Friday, June 17, 2016

Antipasto / Week 1 in Firenze

The first week of Italian classes is done, and so far, so good. We took a test on the first day that put me between intermediate and intermediate/advanced, and after trying the two classes, I opted for intermediate/advanced. My professor is absolutely outstanding. He seems to know exactly what non-native Italian speakers need to work on and he targets those parts of the grammar. Today we worked on relative pronouns (one of the hardest things I had to learn in Spanish, which is curiously more straightforward in Italian). Yesterday we worked on double object pronouns, which I found very tricky. So, we're way beyond learning how to ask for coffee. If we have a question or it's apparent that we're weak on a more elementary part of the grammar, he'll go over that, too. He goes to the trouble to write stuff out on the blackboard and diagram things instead of just talking about them. I write notes as fast as I can for the whole grammar class. His style is pretty old-school (like me, I think). He will ask you direct questions or have another student ask you a question and require you to speak in front of everybody, obviously nerve-wracking, but it makes you much more engaged. It's not that he wants to embarrass anyone, he just knows that unless we speak a lot we'll never get better at speaking. Our section is pretty small, with people from Chile, Finland, Japan, Brazil and Ukraine and one other student and me from the U.S. We have grammar from 9 a.m. to noon, then some kind of a lecture on Italian theater, literature, or culture from 12:15 to 1:45. The first week you waste a lot of energy figuring out when to catch the bus, where the bathrooms are, where to get coffee, etc. I've gotten lost a couple of times and had an adventure with the coffee machine the first day. I dropped in 40 cents, selected cappuccino, saw the little cup drop, heard the liquid pour into the cup and pulled the cup out when I heard it stop. Then, to my dismay and embarrassment, I heard more liquid being dispensed, this time into the little drain on the machine and not into the cup I prematurely held in my hand. After a few seconds of that I heard a little bell go off. I looked into my cup at what was 100% steamed milk with no coffee. Now I know to leave the cup in the machine until I hear the bell.  
I live on the other side of town from school. Riding the bus takes about 30 minutes and fast walking with no stops for gelato or espresso takes about 40 minutes. In the mornings the bus is packed with people amp'd up to get to work. Day before yesterday a man and woman who appeared to be in their 60s got into a shouting match about giving each other room. The only thing I clearly understood had to do with respect. One thing I like about Firenze is that the bicycle is totally integrated into the transportation infrastructure here. There are few bike lanes, but bikes just ride wherever they need to. Nearly all of them are old and clearly made for city commuting like this one: 
Note that the brakes are activated by bars that are linked together, not cables. It's single speed with a chainguard and big comfy seat. The bike is preferred by many folks for commuting to work and running errands. 
They just weave in and out of the lines of cars and buses. No one honks at them or tries to pressure them off the road; they are simply treated as another vehicle as legitimate and valuable as any other. Some cyclists, like this lady, just wear regular comfortable clothes, but the bike is not off-limits for guys like these 


who are styling and profiling (for Italian men, styling and profiling is a 24/7 enterprise).    

Well, Margaret and I are having a great time, trying to see all the non-touristy sights and enjoying Firenze very much. My Italian is getting better at a rapid rate, and I look forward to learning more. Alla prossima settimana! Ciao!