And you thought we had Problems….

This week we got to see some more of truly historic Arezzo. The city of Arezzo has been around since Etruscan times, so it has plenty to offer in the historical department. However, since I spend an estimated 10-12 hours a day in class or studying, there is only so much time I have to devote to sightseeing. Luckily this was a class trip, so all I had to do was show up. And, even better, this specific expedition was to explore the fortress that crowns the hill of Arezzo. A place sometimes referred to as the Medici Fortress.image image I was insanely interested in this excursion because I actually had prior knowledge of the Medicis. A very interesting, very powerful, very very mean family. The fortress was apparently built on top of the ruins of a castle which, in turn, was built on the ruins of a Roman town,which was built over what was once an Etruscan town. imageDuring the Middle Ages, Arezzo was an independent province next to Florence, which was ruled by the Medicis. They decided to acquire Arezzo and they actually bought it from the Archbisop (whether he sold Arezzo to avoid bloodshed or to line his own pockets seems to be unknown). Apparently the townspeople didn’t like the idea of being bought and sold, so they fought back anyway. The Florentines actually built extra fortifications on the fortress to protect themselves from their conquest, and even with all their effort they only managed to hold on for 40 years! Forget Texas, don’t mess with Arezzo!!image image image

Hello Stranger!

On Thursday we had another in class wine tasting. Normally I wouldn’t mention it because we have done a bunch of in class tastings: red wine, white wine, aroma tasting, vertical tasting. But this one had an interesting twist.
Several of my fellow students have been asking Dr. G how to tell if they will like a wine, or how to go about buying a good wine once we get back to Norman ( and become legal, of course 					</div><!-- .entry-content -->
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Adventures in Assisi

Before I left the United States I asked all my friends where they thought I should visit while in Italy. Everyone had their own favorite place that they were rooting for, but several people said flat out “If you don’t go to Assisi then you did Italy wrong.” I doubt there is actually a way to”do Italy” wrong and, since that sentiment mainly resonated with my church friends, I shrugged it off. Sure it would be great to see Assisi but I’m only in Italy for a month and there are a million places I would like to see. I had actually completely forgotten about Assisi until the day my OChem group took a day trip to Florence. On the way back Dr. G told the group that we would have some free days coming up. He gave us a tutorial on how to buy and validate train tickets, all the while talking about different places that are near Arezzo. I didn’t really give it much though, not planning on going anywhere. Why would I add the stress of foreign travel to the weekend that is my only time to detox from my insane class schedule. Then the professor casually mentioned that the Catholics in the group might be interested to know that Assisi is only an hour and a half away from Arezzo by train. I instantly locked eyes with Miranda, another catholic in the group. We were on exactly the same wavelength, agreeing to take a day trip the next Sunday. The following week came and went, a blur of classes, quizzes, exams, and wine. There ended up being five of us on the trip: Megan, Kendall, and James decided to join us on our excursion. It was only when we got off the train at the Assisi stop that we realized we hadn’t really thought this through. Not one of us thought about the fact that the train station could not be in historic Assisi. On the contrary, it was crowning the hill that was at least a mile and a half away. But we were determined. So we walked. All the way there. image Once we finally got to the city we decided to go straight to the main attraction. We got to the Duomo Supieriore just it time for noon mass. Afterward we toured the cathedral and saw St. Francis’s Tomb. imageimageAnd the we had no idea of what to do with our time. We were already halfway hump the hill, so we decided to finish climbing. We could explore the medieval fortress at the top and get a great view!!! We found out later that most people drive up the hill (we apparently walked more than twelve miles and climbed the equivalent of 90 flights of stairs). When we finally got to the top, the view completely made up for it!!! We pId out entrance fee to explore the castle; we climbed the towers, we crept though passages, we marveled at the fortifications! It was an amazing adventure that seemed to take us back in time.image We had to trek back to the train station after we left the fortress, which was probably for the best. Nothing could really have out shone that experience. I went to Assisi to see the cathedral and the tomb of St. Francis, and they were amazing; I am so glad I went!! But it isn’t the only thing in Assisi worth seeing!  


The way someone speaks tells a lot about a person. Where you were raised, how you learned, your geographic or cultural background. But not who you are or what you can do.

Accent is a stereotype that is either overlooked and ignored or blatantly addressed, and in either case, our precognitions of a person based on their voice and speech can make or break a social relationship.

I was always afraid growing up of picking up a West Virginian accent. Those in my class from southern or more rural counties were always made fun of for asking for a “pin” instead of a “pen” or “crown” rather than a “cray-on”, and of course being from the “Boonies” was a badge of shame (at least early on).

British accents are smart, Spanish accents are sexy, Australian accents are audacious, New York accents are rude. With variation.

Of course none of these are true, but one of the challenges of more community diversification. I know I tend to lose the ability to perceive the more minute factors in the modulation of a person’s voice when that voice or its accent is new or unfamiliar, and it is a conscious effort for me to understand the meanings that person is giving through their speech.

But the reality is that accent remains a primary factor in peoples’ initial perceptions of one another, and I’ve heard stories of friends whose accents have caused them or their family trouble, from not getting jobs to being labeled a foreigner or non-citizen. And I am likewise going to be judged for the accent I surely have in any other language I attempt.

The fact that I’ve worried so much about this used to be kind of embarrassing, but I realize more and more the benefit of such awareness.

I’ll continue to think about this and do my research, but for now it’s just a thought.


Hillel Big Event

At the Big Event this year (the biggest organized community service event at OU), the ICDG team and I worked in the Hillel, the University’s center for Jewish life, in the kitchen. It was excellent timing for us, as the week prior had been Passover, for which the entire kitchen had been basically replaced: all dishware was different, countertops had been covered in aluminum foil, and everything scrubbed head-to-toe, so as to not come into contact with any remnant of leavened bread. It was our job to clean everything again, re-replace the dishware, remove the foil, scrub the place, and return the kitchen to its original (kosher) condition, keeping meat and dairy containers separate (labelled with either red or blue).

Later we were treated with kosher and Passover friendly lasagna and peanut-brittle-like crackers as one of the directors answered for us any of our bizarre questions about Jewish culinary life and traditions while describing the history and reasons behind the practices. I was somewhat surprised to find out that many of the reasons behind what grains are allowed during Passover depended solely on where that group of Jews resided when the rules were written down. Russian Jews had different foods available than Middle Eastern Jews, and that difference in custom is traceable.

This made me further think about what those near me can and cannot eat. One of my roommates grew up in an at least mildly Hindu family, and so is generally restricted meat wise from pork and beef and usually just eats chicken to be safe. Another has a tree nut allergy. And I’ve known many people who are lactose intolerant or can’t eat gluten or are vegetarian.

I’m going to have to diversify my recipe library to take these new discoveries into account!


Language Via Music

One of the best ways for me to learn the flow and cadence of a language is to listen to and sing along with its music. I’ve noticed that Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose and Yves Montand with Sous le Ciel de Paris have greatly pushed my understanding of the French language. Memorizing song lyrics is a more enjoyable way t expand vocabulary. Media is also ripe with slang and contractions, especially in works more contemporary, that you wouldn’t get from a textbook.

Accents are much easier to pick up as a rule when singing. I notice that Americans can sing in  British accents for more classical vocal work, and many English or Australian singers would be indistinguishable from a born-and-bred American. Or maybe the accents are just less noticeable. In either case, I can hear the way it’s supposed to sound in the song.

Another thing I pick up though is a bit of the culture, whether it’s a street address or another name for bread. This really helps me appreciate just what I’m learning. Instead of it being work, it really does become leisure.

One of my German professors this past semester taught this way, too. By giving us this song or that from one of the later decades of the 20th century, then having us translate it or review it comprehensively. This was a great way to get introduced to honestly practical learning resources, with little mental effort on my part as compared to memorizing long lists of vocabulary and grammatical structures. Instead, I think, “Ah, like in the song!” And then I understand!


Arrezo for Language Majors and Minors

Thinking on it, one major factor of my coming to OU was the advertisement of the Arezzo Program. The University of Oklahoma, of course, has one of its now three (at the time it was the only one) primary non-USAmerican study centers in Arezzo, Italy. A beautiful renovated monastery for a campus in a location with access Idyllic and ideal for study abroad.

At least, I thought this until I mentioned it to one of my language professors, who expressed his qualms with the programs. OU classes taught by OU professors sounds brilliant! But for someone studying languages, cultures, and international affairs, this appeal may not be as potent as for a major in engineering, chemistry, or business. Consider that most of the people on campus will be American, and almost all will be speaking English. As far as immersion goes (cultural/lingual), this isn’t, and for me, immersion is necessary.

Of course, one thought leads to another, and the spiralling domino effect took hold in my mind, sending me into another miniature existential crisis. I thought, If not for this program, what does Arezzo have to offer me? Do I actually want to study in Italy, too? The outcome: I’ll not be studying in Arezzo, and likely also not in Italy. My thought there is that diversifying my experience would be of great benefit to me in almost every way. East Asia is looking more and more promising. And as usual, this opens more questions than it closes. Just a thought, though.


Novena to Santo Niño

Every January in my home town of Charleston, West Virginia, the large Filipino community in the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston gathers in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to celebrate the Novena to the Santo Niño, a nine-day prayer to the “Holy Child,” the young Jesus. The tradition originates in the Philippines, where Spanish colonists introduced the native population to Catholicism, later taking hold as the dominant religion of the archipelago. As the one story goes, the original statue (Santo Niño de Cebú) that is venerated in the prayer was found in a box after a fire caused by conflict between natives and Spaniards left most of the city destroyed, the only surviving relic. Some claimed it was found by fishermen, others that it had been there since ancient times, but general historical conjecture describes the .3 meter tall wooden child as a gift from the Spaniard Magellan. It remains the oldest surviving Christian relic in the Philippines.

The prayer itself involves praises, supplication, chant, and a veneration of the Eucharist, the central aspect of Catholicism. The people gather around the statue dressed ornately in crown, orb, scepter, and robes before the altar and go through the rhythmic prayers one by one.

Of course, no celebration is complete without food. Families from various parishes throughout West Virginia make a pilgrimage to the Basilica, which is the National Shrine to the Santo Niño bringing home-cooked Filipino dishes to share, and the final celebration ends with a procession of the statue. When the statue returns to its original position in the shrine, one man yells out: “Viva Santo Niño!” To which the crowd vividly responds, “Viva!

My family is Catholic and, though we are not Filipino, has attended the celebration since I can remember. The robes, incense, and organ all bring back memories of a much simpler time for me, and getting to attend one of the evening celebration when I returned this January from school was very centering, peaceful, and nostalgic.

The blend of West European and Southeast Asian cultures is perhaps the remnant of a rough colonial history, but shines today as a unique and beautiful aspect of many people’s lives, including mine.


Six of One…

This past Wednesday the group went to a wine tasting at Buccia Nera winery. It was actually the second trip our group made to a winery, the first being to La Stristia winery almost a week before. At the time I really didn’t know what do say about it but now that I’ve been to two I think that I can compare the two quite nicely. La Stristia seemed to be a smaller family business. We got to go into the fields (are they called fields when you grow grapes) and ask questions about the growing, we got to see the fermentation tanks and ask questions about that, and we got to see the aging barrels and ask questions about that as well. Then we tried three dry red wines and had some food to compliment it in a buffet style. Buccia Nera seemed to be a much larger, more organized facility. We didn’t get to see their vines because it was raining, but we saw everything else and asked questions just as we did at the first Winery. But, by a happy chance, Buccia Nera was bottling the day we came, which was not something we had anticipated getting the opportunity to see. And, in all actuality, it was pretty awesome!! They rented a machine that did everything from bottling to labeling and could go through 15000 bottles a day. Then we had the actual tasting. We tried six wines (which may have been too many) and they gave us a specific food to have with each wine to compliment it. Buccia Nera also gave us three dry red wines, but we also had a white wine, a sweeter red, and a wine that was made in the traditional way. The traditional wine was made with dried grapes to increase the sugar content; it was very sweet. I personally didn’t like that particular wine, but I did end up with a bottle of their white blend! Comparatively, I did like Buccia Nera better, mainly because they offered us a wider variety of wine during the tasting and they gave us specific food for each wine, instead of a buffet. But that is far from saying that La Stristia was bad. They were both great wineries, and I am glad to have had a experience with each!!!  

Giostra del Saracino

When I was younger I was really intrigued by medieval times and customs. I thought that knights were the most courageous people a d I couldn’t wait to become one when I grew up. Of course I eventually realized that I wasn’t going to be a knight, but that didn’t stunt my I treat in them or their society. I loved reading about medieval times, and I still do quite often. So, assuming that even half or what I’ve read is historically accurate, I know quite a bit more about the jousting than the average 19 year old American. So imagine my excitement when I realized that I was going to get to see a real live joust while I was in Arezzo. I was completely ecstatic!!! Visions of Heath Ledger as Sir William Thatcher danced through my head. The Giostra del Saracino, or Saracen Joust, is like a neighborhood competitor between the four Quatiere of Arezzo, and it is a huge point of pride for your quartiere to win. And people in Arezzo are as serious about this joust as Americans are about the super bowl. My apartment is in Porta Del Sant’Andrea so, of course I was rooting for that quartiere. And, even though we didn’t win, it was a dream come true to experience the joust. Everyone dresses up in period clothing or their quartiere’ colors and there were almost daily parades during the week leading up to the joust. The competitors didn’t joust each other (because that could hurt); instead they tilted at a Saracen mannequin hiding a shield in one hand and a cat-o-nine tails in the other. The representatives of each quarter charged the Saracen and attempted to hit the center of his shield. But hitting the shield caused the Saracen to spin and whip the cat-o-nine tails toward the horse and rider. Points were awarded for accuracy, but could be lost for dropping the lance, getting hit by the Saracen, or losing control of the horse. My quartiere did really well, ending up with eight points, and the winning quartiere only had one extra point. All in all it was a great joust and a truly unforgettable experience!