Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Italy 2: La Luce del Sole

I can honestly say that I have fallen in love with this beautiful country in the week I've been here. The culteral differences fascinate me, and I just can't get over how beautiful Urbania is!

Italian classes and music lessons began this week. Most of our rehearsals are in a museum, which was formally the Bishop's Palace. Our rehearsal room is covered with paintings of preists, bishops, cardinals, and popes. In the center of the palace is a small giardino, and a breeze is usually passing through, which is good, because it is quite hot here. On Tuesday, one of the other students and I were waiting in the giardino for our staging rehearsal, and two older ladies came in to have a look around. They began speaking to me and asking where I was from, and what I was doing in Urbania. I said that we were both music students from America. As soon as I menionted opera, the Italian lady picked up her videocamera and asked us to sing. We politly turned her down, but she recorded us speaking. She then told us she is from Verona, where there is a large outdoor opera arena, and gave me her phone number, telling me to call her if I'm ever there.

But these spontanious conversations with Italians are not unusual. As I was walking back to the apartment on Sunday evening, a woman, probaly in her late 70s, began talking to me out of her window. I wasn't able to understand most of what she said, but I did pick up something along the lines of "Oh, you poor girl walking all by yourself! Do you live far from here? Have you had dinner?". I told her I don't understand much Italian, and that this is my first time in Italy. She smiled, and then proceeded to talk some more. Like I said before, I didn't understand most of what she said, but I loved talking with her.

This is my room in Francesco and Leonarda's apartment.

One of my favorite things to do in Urbania is walk around the downtown area, or la centra. This is the oldest part of the city, with narrow winding cobblestone streets, open windows, and ceramic rooftops. Because most people don't have air conditioning, the windows are always open, and you can hear families and friends taking. If you go during la pausa (siesta), you can hear people cleaning up the plates and dishes from lunch. In the evening, half of Urbania is in the piazza just enjoying life. Of course, old men are always in the piazza doing whatever old men do. And you can usually spot a father taking a bike ride with his child. Italian children are simply adorable; they're spirited and curious, and talk non-stop.

Few of the students in my program are living with Italian families, and I'm very glad I'm one of them. Francesco and Leonarda only speak Italian, and it has helped me start to learn the language very quickly. For the majority, I can understand them, and they understand me. And they know I haven't studied Italian before, and that I've never been here before. They're very kind, especially when I can't figure out the door; it's hard to unlock, and I've only been able to do it about twice. On Monday I had to ask the neighbor to help me out. I knocked on the door. "Che e?" ("Who is it?"). Not exactly sure what to say, I waited until he came to the door. "Buon giorno. Io sono studenta, e io vivo con Francesco e Leonarda. Ho bisogno auito con la porta." (Hello, I'm a student, and I live with Francesco and Leonarda. I need help with the door.) But I think I've finally figured it out. =)

While in Urbania, I'm studying voice with Gary Ledet. We get two 45 minute lessons each week with our teacher, in addition to other coachings. We're focusing on my coloratura, as well as addressing body tension issues. We discovered that I carry a huge amount of tension in my neck, which I couldn't feel, but may be a big factor in issues I have with placement, intonation, and ease in my higher register. Issues with tension and trying ton control everything in my voice are not something new, and anyone who has worked with me knows this. I tened to have trouble letting go, not only with my voice, but with emotions and other things. I need to learn to trust myself, and this isn't something that will come overnight. I sang "Parto, me tu ben mio", perhaps my favorite aria, during my first lesson, and he liked what I did with the piece.

About 7 of the students in my program are singing with the choir of St. Cristophoro for a conert they're doing late in the month. John, one of our tenors and our Nemorino, will be the soloist, and any of the students were invited to sing with the choir. St. Cristophoro is a gorgeous cathedral, and the sound just hovers inside the dome. Carlo, the director, speaks only Italian, which makes rehearsals interesting, but fun at the same time. But I'm learning to overcome the language barrier with hand signs, intonation, and lots of "Mi scusi". This is the Catterdale.

Wednesday was Francesco's birthday. I never thought that finding a birthday card would be difficult, but it was. To begin with, I forgot the word for birthday. I could remember it in German, Russian, and French, but non in italiano. I went to the local grocery store, pharmacy, and Smoll (kind of like CVS without the pharmacy), but none there. I also looked downtown, and finally asked a clerk where I could find one. When I found the store she told me to go to, none of the cards seemed fit. But I finaly settled for one with flowers. But what do you get a man you're father's age you harldy know in a new country for his birthday? What do Italian men do or like? No idea. So I finally settled on some little baked goods from the shop down the street. He was happy, so I guess I wasn't an epic fail at gift shopping.

On Thursday Leonarda recieved the sad news that her 102-year-old aunt passed away. She was talking about it with a friend (or relative?) yesterday, but I wasn't able to understand a lot of what was said. I was able to understand that her aunt had passed away, and how old she was, but that was about it. However, that night she said, "Non piango. Sono contenta per lei. A desso lei reste in pace." ("I'm not crying. I'm happy for her. Now she's resting in peace." She seems to be doing well though, but said her cousin is having a difficult time. Cate told me on Friday that while at 102 it isn't exactly sad, it reminds you of the other people you have lost, and that's what makes it a stressful and sad time. But now, Leonarda and her family seem to be at peace and are happy.

Thursday nights in Urbania mean "Giovediamoci", which is sort of like a city-wide festa. There are bands playing, shops are open, restaurants serve discounted drinks, and everyone, and I mean everyone, is there. You see young couples, groups of friends, families, the old men that have been in the piazza since morning (I'm not kidding. They only go home to eat and sleep), students, teenagers, and everyone else you can imagine. It goes late into the night, but it isn't a wild or out-of-controll event. Italians, though they love their wine, don't seem to drink to excess very often. It isn't a part of their culture, and it makes me sad to see that many of the other students in my program don't understand that, and act as if they were in America. I'm trying to blend in with the locals (although as a blonde with my figure in Italy, that's difficult), and I hope that my actions prove me to be a good ambassador for my homeland. Italians think Americans are loud, wild, drunken, party animals. I hope to prove them wrong.

But the idea of Giovediamoci, that everyone of all ages comes together to simply have a good time in the fresh air, is something that wouldn't fly in the States. Since coming to Italy, I've noticed that there is a definate generational divide in the States, and a weak sense of a community, be it a family, ethnicity, religion, city, or nation, that involved all ages. Of course there are differences in generations everywhere, but I think Americans tend to overcategorize our people, placing the generations into strict molds that determine what we should think, and how we should behave.

And now I'll get off my soap box.

And this is Merlino, Francesco and Leonarda's dog. He likes to go out on the balcony and growl at things, and also barks if the doorbell rings. But his one and only love is Francesco. Merlino greets no one at the door but him, and usually jumps in circles and runs around. He follows Francesco all over the house and sit under the table by his chair at dinner. Merlino is also a fan of lounging on the tile floor when it's hot, and likes to chase his tail. When I came back to the apartment on Friday afternoon, I caught him on the couch. I'm not sure if he's really allowed to sleep on the couch, but he jumped off soon after I snapped this photo of him.

And finally...the food. Oh. My. God. The food. I thought I was a good cook until I came here. My housing deal gives me breakfast and either lunch or dinner everyday. My breakfast usually is some good coffee and cereal with yogurt. For dinner, Leonarda usually makes some sort of a pasta dish; vermicelli with pesto, spaghetti with seafood, penne with shrimp and zucchini. That in itself would be more than enough, but then she brings out some sort of meat and a veggie for fruit. I go to rehearsal every night feeling extremely full. And I'm totally OK with that.

More next week!

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