Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Transfer of Knowledge

People often ask me about my competency in speaking/understanding the Italian language during my time abroad. In response I often stress the fact that, while I was in no way fluent, my comprehension of the language was sufficient enough to get around and be generally understood by most Italians. Furthermore, if speaking failed I managed to pick up enough hand gestures (because Italians love speaking with their hands) to fill in the conversational gaps where my Italian language skills were lacking.

In addition to speaking and comprehending (some) Italian, I also managed to pick up another handy craft--feigning comprehension. Why is this such an important skill? Well, about a month or so after arriving in Italy I was becoming very disheartened by my inability to speak or understand any Italian (give me a break, I had only been taking classes a month!). Additionally, whenever any Italians realized I had no clue what they were saying (something they figured out merely by noticing the dumbfounded look on my face), they generally reverted straight to English (if they knew any), stopped talking altogether, or--in some extreme cases--were so disgusted, they walked away. Now imagine yourself--a helpless American in a foreign country not understanding anything and even worse EVERY PERSON WHO TALKS TO YOU KNOWS! Quite depressing.

After a while however, it dawned on me that I didn't actually need to understand what the other people were saying, but instead I needed to fool them into thinking I understood. After a few weeks of perfecting my technique I came up with, what I like to call, "Emerson's Survival Tips to Comprehending a Language You Don't Speak Too Good."

Step 1): Eliminate all body language which screamed "I'm an American! What the hell are you saying!!!" 

Step 2): Every now and then nodding in an approving manner as if you agree with what just came out of the speakers mouth
    *I also found it additionally useful to repeat words that the speaker says--particularly proper nouns. So, for example, when asking for directions and someone mentions a landmark--let's say "Piazza Italia"--even if ALL the other words out of the person's mouth made no sense, just nod approvingly and say "Ahhh...Piazza Italia. Si, Si."

Step 3): When the speaker is finished simply say "Allorah. Grazie" and IMMEDIATELY walk away.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "Doesn't this seems a bit disingenuous or insincere? After all, didn't you go to Italy to learn the language?" Obviously yes, I did and as time (along my Italian) progressed, my reliance on this tactic dwindled. Besides, it's not like me doing this in any way offended or belittle Italians. The way I see it, this was nothing more than a defense against awkward situations for both the speaker and myself.

Sadly, following my departure from Italy, usages for understanding Italian culture and language have significantly tapered. Yesterday while skate skiing however, I was reminded that not everything learned in Italy needed to necessarily stay there. Before getting into this story it should be mentioned that I have been XC skiing only a handful of times, know very little about the sport and can barely make it 20min without falling. Needless to say, I'm a total amateur.

Therefore you can only imagine my surprise when the guy behind the rental counter started talking to me about the benefits of a "kick and stride technique" with this particular set of ski and wax combination. He then went on to describe the bindings and their benefits but I was a bit to distracted by his previous assertion on skiing technique to listen. As a followup to this statement the only question I had stuck in my head was in regards to my particular "kick and flail" technique. Would that work well with this particular ski/wax combo? Are there combination's which would work with my method? Does it cost extra?

The best part however came at the end when the guy concluded his speech with the sentence "I would go on, but you look like you know what I'm talking about. Have fun!" With friendly nod I just grabbed my skiis, thanked him, and walked out the door totally oblivious to what was discussed for the previous three minutes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Allow me to redeem myself

Upon reading my last post I found that it left something to be desired. To analyze it in the manner of an eighth grade English teacher, it lacked any substance or point--other than to announce my return to the U.S.

To elaborate more on my time back in the land of democracy I guess the word to use is relaxed. Monday was the first real snow storm of the year which is fine by me since it offers just another excuse to sit inside and do mindless activities (like blogging). Beyond this and the occasional nap or ride on my trainer my days are pretty unstructured. Lately however, I have become re-addicted to an old computer game I discovered while rummaging through an old shoe box next to my desk. According to the CD, the game is from 1999 (I know for some of you that may not seem old but for me, it is) and, sadly, I still find it entertaining--a testament to the fact that my brain hasn't developed since the age of nine.Fortunately though I do possess some semblance of will-power and can pry myself away from my computer screen to run errands, watch the Bruins, or visit friends now and then. All and all, not a bad life.

As for life "post-holiday season," my main focus will be the bike. For those of you who haven't heard (and I'm guessing that since you read this blog you know me pretty well and have heard) I got a professional cycling contract to ride for Team Jelly Belly Presented by Kenda for this upcoming cycling season. Words cannot describe how excited I am for this opportunity which I have been passionately pursuing since the age of ten (about the same time I started playing that computer game! Coincidence?....yea probably). After talking it over with a few teammates and various other cycling contacts I've decided to move to Tuscon, AZ for the winter months of January and February. At the moment, I'm still in the process of looking for a place to live but I hope to have that all sorted out by the end of the week.

I guess that's all for now. Happy Holidays!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome Home

I've been home a few days now. The jet-lag it starting to wear off but I still find myself going to bed at 9:00pm and waking up at 6:00am--something which I actually enjoy since it gives the impression of starting the day off productively. Other than sleep however, I have (surprisingly) found ways to occupy my time mainly with Christmas shopping, seeing friends, and riding.

Before leaving Perugia the staff at Umbra told us there would be some time needed to re-adjust to American life--a term they dubbed "reverse culture-shock"--and yes, while I have had to remind myself of certain American-isms (such as having a real breakfast and using my blinker to signal a turn) the transition has been pretty smooth.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Our living room is very clean. Not that this is weird, but today it is exceptionally tidy. Other than a few pieces of paper on the floor, the only things which really stand out are the newly arranged lamp and plant which were taken from our kitchen along with the half dozen or so pieces of luggage propped upright and ready to be walked out the door.
It's weird that four months can go by so quickly (though I kind of figured that would be the case). While I really appreciate the experiences, memories, and friendships this trip has offered, I really feel as though full appreciation for this trip won't come for years. As for now, I'm going to enjoy the final six hours I have left in Perugia.

Tomorrow, I will be home.


Monday, December 13, 2010

A Sample Of Things To Come

After doing so well in updating this thing I have fallen once again into a pattern of neglect towards this blog. However, I do promise traffic will pick up once I find the time and motivation. In the mean time however, here is a small sample of photos which I amassed on my ride today. This will probably be my last long ride in Italy given that I return state-side in four days.

Hope you enjoy. I'll add a story to these, again, once I find the time.

The last three are of Perugia all "Christmas-afied." Hope you enjoy it!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hot Springs On A Cold Night

As kind of a final "hurrah" to our time in Italy myself, two of my roommates--Stephen & J.J--along with our "fifth roommate" Noelle  decided to travel to the hot springs of San Casciano dei Bagni located right across the border in Tuscany. Unfortunately, the only form of transportation that could get us there was car--and by 'car' I'm not talking about a bus. What I'm really saying is that we HAD to rent a car and drive there ourselves if this adventure were to be a reality.

Originally, we planned on leaving our apartment around 3:00 to make our 3:30 car rental appointment and after a drive of ninety minutes or so we would arrive at our destination. Following an hour or so of intense exfoliation in the sulfur baths we were to return to Perugia wherein we would return the car and take the bus back to the "centro" and likewise, our apartment. However, a common theme in nearly all of my travels around Italy is that the initial plans of the excursion rarely align with the actual series of events which make up the overall experience. This would be no different.

For starters, we didn't actually walk out of our apartment until nearly 4:00 and by the time J.J signed the paperwork for the car and we were on our way it was nearly 5:00. Fortunately, the rental company gave us a great rate (the whole trip only cost eighty euros, so twenty per person) and didn't charge us extra since--due to our late start--we would be bringing the car back the next day as opposed to that night. Now, you many be wondering "but Emerson, how were four twenty year old kids allowed to rent a car in Europe?" To answer your question, in Europe you only need to be twenty-two to rent a car and as luck would have it, J.J is twenty-two. Problem solved! The funny irony though is that even though it was J.J who took the car out under his name, it was my other roommate Stephen who wound up driving given the he was the only individual amongst us who could drive stick-shift. Sad, I know.
Crammed (comfortably) into our newly acquired Fiat Panda--a top of the line car if there ever was one--we began our trip to Tuscany. Following a short stop in which Stephen had to re-learn how to put a manual car in reverse and we (more specifically I) punched in the directions to--what we (or I) thought--were the right hot springs. Together, all four of us were on such an adrenaline high from our new found form of transportation that it took us an hour to realize we were going to the WRONG hot springs. Instead of going to the springs ninety minutes away, we were en-route to the town of Saturnia--a trip of some two and a half hours! By the time we realized our mistake however, we were already too far out of the way to turn around...oh well.

As it turned out, the longer route we took brought us through some pretty cool, windy mountain roads (sadly, it was dark out so we could only see the area illuminated by our headlights) and culminated with a drive on the outside the town of Pitigliano. Like Perugia, Pitigliano is a hilltop town though instead of man-made walls, this place sat precariously over some pretty gnarly cliffs. What made the town even cooler was the numerous lights placed in the lower value to illuminate the town. Sadly, the quality of photos from my camera are somewhat lacking given the ineffectiveness of my flash and also the fact that they were taken from a moving car. However, you yourself can be judge and if you're really interested you can Google the town.

About twenty-five kilometers (about fifteen miles for those of you who don't speak the metric system) we reached the town of Saturnia. I'll be brief in describing just how we found the free public springs in the middle of the night. Pretty much it involved walking around for nearly an hour, driving onto a agritourismo, and walking around the private property for a while before we found our destination.

Once at the hot springs we quickly changed (quickly since being outside in thirty degree weather in nothing but underwear can be somewhat uncomfortable) and jumped in. As we sat in the baths, completely surprised that we ACTUALLY made it, the clouds parted for about forty minutes giving us a clear image of the stars. Not to be cliche or anything, but it was a pretty wild experience and definitely one which will be around for a while.

Given the distance back to Perugia we only spent about an hour in the baths before jumping out of the warm water and getting dressed--and let me tell you, there is no measure to the speed in which you can dry and clothe yourself when it's literally freezing out. Driving back, I managed to sleep for all of fifteen minutes before finally arriving at our apartment slightly after midnight. Completely exhausted, we all went straight to bed--ignoring the shower which we all clearly needed to get the smell of sulfur off our bodies. The next morning, after waking up at nine, our apartment (now scattered with soggy clothes from the hot springs) smelled very much like low tide back home--or as one person so eloquently put described that afternoon, "it smells like shit in here."

Mission Accomplished.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chocolate for Breakfast

Today we went to the Perugina chocolate factory--the once iconic candy producer of Perugia. Sadly, since it moved out of Perugia and was purchased by Nestle the company has lost some of its "mystique" as being a regional product. Either way, most of the Perugians I talk to still take pride in "their" chocolate. These days the company's factory is located on the outskirts of Perugia in a town whose name I have sadly forgotten. If my memory is correct the town's name might have started with "San _(blank)_" and ended with a vowel. Unfortunately, this description is about as useful as looking up a Mr. Smith in the New York Metropolitan phone book and not knowing his first name.

After waking up late due to my alarm not going off (Ok Ok it went off, I just chose to ignore it) I had to forgo both a breakfast AND my morning cup of coffee in order not get left behind by my class. For some of you, missing breakfast and/or coffee may be a common occurrence, but for people such as myself it is not a good thing and as a result I was in NO MOOD to go parading around even the most happy of places (like a chocolate factory).

Obviously, given my hurried and disgruntling morning it should come as no surprise that I--once again--forgot my camera. In the end however, it turned out not to be too big of a deal since photos were prohibited once inside the building. Fortunately though I was able to get a photo from a friend who was able to sneek her camera in.
Just Kidding.

Anyway, the tour was pretty uneventful and mainly consisted of us touring the factory floor and seeing how the chocolate is made, molded, packaged and shipped. Pretty much the only thing that separated it from a tour of a cardboard box factory in Paramus, NJ was the fact that it smelled like chocolate the whole time. Personally this wasn't that big of a deal since I'm not that much of a chocolate fan, but for some of the people in our group it was like they died and went to heaven.

All in all the walking tour--which also included seeing a replica of the world's largest Baci--took about an hour. As an aside, a Baci is a type of chocolate made by Perugina similar to a Hersey's kiss and, coincidentally enough, Baci is Italian for 'kiss'. By the end however, an hour was about as much as I could take given my lack of caffeination. The main highlight of the whole trip came as we stood in the lobby and were given dozens upon dozens of free chocolate bars--a few of which I grabbed for my roommates who I was sure would appreciate them more than I would.