The Leaving Blues

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Tuesday, 21 December 2010 at 19:34

Well, this is it. My time in Pavia is slowly running out. The last of Pavia 2010 is trickling away by the second, and, y'know what, I don't want it to. This place really is like a second home for me, and I love it. I actually think, aside from Christmas weekend, the entire experience of being at home is going to be one big downer and I can't wait to set foot back in this beautiful place.

Time to get all mushy for a second: I thought I wasn't going to blog before going home, because I really had nothing planned at all for my final days. I was just going to sit inside, wrapped up warm, feeling sorry for myself with my cold and the then-miserable weather. But then the weekend rolled around, and things became a sequence of fitting in time with other people: I studied, or attempted to, with Roxy and Rebecca; I went out and ate pizza with them; we had late night chats. Basically, the last five days have been filled with sharing my time with my favourite people here.

I'd love to say that Pavia would be just as cool if I'd spent my time here with other people, but that'd be a lie. I'm really glad I met Roxy and Rebecca and that we seem to have got on so well, and they've actually made living here fun. Last night some of us sat in Roxy's lounge and chatted into the witching hour, which was nice, though it did make me think that I wish I had got to know Brandon and Harry a bit more beyond the last week of interaction. Simply put: if there were only four people I could transpose to Spain, I'd take those guys any day of the week. I sometimes wonder if I'm going to find people who live up to the high benchmark they have set for 'friends'.

Anyhow: last night I drank some beer and chatted with Savino before going for a pizza and spending the evening rambling on with the gang; and this afternoon I said my goodbyes to Savino and Francesco at the bar, and then went and drank more caffè corretto than is advised in an hour -- generally, I think they'd recommend you only drink one, but Roxy and I managed to power our way through two with Grappa and one with Limoncello before deciding it was probably best to not drink any more alcohol-infused espressos. Now, I'm sat wasting time that I could be using to pack my case properly, rather than leaving it in the mess it's in now.

In 24hours, I should be back on British soil, standing in a queue, waiting for my passport to be checked to prove I am indeed the person I claimed to be when the Italians let me fly...and then it'll be back to the mundane life of a Welsh boy in the valleys, for two whole weeks. To sum it up: Blergh.

Final Countdown(s)

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Thursday, 16 December 2010 at 16:25

So there's a week left in Pavia, you guys! Actually, that exclamation mark isn't one of happiness; it could never be one of happiness...but we sadly never found the time to create a "sadness mark" so it's the next best thing. Anyhow, I digress. Lecturers aren't around much, people are going home in droves, and it's cold and foggy outside (like freezing-fog foggy) so I just want to stay indoors and curl up in bed with a film... I don't have anything exciting to add about my week; it's been pretty standard. Just letting you know about my departure in less than one week's time; my horrid cold that I got from staying out til 4am with two of my favourite people; and my top 10 albums of this year!

Yes. That last bit: I'm serious. It's an annual tradition. I'll link each album title with the 'best song' from that album, in my humble opinion. No pretentious 'reviews' of them, though. Just name, rank and number. Anyhow, let us kick off immediately, or we'll be here all night!

10. Hurley - Weezer
9. Subiza - Delorean
7. Root for Ruin - Les Savy Fav
7. High Violet - The National
6. Sea of Cowards - Dead Weather
5. Interpol - Interpol
4. Pop Negro - El Guincho
3. 1Inch:1/2Mile - Grasscut
2. Lights - Ellie Goulding
1. Lonely Avenue - Ben Folds/Nick Hornby

And I've just realised almost all the music I've listened to this year has been in the same vein. So much for discovering new stuff, eh?

I guess, considering I'm not going to be travelling around before I leave, and the next few days are just going to involve studying for my Linguistics mock exam and getting back home...the next blog to sate your appetite (Emyr...) will probably be the weekend of Christmas, perhaps...

Hamming it up in Parma

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Friday, 10 December 2010 at 18:41

Disclaimer: To save my arse from potentially being shouted at, it was just bad karma that my internet would cut out for two days when trying to organise a trip somewhere. However, I can’t really expect a host of “Why didn’t you invite me!!?” comments, because the message sent out was still sans replies less than an hour ago. I can, however, be shouted at by the Parmigiani and Laura, for not informing them I’d be in town – sorry, spur of the moment visit, though I will come back before I leave the Bel Paese!

Anyhow, let’s bring you up to speed. Since last venting, over a week ago, there has been nothing but days off. Days and days and days and days off. I should have used them and brushed up on those things they call subjects, since I am in University. I should also have used them to visit Italy, but I was hoarding my metaphorical pennies after a bit of a Christmas blow-out – the result of which means the quality of photos, at least in terms of clarity, should improve vastly in the new year! So, in short: for the last seven days, I have unashamedly sat on my arse and done nothing; literally veg’d out; so much so I started collecting beer labels… As you do…

On Saturday (or was it Sunday?) I bumped into Emilia and José on the bus, and we talked about how I’ve been a lame Erasmus student (Sorry, Emyr!) and that we should definitely go somewhere this week thanks to Wednesday being Immaculate Conception (Italy shuts down), Thursday being the feast of San Siro (Pavia supposedly shuts down), and today being a day off just because this is Italy! I tried to cajole people into going to Novara and Vercelli, though my guess is that it didn’t appeal…

The one day in my life when I'll be awake before sunrise voluntarily

So, today rolls around, and I’m up at the crack of dawn – I was even good enough to provide you with the proof! – and my internet had been out for a whole day and a half (which I mostly spent playing Plants vs Zombies…). So, I thought “Sod it, I’ll go into town and put up a text status on Facebook saying I have no internet. I assume people will get the message, and let me know if anything is going down.” – after a half hour talk on the economic crisis that is gripping the world with Savino in the café, I gave up all hope of anyone coming to find me, and asked for a recommendation on where to go. It became a toss-up between Parma and Bologna. Now, since I’ve seen the prices for Bologna on the ESCity trains, and didn’t like the looks of 4 hours on the ‘bog standard’ regionals, I opted for Parma.

One thing I’ll say for train journeys in Italy is that they don’t disappoint when it comes to the views. In Wales, it’s a case “same old, same old” on the Valley Line – hills, hills, hills, river, hills, river etc. – but Milan to Parma was just rolling fields as far as the eye could see, and mountains! Actual Alpine mountains! Plus, you can travel for half an hour without having to stop…it takes an hour to go the 20miles to Cardiff; I did 148km in 2 hours today…with a break for my change-over at Milano Rogoredo.  British Rail: you could learn something from the Italians! Who needs to stop at Ton Pentre anyway?

But, I digress.

Parma is a city in Emilia-Romagna. It’s roughly an hour and a half away from Pavia, and by contrast is a hybrid of peaceful streets and bustling pavements. Maybe that was just today, though. It’s also my nominee for the prize of “City under construction at the most inopportune time!” – not only is the station receiving a makeover, but so is the bell tower of the cathedral. Put a bit of a dampener on my trip.

The first thing I noticed about Parma is that it is quite underwhelming…then I realised that the station is nowhere near the ‘historical centre’, so it would be like basing my opinion of Cardiff on Cathays. It has a river – wikipedia quotes a historian as calling it a stream, but would you call this a stream:

Attilio Bertolucci has never seen a river before...

I certainly don’t think it’s a stream. In fact, I was quite in awe of it, though the bridges have nothing on Pavia’s Ponte Coperto! On this side of the bridge (i.e. the side I am taking the photo from) is some large park, which, at first seems a bit like Bute Park with a bit of a superiority complex. But, then I walked further than just the front gate, and it’s quite beautiful. I reckon in the summer it would be amazing, what with leaves on trees and such. But still, after walking the full circumference of the park, I was at a loss as to where the ‘historic centre’ was. Considering the fact that the Duomo in Pavia can be seen from most places, and the one in Milan has its own metro stop…surely the most important medieval baptistery in Northern Italy, if not Europe, would be well signposted??

Unless I’d missed the signs, I spent the time wandering aimlessly, considering giving up my search for this holy grail of medieval church architecture. Sure, I found plenty of other churches and buildings and statues to make my nerdy side happy, but in the back of my mind I felt I was missing something. When I found myself back at the river, I sighed, sat down on a bench and conceded defeat. “Sod it,” I thought, using a phrase I over use in writing so that my blog is vaguely PG, “I’ll get the next train home and come back in January and get Sara and Erica to show me where it is!!”

Figuring I had an hour until the next train, I thought I’d find out what lay to the other side of the Palazzo del Governatore (not under construction, but maltreated and hidden by a sign telling everyone it was Christmas, I do believe…*mumble grumble*) Woe was I when there was no sign of the Baptistery. The street went on, and ended at a bell tower, but no piazza. I reached a crossroads – literally – and only by the sheer luck that I glanced to my right, rather than turning left and just storming off to the station to pout, did I see it. My jaw dropped – metaphorically – and I have trouble relating the feeling. I can, however, tell you that I became a total church architecture nerd: there are photos on my camera of the intricate details on the Baptistery, the triple loggia of the cathedral, the parts of the wall where it looks like an arch was removed, the masonry, the art…ooo, I was happier than a pig in the proverbial!

So...amazingly...pretty O.O I became a bit of a nerd, taking photos like sue me

Isn’t that just beautiful. Eight-sided on the outside, sixteen sided on the inside; four doors - one at every compass point; four loggias on every side. And just look at those blind arches making an arcade at the top. Oh, I am in heaven! It’s probably best that I leave it there, rather than including the sheer boredom which came with the hour and a half back to Milan, and the twenty minutes to Pavia… And that sums up my (probably) last day of travel in Italy of 2010!

As normal, all of the photos from today (not that I took many in the two hours I was in Parma – that’s what leaving it to the last minute does; cuts your time short), are up on my flickr page.

Suspended Animation

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Thursday, 25 November 2010 at 10:17

It's bloody freezing, and it seems Italy has gone nuts. I decided to be good, and go in early today, and even had time for some breakfast (marmalade-filled croissant for €1, don't mind if I do!) Anyway, I arrived at Uni at 9.10, only to find the door to our class already open and nobody outside. Sheepishly, I entered, and could hear the quiet tone of our little old Arts lecturer. I glanced to my left, and there were five girls standing in the walkway between the lecture hall and the wall, so I toddled on over to see what the fuss was about. The lecturer spotted me, and turned, and summed up everything in one sentence:

Dicevo che la nostra facoltà sarà chiusa per due giorni, per mostrare supporto alla manifestazione di oggi, perché riguarda al vostro futuro.

Or something like that. Basically: class are suspended to keep your protesting pals happy. So, I guess this makes it a five day weekend for me! On that note, I'm going to go on a bit of a jolly today. Either to Genova on the 1pm train...or to Milan, again...or to somewhere else. I've not quite decided. What I have decided, however, is that I can't for the life of me type on an Italian keyboard. Who in the hell puts the apostrophe at the top, next to 0, and the colon at the bottom, and the @ sign hidden behind an alt+ctrl on a key labelled òç@ eh!? (essentially the key next to where the questionmark is on an English keyboard. I keep hitting that button, only to come up with à. What the frackà?)

A Distinct Lack of Awesomesauce.

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 22 November 2010 at 15:16

Hello and Good Monday 22nd of  November. I'm Molly, and this is Rocketboom. (Sorry, that's a lie; but such a nice way to introduce a blog/vlog.)

Today, dear readers, I'm on a bit of a down. My entire weekend was composed of a 12:1 ratio of Suck to AwesomeSauce. In fact, it seems my entire life lately is hitting that rut of suckage : awesomesauce. I really don't think it's right. However, for those of you who follow me on Facebook, you'll probably have spotted the reason why. My current status reads:

Vorrei essere studioso. Invece divento scostante.
(Or in English: I want to be studious. Instead I become unapproachable.)

Every week there's something to do, at least if I'm a student -- I can go out with friends, I can go out with the ESN folks, I can grab a coffee, I can pass the day in the company of people I've never met -- but because I feel the urge to actually be a good student this trimester, I'm missing out on all of this. Last trimester, you may know, I missed out on a lot of lectures; I just couldn't hack going in after being out til 5am drinking. This trimester, I have been out once, on a Sunday, which is good because I don't have lessons on a Monday.

It's bugging me though. I mean, I have to attend these classes, to be able to write the notes, which I will revise from later, to get my grade this year, no matter how small it is. I'd rather get the grades than have to pass my summer writing a paper on it all. But, it's cutting in on my 'social hours'. Most people in the "World of Work" would call them unsociable hours, but from 10pm til the early morning, Pavia is most alive with people I want to spend time with.

I know, I know. I could just say "Fuck this for a game of soldiers" and go out, enjoy myself, read the articles for non-frequenti, and quit my moaning. Thing is, that's harder work than just sitting indoors and attempting to read about the phonological to phonetic changes in transcription, or the design of a 12th century Lombard basilica. But, by not going out I'm alienating myself from the people I like the most here -- the Erasmus people. I'm also letting my Italian slip as I spend more time talking to friends back home while attempting, and failing, to open a book to study.

I guess this is a bit of a downer for anyone who came here expecting to read of my epic exploits in Italy, where I travel and have fun, and get blindingly drunk, and we all laugh at it later. In fact, were my glasses not broken, and I had a bowl of crisps (chips) then this post would definitely fit the criteria given on Thursday of coming home, writing a blog nobody cares about, but thinking it's very important.

Anyhow: Where did this extra long, extra-sucky rant come from? Well, I went into Uni today just for the whole "I should study" idea. I bumped into an Italian friend, Signor Gigio, and was asked if I was going to the beer contest tomorrow night. I declined, and then felt like I was turning down something that I didn't have to participate in, which is silly. So, it got stuck in my head that I came across as totally antisocial and an ass, so I just grabbed a coffee and left. Weird reaction, I know; but when you've been a bag of suck for the last three-or-four weeks... The word that sums it up is: Ergh.

Today's post was brought to you by the letter Y, and the number √-1.

Crushing Blows

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Wednesday, 17 November 2010 at 16:33

Like what I did with the title? No? Well, you haven't read this yet, so you probably don't get it. This isn't so much a blog, as an opinion piece. If it bores you, sorry. I was going to include my rant that Terry Gilliam makes everything he touches turn to shit, but it doesn't work when it's not 'spur of the moment', so you just get this little...thing:

Dear Internet,

Don't you hate it when you get a crush on someone but you never know if they like you? I'd like to explain the way crushes work for me. I like to think of it on a Donald Rumsfeld scale of knowledge, thereby creating three types of crushes (There are actually four, but the fourth is so rare it hardly counts). They are:

Unknown Knowns -- The crushes you get on the street. You see someone and you think "They're actually my type, superficially. I wish I knew them more" and then you forget all about them and move on because you don't know them, and assume they'll freak out. They are Unknown to you, but you presume that their feelings towards you are known.

Unknown Unknowns -- These can both be people on the street, or acquaintences. You don't have a brilliant friendship going, but you still like them enough to pluck up the courage to say something. In essence, they are unknown to you, and as their feelings are unknown you'd like to delve deeper.

Known Unknowns -- The most common type of crush, where you crush on your best friend (or a member of your friend circle). The result is that they are already known to you, but their feelings are always hidden, or unknown. Griffiths' Law of Curiosity, that is "Curiosity usually, if not always, tends towards the murder of felines," makes it a dead cert that at some point you will inevitably "kill the cat" and ask what they think of you.

Known Knowns -- The rarest type of crush. Rarer than hens' teeth. This is the type of person who is already known to you, but it's also bloody obvious (known) that they like you as more than a friend. When these crop up; pounce!

Now, where am I going with this? Well, that's just it: I'm not going anywhere. I'm just making the point that having a crush sucks. Here comes the part where you can get all mushy and soppy with me, or you can switch off. Fair warning? Let's go then:

This isn't an out of the blue thing. I've been having crush conversations with people for a while, but I feel I don't reciprocate, so I'll admit here to having had three crushes in my time in Pavia. One has been a Known Unknown for some time, one is still an Unknown Unknown, and one has recently hit the status of Known Unknown, though I'd say she started as an Unknown Unknown. Thing is, I'm a massive [insert pejorative here] who doesn't have the balls/chutzpah/cojones to make a decision, and to take the leap into the unknown. I've probably missed out on a hell of a lot of rejections in the past few years; and probably some acceptances too. Couple that with the fact that no girl in their right mind asks the guy, and I'm stuck in a perpetual limbo where my crushes just pass me by and I never tell them.

It's not like I'm now going to say "Crush #1, you are....[name]", so, sorry to disappoint. I'm just making the point that I have 'Pavia Crushes'. Maybe it's my way of feeling like I'm getting it 'off my chest', without actually ruining any friendships, and my way of saying "Look, if you like me -- if I am your (Un)Known Unknown -- just ask me already. You may be surprised." -- this goes for anyone, not just people in Pavia.

I'm just fed up of the onus always being on the male to make the leap. Why can't it be down to the girl once in a while? That is all. Here is a song:

[[God, I love a bit of Swing-Hop in the afternoon -- and have no doubt posted this very song further back in the blog...]]

Link (noun): Not Just a Video Game Hero

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 15 November 2010 at 11:38

So, on the one hand I have been single for just over a year now. Say it with me: Awwwwwwww! But, on the other hand, I'm living in Italy, so who gives a flying ****?

It's Monday, and not a lot has happened since I last blogged, in all honesty. I believe I went to buy a book last week, and was told it has been out of print for a while. The conversation basically ran:
"Hi, I'm looking for Parini's Odes, edited by Dante Isella..."
"Okay, let me have a look" *typing* *waiting* "Well, that's been out of print for a while, I'll find you another if you like..."
"Can you try Stefano Carai?"
*typing* *waiting* "Carai isn't in stock, but there's one by Tatti...which is in the Bookstore of the University of Trento. I can order that for you, if you'd like?"
"Nah, I'm good. Can you recommend me another one?"
"Well, who's your professor? Cremante, right?"
"Welcome to Pavia...." (said in the most knowing fashion, before selling me a €13 book that is mostly poems I don't need, when he could have just sold me the cheaper Odes, without the Il Giorno cycle included...)

In fact from that point on, I was unable to buy any book recommended to me. In fact, it's almost as if they sell out of these books in the first trimester, before the profs even recommend their favourites! (At this point, it would be worth noting I changed my spell-checker back from Italian to English as I didn't trust my spelling of 'recommend'. Huzzah for my English gradually failing me.)

What else has been done in the last six days since that really, really, really pointless list blog? Actually not much at all. I've drunk more coffee than is probably healthy, I've bought an Italian audiobook of Dante's Commedia, just so I don't waste my time pausing on words to get the pronunciation right, I've finished reading High Fidelity (best book ever, in the trashy Romance genre anyway), and have started reading The Castle of Crossed Destinies which is what I assume the Canterbury Tales would be like if told through Tarot Cards.

As of today there are five weeks remaining of my 2010 Italy sojourn. I get a lot of questions about "When are you back?" so I shall just state for the record: 22nd December I fly back, but I'll probably arrive so late home that I may as well say 23rd. I am home until January 4th, and am flying back January 5th at lunchtime. The silly thing is: January 6th is Epiphany. If anything is running in Italy that day, I'll be surprised. Beyond that, things worth mentioning:
1. I expect plenty of Christmas-time escapades. I'm only really back for a week-and-a-bit, ya dig. I need you to make me think that coming home for more than just Christmas was a worthwhile idea.
2. I'm trying to get people to come out for my six days off in December. If you stay in Milan, you could get a nice, cheap hotel (€40 a night?) and get the nice, cheap train to Pavia (it's literally like €3). No, I'm serious. Do it. Otherwise, I'll be spending those six days in Tuscany -- staying in Florence, doing a day in Siena, coming back via Pisa. It'll be annoying spending six hours on trains just to get to Florence for €15, but that's the price I'd have to pay (literally and metaphorically)
3. Forbidden Planet = best place for useless crap. Just look at all the potential Scott Pilgrim nonsense I could own! I'm determined to have a roller-skating Ramona and a t-shirt that says "Let's Make Out" though. I love my pointless to-the-point t-shirts. It'll go well with my "If you can read this, it's dark and you should kiss me" glow-in-the-dark failure t-shirt.
4. NaNoWriMo is back up and running, at a snail's pace. I'm at 8500 words. NaNo Stats estimates I will reach 50000 in January at this rate; that's not good for the NaNo front, but it's good for the story front as I can just take my sweet time. So far, it sounds terrible, but who cares; it's not like I'm going to suddenly become a published author overnight, right?
5. I have discovered the written exam for Linguistics is actually quite difficult. Not because of the points it makes, but because it's in Italian. The thought of asking the Professor if we Erasmus could use a dictionary is silly, because what dictionary doesn't contain phonetic spellings that could help us cheat!? I may just have to book an appointment with her at some point, just to allay some fears that I'm not going to suck at it. Curious about it? Here's the .pdf

And on that note, I really have to get off my behind, now, and go into town. I feel like I'm going to get no studying done with this laptop on, so I'll head to the café, have my lunch in the company of Francesco and Savino, and then go sit in the University bar for two hours or so, trying to plough through a bit of Dante, or some Linguistics. I really don't know.

Me, in Lists

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 18:21

Okay, so this post follows on from a conversation held between Roxane, Rebecca and I. I guess I thought it appropriate to fill in the blanks from earlier, and to just give an all-round view of me for those of you who read this, but haven’t known me all that long. In short, it’s going to be a lot of Top 5 lists which will range from “Top Five Films” to “Top Five Celebrity Crushes,” all with the aim of giving you a better perspective, a look at what makes me tick. Things I feel should be seen/heard/understood are linked. So, let’s go:

Top Five Films

In order:
1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
2. Dead Man
3. Twenty-Four Hour Party People
4. My Neighbour Totoro
5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Top Five Works of Fiction

In order:
1. Fiesta, Sun Also Rises
2. Invisible Cities
3. The Great Gatsby
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
5. Love in the Time of Cholera

Top Five Non-Fiction

1. Helter Skelter, the True Story of the Manson Murders
2. Stupid White Men
3. Who Killed Marten Hannett? The Story of Factory Records’ Musical Magician

(I actually don’t read enough non-fiction to warrant this at all…)

Five Bands I am Currently Listening to

1. Ben Folds & Nick Hornby
2. Anamanaguchi
3. Caparezza
4. From Monument to Masses
5. Explosions in the Sky

Five Bands I think You should listen to

1. Explosions in the Sky
2. Ratatat
3. The Shins
4. The Decemberists
5. Belle & Sebastian

Top Five Bands of All-Time

1. Adam and the Ants
2. Duran Duran
3. Bright Eyes
4. Daft Punk
5. The Eagles

Top Five Celebrity Crushes (Female)

1. Lauren Laverne
2. Natalie Portman
3. Karen Gillan
4. Siouxsie Sioux (hey, for a 50-something she’s still good-looking)
5. Melissa auf der Maur

Top Five Celebrity Man-Crushes

1. Kevin Spacey
2. Early 90s Richard Gere
3. Johnny Depp pre-Pirates, post-Scissorhands (i.e. in Blow, Fear and Loathing, Ed Wood etc)
4. Sean Connery 
5. Zach Braff

Top Five Languages (Because I find some nicer than others)

1. Italian
2. Catalan
3. Finnish
4. Icelandic
5. Dutch

Top Five Places in the World (so far)

1. Artà, Mallorca
2. Venice, Italy
3. Pavia, Italy
4. Toronto, Canada
5. Walt Disney World, Kissimmee, Florida

Just so this doesn’t end with a list, I thought I’d just give me a nice pretentious musical profile, to clear up any doubts:

I was brought up listening to the Eagles, country music, and 80s pop stars. Like every child of the 90s, I went through a phase of liking all the pop music available, from B*Witched to STEPS, before finally being pulled away from Britney and Michael Jackson to Eminem. I was never really that into his music, I guess I was only along for the ride. From there, I guess I started trying to outdo people, to ‘stay cool’, so when I met someone who said they liked Alice Cooper, I tried to one up them by saying I liked Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath (having never listened to either before) – within a few weeks, I owned their greatest hits, as well as a Rob Zombie album, because it had a nice psychedelic cover.

For the next few years, I bounced between the tame (Marilyn Manson, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus) and the extreme (Satyricon, Opera XIII, Hypocrisy etc) in the hopes of being taken seriously, and looked upon less as a mall-goth and more as a ‘real goth’. During that time I attended my first real gig, Slayer’s Unholy Alliance Tour (Hatebreed, Mastodon, Slipknot and Slayer), but didn’t get my first taste of moshing probably until Taste of Chaos 2005, when I got punched square in the face by a girl. From then on, any moshing was done in the style of “get from an edge to an edge quickly” – though, within a year I’d moved on to bigger and better things.

2006 was when I grew out of being such a narrow-minded fool. I discovered Mercury Rev, Explosions in the Sky, Animal Collective, The Decemberists, and a host of other groups. This opened my eyes to the fact that chugging riffs weren’t everything. Within a year or two I was listening to Justice, Daft Punk, The Knife, Klaxons, CSS, and all that was vaguely electronic, but I still kept my old musical tastes. Four years later, having stumbled blindly through Dubstep, Dancehall, Grime, Hip-Hop, Blues, Rock n Roll (and so on),  I think the only genre I have yet to explore is jazz – with the exception of Kenny G’s The Moment (which is as far from Jazz as Britney is from being a hardcore punk…in the literal sense, because we all know Britney is “p.u.n.x. 4 lyf yo”)

I try to avoid reading Pitchfork and the NME as much as possible, and pretty much take my musical recommendations from those outlets I trust: Leigh, Jake, and Metacritic. Serves me right for being, despite my protestations to the contrary, so closed-minded and pretentious when it comes to my musical habits. And if you don’t look at me now and think “My God, he’s an ass” then we may just get along for a long time…

(Any questions, other lists you want from me, ask away. Maybe next time “The story of how I became such an ass”)

Ymmärrättekö suomea?

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 8 November 2010 at 19:54

It’s rare that I have the urge to blog about nothing. Usually I at least hope I have something say, but today’s blog is just rambling nonsense I guess:

1. NaNoWriMo is going…terribly. I managed 3500 words on my Venice round trip, which is pretty good. But, I should be at 11667 words right now. I am currently at 3500 words, and I’ve run out of steam already. Perhaps I should just throw in the towel; I actually feel like it’s getting nowhere. Oh well. Chalk that up to another life failure?

2. Last night I went out with my American chums, and I think I figured out I much prefer the San Francisco attitude to any other one in the world – I know, I am stereotyping the four people I now know from San Francisco as the archetypal San Franciscans. I guess in a way this is a shout-out – a holla, if you will – to them, perhaps? (Even if I did probably act like a pretentious ass trying to explain that Frank Turner was once an amazing ‘unknown’ artist and that the NME, like everything they ever touch, ruined my enjoyment of him by thrusting him at the fair-weather fans…)

3. I think I’ve been accepted as a local, or at the very least a regular, by the baristas of Chocolate Café! I rolled up at lunch time to grab a sandwich before going for a bit of study time, and was greeted with a general interest in my weekend, my trip to Venice, and other such niceties. In fact, when I got up to pay, they looked rather saddened that I was leaving. In short: I love Francesco and Savino. Tomorrow, I shall get up early just to get a brioche from there before History of Art!

4. New semester. Lessons start at 9am tomorrow. I will go to them all; I will. I need to pass these exams, so I need to buy the books; I also need to maybe go and see the profs and ask them for their input on what’s actually expected. So “not with it” in terms of this whole thing, but there we go. Only another six weeks and classes will be over and I’ll actually have to panic about passing these exams. Life would be so much easier if we still had the Year Abroad projects to write…

5. In languages: I need to get back to attempting to learn Finnish. I stopped back when I stopped Icelandic, in May or so, and just carried on listening to Finnish music. However, I think I should put the effort in, because it’d be a nice input –> output experiment, or “hard work” –> “sense of satisfaction.”  Getting the sounds to stick in my head would be a nice start, and then I can seriously consider going further than “Hyvää huomenta.”
I’d also like to sit down and study a bit of Venetian, but that’s quite a different beast because there don’t seem to be many texts on it. My obsession with languages: el xe senpre pi grande, as they say in the Veneto. Give me a few  weeks, I might be on top of it all.

Apart from this ramble, nothing exciting is going on. Oh well. Until we meet again, dear reader.

Anonimo Veneziano

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Saturday, 6 November 2010 at 16:26

Thanks to the wonders of TrenItalia’s Eurostar Frecciabianca service, I am writing this blog from the comfort of a 2nd class carriage direct from Venice to Milan. Since I can’t work the internet connection, it’s really only being drafted on the way, but, it’s better than rushing it when I get home! Oh, yes, you may have picked up on the word Venice being thrown around…let me bring you up to speed:
On a spur-of-the-moment last-minute decision, I hopped on a train and headed to Venice, La Serenissima. Four hours of travelling, and I turned up at the station, in the dark. Outside the train station are three (or four) stations for the traghetto, or water bus, which would have taken me to my destination – Hotel Belle Arti, Dorsoduro -- in less than 20 minutes. Not having a clue, and seeing that the line for tickets was extremely long, I opted to walk – after all “Venice can’t be that big”
Problem Number One – Venice isn’t just big, it’s spread out over multiple islands, and all of its streets are winding and confusing. That’s just in the daytime. When you get to 6.40pm, on a winter’s night, it becomes a completely different animal – from a rather fetching poodle, to a wolf that potentially has lasers for eyes. I would later find out that it’s so much easier to just get a traghetto from A to B than try to follow the yellow signs that point to landmarks, day or night.
So, I had the fun of walking down dark alleyways, over multiple canals, and in every direction of the compass. I knew my lodgings were in Dorsoduro, which is in the south-west of Venice, and I knew the station is in the north-west of Venice. Simple logic says “Head out of the station, turn right, then turn left, then head straight until you find your street name” – that would work on a nice grid plan. Here, nothing like that ever works. I ended up in San Polo, which is in the dead centre of the city, with signs pointing me back to the station and to San Marco, but none pointing me in the direction of Accademia, the nearest landmark to my final destination.
Let me remind you: it’s twenty minutes via traghetto from Ferroviaria to Accademia. I left the station (Ferroviaria) at about 6.45. I didn’t arrive at Accademia until gone 7.30. Still, on turning up, I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, nowhere in Venice is cheap and I have an unfounded fear of hostels – so, I had booked into a hotel, and paid €65 for the privilege of having a bathroom in the room. Despite bemoaning this, it was well worth the price! The bathroom seemed very modern, and the room was the most beautiful hotel room I’ve ever stayed in – breakfast didn’t live up to my standards, but that’s what you get for thinking it starts at 8am, when really it started at 7am and all the Germans had been up since 5am, with their shared bathrooms, swooped down on the breakfast room, taken the fresh brioches, leaving me with the staler ones.
I’ve neglected to mention that my bit of night-time exploring left me slightly scared – strange city, all alone, and very few people on the streets, so I returned to my room and hit the hay. Saturday, I managed to get out of bed very early, eat, and check-out by 8.30 – I walked, again due to my stupidity, but I guess that was also due to following the advice given to me by the internet: “Don’t use a map; get lost in the streets of Venice” – and I’m glad I did. Foggy though it was, it was quite romantic to be wandering the half-empty streets, the fog making everything look that little bit more tragic. I actually felt like I’d found the perfect place in Italy; a place I would gladly come back to and call ‘home’.
Then the fog lifted, and everything went to pot. The piazzas filled with tourists, either German, Spanish or Sino-Japanese it seemed, all snapping photos and getting in my bloody way; the traghetti, which I figured out how to use-and-abuse, were rammed full of people all day – whether I was going in one direction, or in the other, along the Grand Canal, to the Lido, away from, or towards Piazza San Marco – the couples came out of the woodwork, and everyone suddenly forgot how to speak Italian. Here come my other two problems:
1. Nobody would speak to me in Italian. The receptionist in my second hotel decided to only speak to me in English, even when I refused to reply in English. Even when I stopped off for a caffè, the barista only spoke to me in English. For once in my life, I was actually pissed off that people were speaking my language – I honestly thought it was as bad as we Angolophones who insist on speaking our own language in foreign countries. Annoyed me senseless for a good half an hour, I tell you!!
2. All the couples came out. Whether I was on a boat, on dry land; on top of a church, or out on the streets, they were there in their thousands. It was either young couples who stood right next to me and chewed each others faces off, or old couples who were all gooey without actually showing it. I guess I should have expected it, what with Venice’s reputation preceding it, but I didn’t expect it to get to me – the first 24 hours, I just rolled my eyes and got on with it. Then I saw the Rialto all lit up, and the couples around it being all lovey, and sharing candle-lit dinners on the Grand Canal. Like being punched in the stomach, I tell thee. But, enough of my whining!!
Second night. Different hotel. My first one was in Dorsoduro, and was a slice of under-priced luxury. The second one was…well, different. I was in Canareggio, right next to a traghetto stop that goes right to the station, paying €45 for my stay – and that included breakfast, and a bathroom. The room itself was quaint, and was apparently the oldest one in the building. I’m not complaining; it was pretty good for a 1* hotel; and cheap in terms of what you get in Venice. It was probably more expensive than a hostel, but…it came equipped bathroom, even if that bathroom was in an “under stairs cupboard”. All I care about: My own private bathroom.
My last day was spent riding the waterways, and making sure I saw everything I needed to. Little did I know, for example, that the Chiesa dei Frari, was actually behind the Traghetto stop at San Tomà. I mean, I spent a lot of time wandering San Polo looking for it, when I could have just got off at one of the water-bus stops. Just my luck really. Try as I might, however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were one too many tourists for my liking, and, just like me, they called everyone else ‘tourist’ – even at 9am on the Grand Canal there were loud, brash Americans decrying the state of the Traghetti in the mornings when “Everyone is going to San Marco” (FYI, the examples in question got on at San Marco…I left them at San Tomà, thankfully…)
Now to the most important point:

Did I enjoy Venice? Was it worth it? Well, in a word, yes. I think everyone should see it once, maybe even spend more time here than I did, see the museums and wander the streets just for funsies. As a city, without the tourists, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful and (in the fog) hauntingly romantic cities in the world. Add in the hundreds upon thousands of tourists, and, for someone like me who likes to rush about from point to point, not spend every waking second staring in shop windows at things I can’t afford, and generally just seeing the sights…and maybe not so much. There are some gems here – Via Garibaldi (and the surrounding Calles) in the Castello district is Venice, without the tourists; it is the real Venetians, going about their lives, and was probably one of the few moments that brought me back to reality after being surrounded by beautiful buildings and too many snap-happy travellers.
Will I come back? Yes. Would I like company next time? Most definitely.
(You may notice, unlike other blogs, that this lacks general photographic accompaniment. I didn’t forget to take photos; I didn’t forget to post them. Pictures will eventually be found on my flickr, just because I’d like to ‘free up space’ in these travel blogs)


Posted by Alex | | Posted On Saturday, 30 October 2010 at 01:12

It's 1:30, and I have been awake for six hours. Yes, you read that right - five hours. I went to bed at 5am, and awoke with a pounding head at 13.30 to the sound of the cleaning lady, Emanuela, in the corridor. A few minutes of pounding head, sitting hugging the toilet, and generally wishing I had not decided to buy a €1.50 tuna & egg sandwich during my walk home last night, led me to crawl back into bed, shut my eyes, and pray for sleep. I woke up again at 19.30, and have literally no desire to go back to bed for the third time in twenty hours.

I guess it's my own fault for, at the last minute, deciding to go out last night. Two Aperol Spritz con Cynar, four Gin & Lemon, and two Aperol Spritz are the main reason for this mess -- not the fact that I went all the way to Nirvana, which is somewhere on the other side of town...wayyy on the other side of town. In short: a good night was had by all. I quite enjoyed what little persuasion it took from Luis and Inês to get me to go along; the chance meeting and conversation with Roxane, and the rest of the ensuing escapade. Best stay in and knuckle down from now on...perhaps...

In other news, Monday sees the start of NaNoWriMo. I am actually looking forward to giving myself some strict deadlines. The aim is 50,000 words in 30 days. The advised minimum is 1,700 words a day, which means I am going to be setting myself a target of 12,000 words per week. That's like a mini-dissertation a week. But, I think I can manage it. I just need to be able to manage my time, and keep focussed on my plot and character development.

Beyond all that, nothing exciting has happened since Tuesday. I potentially have an exam on Thursday, but the lecturer has not replied. Essentially, it's a good excuse to 'revise' and get up to speed on the lesson content regardless of the fact of will itwon't it. The weather is getting colder. I have just under two months left here before going home. I shall make the most of it!


Posted by Alex | | Posted On Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 14:15

There are two big things looming on the horizon right now:
1. My week off, which commences next Monday.
2. NaNoWriMo.

I've probably already blabbered on about the second one to anyone who will listen, so in short: NaNoWriMo is the month when aspiring novelists spend most of their waking lives writing utter nonsense in the hopes that finally they will have a novel before them by the end of the month. As it stands, I have no plan; no plot outline; no character profiles. I am afloat on a piece of driftwood, waiting for a luxury ocean liner to materialise from the haze and whisk me off to Barbados...

Back in the real world, however, I am busy planning out the rest of my days of chillin' out maxed, and relaxin' all cool (sadly there will be no shooting of b'balls outside of the school). I've worked out that, thanks to the wondrous three-day weekends bestowed upon me by the University (and that would make it my first ever three-day weekend in three years of studying!!), that I can travel around Italy and see the sights properly. I've managed to work out prices to Parma, Genova, Mantova, Venice and Ravenna. Anything more than €40 and I refused to pay -- so, sorry Tuscany, unless you can provide me with a cheap, cheap service to Firenze, I'm not coming near you until next summer.

At this point, I'd like to add: "I have a free week. Why aren't you visiting me!?" before I come to the realisation that you did, after all, only want to sleep on my floor -- something which we all know is not happening...stupid rules.

Back on track, here's how I hope this will all pan out:
Next week, I hope to go to Parma. I think the lecturers might be coming out, but I'm unsure. If they're not, then next Thursday will definitely find me in Emilia-Romagna!
Erasmus grant and weather permitting, the week after I'm going to head down to Genoa, because I seem to be the only person to have not been there.
After that, I might take a week off, and then, grant permitting, try a weekend on the east coast. Essentially, Venice on the Friday, Ravenna on the Saturday, maybe even going so far as to hit up San Marino on the way.

Admittedly, that only takes me up to mid-November. I have, of course, considered Switzerland, but that seems to be a €50 round trip to Lugano, and an indeterminate amount to Lucerne. My personal preference is Lucerne, because it's in 'real Switzerland', rather than just over the border. Plus, I've already had the pleasure of driving over Lake Lugano between Melide and Bissone. The only problem with the Lucerne plan is, beyond the obscene one-way cost, I'd also have to change in Arth-Goldau and get on a nice transalpine travel all of three miles. Perhaps I should save Switzerland for later life, when I can just plant myself amongst the majestic mountains...and never move.

On the note of moving...I'd best start shifting my carcass. Letteratura Italiana soon! For two hours. Then an apparent dinner party at around 19.30, which last night seemed a brilliant idea, but right now just seems like a hindrance to my plan to get an early night ready for some Storia dell'Arte Medievale tomorrow...


Posted by Alex | | Posted On Friday, 22 October 2010 at 19:55

It's the end of the week you guys! It means I've survived yet another week in Pavia, and managed to do no studying yet again. On the plus side, when a lecturer recommends a book's actually going to help you with your course. I can't stop singing the praises of Linguistica Generale, published by Carocci and released this year; or Pietro Beltrami's Gli Strumenti della Poesia. I suppose it makes sense, based on all that, for me to praise I luoghi dell'arte to the heavens too -- in fact, I now think I finally understand what the heck has been going on for the last four weeks in Storia dell'Arte. And it has pictures -- it's a picture book!

Moving off that topic, I saw something tragic today. Sat in my favourite café, I was witness to a terrible clash of cultures. The bar staff don't speak English there (Well, Francesco doesn't at least), and in walked two Germans. They only spoke German and English; he only speaks Italian. I sat there, reading my book on the inner machinations of poetry, eager to butt in and say "Excuse me, but I speak both. Want me to interpret?" -- instead, I decided to sit back, and watch as this pantomime unfolded thusly:

"Buongiorno, volete accomodarvi?" ("Hello, would you like to make yourselves more comfortable?")
"" ("I'm just repeating what you said. WTF is going on!?")
"Cosa volete? Un caffè? Un gelato, sì?" ("What would you like? Coffee? Ice cream, right?")
"Errr...gelato...sì" ("Ice cream, sure")
"Quale gusti volete?" ("What flavours would you like?")
"Erm, sprechen sie inglish?" ("We've just given up. We remember you gave up on us back in '43, you bastards.")

And from there it descended into Francesco speaking in slow Italian, the male of the couple looking bewildered, and the wife trying her best to get by. I actually had to hold back a few laughs -- everyone knows you carry a phrasebook when you don't speak the lingo. I wouldn't go to Germany without a book of phrases, because I'm an idiot and the only phrase I know in German is "Haben sie ein fleischlift, bitte?" which actually means "Do you have a butcher's weight, please?"  [[Family in-joke. Hah. Hah. Srsly]

Okay, I'll drag you out of the forest of bewilderment, and back to novels. I also decided, after buying I luoghi dell'arte, that I'd go to the Feltrinelli, and see if I could get the whole of Dante's Commedia for cheap -- turns out that I could buy selected cantos for €5 (11 cantos, and for my course I need to read 10. Bargain!) -- but, I ended up also walking away with an English language copy of Nick Hornby's High Fidelty. Here is the synopsis:
Do you know your desert-island, all-time, top-five most memorable split ups?

Rob does. He keeps a list, in fact. But Laura isn't on it - even though she's just become his latest ex. He's got his life back, you see. He can do what he wants when he wants: like listen to whatever music he likes, look up the girls that are on his list, and generally behave as if Laura never mattered. But Rob finds he can't move on. He's stuck in a really deep groove - and it's called Laura. Soon, he's asking himself some big questions: about love, about life - and about why we choose to share ours with the people we do.

I think I might actually enjoy this book. It might be a bit of a soppy one, or maybe hilarious. I can't tell. It also might be a bit close for comfort if I am to believe the quote from the Independent: "Leaves you believing not only in the redemptive power of music, but above all the redemptive power of love." Who knows? I am a soppy bastard after all...even with facebook statuses about trysts amongst the paperbacks (in boldface, as I am deadly serious, in a Ross Gellar kind of way).

And I'll leave you with that thought -- love, amongst the dusty tomes of an old library. That thought, and some cats going "nom":

But on the plus side, the pesto was good...

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 18 October 2010 at 20:18

I realise I am a little behind on my promised postings. I blame the horrid cold I seem to have come down with. That said, I did manage to go to the farmacia today and get charged over the odds for 12 tablets - I guess that's what you get when you walk in, sans prescription (as every Italian in there was clutching several wads of paper), and ask "Scusi, ha qualcosa per un rafreddore?" It turns out that something was €7 worth of Sudofed. Still, it seems to be working wonders. I can breathe, and haven't coughed my lungs up in five hours!

Back to the business at hand though:

Saturday, we all ventured to Turin. It's not exactly the closest place to visit in the north of Italy. On a map, as the crow flies, I guess it would be pretty close. By train though, it's anywhere between 150 and 190 kilometres, depending on the route. That comes to around 3 hours of trains and stations. Still, in spite of getting up at 6am, and arriving in overcast Turin at 12pm, it was nice to see parts of Italy I'd never seen before, like the rolling hills of Asti (the area where they make the sparkling wine).

Needless to say, we seven Pavesi Erasmus arrived sans map. The onus was then on me to direct people, though upon finding the centre we then took an hour to decide where to go for food, and a further hour to find our friends from Chambery and decide where we'd go from there. In the end, guiding 14 people with different ideas on what to do became too much stress - so we split into two groups. I went off with two people, and saw the sights; I have no idea what the others did.

In essence, though, Turin really doesn't warrant a blog post. It isn't exactly a fascinating city. Maybe it was because of the cloud, and the rain, and the fact I didn't get to visit the Superga to be awestruck by the majesty of the Alps looming in the middle-distance. Maybe it's just because it's far too French. I blame the Savoy royalty for that; bloody Francophilic fools.

Interesting fact: Piedmontese politicians, until 1861, preferred to speak in French rather than their own Italian dialect! Bastards.

Moving swiftly on. So interested and enthralled was I by the Mole Antoniella, one of the few things worth seeing in Turin - and more so than the shroud - that I managed to miss my train back, and had to pay extra to get another one. Needless to say, I arrived home tired, damp, and feeling unfulfilled. In short: it was a nice day out, but I wouldn't recommend Turin to you in the slightest. Go to Milan instead. To bring this rather sad blog to a close, here's a nice picture:

"What the f***..."

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 11 October 2010 at 13:31

It's Monday. A rather chilly Monday, in fact. Maybe it's my own fault for wandering round without a jacket on - oh well, live and learn! So, what have I done since the last time I decided to put my uninteresting life down on paper? per usual, not-a-bloody-lot.

A lot of us Erasmus folk have worked out that despite attending Italian classes (in the majority of cases) or having a good grasp of the lingua, we're actually finding it bloody hard. The classes make sense, I guess, if you spend time listening and not trying to furiously scribble down every other word the prof. says. Since we're in the party of furious scribblers, however, we tend to miss a lot of what is being said, and consequently think "What the f*** is (s)he on about?"

In terms of how the classes are actually going, Storia dell'Arte still sits at the bottom of the pile, and we Erasmus look at each other blank when it comes to describing a church in the Lombard or Gothic style; or anything else we may have covered (yes, I missed a lecture due to a lack-of-sleep, after a rather good night, but that's for later in the blog). Literature is standard so far. We analyse poems, and I get lost because I turn up late and don't have a photocopy and think "I'll do it at home, if I write down the poem title" - still, aside from that, I have put myself up to reading Vita Nuova by Dante -- to be started this afternoon when I venture back into town -- and Machiavelli's The Prince. How delightful! I've always wanted to read Machiavelli...but not in the native language. Linguistics - well, that's standard. Here's how language works. Hoop-de-woo!

A lot of this, however, has got me thinking "What the hell are you going to do after University?" -- a lot of the time I default to I'll do a PGCE and teach Spanish, and then the sinking feeling that my Spanish is una mierda comes to mind. So, I rouse myself by saying I'll become a journalist! and then realise I suck at writing coherently, and would have to spend another three (unfunded) years on an undergrad degree. What does that leave me with: Translation, or Lecturing. The former appeals to me...not one jot. While the latter is very appealing, but will involve a PhD or a D.Phil. It will also involve a lot of thought as to what I could do it on -- so far I've had ideas that are mostly to do with linguistics (perhaps The Influence of Italian on the Alguerese brand of Catalan, though with obviously more oomph in it), and I've yet to get a good literary idea. Oh well - two years yet!

Back to the present day!

Last week I attended a nice little shindig at the Casa de Nuno, Sara and Sara. They put on a nice spread - pasta, sauces, meats; the whole shebang. Even sangria was made. We drank, we chatted, a small round (very small) of Camarero was begun. Then the carabinieri arrived to shut us down, the bastards. We swiftly left, and I spent another two or so hours at Piazza del Duomo talking to Luis about languages. When I am drunk, or even tipsy, I am just that boring.

Nothing major happened for the rest of the week. In fact, I think I don't do enough to make my life exciting. Beh, va bene. This week I'm going to Torino! Finally! There will no doubt be a blog about that on I doubt I'll be back much before 9pm. Until then, I think it'll be lots of reading Dante, better sleeping hours, and plenty more croissant breakfasts!

Reading Books by their Covers

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Tuesday, 5 October 2010 at 18:33

Well, that's that. The first round of lectures is over  well, the first round of "first ever lectures in Italian" - so I'm going to prejudge them all, like reading a book by its cover. What will the scores be? Read on to find out!

[Regarding the scoring, Content and Personal Interest will be out of 5. I will then multiply that by 'how bored I can be, before I kill myself', out of 10. The higher the score, the better the subject]

Linguistica Generale
Possibly my favourite course, ever. I mean, I loved Italian History in Year 1; I loved Catalan in Year 2. This year, I love General Linguistics. Not only is the lecturer so adorable; the lessons actually interest me. Okay, translating ideas from one language to another isn't all that hard, yet; the concepts are fairly easy to grasp so far; and the examples we are given are genuinely useful bits of nerd-out knowledge. Did you know Noam Chomsky believed we were all born with grammatical rules in our head, and we just applied those rules in the way we see them being used around us daily? Crazy, right?

Content: 5/5
Boredom Threshold: 8.0
Personal Interest: 5/5
Overall Score: 80

Storia dell'Arte Medievale
I blame this totally on Angelo. He was a lecturer in my first year (for those of you who didn't go to Cardiff/do Italian there) - his 'specialist subject' is medieval art and architecture, so he taught a few lessons on churches and painters in Italian History.
Part of me regrets taking this. Not because the concepts are hard: in English, they're easy - "The church is built in a cruciform, over the remains of a paleo-Christian church." - it's because translating it back, or even trying to follow it in your head as you're scribbling furiously in Italian, results in major brain melt. Maybe it's because it's a 9am lecture; maybe it's because I sat at the front, and the lecturer taught from behind me (how odd), or maybe it's because I genuinely don't understand as much about Cathedrals as I'd like to think.

Content: 4/5
Boredom Threshold - 4.0
Personal Interest: 5/5
Overall: 36

Letteratura Italiana
I wanted to take Renaissance Literature, and Modern Literature. That way, I'd have my Petrarch in one lecture, and my Calvino fix for the year. Turns out one was cancelled and the other moved to the 2nd semester when I'm not here. Instead, I'm taking Italian Literature, which still covers Petrarch and all that yummy goodness, but does so in a way that means it focuses more on the intricacies, rather than the words, or so it seems.
On the upside, everyone there seems to love literature. On the downside, it's all literature that I haven't read. It seems everyone could shout out "It's Petrarch/Boccaccio/Dante!" to the lecturer, as though in some literary pantomime, except for little old me. Still, I decided to challenge myself and translate as I wrote; huzzah for knowing words like hemistitch, iambic, and hendecasyllabic. (Oh, and 'funny story', I walked in late and the lecturer was babbling on about laws and politics and economics. I thought 'Shit, maybe I'm meant to be in Room 2, not Room 7 - seconda, settima, easy mistake - and I recognised some folks from Political Science in the front row. Instead of getting up and leaving though, I sat for thirty minutes listening to him talk about this before he said "Now, Italian literature!" -- funny, right? No? Well, maybe you just had to be inside my head...)

Content: 4/5
Boredom Threshold: 6.0
Personal Interest: 4/5
Overall: 64

So, for those who hoped to skip this far and see the scores on the doors, here's the rundown:
Linguistica Generale - 80
Letteratura Italiana - 64
Storia dell'Arte Medievale - 36

Still, I'll carry on with them. It's only 9 hours a week, and I only have one really long day - today - which runs from 9am til 6pm. I get a 3 hour break from 1 til 4, so it's not all that bad. It just sucks getting in so late after leaving the house at 8.30. Ah, well.

Highlights of my day:
1. Buying 3 books valued at €20 for only €16 at the Libreria Feltrinelli. Brilliant - two for my course, and one for my own reading pleasure. Happy days.
2. An old man, on an electric bicycle, whistling as he passed me. I loved it. You might not be in the same mindset to agree...
3. My Medieval Art History lecturer looks like Ms Courtney from Mind your Language. I suggest you watch it, unless you hate how un-PC the 70's were...

And on that note, I'm off to watch some of that glorious show. And maybe make yet more pasta. So many varieties!


Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 4 October 2010 at 14:08

Dear Reader,

Let me first dispel the myth that Italy is a constantly sunny country, where everyone rides a vespa, and looks like a supermodel. This is not true. It rains here, a fair bit; people mostly drive cars...if you can call it that... and, okay, I've yet to meet an unfashionable Italian so that part is true.


Back to reality. I've just come back from my first day of Uni, a day that I was partially dreading. I mean, I have to go to a lecture hall and listen to a lecture for two hours in a language I don't speak fluently. What was I to do? Well, I got up at 8.30, had a glass of water, and went to town. One brioche con crema pasticcera and un cappuccio later, and I was raring to go. I turned up early, and it seemed like there'd never be any way in hell we'd all fit into the class - from the outside, it didn't look all that big. Deceptive; TARDIS-like some might say. Inside this little space was a full-size lecture theatre which almost 80-100 students must have crammed into.

Thus began the lecture. In walked a diminutive lady, who greeted us with a very quiet "Ciao...buongiorno" before talking for almost twenty minutes on what one can do with linguistics. Bore-fest, I thought. And then she put up a slide: La linguistica può essere definta in studio scientifico del linguaggio - si intende l'indagine compiuta su di esso per mezzo di osservazioni controllate e verifiabili empiricamente con riferimento ad una qualche teoria generale della struttura linguistica. Yup, I looked at that and thought "Oh. Shit. This is deep."

What followed was the best hour and a half of my lecturing life so far. How to classify a language, through genealogy and through typology.  We covered examples of Indoeuropean languages (so now I know most of the European Language Families in Italian: romanze, germaniche, slave, baltiche and ugro-finniche. Happy camper!) It then moved on to different types of languages - those made up of morphemes, those that rely on affixes, those that rely on one suffix to characterise words, and those that characterise an entire a word. We discussed Chinese, Turkish, Latin (at length), and everything I could ever want to discuss in a lecture short of sociolingustics (which is a separate subject, and I wish I'd thought about taking it before today, as I've now missed the first lecture and will no doubt be a little 'lost')

Aside from that, it has rained on me. I have discovered microwaveable risotto alla milanese (so I am the happiest camper around!). I have also discovered I really love Aperol: the latest experiment was Aperol Spritz Setanta - essentially, it's a spritz (remember: prosecco, aperol, soda water), but with the addition of Cynar, a liqueur based mostly on herbs and artichokes.

Lovely stuff. I think I am in love with this country. Aside from the fact my towels are in the laundry, and I am dying for a shower, because despite it is still rather warm in a coat. So, tomorrow it's 9am History of Art; how fun. I doubt it will top Linguistics though.

Until next time! (which will no doubt be tomorrow after all my lectures are done) I also suggest, if you are interested in languages: head over to my language tumblr where I will discuss all I learnt 'at length'. If you're not so interested, just give Johanna Kurkela - Tuo Se Mulle a listen. For me?

Like Craig David...

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Wednesday, 29 September 2010 at 17:20

Let me fill you in! There's not all that much to this, so I'll keep it short. Story of my life.

Uni has been postponed a week, so there's nothing exciting going on. Lectures start, at least for me, at 11am on Monday morning. I've changed my course - because Lettere Moderna e Contemporanea has been moved to the second semester. Now I'm studying General Linguistics, History of Medieval Art, Italian Literature, and possibly Italian Language. Allora, the run-down of the last few days:

So, Saturday, thanks to brilliant advice from Nuno, a Portuguese Erasmus student, I found my way to LIDL. #3 bus to Piazza della Vittoria, walk around the corner to Strada Nuova Demetrio, wait ten minutes for the #1a to San Martino Piemonte, ride to the end of the line, walk across the 'bypass road', and you're at LIDL. Never have I been so happy to find food that was so much cheaper than Eurospar! Still, Carrefour isn't as far, and it's prices are reasonable (not as much as Eurospar, but not quite as cheap as LIDL), so I guess I'll keep going there as it's on my way back...

Sunday went as Sunday always does. Pretty much the same for Monday too - all this saving money has been driving me pazzi. I went to town Monday to suss out the Uni buildings, and got lost a bit. Oh well, I think I know my way around now!

Tuesday was another trip to Lago di Como, but this time I went with people, and we wandered around in awe of how amazing it was. And, finally, made it to the Lighthouse on top of the mountain, which was like a half hour walk uphill, and was followed by much sighing, photographing of scenery, and faux-complaining. Here are the only pictures I took that day of note:

Il Faro Voltiero
A view from the mountain.
Not of Como.
I believe it's Cernobbio and Chiasso.

Today was the Erasmus Welcome Day. A load of us turned up at 9.30, expecting some amazing Freshers' Fayre. Nope - a few tables. Blergh. I got a nice Università degli Studi di Pavia tote bag, but that was about the only highlight of the day. The midday talk went unheard by everyone because the microphones were shoddy quality (or just too quiet). The lunch was nice, but they ran out of red wine too fast for my alcoholic liking - still, I got my fill of Risotto for the week! I can now also add Lebanon and Palestine to the ever growing list of places I know people from, which includes but is not limited to: Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Hungary, America, France, Colombia, and Türkiye.

This was followed, much later, by a Lettere e Filosofie talk. I guess it was fairly interesting. It was definitely the only thing today that made sense. And now, I've returned home, tired, cooked some spaghetti and mince in arrabbiata sauce...and been told "It's too early. Why are you eating now!?" by one of my flatmates. I guess hungry is as hungry does?

So, tomorrow I get kicked out of my room from 9 til 12 again. I guess I'll head down to the Uni Bar and try to suss out the Uni wifi if it's sunny. It'd be nice to be able to sit in the cortili on a Wednesday when I only have one free hour, sipping cappuccino, eating whatever I can find, and fucking about on the internet. Or perhaps I'll go and look around the libraries - since I have no idea which one of the three in the centre is mine - I guess Polo San Tommaso since it's History & Literature, but maybe not as this is Italy after all...

That's it. Nothing special at all. Not a jot -- no drunkenness, no debauchery, no passionate kisses in the middle of the many, beautiful storms we get here. Nothing. Ecco la vita, I guess.

A presto!

Culture Shock?

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Friday, 24 September 2010 at 14:59

I've started to notice a lot that there are many, many strange little words that get thrown around here, and I've yet to master them completely. I figure, since my day is being wasted so as I don't spend any more money unnecessarily, I'd let you know a few of them:

  • When answering the phone, I have a habit of saying Ciao or Sì? - in fact, I should be shouting Pronto!
  • When saying hello, there are more ways than just Buongiorno/Buonasera and Ciao. Apparently Salve works just as well.
  • When saying goodbye, there are many ways around it: Arrivederci, Ciao, A presto. In the mornings, I can use Buona giornata and in the evenings Buona serata. Apparently, I can also use Buon lavoro, though I really don't feel comfortable with it just yet.
  • When holding doors, it's customary to say Prego to let someone know they may come past first. But you also use Prego to mean "You're welcome", or even as a way of saying "May I...?" (I assume) as a train conductor.
  • If you want to enter a place, it's Permesso?, but if you want to sit down, it's Posso?
As a "point of note" - I just noticed that there were rules posted in my room. New rules. The old ones were things like "No guests after 1am" "Please respect silence after 11pm". Now, there are fire regulations, and "bans". I actually love the bans:
  • Smoking is forbidden (Okay. Makes sense)
  • Use of electric stoves is forbidden (A maltraduzione perhaps? Or do they mean camping stoves?)
  • Use of electric heaters is forbidden (Wait...does that include the one on the wall here...)
  • to bring furnishings other than those provided by the residence (pillows, blankets, bedspreads) is forbidden. (Wait!? What!? I brought my own bedspread and pillows. Admittedly, I'm only using the pillow, because I prefer having 2 to having, am I breaking a rule? Methinks the answer is yes!)
And on that bombshell...I'm off to find something to do today! To keep you going until something exciting happens, here is an exciting picture:

Fottuti Turisti!

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Thursday, 23 September 2010 at 17:38

Yes, that's right, yet more travels. It seems this may as well be a travel-blog, because there is nothing else interesting going on in my life lately. I can actually sum up the Erasmus experience so far (sans travels) in a sentence: We get drunk most nights and speak in far too many languages; occasionally there is food involved. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean, for me, that my excitement in the day has had to come from long journeys on multiple trains across Italy.

On Tuesday, a few of us banded together and braved Il Pullman to Vigevano, a town that is only 37km away, but takes an hour to get to because the bus stops in every little backwater village on the way there, and on the way back, despite passing the autostrada every few kilometres. It's a nice town, a little sleepy I think, and everything was pretty much concentrated within the centre. In fact, here are some photos of Vigevano, and they're all within a five minute walk of each other:
A Church.
A fountain in front of that church
Piazza del Duomo

Il Duomo di Vigevano

Il Torre Brabante
Il Castello Sforzesco

It really was quite nice looking town, but, compared to Pavia and Milan, it was just far too compact and quiet to warrant an hour (and €6) on the bus there and back. Maybe I'm just not that into the tinier aspects of Italy; maybe I'm like the Germans, and I like things big, and shouty and touristy?

Which would make today's trip to Lago di Como the perfect match for me! Having used no less than three different train types, two different train companies, and stopped at around 15different stations, I think I can safely say that Lago di Como has made me choose my favourite train type in Italy: Ferroviarie Le Nord regional trains. Here's a run-down of the three types (as if it makes any difference to your lives...)

  • Tren Italia regional - small trains that come in two varieties. One is slightly modern, and generally looks like it should be on a British mainline run by First Great Western. No shame with that. The other type is older, the seats are tougher, and the doors are automatic (i.e. they all open even if nobody is leaving the carriage).
  • Ferroviarie Le Nord Regional - double-decker trains that are perhaps the best thing in existence. The bottom floor of each carriage is split between normal seating and 'metro' style seating (i.e. flip-down seats along the sides of the carriage). The floor is much lower than a British train in these sections, so they're able to put all the proper 4- and 3-seater sections upstairs in a separate compartment. Not all the carriages have an upper floor, but it doesn't matter because they're just so damned nice to ride in. I had an hour from Milan to Como in two of these, and an hour back to Milan in another two, and I think I am seriously in love with them.
But enough gushing over trains. Let's get down to business. Lake Como, one of the deepest, largest lakes in Europe. It's around 400metres deep, putting the bottom 200 metres below sea-level! The town of Como is nestled in the foothills of the Alps, just north-east of Milan, on the south-western edge of the lake. It's actually not all that far from the Swiss border. The only problem is: fucking tourists (to use the technical term).

The problem isn't that there are tourists - that's to be expected. The problem is that they are ignorant tourists, the type of tourist I hate being when I'm abroad - the one who doesn't know the basics in the language and just decides to shout louder. Okay, the Germans weren't so bad for it, but the Americans and Brits - "One of those please!!" "Mi scusi?" "One...of...those...things...please." -- I went into the Tabaccaio to buy some postcards and stamps, and asked in Italian "Due francobolli per la Gran Bretagna, per favore" and got what I needed; the British gent behind me, who had heard clearly the words I had said just pointed at what I had bought and went "Stamps...two...please" -- I guess I'm just getting annoyed over nothing, because you can't seem to force a Brit to learn the basics, just like you can't push a cow up the stairs or a horse to some water...

Anyway, enough rant. This is already verging on the longest blog I've ever written (which somehow takes away the fact that it was called "nice, light reading" by a friend). So, back to Como. I'll let the pictures do the talking, as always:
Il Duomo di Como
(Not much room in the Piazza to take a decent photo...)
Il Campanile del Duomo
Il Lago
Como from above...

I actually forgot the name of this church...

Una strada...
High above Como, where I walked for ages and never found the Lighthouse.
Interesting? Maybe?

So, that was that. Como has a fair bit to see, you just really need to plan your day accordingly. Because I didn't have the money to spend (idiot, thinking it'd be cheap!), I left on the earlier 15.17 to Milan, rather than the 16.17. Still, it was quite nice. I just wish I'd thought a bit about planning it properly, so I could have seen a bit more of Como...and perhaps sampled some proper Italian gelato. Three bloody weeks and I've yet to have a gelato!! Che cazzo!? Personally, I still blame the tourists...

Planes, Trains and Faxing Machines

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 20 September 2010 at 17:23

I know. I know. I only posted two days ago, and nothing exciting has happened in between. Or has it!? No, regrettably I haven't become 2nd-in-line to the throne of Sweden, nor have I won the lotto jackpot. So, why the blog?

Well, let's see. Last week I was informed by the wonderful staff at Cardiff that I had committed the heinous crime of not handing in my Erasmus forms. If I didn't get them in pronto, I'd be unable to receive my Erasmus grant. Now, considering I'm banking on that grant to be able to pay my rent, or possibly let me eat as many bags of dolci made by Mulino Bianco (See last post for a description of this wonderful bakery!), it would be a massive shame if I weren't entitled to it.
"What was their excuse", I hear you cry! Well, it turns out that they think it has been delayed (by two weeks) or lost in the post. I, and my parents, firmly believe that some numbskull has it sitting on their desk in a pile marked to do. So, I hastily filled out new forms at the bus stop this morning (missing a bus in the process as I needed my bank details) and had it faxed over. To make sure this idiocy continued no longer, I also emailed them. Seems everything is now in order, but, just wait until October when they suddenly lose my Learning Agreement...

In happier news, what have I done:

  • I am now signed up to take part in NaNoWriMo which means even though I have Uni, and musical reviews to write, in November, I will also be attempting to write a 50,000 word Novella. I will post the draft synopsis at the end of this post - let me know what you think, and if you think it's utter tosh, I will attempt something else.
  • I bought a train ticket to Como. I know I've been on about Turin, and Genoa, and lately La Spezia, due to the mention of Cinque Terre by one of the girls here, but they're all so expensive to get to. Even Florence is an unavoidable €40+ one way. So, Lago di Como here I come!
  • I rode a different bus today. Not all that exciting. However, I propose you try it. Get a map of your local bus routes, and rather than your regular bus, hop on one which takes a different route. Usually I'll use the #3, which goes right through the Centro Storico, or the #7 which uses the Via Matteoti which is quite nice. Today: the #6, which goes through the newer parts of town like Ticinello and Pavia Ovest, both of which aren't all that pretty...Still, it gives another side to this place, right? So, I suggest you try it!
  • I psyched myself up to do an outdoor vlog today, in response to one I saw on youtube about how we should go outside and just film and who cares about people's reactions. However, this is Italy, and people look at you funny just for the way you rush places, or the way you walk down the road hoping not to die...SO, as I totally wussed out today, I guess I'm going to go with my second plan and try to do one on the way to Como. I have two hours on the train, 2nd class, so I'll need to entertain myself. I just wish I had bothered to shell out a bit of dinero on a Flip camera, rather than having to use my regular old digicam. Ah well - it'll be fun?
And that, as they say, is that. Well, apart from the fact that I have probably eaten my weight in Pan Carré. It's bread meant for toasting, but it's so nice. As much as I like the fresh bread they make here, it's really quite expensive; Pan Carré solves all of that. Think Bimbo, that awful, plasticky Spanish bread...and you're pretty much looking at the same kind of thing.

I shall keep you informed of any wonderful things that may occur in my life, but, for the most part it's just waiting for University to start next Monday. Eeek. Ciaooo.

No, I didn't forget. Here's that synopsis. Mind you, it is still in the very early larval stages. It has a long way to go before it becomes a beautiful butterfly...or a rather dusty looking moth.

City of Angels (working title)

There is a city. It is a city that floats. They call it the City of Angels. In the days of old, the land on which the city stands was worshipped as a kind of paradise. In modern times, it is a bustling tourist city. The rich come here to escape the smog-filled air of the ground below, and the not-so-rich come here to make use of the loose laws, and looser women in the Red Light District. Whether it's special business, or seedy pleasure, all walks of life come to the City.
Everything rapidly changes, however, as the City begins to fall slowly towards the earth. The task of stopping it crashing into the ground below falls to Max Madison, the curator of the Civic Museum, and one of the last people left on this sinking ship.