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?