Miming My Way Through Italy

Most of last week’s short trip to Italy is just a blur, quite honestly. Days softened into evenings and late nights as I traipsed through the streets with four of my fellow English assistants. Only stopping to tumble into a café or gelato shop when we were hungry, the hours melted into one unending day.

Each afternoon, we continued our unceasing stroll through the town called Salerno, about an hour from Naples. Confetti inexplicably filled the cracks of the cobblestones, like the beads that hang from New Orleanian phone lines year-round. Every night, we read books out loud to each other, one girl swiping through the pages of an e-reader while the others sipped from their wineglasses and snuggled together thoughtfully. We snacked on cookies and fruit in the afternoon, never minding the calorie content and whole-heartedly enjoying ourselves as we chatted and solved all of modern society’s problems. 

So there was obviously a lot of this.

So there was obviously a lot of this…almost every meal.

Southern Italians on the streets hollered, gesticulated, and stomped their feet to comment idly on the weather. I spent most of my time wondering why everyone was so angry with each other before I got used to the fact that we were just in Italy.

A fair amount of this.

A fair amount of this.

We trekked to the dark grey beach nearby, where the wind played notes on our beer bottles and whipped sand into every possible nook and cranny. It wasn’t exactly beautiful weather, but it was a heck of a lot better than what we’re used to in Normandy. We kicked off our boots and socks, and my tootsies saw sunlight for the first time since last September. 

Descending upon the port while our seagull drones complete recon.

The busses klaxon before going around each blind mountain corner, and there’s always a lady who makes the sign of the cross and kisses her crucifix necklace as all the other passengers lean into the turn. We spent quite a bit of time praying for our lives and our lunches on those wild bus rides.

When you see pack horses, you know you're in the country.

You know you’ve reached the countryside once you see pack horses.

A hike through the Sentiero Degli Dei  (literally the Path of the Gods) along the Amalfi coast provided some seriously gorgeous views. Italians have been farming and fishing against the steep, rocky mountainsides for thousands of years, and it shows from the moment you step outside. Modern graffiti painted on top of Medieval ruins stacked on top of Roman ruins-it’s everywhere. 

Becky and Stace are terrible people.

Becky and Stace are terrible people.

French civilization holds just as many claims to being “old” as Italy’s does (just look up the cave paintings of Chauvet and Lascaux), but this countryside seems so much more steeped in history than Normandy’s. These pictures absolutely do not do it justice, but I tried. 

We saw some nice views, or whatever.

We saw some nice views, or whatever.

There’s nothing like heading out of your comfort zone for a few days to get some fresh air, hear a new language, and eat obscene amounts of tomato sauce on carbs. Italy comes nowhere near France on my list, but you’ve gotta admit that it’s got style.

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Masquerading as an Adult, or “That Time I was Responsible for Children”

Going on a field trip as a chaperone is a far different experience from that of going as a student. I know I’m technically a “grownup” at 22 years old, but lord knows I felt a little ridiculous doing head counts and herding teenagers all day. I felt like the Chaperone Police would jump out and arrest me for masquerading as a responsible adult at any moment.

On Wednesday morning, two history teachers, 34 15-year-olds, and myself hopped on a charter bus to Arromanches, the town directly in between Gold and Juno Beaches where “Mulberry B”, one of the portable harbors used during Operation Overlord, is located. We began our field trip at the local museum to hear more about the fabrication of the two mulberries and their transportation from Britain to Normandy.

Mini History Lesson Alert! If you don’t feel like learning, feel free to skip this paragraph, but know that I’m shaking my head in disdain at you as you do so. I’ll know. Also, I’m not a history expert. I am a person who reads a lot and occasionally goes to museums. Please don’t take this as canon.

Operation Overlord, the code name for the struggle to liberate Normandy after the initial D-Day landings (aka Operation Neptune), had to get supplies from somewhere. Well over three million troops would access France and the rest of Europe by Normandy’s beaches between June and December of 1944, and they knew that they would need immediate access to a port to transfer necessary equipment. Rather than capture an actual harbor, it was decided that the forces would simply bring the ports with them. The mulberries moved an average of about 9000 tons of supplies daily before they were destroyed during a major storm, and you can still see the remnants of the harbors at low tide.

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Low Tide at Arromanches

Arromanches is also home to the only cinema circulaire in Europe (you know, the type of movie theatre where there are screens all around you that show different images all at the same time). This one was full of powerful raw images of the Battle of Normandy, supplemented by strategic maps and pumping music mixed with Eisenhower and Churchill’s famous speeches. It felt almost like an action movie trailer until the very end, when I was forced to recall that the scenes before me were not of actors and guns with blanks in them, but rather, real kids being gunned down, and real people’s homes being blown apart.

Rough.

After a pique-nique lunch in the icy rain, because apparently Normand men don’t bother to care about planning things like where the children should eat on field trips, we got back on the bus to see the American Cemetery made famous in Saving Private Ryan and every other WWII movie ever made. When I was there last time I didn’t even realize that there was a museum on the property. Possibly because it’s funded by the US government, the museum was beautifully maintained, with accurate English translations on the plaques (these are sometimes hard to find in French D-Day museums) and stylized interiors. It was nice to hear American English being spoken around me by other patrons of the museum; I was tempted to talk to many of the older couples I saw passing through, but I kept to myself and continued speaking French to my incredibly bored students. They probably never realized there was a Southern girl in their midst!

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Our view during lunch after the cinema circulaire. Freezing and grey, but still pretty.

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Entrance to the museum at the American Cemetery

While I’m not sure that the teenagers were deeply moved or even entirely conscious during our field trip, I had a wonderful time. It might not be so important to them right now, but I hope that some of the students will grow up and realize that they live in a region that is saturated in history and culture, and that that’s incredibly cool. I guess forced field trips aren’t the best way to cultivate any real passions among high schoolers, but I hope that one day a few of them will appreciate not only what was sacrificed for them during World War II, but the importance of knowing one’s history in general.

All I do is eat and take pictures of churches.

Jonathan and I have now mastered the art of daytripping; today we meandered around Caen and had a wonderful time. It was gorgeous outside, so we were able to shed a few layers of clothes as we popped in and out of three different cathedrals, the ruins of an ancient chateau, a packed-to-the-ceilings bookshop, and a mediocre art museum, and, of course, ate some seriously yummy meals.

Take a look at some shots I got along the way:

Seeing ghosts inside l'Eglise de Saint-Pierre

Seeing ghosts inside l’Eglise de Saint-Pierre

 

Peeking in at William the Conquerer's tomb in the Abbaye des Hommes

Peeking in at William the Conquerer’s tomb in the Abbaye des Hommes

 

Nonsensical organ pipes

Nonsensical organ pipes for those of you who like that sort of thing

 

Standing where William the Conquerer once built his castle.

Standing where William the Conquerer once built his castle.

 

I had to show Jonathan the scones that Dani and I ate last week! Just as delicious the second time.

I had to show Jonathan the scones that Dani and I ate last week! Just as delicious the second time around.

Lovely day, interesting sights, filling food, and great company.

What more could you ask for?

Edith Piaf Got it Right

As it’s les Vacances de la Toussaint here in France, I am currently on a two-week vacation from school. Yes, fitting perfectly into their stereotype of being café-sipping, striking-at-the-drop-of-a-hat sluggards, the French can’t go more than five weeks without some sort of break. As Edith Piaf once sang:

Je ne veux pas travailler                                        I don’t want to work

Je ne veux pas déjeuner                                         I don’t want to eat

Je veux seulement oublier                                     I simply want to forget

et puis je fume.                                                        And then, I’ll smoke.

 As silly as it may seem, at least it gives me the chance of having lots of time off to see a bit of the region!

Rather than take a big trip out of the country during these two weeks, I’ve decided to spend the time going on little daytrips in the area, thereby learning more about the region I’m actually living in and (hopefully) saving some money. I started yesterday by popping over to the neighboring village to visit two fellow assistants. We ate a lovely lunch (goat cheese salad, omelettes, fries, coffee, and dessert), went exploring through a gorgeous wooded park for a couple of hours, and generally had a great time chatting and getting to know one another. The two girls, one Californian and one Brit, are both very cool and definitely people I’m happy to know here.

My delicious pecan-encrusted ice cream scoop!

My delicious pecan-encrusted ice cream scoop! Sprinkles are coming back, you guys.

One lovely view (plus a sunspot) from our walk in the park.

One lovely view (plus one ugly sunspot) from our walk in the park.

Today, I did almost exactly the same thing, but with yet another fellow assistant, this time a British guy who’s being very patient while dealing with our otherwise all-female group of assistants. We wandered all over our town after lunch at our town’s seemingly most crowded café and thoroughly enjoyed mocking each others’ accents.

Iron gates leading to a small chapel within the local cathedral

Iron gates leading to a small chapel within the local cathedral

I’m very happy to see that the other assistants, though all very different and with a wide range of backgrounds, are people I think I’ll enjoy spending time with. While studying in Tours, I often felt like I was thrown in with students who didn’t share my priorities or goals for the study abroad experience. While a wonderful part about travel is (of course) meeting new people and being exposed to different worldviews and lifestyles, my difficulty in forming lasting friendships while in Tours was due to more of a clash between personalities than cultural backgrounds. Here, though, it seems as though we’ll all be pretty good buds. 🙂