Saturday, June 20, 2015

Urbino (and more)

by Joseph Shepard
(This is an excerpt from Joe's complete blog entry-- to read the whole thing, click 'read more' at the end of the post.)

So, where were we?

Oh, yeah. Urbino, Italy.

Urbino is very westernized, and if you change the language from Italian to English, it could easily pass as just another nice college town in the United States. Young college students were everywhere you turned, and for good reason. Urbino has a small handful of universities within its city limits: Accademia Di Belle Arti and Universita Collegio Raffaello are just two that come to mind. Even though we were Americans studying abroad, it didn’t really seem like we stood out in Urbino the same way we stand out in Cagli. We blended right in. Well, at least until people realized our grip on the Italian language needed work. At one point, a group of us walked by (well, they walked, I was still hobbling with an umbrella as a cane) a small store, and in the window was a statue of David with a Barbie doll sitting on top of his shoulders. It was an interesting way for two cultures to intersect, and I didn’t ever consider those two iconic symbols together in that way. I just didn’t see it coming. A few minutes later, the group walked into a small café for a drink and a snack, and the radio was playing “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. Rather than playing a hot local Italian musician, they chose the most iconic pop artist in modern history to put over the airwaves. The students in the city were decked out in shirts with many American symbols and companies on them, from Monster to Metallica (man, they must really love that band here).

I might have been more observant today if my immune system wasn’t fighting an all-out war against an invading coalition of bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic demon-spawn hell bent on turning my vital organs into goo. Walking up all the long, steep hills wasn’t helping my cause either.

No wonder Garfield the cat hates Mondays.

Day 4
This is the point where the honeymoon phase ends and we all come back to reality. The sight-seeing is finished for now, and we settle into what we are here to do: learn about a new culture, learn about intercultural communication. Open up the big brains and see what we can jam in there.
Bright and early, 8:30 in the morning, on a sunny Thursday, there we all were, sitting in class. Because we were behind schedule and had to improvise the last couple days, there was a lot crammed in in a short amount of time. Not quite information overload, but it was borderline. We started with the photography module. I immediately knew I had a lot to learn, so I paid attention. I agree that stories can be told just through a picture, but that’s not how my mind works. I worked as a journalist for a time, so my mind works towards putting the story together in words, rather than images. My work as a photojournalist is limited, to say the least. Our instructor, Dave, has worked at the Philadelphia Daily News for years, so we’re lucky to have someone with so much experience teaching us.
As part of the project we will be working on, we will need to include seven photos of our topics. Dave’s job is to teach us how to get photos that will truly complement the final product. He’s doing much more than that, to be sure. For example, I had no clue what an “implied triangle” in a picture is until Dave showed us. We can be told over and over in a classroom what something is, but the best way to grasp the concept is to get out and go. “Learning by doing.” With that in mind, that brought us to our first assignment: 13 different styles of photos to be taken over the next two days. Think of it as a picture scavenger hunt. It will get us out there in the community, and it will challenge us to be creative. Like it or not, I’m going to come out of my shell and see what I can do. Get over the anxiety and stress of a language barrier and use my imagination to create something I didn’t know I could do. Some will be easy, such as taking a portrait of a classmate. Some will be difficult, like getting a proper reflection in a picture, or a sharp silhouette. I’ve never tried anything like this, and I hope I can get them all and not screw it up. We’ll have to see what happens. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
Along with photography, learning a new language has always been a big challenge for me. I nearly failed French in high school, nearly failed Spanish in college at UMaine, and to make things even more ironic, I aced Latin. Yes, I got an A studying a language that nobody even uses anymore. Go figure that, right? Anyway, that is another part of the learning process here. Learning a new language and trying to speak Italian with the local Cagliese.
So what if I stink at being a photojournalist? I’ll learn and improve. So what if I stink at learning a language? I’ll learn and improve.
Another part of the project is to actually write the story of the subject that’s been chosen. This will be more “me.” I’m still not 100% certain that I will write about Claudio, but that will be the one I’ll be going for. Every soldier has a story, especially ones that have been deployed to combat zones. In the meantime, we have another assignment, this time a written one. We will have to sit somewhere in Cagli for half an hour, likely the piazza, and take notes about what is going on during this timeframe. Here’s the catch: we cannot use the terms “I,” “we,” or “me” at all in the piece. It’ll be a challenge, for sure. On the other hand, the thing about being a sports writer covering games is that you aren’t part of the story, the teams are. I spent a year covering games, and rarely did I include myself in the story, because I knew it wasn’t about me. It was about them. This assignment is kind of the same thing. Was it Yogi Berra that said “You can observe a lot of things by just watching,” or was it somebody else? Either way, that’s the plan. Bring it on.
Corpus Christi isn’t just a city in Texas. It is also a celebration of Jesus here. Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. It is a procession of priests and elderly Cagliese, and before that happens, the people here decorate the path they will walk on. They decorate the roads with sage, flowers, and use colored chalk to draw various religious symbols. It was quite the elaborate setup. And, it gave us a chance to work on the photo scavenger hunt. Plenty of pictures to take to capture the event. Unfortunately for me, the battery in my normal camera died, and I took most of the pictures with my phone, which wasn’t allowed for the assignment. But, that’s beside the point. Seeing the community come together during Corpus Christi and being able to tell that story through photos instead of in words was a fun assignment. It got us out there among the Cagliese.
Speaking of meeting some of the Cagliese, after the procession, a small group of us went to “new Cagli” over the bridge to meet a gentleman named Augusto. Turns out, Augusto makes his own wine in his cantina/basement, and was willing to open up his home to us. A simple gesture like that makes me feel good about humanity. On the way, we stopped at a pizzeria for dinner. It wasn’t a long sit down meal that most dinners here turn into. Instead, it was a quick “dine and dash” that happens far too often back home. Still, it was on the way to Augusto’s, and the slices were only a Euro and 50 cents. Turns out, the slices were the size of my head, and OH MY GOD THIS IS THE GREATEST SLICE OF PIZZA I’VE EVER HAD! Pepperoni, salsiccia (sausage), and fresh mozzarella. I don’t know who pointed it out, but whoever did needs a medal.
The hospitality on display by Augusto and his wife was heartwarming and touching. Not to mention his vino bianco was quite good. His wife brought out fresh bread and a bottle of vino rossi later on. Along with his vino, he also has an extensive garden in his back yard. We had a translator with us to help with the language barrier, and we spent most of the time laughing. Augusto, wow. What a sweet man. I hope I get to see him around again. In this small town, I probably will. Such a polite gentleman.
On the way back, I snapped a few pictures on my phone of the Cagli skyline with the sun setting behind the buildings. Breathtaking.
Once we got back to the piazza, another group of classmates were out having dinner. Somebody (it might have been Lisa, I’m not sure) blurted out “you guys are diagonal right now!” I guess it really was that obvious how good of a time we had visiting Augusto’s home.
Another day down.

Day 5
The days are already starting to blend together. To most of the world, today is Friday. To us it is another day with adventures waiting to be found. Our multiple assignments are starting to stress some of us, myself included. Thirteen different styles of photos, including styles I’ve never heard of? I’ll be sweating that one out. I’ve already gotten a review of a very basic lesson in photography: make sure the batteries are fully charged. If something in the viewfinder is flashing red, something is wrong. This time, that flashing red was my own fault. Live and learn. Then, learn some more.
Is it really Friday? I guess it is. June 12th. It is easy to forget that we are here for specific reasons. There is a big language barrier, but people are friendly enough to look past that.
Day 5 was a heavy classroom day. Being behind schedule really threw a monkey wrench into the plans, so we are still catching up. We are making a lot of progress though. Classes start with photography, learning the Italian language, an intercultural communication module, and then a writing module. All four are designed to work in conjunction with each other in our final project, profiling a member of the Cagli community. I’ve been told that Claudio would be willing to meet with me again, and I’m looking forward to it. It still just blows my mind that he and I were in the same area in 2009, and now we are in the same area again. Life is mysterious at times.
This was the night when I worked on the “observe Cagli” assignment. Between 6:15 and 6:45 in the evening, after pausa, I took notes on what I saw in the piazza. Generally speaking, things looked calm, peaceful, and content. The one exception is all the cars zipping by just a few feet from where everyone was sitting. Having cars drive by in such close proximity is a part of Cagli’s day to day culture, but I don’t see myself really getting used to it. I’m used to sidewalks. I’m still a few photos short of the 13 needed, but I’ll finish that up soon enough.
An additional assignment is this journal. When I tell my classmates that the first three days took up seven typed pages, they were amazed. It’s like I’m writing a book. Thing is, I want to include as many memories and experiences as I can. I can only hope I don’t leave anything out. Each student is doing a journal, and those entries will be posted on an online blog. There are three due dates divided up over the time we are here, and the first batches are due on (you guessed it) Saturday.
To recap: the first section of journal entries, a 30 minute observation paper, and 13 photographs are due tomorrow, all with a 6:30 pm deadline. The anxiety is starting to build up, but stress itself won’t finish the work. Our actions will. Bring it on!!
The class is divided up into different production groups, so we can work with the professors and instructors on the projects. We can ask for help and/or guidance, get feedback, have someone to vent to, the whole bit. Anything to help us keep the project moving forward in case any of us get stuck. After today’s production meeting at 4:30, it seems like I’m a bit ahead of everyone else. Some of my classmates don’t even have story ideas at this point. Others have ideas about what they want to write on, but they haven’t met their subjects yet. Me? I’ve already got a story, and I’ve already met the subject I’m hoping to cover (Claudio). Maybe it is how my mind works, but I’m taking a “hope for the best, expect the worst” approach. A story on Claudio would be great, but on the other hand, he can easily change his mind and choose not to do it. And that’s fine; he’s not under any obligations to do any interviews with anybody. So, if it falls through, I’ll have to do the profile on someone else. I’ve heard rumors there are a few marathon runners in Cagli, so that’s another idea to follow up on if need be. It’s not a bad idea to have a backup plan.
A lot of my friends and family have been bugging me to post some of the pictures I’ve been taking. My plan is to just do a full blast post on social media all of them, but that might be a project in itself. Wild guess, I’m on my way to taking around 600-700 pictures while I’m here, between my smartphone and my normal camera. Still, I posted five for my friends to see, mostly to get them from asking. They’ll see them soon enough!
We’ve got multiple assignments due at the same time tomorrow evening, but hey, we still have to get some food and vino in our systems. Sometimes, we have to just get out of the lab, get out of the classroom, and unwind. Our Gonzaga in Cagli 2015 packet says today is an official “Pizza or Pasta Night,” but it seems like every night is pizza or pasta night. I think I’m going to make this point in every entry, but nothing gets between a runner and a meal of pasta. On the other hand, I didn’t pack any running shorts or anything like that, so that saying might not be 100% accurate. Right now, I’m a runner taking a break from running to study abroad, and still enjoying the wonderful pasta and vino this corner of eastern Italy has to offer. In fairness, we do an awful lot of walking, so it’s not like we are being bumps on a log.
So, where was I? Oh yeah, Pizza Night. It seems to be SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) at this point, but the whole gang got together at the piazza and walked to a place to enjoy a nice long dinner. I’m not fluent in Italian by any means, but I still understand that funghi means “mushrooms,” a particular food not welcomed in my family. I steered clear of that ingredient, and settled on the spiciest one I could find. Tobasco on a fresh Italian pizza sounded good to me. And again, my classmates were amazed that I could finish off an entire pizza on my own. When are they gonna learn?
The Pizza Night was also a cause for celebration, because tomorrow is Dr. Caputo’s 69th birthday. Why only celebrate one night when you can celebrate the whole weekend? That’s what I’d do anyway. And, speaking of celebrations, turns out there will be even more birthdays to celebrate while we are here, one of them being a classmate’s 21st. Who knows what kind of shenanigans and debauchery will ensue when that happens? Just a few more things to look forward to while we are here, as if we didn’t have enough to look forward to already.

Day 6
Bring on the deadlines!
I’m not going to say we are all in full-blown panic mode, but the anxiety level was fairly high when we started off the morning. Normally, classes in the previous semesters have just been one assignment at a time, with a designated deadline. There may have been a time when that was different, but it was rare. This was one of those rare times. We’ve got multiple assignments going on all at once, all with the exact same deadline. Thirteen photographs, our journals to be posted on the online blog, and the observation piece covering 30 minutes in Cagli.
The Corpus Christi procession gave us all a lot to shoot and cover, so a bunch of the photographs were taken care of either before, during, or after that. In my case, since the battery in my normal camera died halfway through, and with my lack of experience in photojournalism, that was the assignment I was stressed about the most. The observation piece I wrote last night after the Pizza Night celebration. It was a bit of a challenge, but in a different way. We had to take ourselves out of the story, and we had to do that by not including the terms “I,” “me,” “we,” or “you” in it. Even for a story that is only four or five paragraphs that can be tough for some of us. I just thought back to when I was a sports writer covering games. I knew I wasn’t part of the story, the athletes were. It was the plays, the reactions, the scores, the crowd; everything that made it such an event was the story. When you are in the moment, it is easy to forget about yourself; you just wrote what you saw in the field. It was especially easy to leave myself when the games I covered were so exciting. The piazza was much more relaxed, and thus gave us a lot of extra opportunities for our minds to gravitate back to ourselves. Sure, that sounds a bit selfish. But we are out of our element as it is, and now the trick is to take us out of the new element entirely. Tricky assignment, but it turned out for the best (in my opinion), and it was in pretty early. I just had to follow what I wrote about in my notes, and it flowed from there.
Finding the last three or four pictures for the photography assignment was front and center in my mind. The beauty of this particular assignment is that it forces us to get out of our bubbles, get over the anxiety, and just get out there. See what you can find, and try to translate what you see into something that can be a good photo. We can’t do this assignment by just sitting in the classroom, or studying a textbook in the library. The Cagliese here are very friendly and gracious hosts, and by and large, love having their pictures taken. The anxiety slowly melts away over time. All you have to do is just leave the shyness behind, and give it your best shot. They know our Italian isn’t that great, but they appreciate when we are warm and friendly.
I think I started getting the hang of taking good shots when I eased up on myself and tried to have fun with it. I figured that if I wasn’t so uptight and worried, I would wind up taking better pictures. One good way to relax around here is to have some vino and a meal. That leads me to the Saturday afternoon lunch story.
Last night was, well, crazy. The vino was flowing from the moment Pizza Night started, and I wasn’t exactly feeling 100% when I started the day. That probably didn’t help as I stressed about the assignments, but that’s not the point. During our lunch break, a group of about nine of us went to a restaurant that was called Illy (I think). A few people decided to go inside to eat, but most of us stayed in the sun. It was a nice afternoon, so why not? One thing we’ve all learned is that the Italians take meal times seriously. They aren’t really the “eat and run” types like a lot of Americans are. You’re invited to sit down for as long as you wish, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. It seems to go both ways. Still, we were there to eat, and we only had an hour and a half to use. To put it nicely, I think our server stayed out longer than I did, was still feeling the effects the following afternoon, and it showed in his service. It didn’t help that the he didn’t speak any English, and we have learned only a little bit of Italian. Simply put, there was a pretty big communication breakdown. Eventually, we all put in our orders, but the server had to come back three times (!) to either make sure he got it right, or to get it again, since he apparently lost the paper he wrote the orders down on. It was a mess. So far, the culture shock has been a bit humorous, but right now, our American mindsets of “we want it now because we need to get going” were taking over. Somehow, I was served first, even though I ordered last. To the restaurant’s credit, the meal of spaghetti with Mediterranean sauce was incredible. I knew that everyone was hungry, so I offered to share. It was a unanimous vote, the pasta tasted great. Eventually, I paid my share so I could leave, and somehow everyone else was able to get theirs to go. It was a rough way to spend a lunch break.
I should mention that Cagli’s City Hall is in the piazza, and there is a stoop that runs across the front of the building where a lot of the town’s male senior citizens sit and chat with one another. I still needed one final photograph, a portrait of a member of the Cagli community. As I walked by, I noticed Augusto sitting there with a couple of his friends. As gracious and gentlemanly as he was a few days ago, he agreed to be photographed. A lot of classmates used the City Hall stoop to capture a lot of good shots, and the people are always welcoming. After twelve straight years of Gonzaga students coming to visit every summer, they must be used to it by now. My shot of Augusto was the final one on the scavenger hunt list, and all that was left was to turn them in.
Three assignments, one deadline: perspective piece, journal, and photographs. Done, done, and done.
What was next for us to do? Why, continue celebrating Dr. Caputo’s birthday, of course! The class wound up at Jake’s Café D’Italia and presented Dr. C with a birthday cake, and we loudly sang “Happy Birthday” to him. The vino was flowing for most of us, except for me, since I was content with taking a break from the vino and drinking beer instead. The more we drank, the more we laughed. Leave it me to be the obnoxious New England Patriots fan that was happily telling everyone that the team was going to receive their Super Bowl rings at Mr. Kraft’s house the following day. After that, I started to figure out why most other fans despise us. You can take the kid out of New England, but you can’t take the New England out of the kid. I was still snapping pictures with both my phone and my camera, and I think some of them came out fairly well, even though it was pretty dark out. The camaraderie of the group is pretty strong, and we are all still getting along. If anything, the rapport is getting even stronger, and we are all encouraging each other as we work on the assignments. Nobody is really getting down on anybody at all. Instead, we are keeping morale as high as we all can. There’s really no reason for us to be disappointed in anything, now that the flights are finished and we’ve been settled in for a little while.
That reminds me, on the topic of morale and camaraderie, there was a particularly funny moment during lunch earlier today. Most of us went to an apartment that seemingly half the class is in, and they have all but taken over the entire building. Or, it at least seems that way. They had enough rooms that we could all split up, go to nine different rooms in the place, stick our heads out the windows, and it would seem like we were all recreating the intro to “The Brady Bunch.” Can you imagine? Nine windows on one side of an apartment building, and each window taken up by two or three American graduate students, laughing and smiling and waving to the people taking the pictures. The local Cagliese must think we’re all crazy. Like I said, there are no issues about morale with this group.
Anyway, once the night started to wrap up, I walked a couple classmates back to their apartments. Safety first, after all. As I walked through the piazza back to my place, I walked past Mimi’s, another café in the piazza. My ears are fairly well trained to pick up any music that is playing in the background, but what was playing wasn’t quite background music. Instead, it was Metallica’s “Black Album” on full blast. It was hard to miss! My mind was still saying “go to sleep,” but the rest of me wound up walking in, ordered a mug of German beer, finding a comfortable spot to sit in, and rocked out for a while. Maybe music really is a universal language. I wasn’t the only one having a blast, since a lot of the locals were jamming just as hard as I was. No wonder Metallica sells out 80,000 seat venues everywhere they go; people love them! Guitar riffs and solos don’t have any quirks in the language, no dialects to figure out, and no learning curves to work through. They may be an American band, but if this night was any indication, good music can create a bridge between different cultures.
I wanted to make sure my friends and family back home knew I wasn’t making anything up, so I recorded a video of the café to capture the raw environment as I was there. If I ever get a chance to upload it to social media, I bet they’ll get a kick out of it.
Once the music was finished, and the mug was empty, I figured that was a good time to finally call it a night. Just like any other night we’ve been here, if you think things are going to settle into normalcy, wait a few minutes. Something else will pop up and surprise you. It’s not a question of “if,” only a matter of when.

Day 7
We started the day with another photography class. It wasn’t all that serious or formal. Instead, Dave put together a slide show of some of our work. After going through everything we shot (and there must have been hundreds of photos to sort out), he picked out the best four or five that everyone took so we could all review them. We were all nervous that we’d get ripped for all the ones that made it on the cutting room floor. Instead, it was the exact opposite. It was, “you all captured some great images, and here they are.” There were two I captured that turned out especially well. One was awkward lunch Saturday morning with the big communication breakdown. It was a shot of a couple classmates, Shea’lyn and Allison, sitting at the outside table with a couple of wine glasses in front of them, plus the bottle of vino in between. Seems simple enough, but the angle of the sunlight is what really made the photo stand out. Another one was captured the day before (I think) of a tight street somewhere in Cagli. What made that one work was, just like the previous one, the lighting. It really hit that fine line between “too much” and “not enough.” If there was just a flood of sunlight, it would have made it seem artificial. But, if there wasn’t enough, the photo would have been too dark and nobody would have been able to see anything. Finding the happy middle is easier said than done, plus having to capture the architecture of the city up close on top of that is a pretty good challenge. Somehow, I was able to pull it off. Just have to wait for the appropriate timing.
After class, a few of us were chatting about photojournalism and of photography in general. We were all pretty anxious about the assignment, even though we all got them in on time. Then, the conversation morphed into “how many do you have to take to get the right one?” That’s when we realized how much extra pressure we’d put on ourselves when we didn’t really have to. Maybe it was the rush of having multiple assignments all at once? Let’s say, for example, you’re covering a pro basketball game. Only one or two shots will make it into the next day’s paper, and maybe a few more on the website. Will you still only take a small amount of shots? Of course not! You’ll keep snapping away until you really capture the best one. The rest? Well, don’t worry about the rest.
Let’s move on.
This is where I’ll include my short reflections piece I wrote, mostly to collaborate everything into one spot. Plus, hopefully somebody reading this will like it. So, without waiting another moment, here it is.

            It is a sleepy town in a sleepy corner in eastern Italy, yet when the evening rolls around, Cagli comes alive. To be sure, it is very alive in the early morning, just as it is now. But in between? That is when le pausa makes its arrival. “The Pause” is an extended afternoon break for the Cagliese. Why is le pausa done, needed, or necessary when the working citizens are hungry for a good lunch, or have a thirst for a cold drink? That is a simple question, and requires a simple answer. All Cagliese enjoy their mid-afternoon breaks, just like everyone else. As a result, this village shuts down temporarily, every day. But, only for a pause.
            June should be a month of constant sunshine, but today, the evening is overcast. Nobody seems to notice. Seems like it is business as usual. Jake, the boss of Café D’Italia, serves his customers inside and outside his establishment. Name the product, odds are, he’ll serve it himself. From hot coffee, cold beer, or champagne on ice, all it takes is a simple question and a smile. Clouds in the sky don’t stop the steady demand for his famous gelato, a treat that can only be tasted to be believed.
            The main square in Cagli where Café D’Italia is located, il piazza, is the stage for the majority of Cagli’s essence. It is the place where City Hall is found, along with tobacco shops, pizzerias, cafes, restaurantes, and a traffic square that occasionally resembles a race track. FIATs, Vespas, BMWs, apes, Mercedes Benzes, and Volkswagens all zip through the square around the water fountain that, for some reason, isn’t working. An occasional Jeep Liberty or Renegade can be found, but nothing bigger than that. All this happens only a few feet away from Café D’Italia, or any of the other shops in il piazza. The Cagliese may notice a bit, but they keep on with their day. The organized chaos doesn’t bother them much. And forget about the senior citizens enjoying another evening on the stoop at City Hall, they are so far entrenched in conversation they don’t notice the pseudo races going on right in front of them anymore. The worst that may happen?The sound of tires screeching. The Cagliese will look up, see nothing is astray, and pick up right where they left off.
            Who is creating the sound of the screeching tires? Perhaps it is a driver quickly stopping simply to say “salve!” or “ciao!”to their friends, and then moving on. That happens quite often. Everyone knows everyone here. Is it a young driver? Perhaps it is. Youth is not wasted on the young in Cagli. Look no further than the young couple walking arm-in-arm into il piazza unable to keep from gazing in each other’s eyes, or the other young couple at Café D’Italia enjoying a coffee together. Don’t let the skull and cross bones on the young lady’s shirt cause a distraction; politeness is a universal language. So is a smile. And so is a young mother’s love for her newborn, on display to all in il piazza following le pausa.
            Cagli. It comes alive.
I changed around the format to Times New Roman, since that’s the format required for the vast majority of the assignments I’ve had in the COML program. Sure, there were times when I tried to use a loophole to vaguely put myself in the article without using “I,” “me,” or “we,” but Prof. Morehouse caught me. You have to give her credit; you can’t really throw anything by her. She loves writing and editing. Maybe it’s just me, but I might have been the only person in the class that wasn’t sweating the reflection piece, or any of the written assignments we’ve got lined up. I’ve done it professionally in the past, so it is nothing new to me. Plus, I love writing in general. Take this journal, for example. I’m only at Day 7, and according to the bottom of the screen, I’m at 16 pages and 9,300 words. My mind and my fingers work well together once they get going.
Let’s hope the good adventures keep coming tomorrow.

Day 8
I feel like I’m dying.
Alright, I’m not really dying, but when I woke up this morning, I had the worst head cold I’ve had in months. Probably the worst I’ve had since this past November or so, after one of the many winter storms New England had to go through. Roughly seven months of good health was stopped in its tracks. Plus, today we were going to take a break from Cagli and travel to Urbino and take in some of the sights there.
Is sticking a sick kid on a bus a good idea?
On top of all that, I overheard someone say that it was going to rain today.
Is sticking a sick kid on a bus during a rain storm a good idea?
I don’t know if it, but I’m going to suck it up and make the trip with everybody. Hopefully something good will come out of it. I grabbed an umbrella we have in the apartment next to the front door, and made my way to the bus station to meet everybody.
And by “made my way,” I really mean “hobbled like a sick old man using the umbrella as a cane to make sure I didn’t keel over and zonk out.” Yes, it really was that bad. I’m not sure if it will be a good adventure, but it will still be an adventure regardless of how I feel.
Off to Urbino! We were advised by Dr. Caputo to take note of the differences between Urbino and Cagli, aside from the obvious. One is a bit of a tourist destination and is the birthplace of the famous artist Raphael. The other is a small, sleepy village few people have heard of. That’s great and all, but still, look closer.
But first, before we get to our destination, here’s a funny anecdote for you, my dear reader. There is a bit of a stereotype that all Italian women are beautiful. It’s not a stereotype. The women I’ve seen, between the various cities I’ve been in, have been gorgeous. In my not so humble opinion, that stereotype does have some validity to it. With that in mind, let’s bring that context into the bus ride. A beautiful young Italian woman on the bus ride happened to catch the eye of one of my classmates, who shall remain anonymous **cough**Luke**cough**. As my smitten comrade was lost in this young woman’s beauty, he promptly walked into a pole.
I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.
I’m not kidding. Normally, this is something I would do. Not this time. Imagine if you will, being in the same shoes and manpris as my fellow world traveling student. What do you think was going through his mind?
“Oh, wow. What a pretty lady. She’s so…” CLUNK! “Ow!”
I’ll wait for you to stop laughing again.
So, where were we? Oh, yeah. Urbino, Italy.
Urbino is very westernized, and if you change the language from Italian to English, it could easily pass as just another nice college town in the United States. Young college students were everywhere you turned, and for good reason. Urbino has a small handful of universities within its city limits: Accademia Di Belle Arti and UniversitaCollegioRaffaello are just two that come to mind. Even though we were Americans studying abroad, it didn’t really seem like we stood out in Urbino the same way we stand out in Cagli. We blended right in. Well, at least until people realized our grip on the Italian language needed work. At one point, a group of us walked by (well, they walked, I was still hobbling with an umbrella as a cane) a small store, and in the window was a statue of David with a Barbie doll sitting on top of his shoulders. It was an interesting way for two cultures to intersect, and I didn’t ever consider those two iconic symbols together in that way. I just didn’t see it coming. A few minutes later, the group walked into a small café for a drink and a snack, and the radio was playing “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. Rather than playing a hot local Italian musician, they chose the most iconic pop artist in modern history to put over the airwaves. The students in the city were decked out in shirts with many American symbols and companies on them, from Monster to Metallica (man, they must really love that band here).
I might have been more observant today if my immune system wasn’t fighting an all-out war against an invading coalition of bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic demon-spawn hell bent on turning my vital organs into goo. Walking up all the long, steep hills wasn’t helping my cause either.
No wonder Garfield the cat hates Mondays.
My “Urbino has a bit more Western culture than Cagli” lesson wasn’t quite finished. In fact, the biggest reality check came at lunch. We were at a restaurant called RagnoD’Oro for pizza and vino. I figured that, other than over the counter medication, some spicy food and alcohol might help the best with the battle raging on in my cranium. Kill it with fire, and drown it with booze! More than anything, I was grateful to just sit down. No more conquering giant hills for a little while. As my brain was putting together a half-hearted attempt to decipher the encrypted pages of the Italian language (seriously, don’t get sick), one word jumped out at me under the beer section: Shipyard. Next to that word, a small American flag could be seen.
All of a sudden, everything seemed to stop. My brain broke. Did a pizzeria in Urbino, Italy, happen to have a beer from my hometown? Really?? Little Shipyard Brewing Company, right in the Old Port in Portland, Maine sends some its batch to Italy? Specifically, Shipyard Crushed Blueberry Ale? No way. There’s just no way. Either the world was playing a prank on me, or the warzone in my immune system was causing me to hallucinate. So, Darcy (Dr. Caputo’s younger son and one of the administrators for the program) and I got up to go look in the beer cooler and at the bar to see if it was on tap. We couldn’t find it. So, I asked the waitress (an absolute cutie with a rose tattoo on her right arm and spoke some English) if they really had it, or if I was seeing things. She’d clear things up for a guy not really thinking straight. She went to the kitchen to ask if they had any in stock. Good news and bad news. Good news is that I wasn’t seeing things; RagnoD’Oro really does carry a brew from Shipyard Brewing Company in their restaurant. Bad news is they were sold out. She asked me why I was so worked up over. I told her, “Shipyard, it’s an American beer. Right? Shipyard is made in my hometown.” Her jaw dropped the exact same way mine did when I saw in on the menu.
We really are a global village, aren’t we?
And we really are all in it together, right?
Let’s move on.
Once we got back to Cagli, we all seemed to go our separate ways until it was time for dinner. As for me, I was scheduled to meet with Claudio again, this time for the official interview for the profile piece I want to write about him. I was told it would be at 6:00 at Mimi’s, but once it hit around 6:30, I started to get concerned. Phone calls were made, and I was instructed to walk to the Carabinieri Command Station where he works. Sure enough, I was buzzed in, and got to chat with Claudio for a while.
We both did the best we could based on our limitations at the time. Claudio speaks English, but he would apologize every few minutes and say his English wasn’t very good (I disagree, his English is fine). Me? My health was still pretty bad, and even Claudio asked me a couple times if I was alright. We really hit it off from the start though. First thing we did was compare the different style of dog tags between Italian and American troops (I’ve been out of the Air Force for three years, but I still wear my dog tags every day). We’d spend a few minutes on serious topics, like his career and his deployments, but then we’d chat about topics that were a little more fun (if I had a girlfriend, places in Italy for me to visit, things like that). I’ll be sure to include the profile I write up in this journal later on. It was just absolutely fascinating to learn what military life is like from the perspective of one of America’s allies.
Health issues aside, this was a pretty good day. One of many we’ve had so far.