February 20, 2012

Bella Italia Part 1

Comfortable in our overnight cabin on the Barcelona to Milan train, David and I slept soundly. We woke up the next morning, pushed aside our train cabin windows and found, to our surprise, a snow covered Milan. We thought we had left winter behind, and in fact, David had even persuaded me to trash a pair of particularly worn long johns. (At this point in our trip, much of our clothing is worn; small holes are appearing here and there and just the other day, Dave's shoe laces snapped. ) 

A little chilly, but well rested, we thrust ourselves into the Milan train station and promptly joined a very long line at the TrenItalia counter to purchase our tickets from Milan to Rome. Up until this point, buying tickets in European train stations has been fairly easy. In general, you choose a number, like at the deli counter in a busy supermarket, plop yourself on one of the many benches, watch the board and await your turn. This method has clearly not caught on in Italy, where the train lines seem epically long. On account of my Italian language proficiency, I waited in line while David guarded our bags. Before I reached the counter, I watched a man of color get pulled aside and intensely questioned by the police. This same man cut the line and somehow ended up just a few customers ahead of me.  I watched as this man emphatically gestured at one teller and then found himself (at the exact same moment) at my teller's window, throwing his money at her and demanding she serve him. The teller was no pushover, however and she slammed the money on the counter and told the man to beat it. This back and forth continued long after my transaction and David and I were all too eager to make our way to the train.  To top off our rather brief Milan experience, we stumbled upon a full fledged protest, of what we're not sure, as we were stopped in our tracks by the imposing presence of police in full riot gear. Our first moments in Italy, while unusual and unique would characterize for us a certain emotional response we see quite frequently here. As David noted as we watched a live soccer game at a local field the other day, we've never seen so much shoulder raising and emotional pleading, whether it be in soccer, the train station or the classroom. That seems to be a major gesture to master here in Italy: pinch your thumbs into your other four fingers on both hands, hunch your shoulders up into your ears, bring your hands to the middle of your chest, and then bounce your forearms up and down at the elbow a few times while imploring to somebody (a referee, a cop, an over-charging coffee vendor) about how unreasonable they are being. Throw in a few "mamma mias" and you're there. This is not an exaggeration. 

When our train finally arrived it was a relief to board our first class car and relax for a few hours. Yet again, first class proved quite luxurious. Our privilege earned us a free snack (either salty or sweet), free drinks (including wine) and a choice of any number of free Italian language newspapers!  We read, napped and watched the scenery change from blizzard like conditions to green, rolling hills. 

In Rome, we transferred to a regional train for Marino (a suburb of Rome) and were warmly greeted by Natasha, the daughter of our host mom, Marianne Palladino.  Earlier this summer, David and I met with Marianne in Acworth to arrange this stay at her home and school, Castelli International founded by Marianne in 1977.  She loved the idea of us coming to visit and promised to put us to work! She's definitely kept up her part of the bargain.  During the week we have been helpful floaters, covering for sick teachers, guest teaching and spending some down time outside during recess.  It's been a great chance to gear up for our job search and prepare to re-enter the classroom. 

Marianne and her husband Gianni have been wonderfully gracious hosts.   Our weekends have been characterized by Gianni's roaring fires and his delicious multi- course feasts; these are true Italian meals beginning with pasta or soup, accompanied on every occasion by a carefully selected bottle of wine, and always ending with a meat dish, salad and finally a serious need for a nap or at least a limoncello or scalding hot espresso. It's been fantastic to sit around the table, bellies full and delicious wine flowing, discussing education with Marianne. Her energy is infectious and she's been instrumental in helping us think about our future as educators. 

In our first week here at Castelli, there were four snow days! This area isn't used to snow and even though they received just a few inches over the course of the week, the surrounding towns were clearly not prepared (and we mean that.... they were lacking plows,  running out of salt, and every newscast showed folks in Rome speaking gravely and gesticulating wildly amidst very modest snow banks). Roads remained snow covered and later iced over. Of course, that meant school had to close. 

If Gianni is home, the fire is roaring.  During our first few days, Marianne encouraged David to chop wood as Gianni was known to use the wheelbarrow to load the fire place with enormous logs that burned for hours on end. It's true, left to his own devices, Gianni will chuck a huge tree stump in the fireplace. 

Christina with Natasha, Marianne's daughter. Natasha and her family also live here on the property. Natasha teaches Middle School English and helps run the school here at Castelli. Christina was happy to hear Natasha was studying Animal Farm with her eight grade English class and Christina was all too eager to teach a few lessons on her favorite book. Natasha also is responsible for changing our diet forever. She lent us a documentary - Forks Over Knives. We haven't looked the same way at animal products since.

It's been quite a while since I (Christina) have taught students in the lower school, and while the classroom work was fun, the few times I arranged some games in the "cage," (the fenced in basketball court seen here and below) I was reminded why I am not a PE teacher, and partially why I no longer teach 6 year olds. 

In the middle school, Dave stepped right into teaching Marianne's Current Events class and teaching a few science courses. He also spent two full days with second graders, which damn near killed him. 
Castelli sits on a hillside surrounded by vineyards and olive trees. Here is a picture of the elementary school building. The vineyards and olive groves are still productive. In fact, the olive oil we enjoy at meals is made from their olives and the grapes are sold to a local wine producer. 
The "cage" where David held daily basketball lessons and a final tournament. 

Those second graders who tired Mr. David out! On this particular day, this young lady brought in a birthday cake complete with an exploding candle. Mamma mia!

David previewing the rules for the rather short basketball tournament, which was a culmination of two weeks of basketball lessons. The tournament had only three games: two semifinal matches and a final. All games were six minutes and the scores were a whopping 1-0, 2-1, and 1-0. Needless to say - with scores more reminiscent of a soccer game - basketball is NOT an oft-practiced sport in Italy. The kids were dynamite nonetheless.  

A scene from one of the semifinal games. There were A LOT of steals and airballs. Team Costa Rosella won this explosive match-up, 1-0. 

No comments:

Post a Comment