The End of Italian School

Ray's class presents a gift to one of the teachers

Ray’s class presents a gift to one of the teachers

The end of the school year is another cause for celebration.

Italian students and families commemorate with a big get-together centering (of course) around food.

Tuesday night was the sixth grade party.  We heard that it went so late that only two kids showed up for school on Wednesday.  However, we weren’t there; Tom didn’t want to go.  He said he would rather go to Rome for the day where he can buy glow-in-the-dark sling shot rockets from the unlicensed street vendors.  Since we all wanted to go to Rome, we took advantage of his request for a final visit.  Tom got his rockets but also got a talking-to by the police. He’s getting use to it.

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Ray’s party was yesterday.  This group of families is especially close since many elementary schools in Italy assign teachers in first grade who stick with the same kids for five years.  Even though Ray joined the class in its last year, he fit in well.  In the end, he made good friends.

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Alessia, Valentina, Gaia, Ray and Marie Elena

Alessia, Valentina, Gaia, Ray and Maria Elena

The festa was held at Il Pioppo, an agriturismo  outside Perugia where the ingredients are sourced right there on the farm.  And this was no light summer lunch.  Our plates were filled to capacity. We started with a black truffle pasta tossed with the chef’s homemade tagliatelle followed by a second pasta course with tomato and sausage. Then we had a plate of roast pork and sauted greens and finally jam crostatas. Pitchers of wine and sparkling water were abundant.  The kids’ menu was equally huge but styled to suit their tastes.  However, with a pool and grassy field, they chose not to linger at the table.

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Ray's teacher playing some type of volleyball game with the kids.

Maestra Rita playing volleyball with the kids.

While the kids played, some of the parents told us about a new thing that schools are doing in Italy.  It’s called “American graduation” and it entails a celebration after eighth grade and another one after high school.  Previously, a graduation ceremony was held only after someone finished college, but several schools are importing our excuse to pomp and circumstance more often.  We told them that American kids even get to wear graduation caps when they finish preschool and fifth grade.  That made everyone laugh.

Saying goodbye to Daniele.  After we left the party, Ray said he would like to stay in Italy for another year.

Saying goodbye to Daniele. After we left the party, Ray said he would like to stay in Italy for another year.

Saying goodbye to Maestra Milva.

Saying goodbye to Maestra Milva.

American Lessons

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I started tutoring last February.  Once a week, I give English lessons and teach American culture to a 17-year-old who is preparing for his senior year in the United States.  I met him after visiting with a ceramic artist in Perugia who mentioned that her son was planning a year abroad as a foreign exchange student and needed someone to help him improve his language skills.  It sounded fun, so I volunteered.

This student, Giovanni, is another one of those people I am so glad to have met.  I love Tuesday afternoons.  Our weekly sessions turn out to be just as culturally insighful to me as we contrast the differences of growing up in two different countries.  Tom and Ray also look forward to these days because Giovanni can relate with their homework rants and complaints about mean teachers.

Yesterday, Giovanni interrupted the lesson to ask Ray if he would play a game of chess.

Yesterday, Giovanni interrupted the lesson to ask Ray if he would play a game of chess.

When we first met, we started with the basics. I tried to give Giovanni an overview of American culture by suggesting that he watch Forrest Gump, Crash and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as well as some Vietnam movies. Then we converted the metric system into American units.  That way, if someone asks Giovanni how tall his is, he can say 5’11 instead of 180 centimeters.  We also looked into Fahrenheit so he knows to bring a jacket if it’s under 60 degrees or to bring a swimming suit if it’s in the 80s.

Since he likes to cook and is a little worried about adjusting to American cusine, we spend time in the kitchen.  One of the first questions he asked was how to make coffee in the USA.  He’s never heard of drip or a French press so I showed him some pictures on the internet and explained the process while naturally making coffee for ourseves with the traditional Italian moka machine.

The lesson begins with coffee.

The lesson begins with coffee.

In preparation for dinning out, we pulled up some menus from typical American restaurants and sorted through the various dishes and discriptions.  Among the most confusing aspects of a meal was the amount of choices in salad dressings.  Italians use only oil and vinegar.  This led me to pull up a photo of a grocery store with an entire aisle dedicated to salad dressings.  I tried describing the flavors of 1000 island, ranch, French and Russian.  I also cautioned him about seeking out “Italian” restaurants.  After looking at a few menus, it became evident that we all have different interpretations of true Italian cooking.  Giovanni has never heard of fettuccini alfredo and he sternly insists that carbonara sauce never has shrimp or chicken in it.  Besides salad dressing and Americanized pasta, I explained some other novelties such as the bagel, the club sandwich and several possible answers to “How would you like your eggs?”  Later we looked at recipes and translated the following abbreviations:  pkg, tsp, tbl, and gal.

One afternoon we made a box of Kraft mac and cheese that one of our American guests brought over.  Pretty funny.

One afternoon we made a box of Kraft mac and cheese that one of our American guests brought over. Pretty funny.

One of my favorite days was when we read emails from some high school students. I enlisted the help of relatives and former babysitters from home who then wrote Giovanni letters describing school in America.  Beyond the classes, sports and social functions, they naturally used common phrases that were unfamiliar (but necessary to learn) such as “hang out, “a bummer” and “pretty cool.”  Giovanni even started a pen pal relationship with one of these high schoolers from Portland.

Finally, this week, Giovanni received the news he’d been waiting for all year – his American destination.  I was really happy to hear that out of all the towns in the United States, it turns out he is going to live with a family in a small, seaside town in Oregon just five hours from our home near Seattle.  This means we will easily be able to visit him next year.

Looking at Chamber of Commerce videos of Giovanni's new home town.

Looking at the Chamber of Commerce videos of Giovanni’s new home town.

My Field Trip to Pompeii (written by Tom)

by guest blogger Tom

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I just got back from an overnight trip with my class to southern Italy.  We left on a Tuesday morning.  I met my teacher and the other students at the bus stop at 7:00 am for a five-hour drive down to Pompeii to visit the ancient ruins.

My classmates were excited to visit a city together and stay overnight in a hotel.

My classmates were excited to visit a city together and stay overnight in a hotel.

During the bus ride down, kids listened to music on their phones to pass the time.  I played Uno with my friend Luca.  Halfway through the trip, we stopped at an Autogrill to eat lunch and buy a snack.  I bought two big bags of marshmallows.

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We stayed at the Hotel Vittoria near Naples.  We arrived around noon and checked in.  The hotel itself was good.  I shared a room with Matteo and Giovanni.  There were no teachers or chaperones in our room telling us when to go to bed so I stayed up until 1 am listening to music and watching a movie. Only one unfortunate thing happened while we were there.  I was playing with a toy that Matteo brought.  It was a squishy ball filled with powder that stretches into many different shapes.  When I was trying to twist it into a face, it suddenly exploded and sent white powder everywhere.   It was all over the beds, the chairs, the carpet and all over me.  It took forever to clean up.

Here's what the room looked like before the explosion.

Here’s what the room looked like before the explosion.

Unfortunately, the food wasn’t so great during the trip. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining room of our hotel.  Dinner was pasta with ragu, steak and potatoes and then gelato for dessert.  Lunch was gnocchi, potatoes, chicken and gelato.  For breakfast we were served a bagged croissant and a jar of pear juice.  (American breakfasts are so much better.) During the trip, we stopped for a gelato break three times.  Italian kids eat so much ice cream.

breakfast

breakfast

During our first afternoon, we went to look at the Pompeii ruins with a guide.  Pompeii is an ancient city that was buried by ash in 79 AD after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  It was interesting for a little bit, but after a while it got hot and I became tired.  At the end of the tour, we  visited the museum  which displays casts of humans who were buried by the ash.  We also saw the houses and stores where those people lived and worked.  We spent most of the day in Pompeii and got back to the hotel around 8pm

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During the second day we visited Il Antro della Sibilla a Cuma which is a cluster of caves up in the hills.  These caves used to be the homes of fortune tellers during the time of the ancient Romans.  People could visit and ask the women (called sibyls) a question about their fate and the women would give them a vague answer.  We spent about three hours up there looking at the caves.  There were lots of plants and trees and geckos.  And there was a great view of the ocean too.

This is one of the caves we saw

This is one of the caves.

I saw this gecko climbing up the wall of the cave

I saw this gecko climbing nearby

Before we got on the bus to go back to Perugia, we stopped at another gelateria.  I got a popsicle shaped as a watermelon with chocolate for the seeds. Then, we headed home.  During the bus ride, we played “monkey in the middle” with a bottle of water, but after a while, the teacher told us to stop so we sat quietly until we arrived in Perugia.  My parents and Ray were waiting for me.  I went to sleep as soon as I got home, but I still felt tired for the next few days.

Mt. Vesuvius from the window of our bus.

Mt. Vesuvius from the window of our bus.

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Spring Break

Biking in Lucca

Biking in Lucca

The boys completed another week of character building at their respective schools.  They finally made it to Easter Vacation, a ten day break.

Unfortunately, after school, I was called in for a conference with Tom’s math teacher.  I knew it was going to be a doozy, so I asked Signora Paola, the boys’ tutor, to accompany me.  As a teacher herself, she is part of the inner circle of Italian educators.  Beyond that advantage, she is intelligent, fair, and understands Tom.

We wait in the halls of San Paolo Middle School.

We wait in the halls of San Paolo Middle School.

By 1:15, we entered the meeting.  We got an earful, and with it, I gained a greater understanding of Italian culture, something I should be grateful for, I guess.  The good news is that Tom got the highest grade on his math test that any 6th grader earned all year.  But he still didn’t show his work, which she didn’t like.  And he complains about the uniform, which she also didn’t like . . . among other things.

Oh well, he still gets three more months to adapt.

That afternoon, we caught a train to Pisa and began our vacation.  As it turns out, it was New Years Day in Pisa.  (They celebrate once on January 1st and once on March 23rd.)  Completely by accident, we reserved a room on the second floor of a hotel overlooking the Arno where the grand firework display was held at 11pm.  We seriously had the best seats in town, especially considering the pouring down rain drenching everyone below.  It was a spectacular show with music and two barges (one on either side of our windows) blasting off fireworks for 25 minutes.

A room with a view

A room with a view

The next morning, we walked to one of Italy’s most famous monuments, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  We circled around, climbed to the top, and joined hundreds of others in assuming unoriginal poses in front of our camera.

Leaning . . . just like the tower

Leaning . . . just like the tower

Trying to straighten the tower

Trying to straighten the tower

Pisa is big and festive and famous all smashed into one town.  I loved it, but after one day, I was ready to leave.  It’s like a party and hangover all in one.

Next we went to Lucca, a sweet, soft, small, walled Tuscan town.  Not only the name of the city reminds me of Luke but the streets too.  They were full of pink bikes.  One of my favorites was similar Luke’s first bike.

The bike-renter's son owned this one.  I wanted to tell them about Luke.

The bike-renter’s son owned this one. (I wanted so much to tell them about Luke.)

Another pink bike I liked was owned by a woman who gave us an impromptu tour of the outside of Puccini’s house-turned-museum the day we showed up after closing.

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However, not all of Lucca is gentle.  We visited The Museum of Torture which I thought sounded entertaining, but turned out to be a huge bummer.  While it was a well-done exhibit, it left us all sick to our stomachs and hopeless.  It’s hard to believe that humans were (and still are) so capable of such psychopathic brutality.  It made my thumbs and tongue hurt, as well as my shoulders, bum and boobs.

A couple showcased devices from the first room

A couple showcased devices from the first room

We tried to calm the disquietude by heading, yet again, to Trattoria Gigi, maybe the most charming little restaurant we’ve met.  In three days, we ate there three times.

This afternoon we left Lucca.  After stopping in Florence for a few hours to look at Michelangelo’s house, we caught a train to Rome and met my parents at the airport.  They are spending the second half of Spring Break with us as well as two additional weeks.  In preparation for Easter, we are planning on soaking up Catholic monuments including the Sistine Chaple and tons of churches.  This Sunday we will return to Perugia for a traditional Perugian Easter celebration which includes an unusual breakfast of hard boiled eggs, cake with rainbow sprinkles, and red wine.

Gramma and Grandpa with the kids here in Rome

Gramma and Grandpa with the kids here in Rome

Sports, School and Ice Cream (written by Tom)

by guest blogger Tom

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My favorite thing to write about is football, especially the Huskies.  This fall I wrote weekly reports on college football.  I watched every Husky game from our computer here, and I’m excited to go to all the home games next fall.

There aren’t many Italians who know what real football is.  Some think it’s soccer, and some think it’s rugby.  Most people think I’m a rugby player.   I wear a Husky football jersey to school every day under my uniform.  On Thursday when I have PE, I get to wear shorts.  P.E. is one of my favorite classes.  So is French.

I wear a Husky football jersey to school every day under my uniform.

These are all the boys in my class except one, who was absent today.

But I don’t really like school that much.  In Math, we have to be very organized.  We have to use a red pen for the title at the top of the page, a black pen for headings, a green pen for lines and line segments, a blue pen for showing our work and a pencil for drawling angles and pie charts.  And the big problem is, we are not allowed to use white-out or erasers, so if you mess up, you have to start over.  Yesterday I asked my teacher why we couldn’t always use pencils and erasers.  She said that people would take home their assignments after they were corrected, erase all the incorrect answers and replace them with the right ones.  However, students still find ways to cheat.  The other day, I caught three of my classmates using cheat sheets for a test, so I got up, grabbed the cheat sheets, and turned them into the teacher.  Luckily, the three boys weren’t mad at me and they agreed not to do it again.  Hopefully, this will put an end to cheating in my class.

We have a class called Antologia where we read stories.  The stories are confusing.  I understand the words in Italian, but the story itself doesn’t really make sense.  For instance, there was one called “The Wolf and the Sheep.”  This is how it goes:

One day, a wolf and a sheep arrived at a drinking river at the same time.  The wolf was mean and wanted an excuse to eat the sheep.  He said, “Why are you dirtying my water?”

The sheep replied, “How could I dirty your water? You’re farther up stream than me.”

Then the wolf said, “Six months ago you were saying bad things about me.”

“Six months ago I wasn’t born,” the sheep responded.

“Your dad was saying bad things about me,” said the wolf, and he grabbed the sheep and ate him.  THE END.

In art history, we are studying columns.  There are three types of ancient Greek columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.  On Sunday I found a Corinthian column in a town we visited.

In art history, we are studying columns. There are three types of ancient Greek columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian. On Sunday we found a Corinthian column in a town we visited.

One good thing about my school is that the teachers sometimes don’t show up.  This week, we have gone to school for 15 hours and for 10 of them the teachers were gone.  When this happens, we go into another classroom and write, draw, read or do whatever we want to.  Right before school got out today, we heard that all but one of our teachers for tomorrow are sick.  The principal gave all the kids the option to go to school or not.  You can probably guess what I chose.

One of the worst things about school is that we go six days a week. Then on Sunday, my one day off, my parents take us sight-seeing and we have to look at piazzas, churches and museums.  Last weekend we went to Montefalco and Bevagna, but at least I got to bring my football.

I played catch with my dad in the main piazza

I played catch with my dad in the main piazza.

While we were there, we went to a museum that was kind of boring, but at least it wasn’t very big.  My mom and I counted angels.  We found 96 in the main part of the museum.  Then as we were about to leave, we found a special angel-only exhibit downstairs.  The first one looked like a wide receiver who missed a catch.

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And the second one looked like a disappointed coach

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We have only 149 days left, and I’m glad.  I like Bellevue better.  I think everything is better back home like my friends, my school, my house, and even the food. At least here I can get gelato every day.  My favorite flavors are lemon, vanilla cream and chocolate chip, but I like Baskin-Robbins more because the ice cream is colder and the flavors are better.  I can’t wait to get home and eat pink bubblegum ice cream, cinnamon firehouse, and poprock swirl.

Today my ice cream fell off my cone and onto the floor but luckily, Verena and Sabrina gave me a second one for free.

Today my ice cream fell off my cone and onto the floor, but luckily Verena and Sabrina gave me a second one for free.

Me in Italy (written by Ray)

by guest blogger Ray

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School has been going really well for me ever since Christmas break and the week I was sick.  I’ve been understanding a lot more in Italian.  I use to get easier work than the Italian kids in school, but now I do the same exercises and homework as them.  I think it’s fun.  Also, conversation is easier to understand.  I hardly ever have to say “Non capisco.”

My favorite class in school is Italian grammar because the teacher is really nice to me and it’s the easiest class.  Right now we are studying comparisons and superlatives.  For instance, if something is good, we say it is “buono.”  If something is better, we say “migliore.”  If something is the best, we say “ottimo.”  At first it was confusing, but my tutor Paola helped me understand.

In history we are learning about the Etruscans.  They lived before the Romans.  Where they came from is a mystery, but they lived in here Umbria and around the center of Italy.  They were the ones who invented the arch.  They were really good architects.  When they wrote, they wrote from right to left, and they did not have spaces between their words.  They wrote with a different alphabet than ours.

This is an Etruscan arch.  It's the most famous arch in Perugia.

This is an Etruscan arch. It’s the most famous arch in Perugia.

My least favorite class is science.  Right now we are studying the body.  We are learning about breathing, muscles, bones, intestines, nerves, veins and cells.  There are some funny pictures in my science book like a rotting orange, the Italian food pyramid, a little baby sitting on a potty, and an angry boy riding a bike.

This is a picture from my science book.

This is a picture from my science book.

We always have a break at 10:15.  That’s when we get to have a snack and talk.  My friends are Alberto, Andrea, Gaia, Anna, Alessandro and Teresa.  During break the boys sing Gangnam Style or play charades.  Actually, I don’t play charades because I have no idea what they are acting out.  Sometimes they do things and I don’t know what it is suppose to be.

This is me with my classmates.  I'm sitting between Andrea and Gaia.  In the background is poster of me that my class made at the beginning of the year.  It says, "Welcome to our school."

This is me with my classmates. I’m sitting between Andrea and Gaia. In the background is a poster of me that my class made at the beginning of the year. It says, “Welcome to our school.”

Today during snack time, I talked with Gaia.

Today during snack time, I talked with Gaia.

After school, I come home for lunch, check my emails, do my homework and get gelato.  I go across the street to Grom for gelato.  Right now my favorite flavors are cream, lemon, chocolate and stracciatella.  The most common flavor is hazelnut.  Vanilla is not very popular, and it’s hard to find.

Sabrina and Verenna and me.  Today I ordered three scoops and some whip cream.

Sabrina and Verena and me. Today I ordered three scoops of gelato and some whip cream.

We are half way through the year. It has been fun when people visit us, but I’m also excited to go home.  I miss our backyard and our house and our neighborhood and my friends.  But when I leave I will miss the gelato, the food, my Italian friends, all the traveling on Sundays and vacations.

Italian School: Wine and Shopping

Teachers and staff at Comitato Linguistico:

Teachers and staff at Comitato Linguistico

I enrolled in another week of language school at Comitato Linguistico. There aren’t a lot of international students in town during January, so the classes were small.  In the morning I met with three others to study grammar and conversation.  We focused on fashion and cinema terminology and a difficult verb called il congiuntivo.  I think I used it correctly just once this entire week.

Ismael, Luca, Boris, Laura and me.

Ismael from Palestine; Luca, our Italian teacher; Boris from the Netherlands; Laura from Germany and me.

After the difficult session with verbs, the cultural second half of the morning is always fun.  We listened to interviews with Georgio Armani as well as other Italian designers who are projecting the trends in menswear for 2013.  According to the experts, we can expect a mix of sporty and elegant with a lean towards a one-of-a-kind look, meaning a preference towards original and limited edition pieces (kind of like back in the 1800s when your mom made your clothes instead of H&M).

In the afternoon, I was the only one in Luca’s class, so I asked if we could turn the sessions into a series of little field trips.  He thought that was a great idea and had lots of places to show me since he’s kind of an expert on Perugia.  We started with an artisan shopping excursion.  Luca took me to several nearby stores where the owners work and create everything right there.   My favorite was Ozona where I met the incredible Sandro Gonnella who makes lenses and sunglasses.  Sandro earned a degree in design in Milan and then worked for a couple high-end companies before opening his own studio here in Perugia.  While he sells many ready-to-wear models, much of his work is in creating the perfect pair of glasses for individual clients.  He explained the process to me. When someone comes to him looking for frames, he begins by carefully studying the shape of the face.  He takes a picture and then creates a series of virtual glasses on the computer.  At the next appointment, the client and he will meet to discuss the best option before he begins work on a prototype.  Once that is complete, the client tries it on for size. If it works, colors are chosen and then construction on the actual pair of glasses begins. With an infinite variety of colors and shapes, each pair is different.  It can take a month before the glasses are ready.  Let me just say that it might be impossible to set foot in this inspiring studio without making an appointment for Sandro to begin creating your own pair of glasses.

Sandro with some of his raw materials

Sandro with several samples of acetate, the material used to make the frames.

Sandro models several styles

Sandro models several styles

Luca and Sandro in the studio

Sandro and Luca in the studio

Trying on a bold look

Trying on a bold look

Later this week we went wine tasting.  I asked if I could bring a couple friends to which Luca agreed.  So the whole family came.  On Thursday, we filled his car and drove out to Lungarotti Vineyards in Torgiano.  When we arrived, Grazia, a guide, sommelier and olive oil expert, gave us a private tour.  She walked us through each step of the wine making process starting with the vineyard then moving through the stages of crushing, fermentation and bottling. We concluded the visit around a table with a glass of white and two reds then left with several bottles of our favorites.

Starting outside near the grape vines.

Starting outside near the grape vines.

Lungarotti Vineyards produce two and a half million bottles a year.

Lungarotti Vineyards produce two and a half million bottles a year.

"The Library"  These wines are stacked according to the year they were made.  Many  are from the 1960s.  I had to take this picture through the window; we weren't allowed inside.

These wines are stacked and labeled according to the year they were made. Many are from the 1960s. I had to take this picture through the window since we weren’t allowed inside the room.

Grazia offers an olive oil tasting.

Grazia offers an olive oil sampling.

Grazia taught Luca how to "open up" the flavor of the oil before tasting it.

Grazia taught us how to “open up” the flavor of the oil before tasting it.  We sandwiched the plastic cup between our hands then rotated our palms back and forth.

Sampling the wines:  the Torre di Giano, the Rubesco and the Rubesco Riserva. We loved each one. We bought them all.

Sampling the wines: the Torre di Giano, the Rubesco and the Rubesco Riserva. We loved each one and bought them all.

We didn’t get a chance to visit, but just down the road, Lungarotti has a wine spa called Bella Uve Spa where you can schedule therapeutic wine baths, grape scrubs, wine tasting massages and other types of vintherapy.  The website boasts the healing and relaxing powers of wine both in the body and on the body.  Hard to believe, but very tempting.

My language classes are over for the week; I have six hours next week, and Matt starts an intensive course on Monday.