Katy Huff

this life is in beta

Category: action-adventure

Firenze

Armed with an alarming capacity for charm so early in the morning, Daniele’s lovely mother drove us to the train station in Bologna. From Bologna we took a train to Florence. I left my bag in the Florence train station for the day, but Strom and Daniele brought with us their backpacks and umbrellas (rain was predicted).

We saw lots of churches.

Also, Florence was a very large city, with broad commercial streets. Somehow, these streets also had the wealth of tourists needed to fill them.

I learned that a cathedral is not just a large church. A cathedral must, by definition, contain the seat (yes, there is a physical seat) of a bishop. Florence has such a cathedral.

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore posesses an enormous dome constructed by Bruneleschi, decorated inside with the story of our future fates after the second coming. The people already in heaven sit aloft, bathed in light, adorned in matching bedsheets, while below them, the eternal fates of the mortals play out. Indeed, a small fraction of the enormous dome is painted with idyllic green fields, and prancing, nude youths.

The large majority of this dome not taken up by Jesus and friends, however, is painted with agonizing vividness and creativity concerning the horrors that await those destined for eternal damnation.

Strom and Daniele and I climed up to the inner circle of the inside of the dome in order to see these depictions up close. We found that indeed, they were grotesque and magnificent.

It did rain in Florence, but not until after we’d walked far, accross the bridge of gold, left undestroyed by Hitlers retreating troops and ate a picnic of leftover rice and foccacia (from the second of the birthday parties) on the hot concrete outside of the palace of the Medicis.

Florence is a city of great art as well, and we saw incrdible sculptures like the (outdoor replica of) David, and many depictions of the Roman rapes of the Sabine women.

The churches of Florence were like all the churches of Italy were turning out to be, numerous, old, and beautiful. At the end of our day in Florence, we paid a visit to Galileo’s and Michelangelo’s tombs, which lie near each other in a very ornate old church, In this church, special care was taken to honor the great Italians of history, even Enrico Fermi.

Finally, we proceeded to Pisa by train. We all slept a bit on the train to Pisa, but I mostly spent my time listening to a pretty british girl play a word game with her friends at the other end of the train car. It was such a relief to be able to eavesdrop on something I understood, her long laughter even sounding english, and her london accent was so soft on my ears I couldn’t help staying awake to listen.

We arrived in Pisa near dinner time at 8pm, greeted by math student Alessandro, and we proceeded to eat pizza and drink beer with him and his friends, then we happened to catch the yearly even in which the people of Pisa stage a creatively anacronistic bridge battle between the two sides of the river.

We ended the night by listening to a lot of Italian talk on the patio of the honors dorm (the Scuola Normale) and spent our night in the apartment of a girlfriend of Alessandro, in a room ordinarily inhabited by the curious veteranary medicine student who experiments on her boyfriend…

The Seaside

Troopers that we are, we woke up, had coffee and cookies, and drove to Commachio with Daniele’s cousin. Comacchio is a little (20,000 people) town near the seaside (Adriatic, to the east) where Daniele’s cousin’s girlfriend lives with her family. It’s a cute touristy place and has canals running through it, like a tiny Venice, except it’s never been an empire of its own, and is mostly only famous for pickled eel in tin cans.

In Comacchio we saw a few bridges over the tiny canals and a small church. Our plans for a day at the seaside seemed in peril when dark clouds began to form, and while we had pre-lunch appertivos on a platform in the canal, tiny raindrops began to hit the water.

We had lunch in a beautiful apartment above this canal with Daniele’s cousin’s girlfriend’s family. Relaxing vegetarianism, we agreed to a fishy lunch, in the hopes that we would try this pickled eel of tin can fame (anguilla marinata tradizionale). When the time came, we sat down to cold beer, wine, and pickled fishes. The pickled eel had an intense flavor, slimy skin, and a large spine. After we (and Daniele, and Daniele’s cousin) committed some faux pas involving which plate on which to eat the eel, we had a swirly pasta with tuna ragu, (which is to say, marinara sauce with tuna) and little pieces of dry, peculiarly-shaped bread characteristic of the region.

Stuffed, I sat back, and enjoyed the last of my cold white wine.

Little did I know, that lunch was only beginning.

As soon as most of us had finished our pasta, the roast salmon and white fish came out of the oven, and the young brother of Daniele’s cousin’s girlfriend began to cut us enormous steaks of salmon. I stopped him, but not in time to avoid facing a disastrously large portion of fish.

Following the fish was a salad course, followed by a fruit course, and by the time we left for the beach (the sun having come back out), I was ready for many hours of napping in the sun.

And so we did.

Strom learned some French while Daniele and I napped. We swam out to some rocks in the salty Adriatic, encountered crabs, jumping fish, barnacles, and other sharp things.

As soon as we returned to Cento, Daniele’s mom was hosting her second birthday party of the week, and despite our very long day as well as our continued infinite fullness from lunch, the party was lovely. There was a lot of family and food, incuding a nun, cheeses, melon rice, wine, home-made panna cotta, gelato, and best of all, the charming (and english speaking!) german girlfriend of Daniele’s other cousin.

And since no night is ever over in Italy, we went out for beer and digestivos with the youth of Cento, and spoke with them in broken Itali-Ingles about higher education, the importance of preserving history, and the stars. We met a man named Cuco, said our goodbyes to Cento and went to sleep.

Bologna

After coffee, tea, and cookies, the three of us readied ourselves for a trip to the oldest university in the Western world, Daniele’s alma mater, the University of Bologna.

We brought along with us some leftovers from a birthday party that Daniele’s mother had thrown the night before. It was a party for her birthday and was attended mostly by Daniele’s family. We had gotten back to Cento from Ferrara and Daniele, his sister and I attempted to help set up for the party while Strom got some much needed rest. Beautiful, dynamic, capable and charming with jet black hair and dressed in a flashy Italian blouse, Daniele’s mother would have none of it, and while we puttered around the kitchen asking how we could help, she did all the work. When her sisters, brothers, mother, neices and nephews showed up, she served a potato frittata with gorgonzola, a gorgonzola and spinach pie, rice with peas and tomatoes, plates of salamis and prociuttos, tomatoes with basil and mozzarella balls, much wine, bread, and cheese. At the end of an adorable family gathering, a home-decorated cake came out in the hands of Daniele’s sister, and the italians sang a birthday song. The candles were blown out, the prosecco was opened, and we ate cake (made almost entirely of fluffy frosting) served with homemade gelato (Daniele’s aunt’s specialty) and cherries.

It was these cherries, salami, cheese, bread, and rice with peas that we ate in a park the next day in Bologna. We practiced spitting the cherry pits past a pear tree and talked about the higher education systems in our two countries. Bologna was a beautiful city, full of towers, churches, leftist revolutionaries, ornately arched walkways, tiny side streets, tasty gelato, and graffiti.

We climbed Bologna’s 97.6 meter tower, which university students are superstitiously discouraged to climb, and saw the whole city spread out before us, a sea of terra cotta, ancient churches, jaunty streets, and statues.

Daniele showed us a statue of Neptune with a suggestively placed thumb, innumerable churches, and the statues of Dante and Copernicus who studied at the University of Bologna. And of course, on the street with the other tourists we ate some delicious gelato with flavors like white chocolate macademia nut, stracciatella, and frutti di bosco. And, we did as tourists do and awkwardly discouraged the North African street merchant trying to sell us stringy bracelets.

After trekking around Bologna, we went to the supermarket to buy wine, mushrooms, and cream to help with a dinner party. First though, we had an appertivo with a software engineer for Fiat who told us of a near future in which this car will be introduced to the US.

After appertivo, we proceeded to the apartment of a post-math student from Daniele’s time in the university and encountered his friends rolling out an enormous sheet of eggy, floury tagliatelle with a meter long rolling pin in the living room. In the kitchen, our hosts were also making little appetizers of raddichio and smoked cheese. We had a beautiful dinner of home-made pasta with creamy mushroom sauce, and the post-math students of Bologna talked fast in Italian while Strom and I drank wine and attempted to keep abreast of the conversation via hand gestures, cognates, and our combined knowledge of spanish.

And, yes, we had much limoncello. A girlfriend of one of the mathematicians came by with a bottle of it and we all drank it as a post-dinner digestif.

The City of Bikes

Today gentle reader, I, Fastmatthew Strom Borman, will be guiding you through our travels.

On our 1st full day in Italy, Daniele took us to Ferrara- The City of Bikes.  Our fearless leader informed us that sometime in the past 30 years Ferrara decided to make strides to become bike friendly, by putting many separated bike lanes on major roads (which just means busy 2-lane roads) and by not allowing cars into the center of the city.  Today inside the city there were more bikes than cars.  The two most surprising facts about bike culture in Italy are that 1) the average age of a bicyclist is 40 and 2) most bikes on the road are 20 year only cruisers.  But enough about bikes…

We've Finally Slept!

After we left them last, punctuality began to elude our soon to be international heros…

… and, delayed by our best intentions to xerox passports and tie up loose ends, we found ourselves running from the security gates in O’Hare in the nick of time, directly to our seats next to a richly colored, very decoratively headscarfed woman. In her dark, beautifully tattooed arms she held a brand new, very round, softly giggling baby.

Apparently, though, she was the proud owner two of these soft, giggling creatures and the other one was on the lap of an equally well-accessorized relative in another part of the plane. When Strom and I left our seats so that the four of them might occupy them, we settled into seats next to a family that involved what was surely the loudest 10 month old Romanian baby on the planet. 

So, we had been awake for something like 30 hours when we began a tour  in the hometown (Cento) of our fearless leader.

 

There was a big square on which there were many churches, gelaterias, and a large ruler to mark big historical floods.

 

And there were lots of statues and gardens.

Cento

 

At last, after our short walk, we took a priceless, two hour nap, woke back up, and went out with Italians for appertifs and pizza.

After this, we finally slept. Strom dreamt about huge Lego’s, I woke up and wrote this post, and now that we’ve had a lovely breakfast, all is now right with the world…

Danieles Mom set out a beautiful breakfast.

Bon Voyage

After a morning of minimalist packing, radio listening, a haircut, and the eating of pita toast with jam, Mr. Fastmatthew Strom Borman is in a final math meeting on campus and I’m inaugurating this blog with a few peices of relevant information:

  • We do not speak Italian, and have no phrasebook. Fastmath, thankfully, will spend the trip learning French.
  • We have two backpacks, three pairs of shoes, and more underwear and books than actual clothes.
  • Vegetarianism may have to take a backseat to successfully ordering any sustenance whatsoever…

Our itinerary is thus:

– Leave Hyde Park by 2 p.m. so and fly from O’Hare at 4:45 p.m. We’ll arrive (after a two hour layover in the Amsterdam airport!) in Venice, Italy. The Italians will be ready for lunch, but our bodies will tell us it’s 3 a.m.

– Our fearless Italian wonderguide, Daniele will take over from here.

Daniele

Daniele.

– With Daniele, we’ll see Cento, Bologna, Florence and Pisa for the first week or so of Italy.

– Once he’s taught us the secrets of Italian travel, Strom and I will be in Rome for three days and Venice for four days on our own. Watch out Italy, because I, for one, only know know the words ombra, rosso, bianco, gelato, bici and caffè.

– And then, eventually, we’ll fly home, but let’s not talk about that part just yet.

Santiago, numero doce. (nerdboy)

Talk nerdy to me, his computer says.
Talk nerdy indeed.

A minute ago, he leaned forward and motioned for me to take off my headphones. I did.

He asked me, “are you Kahtee Hoof?”

It’s the accent. They all say it that way, so I’ve gotten used to answering to Kahtee. I even introduce myself as Kahtee these days, just to avoid confusion. Indeed, I expect them to say my name strangely when they have some reason to know it, particularly when I’ve introduced myself as Kahtee… but I’ve never introduced myself as Kahtee to this man.

I blushed in extraordinary embarrassment and confusion. Confusion, because I’ve never introduced myself to this man. No, he’s just a guy at starbucks.

“uh, um, uh, yeah,” I stuttered, forgetting everything I know about safety and giving information to strangers and the inverse correlation of the two.

Great. psycho hipster knows my name, but how did he guess? is it on my forehead?
He grinned at my blush, like a clever puppy, or a victorious psychopath, or… an awkward Chilean hipster.

“You have good moosic,” he finally pointed at his ibook screen.

Ah. Yes. The Internet. Of Course.
Thanks Itunes.

Anyway, good call nerdboy, in our now awkward silence, I can hear what parts of my music you’ve chosen, and I approve… yes indeed.