totally rad. It had a really smooth vibe going and was very natural and trendy. The bartender made me an LI. I'm discovering that every country has a new damn way to say LIT. In Little Cayman, the bartender (whose LIT was my favorite so far) called an LIT an LIT. In Canada, the bartender called an LIT an LIIT. Long Island Iced Tea. It seriously took the bloke a full-blown explaination to understand that LIT meant LIIT. Some people are just so dense. And here in Italia they call and LIT and LI. They don't add the Iced Tea part to Long Island and the bartender, whose English was very patchy and could barely understand my patchy Italian, figured it out after a few seconds (stupid Canadians) and poured me the most ridiculously strong alcoholic beverage I've ever had. Somehow I managed to pawn some of it off on my friends and finish the rest without being drunk at all. Had I drank the whole thing and not spaced out my sips, I'd have been totally smashed. Strong drink pouring was a general theme, I discovered, when the next night I ordered an Amaretto Sour from the bartender at Rex and discovered that the damn thing, however delicious, would get me drunk so quick I'd forget my own name if I didn't pace myself. Rex was really awesome. Funky, fresh, and definitely a local favorite, Rex was the most interesting place I've been to so far. I'm interested to see how often I'll wind up there. They do live music some nights and have this really weird and earthy atmosphere in their bar. The only thing that really pissed me off was that they had a cross, with the sign and everything, lying on the floor as decoration. I'm not deeply religious, but in one of the most religious cities in the world you'd figure they'd have a little more respect for the son of God. My friends and I all wanted to go dancing after Rex and so we walked half a minute down the street to club twice. We'd stopped in before when it was dead but found ourselves back there because the place was BUMPING. It was black and white night and they played all hip-hop until around 1:30 a.m. It was pretty awesome. The place was totally packed (smelled like garbage) and people were enjoying themselves all over. They had a really big dance floor and a lounge to hang out in for smokers and whatever. The black and white thing pretty much failed but everyone was, for the most part, dressed with a semblance of class and the Italian dancing was pretty good. The only person fist-pumping was me, and only to rep the NJ shore a bit. The guys I'd gone out with were raggin' on me at the beginning of the night about being from the shore, so I had to show off my natural born fist-pump. After the hip-hop stopped, they started playing music like Rhianna and Lady Gaga and the place started to get messy. People were packed into the club like sardines and the ensuing melee was way too much for all of us to handle and so we left.

Anyway, this has been my synopsis of the Italian nightlife as I've seen it so far. I'm sure over the course of the next four months I'm in this city this synopsis will change, and I'm sure I'll have plenty more clubs and bars to write about. I hope you've enjoyed it, reader, ma sono stancato dopo queste notti matte. Arrivederci, for now!

Primo Giorni

My apartment is fucking awesome. There is no other way to describe it. Its fully furnished, with a full kitchen set, full bathroom, and the most spectacular view. The Duomo, the most famous church next to the Vatican, is right outside my window. I can walk there in a solid two minutes. I'm not kidding, readers, THE DUOMO IS TWO MINUTES FROM MY HUGE APARTMENT! I have the biggest room I've ever had in my life, my bathroom has a bidet, AND THE DUOMO IS OUTSIDE MY WINDOW! I am never going to get used to that fact. I live in the Mercato di San Lorenzo, which means I live above the biggest stretch of street vendors in the city all shouting their wares and telling young women that they look like J.Lo. Clearly, we're all spanish. I was so overwhelmed when I walked into my apartment I did a jig. It was short, silly, and totally unflattering, but it reflected the pure joy that I felt. And continue to feel. video

I spent my first couple days in Firenze doing all the things I love about Italy. I had a day's worth of passegiata, strolling; I ate gelato, caprese, fresh pasta, bread with oil, and some incredible tiramisu. I've seen the sights, walking across the Ponte Vecchio, sitting around in the Santa Croce, hung around in the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella (and admired the David copy in all it's magnificence that stands there), and of course I've seen the Duomo which, by the way, is right outside my window. I've enjoyed the perks of the fact that Italy sponsors having no drinking age. I've had wine so good its made my toes curl and gone out to lounges and bars whose bartenders are extremely generous with their alcohol. I've thusfar managed to drink the Italian way, savoring my drinks rather than drowning myself in them in order to get as plastered as possible. I've gone shopping in the mercatos around my apartment and drank caffes in the little bars that litter this town.

I've done alot of school-related business in these first couple days, including three orientations and some wandering all over to find stores that would make some Goddamn photocopies. I've met alot of cool people from my school and lucked out with some really awesome roommates. I can already tell that this semester is going to be the best one I've ever had. The kids I've met are from all over the United States; this is a very good thing because it will prompt me to travel all over to see them all. I've gone out for a night on the town already and was able to discover this great lounge, Moya. The drinks are kind of expensive but the bartender makes them really strong, so you only really need one.

I've discovered through trial-and-error that you cannot sit down in a restaurant and order only appetizers and wine. This deeply offends the establishment and gets you dirty looks and a door closed swiftly behind you. I've also discovered that you cannot ever share your meal with anyone you're dining with. You must have both hands above the table at all times otherwise the Italians will assume you're doing naughty things beneath the table. Also, don't ever try to ask for a box to bring your food home. The more you leave on your plate, the more you offend the chef, so bringing your food home is just mean. When eating at a tabacchi or small bar, do not EVER bring your plate back up to the counter. A. This is offensive. B. If you sit down with the food in these places, they'll charge you extra. Italian table etiquette is confusing, and the only perk is not leaving a tip. Italian waiters and waitresses are paid handsomely, with a salary and everything, so giving them a tip is worthless.

This place is exciting. Its strange, fascinating, and OLD. I live in the centre of town, meaning I live in the places that are the oldest. I've been informed that I am studying in what were once palaces. We take classes in the same rooms Michelangelo and Brunelleschi worked, for fuck's sake. I'm overwhelmed, overjoyed, and I'm happy. I'm ready to take on this city in the biggest way! Buona sera, readers, and Arrivederci, for now!

In Flight Entertainment

I love flying. Everything about being in the airport makes me happy. I must have had the best flying experience of my life en route to Italia, and that is totally a first. Every single thing turned out in my favor and I highly recommend flying with Lufthansa. It is a German airline, if you couldn't figure that out already, and I was incredibly satisfied with their flight crew and ammenities.

I'd spent the night before unable to sleep; I was obviously anxious and paranoid and excited and nervous and a variety of other feelings that one will generally experience before moving out of their country all by themselves. Of course, I hadn't finished packing, either. My mom and I spent quite a while stuffing my bags until they were literally bursting at the seams that night and I was deleriously sleepy by the time I made it to the airport. Saying goodbye to my parents was difficult. My dad made jokes and gave me advice on how to be city-slick and my mom weeped. I'll never admit it, but as soon as they were out of sight I started crying, too. I even cried when I said goodbye to my little dog, who, as pathetic as this sounds, is my very best friend in the whole world.

I cheered up as soon as I got to my terminal. International terminals are the absolute BEST place to people-watch. I do this more often than you might think I would. I know how creepy it is, but people-watching is just fun. There is something so pure about German couples whose version of affection is pushing one another and something so sinister about shifty Russians who never ever travel with other people. The most fun people to people-watch are the Asians. They travel in packs and shout at the tippy-top of their voices when one of their members goes astray. They wear the most funny outfits; fur caps, poofy coats, and plastic shoes!! somehow tied together into the perfect combination with a leather fanny pack. I can only imagine how much more fun people-watching the Asians would be if I were able to speak the language. My flight had a connection in Frankfurt, Germany, so I mostly sat with Germans and Americans (who are about as boring to people-watch as it is watching daytime T.V.). I was horribly disappointed to learn, as American after American went up to the flight attendants to yell and demand to be allowed onto the plane immediately, that our flight was delayed. I spent the extra hour reading and by the time I actually made it onto the plane I'd exhausted my capacity to form any normal thoughts.

I was expecting a packed flight. I was expecting to be cramped, uncomfortable, and miserable. I was expecting to be seated next to some weird German man with body odor who would invade my personal space. Boy, was I wrong. The economy seating was as good as the first class seating on a flight I recently took on AirCanada. The seats were fabulously comfortable, able to recline nearly all the way without bothering the seat behind me. But guess what? There was NO ONE behind me, next to me, or in front of me because the flight was nearly empty. It was amazing. The bars of the seats didn't go up, which sucked a little, but I was able to sleep for about half of the flight. I was praising God for blessing me with some rest when I woke up when what should I notice but my own personal HD T.V. tucked into my seat. Not only did I have a vast selection of movies not yet out on DVD, but I was able to spend my time participating in Lufthansa's ground-breaking Flyrobics program. Whoever invented FLyrobis was a saint. I understand that most people don't want to exercise while on a plane where other people can watch and make fun of them, but seeing as there wasn't a soul around me save the occasional flight attendant, I allowed myself the luxury. I had alot of fun with the flyrobics introduction, where a German man explains why it is beneficial to all those in flight to do flyrobics. It stretches out sore muscles used to being cramped, it is fun, it keeps your metabolism moving, blah blah blah. He didn't need to tell me twice. He then introduced us to our flyrobics instructors, a family of Germans who I named Hans, Frau, and Sophie. Hans was the main instructor, who taught me a series of leg movements that seriously made my sore butt feel much better in my seat. After the leg movements we did strengthening exercises and neck stretches that woke me and and felt incredible. I don't care how lame it sounds, flyrobics was far and away the best in flight entertainment ever devised. I was almost sorry the flight was over.

Frankfurt airport provided superior people-watching. Those damn Germans are so tall; thank heaven for those flyrobics because craning my neck so far seriously took its toll. Their fashion sense is excellent. They love all things shiny. I met a man wearing shiny, bright red Jordans, a shiny red plastic murse, a hat with a bow, and an excellent sweater vest. The ensamble was so funny; it was so difficult to hold in my laugh I was almost choking on it. There was a woman wearing all fur. Fur boots, fur coat, pants with fur embroidery (not kidding), and none of these fur pieces matched in the slightest. She had her little dog with her and I was sure she was stealing his fur because the poor little thing had none. I was annoyed at the payphone which was pink and wouldn't allow my calling card to go through. I was warned by my mother under penalty of death that I absolutely had to call her the minute I landed, which I of course was unable to do.

I got on my flight and met a few of the girls I would be studying with, and while it was cool to meet them I was dismayed to learn that all 40+ of them were from the same school and all friends. I sat next to an extremely tall German man sporting a Fuerher stash and an Italian man who spent time helping me read the Italian paper, La Reppublica. I enjoyed the flight almost as much as the first but was very eager to get off! After getting my heavy luggage and wheeling my things towards the exit, it still hadn't set in that I was in Italy and there for the next bunch of months. The minute I stepped out of tiny FLR airport, it set in. Carabineiri alarms blared in the air, an AGIP gas station was across the street, and my extremely hot Italian driver escorted me to where I needed to meet the rest of my new friends with the most fun accent ever. I love it here.

Buon Giorno, tutti! Arrevedervi, for now!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Introducing me, Gabby, and the events that bring me to Florence.

I'm Gabby. I'm a 19 year-old college girl born and raised on the Jersey Shore, but please, I implore of you, do not associate me with the reality show on MTV. I am moving in only three short days to Florence, Italy, for a semester abroad. I'm chronicling my days in this city so that you, reader, can experience this alluring new place with me. First, though, I think its important for you to get to know me, how I got here, and what I'm going to do to make this trip worthwhile.

I spent the majority of my time as a high school student striving for A+'s in order to get into a good college. I assumed that straight A+'s were my ticket to a successful future and therefore had nervous breakdowns just thinking about B's. I was so overly obsessed with being exceptional that I took all advanced placement classes (a.k.a. college jr.) and sacrificed my lunch periods to take more! I involved myself in every school activity I could get near to bank extra-curricular activity. I painted murals, entered writing competitions, did office work for my assistant principal, and became the President of the most prestigious society of other school-obsessed students ever created: The National Honor Society. I needed a good high school resume. I even managed to work full-time at, get this, Barnes & Noble. Leave it to the straight A student to work in a bookstore. By now it should be evident to you, my readers, that I worked my ass off for nothing. I, of course, did not get into a good college. You see, I have no prodigious talents, I was never able to donate 100 hours weekly toward volunteer services (although I did do that annually), my SAT scores were well above average but still not remarkable, and my skin is the one color that colleges scoff at: white. Women's Liberation dealt a swift blow to my one chance of being a "good addition to the community". Regardless of the fact that I am an exceptional student, hard worker, and well-rounded person, I was rejected from all of the big-league schools I applied to. FML.

I did what all students do in this situation; I settled for less. I moved to Manhattan to go to a school so small it's almost non-existent. I learned quickly that no matter how much I loved living in that city, thinking small just didn't work for me. I needed to find ways to stand out to become a successful environmental journalist and thereby travel around the world and climb trees for a living. That itsy-bitsy school was absolutely not the route by which to do so. Diversity is what those big-league colleges look for in their students and I therefore needed to diversify myself to make the grade. I transferred home and dedicated myself to doing something more with my college experience. I got my job at Barnes & Noble again and clocked full-time hours to pay for a study abroad trip to Little Cayman Island.

Let me tell you, going there was the best choice I ever made. I was young (which I still am), 18, and free for the first time. I spent three weeks on that beautiful island and managed to get myself into more trouble than I'd ever been in before. My adventures on that island could fill a book and are stories for another day, but I'll summarize them for you. I discovered I could have friends, have fun, and do those things I had abstained from in high school and still get the A+. I snuck out, danced, drank, got robbed, smoked pot (sorry, Mom), and made out with a MUCH older guy. Twice. I discovered that sometimes, I can be pretty. A once anxiety ridden, hopelessly awkward, and self-conscious girl turned loose on a small island makes for one hell of an adventure. Don't think, though, that I lost myself. Sure, the experience changed me, but it made me confident and strong, passionate and independent. I learned about the environment and how important being a part of helping to rescue it is to me. It helped me to realize I want to help people and help the world; to help make a lasting difference in this short life I have to live. I learned a freedom I'd never known before, and I realized that seeing the world, making interesting friends, exposing myself to new people and ideas, and seasoning myself with adventure was the best way to live my life. I want to turn myself into the diverse individual I need to be to make that dream, the dream of being the journalist who helps to save the world, come true.

And so here I am, studying abroad for the second time in my short college career and discovering an all new, fascinating place: Firenze, Italia. In the coming months I'll be painting, drawing, writing, learning to cook, reading, traveling around Europe, meeting enthralling people, dancing, drinking, and having the time of my life in one of the world's most beautiful places. Keep reading and tag along for what is sure to be my most rewarding, wild, and amazing experience yet! Arrivederci, for now.

Love, me.