Monday, December 04, 2006

Week 1.

hello, folks!
florence is really wonderful. you all will be lucky if i decide to even come home!
the trip over was really something! all was well until i arrived in paris. the line to check passports was ridiculous...i spent at least 45 minutes of my 1 hour layover waiting with a bunch of fussy american tourists, then ran to my gate, only to see my plane take off. after waiting nine hours in the paris airport with a few girls i met from my program, i ended up in pisa. someone from air france was supposed to meet us with a taxi or a bus to get to florence, but no one showed, so we ended up taking the train into florence, and then a taxi to the place where we had to register.
after i got my keys, i walked about 10 minutes over to my apartment. it's located on the third floor of a corner building on via dei neri, one block from the uffizi, the palazzo vecchio, and the arno--and it's wonderful. definitely better than the university housing at home! i have a single room with a (non-functional) marble fireplace. apparently the apartment is prone to some drainage problems, so we have to be very careful about our showers...but, otherwise, it's perfect.
today i perused the mercato centrale, europe's oldest covered market. i only came away with some fragole, or strawberries, but i plan to return when i have more time.
speaking of time, i must be off. i'm at an internet cafe right now, and this is costing me. i'll write more when i have access to a school computer.
if you want to call, my italian cell phone number is 3357146602. you may have to use a country code to reach me...i'm not quite sure. i'd love to hear a voice from home, though. i'll look into it more thoroughly and give details next time i write.

miss you all!


Week 2.

hiya, chums and loved ones.
i arrived here one week ago yesterday, but it already feels like it's been much longer. i spent most of last week exploring town and trying to get into a normal schedule. i finally woke up this morning without hitting the snooze button 20 times! it's difficult getting used to things closing early in the evening, and for pausa pranzo--an extended lunch hour.
we started classes on monday. i'm taking advanced italian and fashion photography for this first session. the advanced class is definitely's through an international program, so there is absolutely no english spoken...if we need something to be explained further, we get it in italian. my teacher, steffano, seems quite nice, though. sort of goofy, which i think is good in a language class.
fashion photography is interesting. some students are fairly experienced, and others didn't know what the term "ISO" refers to. we are starting out photographing our peers. the second-to-last week, we get to go into a professional studio to use lights and nice cameras.
i have found my true love over here. its name is...nutella. i simply can't get enough of it! i'm also quite fond of a flavor of gelato called nocciola fantasia. it's a combination of hazelnut and caramel popcorn. it sounds strange, but it really is quite delicious, and, lucky for me, they serve it at the gelateria down the street from my apartment.
the mosquitoes over here are rabid. my legs look like they've been through a war zone!
last night i finally indulged in my first glass of legal wine! (they don't have a drinking age here...italians serve watered-down wine to their seven-year-olds.)
i have to admit that i'm pretty proud of the fact that i seem to blend in here rather well. other tourists will often speak to me in italian. one day i was walking up around the hills north of town, and two elderly ladies stopped me for directions and asked if i spoke italian. i responded that i spoke a little...then they asked if i was french. they were very surprised when i said that i was american. it really is amazing how much americans stick out here. they tend to walk around much more slowly than everyone else, and usually wear flip flops--according to my italian teacher at home, this is a huge fashion faux pas in italy.
i haven't made too many friends just yet, but i'm keeping my fingers crossed. i'm trying to decide if i want to head out on a couple of day field trips this weekend by myself, or just stay in town a while more.
sorry this is so brief...and i apologize if i don't get back to your emails promptly. i've decided i'd rather not pay the absurd prices for internet usage at the cafes, so i just have access to the school computers during the day.
please do write, though! i'm eager to hear from all of you.


Week 3.

Dear friends and family,

If you know me at all, you know that I spend a great deal of time thinking about food. We all do, but, really, how many people do you know who write in their journals about portion size? Here are just a few observations:

- The refrigerators are much smaller than in America, and only restaurants have microwaves.
- At the grocery store, you have to pay € .05 for shopping bags and € 2 for shopping carts. (Baskets, though, are free.)
- There is no such thing as a "doggie bag" or "to-go box" from a sit-down restaurant.
- Everything comes in smaller portions. You can buy milk in 1/4 and 1/2 liters...I've yet to see a gallon-sized carton.

It all comes down to only taking what you need and eating the freshest foods possible. Given these facts, I now understand why one of the only 4 movies I saw for sale at the bookstore was Super-size Me. America must seem quite wasteful to a society that so strongly emphasizes such careful planning for mealtimes.

From a consumer's standpoint, the pausa pranza is very frustrating. Shops and restaurants shut down from about 12 - 4 pm every day for an extended lunch break. When I think about it, though, it's really quite nice that the culture emphasizes the importance of sitting down and taking the time to enjoy the mid-day meal. Everything is always rushrushrush in America, but in the end, taking pleasure in these sort of things probably makes for a richer life than trying to maximize the output of every minute of every day. That's enough pulpit-speak, though.
I still love Nutella, but I have some new favorites, too. I've consumed almost a full liter of blood orange juice (spremuta di arance rosse di Sicilia) in the last 24 hours. I'm not sure, but I think blood oranges only grow in Sicily. Maybe not. Either way...they make delightful juice...more like grapefruit juice than your traditional OJ, but not quite as acidic. I'm also fairly addicted to coco muesli yogurt--coconut yogurt with cereal, essentially. There are no less than 4 different kinds of cheese in my refrigerator at this moment. Last night I made pear and cheese ravioli with pesto for dinner. In the States, a meal like that would have cost a fortune, but all the ingredients combined probably only cost about € 5 here.
I swear that I do more than just eat over here, though.

This past weekend was fairly mellow, as I woke up sick on Friday and had to call off the day trip I had planned to Arezzo, a town my poetry professor from SLU had recommended for its frescos and the fact that it had a record store. My roommates encountered some difficulties in their attempts to see Rome, and ended up back in Florence. It was nice to get to know them a little better. Sunday we went to the Boboli Gardens, which were simply stunning. I plan to return at least a time or two more, even though it's a steep € 8 to get in. At the top of the gardens, there is a gorgeous view of the Tuscan hillside. Standing up there, looking over the city, surrounded by greenerey, I found myself able to breathe much more easily than down in the city. I find myself enjoying the pastoral parts of Italy much more this time around. I saw the major historical sites when I was here four years ago with my Latin class. Now I'm more concerned with slowing down and taking it all in.

My friend Natalie, who is studying in Vienna this summer, might be coming down this weekend. If she comes, I think I'll join her in an adventure to Siena. They have a big horse race on my birthday there...if I can get out of attending orientation a second time, I might try to see what that's all about.

Classes are moving right along. I learned yesterday that one of my photography teachers worked as an assistant to both Iriving Penn and Annie Leibowitz. He speaks with a great deal of passion, and believes that it is very important to be politically conscious in order to take good photographs. I suppose it makes a great deal of sense...I'd never thought of there being a direct correlation before. The other instructor for that class is much more focused on the technical side of things. I'm definitely learning a lot more about photography from this class than I did from the two classes I took on the subject at SLU.
Advanced Italian is still challenging, but not overwhelming. I think I really am understanding more of people's conversations walking down the street everyday, and that's a pleasant feeling.
I would like to write more, but I really ought to go study.

If you would like to try and call, you can do so by dialing 011 39 + 3357146602.
I have class from about 3 - 9 pm Monday thru Thursday...and we're 7 hours ahead of Central Time, so I'll let you do the math. My incoming calls are free!

You can also send me snail mail addressed in the following manner:
Grace A. Woodard
c/o Florence University of the Arts
via Magliabechi, n 1
50122 Firenze, Italia

I miss you all! Please be in touch soon!


Week 4 - The Short Version.

Hey, all.

This is just a quickie to tide you over until tomorrow, when I should have more time to write. My usual Wednesday composition hours were spent on a photo adventure. You all should take comfort in the fact that my crimes abroad have been limited to merely trespassing--as opposed to breaking and entering, which was part of the original plan.
I met some folks from Arkansas this morning at 7 am on the steps of the Duomo, then took the bus out to the eastern edges of town, where our one of our photo instructors had told us there was an abandoned insane asylum that would make an interesting location for a photo shoot. When we arrived, we spent the first hour or so debating how we could and whether or not to go inside. I was against going in from the start, and we decided that we should abandon the plan as soon as we (thought?) we heard noises from inside.
I really enjoyed the shoot. The girl we took pictures of has done some modelling in the past, so that made it much easier. I've attached one of the photos from the session.
The Arkansas kids were a motley crew, but very entertaining. I ended up spending most of the early afternoon wandering the city with them, and then having a delicious lunch at a Greek restaurant.
More soon...sorry to be so dull and brief, but class calls!

Your lady abroad,

Week 4 - The Addendum.

Greetings, again.
Sorry my communications have been so sparse, especially on the individual front. Things are getting hectic over here with only one week of class left. I have a final portfolio to assemble, many complicated verb tenses to memorize, and the Cinque Terre to explore, all in the next seven days. So, please be patient, and know that I am thinking about you all, even when you don't hear from me for a while.
Much to my dismay, summer has arrived in Florence. I preferred the weather during my first few weeks here, which forced me to consider buying a jacket to protect myself from the unexpected chill. Now I'm going through my 1.5 liter water bottles in half a day, and considering cutting off the only pair of jeans I brought along. Fortunately, it still gets cool at night...and there is always gelato to take the edge off of the heat.

Today I received word that I will be staying in the same apartment and same wonderful, wonderful single bedroom for next term, as well. After seeing someone else's apartment yesterday, I feel even more fortunate to be in such a lovely space in such a prime location. The more streets I explore in Florence, the more I appreciate my own. It's sophisticated, but quaint--which seems appropriate for a road that connects the political and artistic center of the city to the traditionally working class neighborhoods surrounding Santa Croce.

The only place that I would come close to preferring would be the quiet streets of the Oltrarno--literally, "beyond the Arno". I've spent many peaceful afternoons and evenings wandering this area before watching the sunset from Ponte Santa Trinita. On that side of the river, you can walk for several minutes at any time of the day without encountering someone else--a phenomena that did not occur even at 6:50 am in the historic center. Tourists usually only go as far as the Palazzo Pitti/Boboli Gardens, missing the quirky vintage shops and innovative restaurants that make this part of town feel like another city entirely. The weekend market at Santo Spirito is the best I've attended yet, not only in terms of variety of goods, but also because the piazza there is sprinkled with trees! I never knew how much I really appreciated nature until I spent 4 weeks deprived of it almost entirely.

This weekend I should be getting a fair dose of it, though. I'm headed to the Cinque Terre, Italy's response to the French Riviera. I am staying in Riomaggiore, the first of the five cliffside towns. Supposedly there are flower boxes lining the streets that automatically retract when the bus goes by. I'm looking forward to a nice getaway from the city. The trip was supposed to be with my roommates, but we're staying in different towns, and they're only actually coming for one night, so I will continue to do most of my exploring alone.

Making friends hasn't been very easy here, and I've only just this week encountered some people that I really feel comfortable with. It's a shame that I'll have to say goodbye to them in just one week! One girl invited me to join her on a horseback-riding tour of Siena, but it's €95, and I'm not sure I can fork out that much cash for just one day. The good news is that I will be meeting up with my friend Ryan's girlfriend and some other STL folks with whom I'm casually acquainted in Asti. I'm going to spend 3 or 4 nights there at the home of my Italian professor from SLU, and he is going to take us to Milan, Turin, and some other local sights before we hit Venice, and then return to Florence. I absolutely adore Simone, who often seems more like my gay Italian father figure than my teacher. Natalie didn't make it last weekend, so I'm doubly eager to see some familiar faces--and have a cheap place to rest my head!
I wish I could write more, but once again, class calls!

Your everlovin' Italophile,
Grace A. Woodard

Week 5.

Howdy, folks.
It looks like this is going to be another short one, because I'm in the midst of finals. It is also likely that I will be travelling next week, so you may not hear extensively from me again until the week of July 3rd.

Speaking of finals...I've uploaded some of the images I plan to use in my final portfolio (due tomorrow) onto my Flickr account. Please let me know what you think of them:

This past weekend was utterly amazing. The Cinque Terre provided a nice vaction within a vacation: plenty of fresh air, crystal clear water, dramatic cliffs, and a very relaxing atmosphere. I stayed in Riomaggiore, the first of the five coastal towns. My "dorm bed" was located in a sunny little apartment in the marina neighborhood, perched just above the steep stairs that lead down to the harbor. After I arrived, I did some low-key hiking and made some new friends in the mini-hostel where I stayed. We all went down to the rocks lining the shore to watch the sunset with two enormous pizzas and a bottle of wine, and then watched the soccer game from a TV wheeled out in front of one of the only two pubs in town. There was a creperie conveniently located next door, and we all pitched in for a Nutella crepe. It was truly one of the most enjoyable nights I've spent here.
The second day, I took the 6 hour hike through all 5 towns. It was exhausting, but it felt really good to get some exercise. I think I could get more into hiking in the future. After I cooled off with some home-made Cinque Terre gelato (white wine, pine nuts, and raisins--again, it sounds bizarre, but was quite delicious), I met up with my roommates from Florence for one of the best pasta dishes I've ever had. Sunday I took a much more leisurely walk back over to Manarola, the town just to the north of Riomaggiore, and soaked my heavily blistered feet in the water.
On the train ride home, I met a pleasant Swiss lady and her son who invited me to come and visit their house in Lucerne. (I just might.) We changed trains in Pisa, and as I was about to board, I ran into Sarena, the model that we had used in the studio shoot we did on Thursday night. She and her friend invited me to sit with them, and then to join them for a drink after we arrived in Florence. Both girls are spending a year here...Sarena is going to cooking school, and her friend Maria is doing some PR stuff for a fashion designer. We got on quite well, and they acquiesced to spend my birthday with me. Sarena also offered to give me some cooking lessons!

The weather was perfect in Cinque Terre, but back in Florence, the heat is unbearable, and air conditioning is a fairly foreign conept. Most people adhere to the Roman tradition of keeping the windows closed during the day and opening them at night, but this practice has given rise to a pesky population of mosquitos that enjoy feasting on my legs at night. I must invest in a fan and some mosquito deterrent!

Again...apologies for the brevity of this email. I would have liked to go on about the Cinque Terre, but I have to leave for class in a few minutes.

Friday I will be taking the train to Asti and meeting Simone. The other girls will join me there the next day, and then we'll begin a week or so of travel around Italy and Switzerland. If you'd like a post card, please send me your mailing address!

Much love!

Week 6/7 - Part I.

my goodness. i don't even know where to begin this time, guys.
i'm going to have to do multiple emails to get everyone up to date, because i had about 20 pages of notes and journal entries for the nine days i was gone. i'm going to do my derndest here, though.

so. thursday, june 22nd:
i finished finals and felt pretty good about how my classes ended. i went out for dinner afterwards with my friend graycen, the precocious photographer from arkansas. we spent the rest of the evening with her friends from arkansas, and it was the most perfect, comfortable environment i had been in since arriving in italy.

friday, june 23rd:
i joined graycen, her friend drew, and his parents for lunch, and then boarded the train to begin my vacation within a vacation. simone picked me up in asti, and we went out for apertivo, pizza, and then met up with his best friend for gelato. in case there was any question--arugola on pizza is delicious. it was an interesting night to be in asti--the polls were open on sunday and monday to vote on an amendment that would allow berlusconi's cronies more power--i think. in any event, the piazza was flooded with politicians, and there was an open forum we watched for a while. i believe the amendment was voted down--according to most people i've talked to, this is a good thing, because berlusconi (former right-wing italian prime minister, proprietor of most italian media outlets--hmm.) is pretty slimy. corruption is even more rampant in italian politics than at home, largely due to the fact that politicians are immune to the legal system here. there's also a pretty prominent liberal population here, though. my photo professor last term said that the first anarchists were actually from a small town near the cinque terre, but their ideas were based much more on the idea of mutual aid and harmony than the nihilism and chaos that is so frequently associated with the philosophy today. again, hmm.

in any event, it turns out that simone's house is not in asti proper, but near the outskirts of costigliole, a tiny village formed around a 13th century castle, about 15 minutes away from asti. the house itself was on the top of a hill that overlooked vineyards on one side, and had a steep drop down to a valley that belonged to a different municipality on the other. it was the first time i've been inside a real house since arriving in italy.

i spent the next day mostly relaxing. simone went to pick up my travel-mates from the airport, but their train was several hours behind, so i was left in the house with his 78 year-old mother. there were a few moments of awkwardness because i was not feeling very confident with my speaking skills, but we managed to keep up a pleasant banter. she adhered to the stereotype of the italian mother in every way, and refused to let me help in the kitchen. the girls finally arrived, and we went back into asti, where simone played tour guide and gracious host, feeding us and educating us in one fell swoop. after we got back to the house, megan and i decided to go for a walk. it was so refreshing to actually be able to see the stars again. we pointed out the constellations we knew to eachother, and traipsed through the muddy vineyards to hide from approaching cars. i've been doing a lot more walking here, just for fun. i find it very relaxing, though it now takes a lot for me to feel like i'm actually getting exercise.
after we had been up and down the road a few times, we settled down on the patio out back and just talked for a while. i really, really liked megan. it's rare that i meet someone i have so much in common with, so when it happens, my heart just swells. i also enjoyed the company of the other two girls, jen and becky, but megan and i just clicked. we have many plans for adventures upon my return to the states, and i feel so thankful to have been able to share these experiences with such a cool lady.

sunday, june 25:
we all had intentions of getting up earlier to get on the road for milan, but megan and i had been up talking until 5:30 in the morning, and simone likes to sleep in, so things were a bit slow-going. when we finally did set off, i was allowed DJ priviledges for the ride up. we all had a sing-a-long to david bowie and joy division and the cure and depeche mode, and, yes, simone sang, too, and dubbed me an honorary gay man!
i probably could have gone without seeing milan. the duomo was impressive, of course...very different from anything in florence, but the rest of the town was pretty much shopping, which isn't a big priority for me.

the school is closing, so i must end this a bit abrubtly.

all apologies,
grace a. woodard

Week 6/7 - Part II.

The saga continues...

Sunday, May 25: After exploring Milan, Simone took us to Borgo del Tempo Perso, an outdoor discoteque with three stages and a BUFFET. I love buffets in much fresh food and pasta. We were in the gay half of the club, and it was very refreshing not to have lecherous Italian men staring as we danced. We drove back to Simone's house at an ungodly hour, and I was delighted to actually find myself feeling a bit chilly in the night air.

The next morning (Happy Birthday, Ma!) we said goodbye to Simone and Mama Bregni, and boarded the train for Venice. It was a long train ride, but provided a great opportunity for a much-needed rest. When we finally got to Venice, our jaws collectively dropped. It really is as beautiful as the pictures, and even though I know I was there, I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that it exists.
We stayed in a hostel that was just a short traghetto (water bus) ride away from St. Mark's Square. Despite our fatigue, we hopped on board and found a quaint trattoria (well--as quaint as you can get in that neighborhood) in which to eat dinner, and then walked around the square. It was magnificent at night, and I'm so glad we decided to make the trek. There were puddles littering the square that caught the light beautifully, and canals that were so picture-perfect, I had to restrain myself from diving in to see if they were real. The next morning we got up, checked our bags at the train station, and searched for a gondola. Because we were so far away from the center, there were not many to go around, and we finally had to settle on one that was120 euro--which was twice what we had been led to expect to pay from our travel books. But, still, it was a gondola ride. In Venice. It might have not been the most economic decision I've ever made, but I don't regret it.
The Schulz sisters wanted to take it easy and have lunch before catching our early afternoon train, but Megan and I were eager to get more of Venice, so we walked almost all the way from the station to St. Mark's Square, where we explored the Doge's Palace. We made it back to the station with about 20 minutes to spare, and the satisfaction of having gotten a better gander at the city. We said goodbye to Jen, who had to head back Stateside for a wedding. I probably will not get a chance to see her for another couple of years, as she is leaving soon to do Peace Corps-things in Niger.

Becky, Megan and I returned to Florence, where I was finally able to live out my fantasy of watching the sunset from the Ponte Santa Trinita with some friends and a bottle of wine. Everything finally felt like the Italian experience I had been dreaming about for so long. The next morning we went to the market, procured the goods for a Tuscan picnic, and made our way to Boboli Gardens, where I was able to live out yet another Florentine fantasy. We took an evening train to Pisa and stayed long enough for Becky to get the requisite photos, and then rushed back to Florence to make our overnight train bound for Switzerland. It was after we boarded this train that I discovered that I had lost my beloved Moleskine journal, which contained pages upon pages of personal writings, recollections, lists--and my passport. I had taken it out on the train to Pisa to write (in Italian!) a bit while the other girls napped. I swore I had put it back in my bag, but apparently I was mistaken, because when the conductor asked for my passport, I could find nothing to give him.

I prepared myself for the worst and started getting my bags together, holding back tears of frustration. Megan had remarked earlier that the trip had been going "too perfectly," because there had been no significant problems yet. She was right. Becky had been pick-pocketed in Rome, but ever since I had joined them, the trip was sailing along smoothly. In a few moments, I saw all our grand plans dashed, and myself spending another week alone in Florence.
"Ha niente? Non altra ID?" I feebly pulled out a photocopy of my passport that I still had in my messenger bag--and much to my surprise, the conductor said it was fine. Now it took all I had not to cry tears of relief. I leaned back on my cramped sleeper bunk and tried to relax. It was ok, for now. The train was already moving. I would figure out how to get back into Italy in the morning.

The morning: When I awoke, I saw mountains outside my window, and Megan, transfixed on the view and popping Pringles--the Breakfast of Champions, or at least backpackers. We spent the rest of the train ride gushing over the view. I love Italy, but Switzerland took my breath away like nothing else has before. Megan and I kept turning to eachother and saying (because it never ceased to amaze us): "Hey. We're in Switzerland." From our window we saw waterfalls, lakes, sheep, fog, rustic villages. You could just tell by looking that it was going to be cooler outside, so we eagerly changed into warmer clothing. We dismounted for good (for a while) in Chur, the oldest city in Switzerland. Megan was determined that we go to Lichtenstein that day, so we barely had time to breathe between getting our hotel room and catching yet another train that would take us to the 62 square mile-big constitutional monarchy. We walked around a bit, snapped a few photos and then headed back...there's not much to do in Lichtenstein, unless you're looking for a tax haven. It is pretty, of course, but you really can't distinguish its terrain from that of Switzerland.
Megan's other big thing was going to a spa. We stopped in a tiny town called Bad Ragaz and found a reasonable "wellness center," where we all received massages. We told ourselves we would make up for the expense by having a frugal, grocery store-bought dinner, but when we returned to Chur, there was no grocery store to be found, so we settled on the European version of fast-food: kebabs and falafel.
My program advisors had instructed me to go to Bern the next day and get an emergency passport at the embassy, so in the morning, I bid a temporary adieu to the other girls, who were headed to Zermatt. The plan was to meet up with them that night in Germany. When I arrived at the embassy at 11:38, I was informed that the embassy had closed. At 11:30.

I'm not really sure why, but I decided to keep going north after that, and did not stop until I got off in Heidelberg,Germany--where Grammy lived about 50 years ago. I knew it was a bit risky without a passport, but I figured if a photocopy had sufficed from Italy to Switzerland, the worst they could do was tell me to go home. No one did, though. I found an Internet cafe and confirmed my suspicion that none of the embassies (in Germany, Switzerland, or Italy) would be open until Monday. One more night of travel couldn't hurt. I scribbled some directions to Grammy's old house, and plopped down in front of tourist information, asking them to find me a hotel room as close as possible to Schloss Wolfsbrunninweg. When I arrived in the historic center of town, I marveled at how quaint and charming it was. I had not expected to be impressed by Germany.
I dropped my bags off and began the trek up to the hills above town, admiring the numerous art noveau mini-mansions, and then the Heidelberger Schloss, a medieval castle that contains a 58,124 gallon wine barrel. (Apparently Italy and France aren't the only ones with an affinity for grapes.) I pushed on a bit further, and finally found what I believe to be a renovated of the Bavarian-style house that Gram had described. As I descended back into town, I heard pots being banged, joyous singing, and horns--Germany had beat Argentina in a football match. When I reached the historic center again, everyone was wearing the red, yellow, and black flags and celebrating. I opted for dinner at a Thai restaurant right outside the University square, where I could see all the action and satisfy my craving for some Eastern food.

Late that evening, I heard from Megan and Becky, who were stranded for the night at the train station in Basel (Switzerland). They joined me the next morning, and we returned to the castle for a stroll through the gardens before having a farewell lunch at a lovely biergarten. I had already realized that I would not be able to continue on with them toward Belgium, where I had looked forward to spending my birthday with them and checking out the places recommended by Liz, who had spent the previous semester there. I had originally planned to take a flight back from Brussels to Italy, but without my passport, I was ground-bound. It was not easy to say goodbye to these ladies...travelling with them that past week had made all the difference in my experience of Europe. I had ended up spending more money than I was planning to, but I wouldn't have traded that week for anything. Despite the passport chaos and the occasional minor disagreement, it was the perfect adventure.

The return journey (Saturday, July 1): I spent most of the day on the train, filling as many pages as possible in my replacement journal. I made it over the border from Germany to Switzerland without a hitch and caught a train that went straight from Basel to Chiasso, which is right on the Italian border. The clock struck midnight, and I turned 21 shortly while I was still on the train. Katie Bordner called me a few minutes before, so I did not, in fact, spend my birthday alone. Yay, Katie!
Once in Chiasso, I checked the time tables--the next train for Milan would not leave until 5 am. I had already adjusted myself to the idea of sleeping in the train the time I got in, all the hotels would have already closed their doors for the night. One night--less than five hours, in fact--would not be so very trying.

As the night wore on, though, I began to feel a little bit anxious. Train stations attract some interesting characters in the wee hours. I sat, reading Flannery O'Connor and trying to stay on my guard, until a man in uniform came by. We conversed a bit, and when he learned I was waiting for the 5 am train, he told me that he had somewhere safer I could wait. It turns out that this man worked for customs, and that my refuge was, rather ironically, a waiting room near passport control. Still passportless, I passed out on a wooden bench, figuring I would deal with the passport issue when I got on the train.
Luck must have been on my side, because neither the man nor his colleague, who escorted me out to the train, asked for my passport. Before I knew it, I was in Italy again. Home safe. Or at least as close to home as one can get on another continent.

I know this is looking more like an epic than an email, so I'll try to wrap up briefly.
I got home to Florence in the early afternoon, had brunch with two or my new roommates, and walked around Florence a bit, feeling as if I was re-acquainting myself with an old friend. Later that night, two of my other roommates made me dinner. It was a quiet birthday, but pleasant. I got to talk to most of my family, so I was content.

So, classes. New friends. New stories. But that can all wait until next week.
Congratulations if you've made it this far!

Your lady abroad,
Grace A. Woodard

P.S. I will have a new and fully functional passport two weeks from today. Until then, I do not plan to set foot outside Florence.

Week 9.

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Did you know that I will be back in that fair country of ours in less than two weeks? It is true! I am scheduled to arrive at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport at approximately 9:35 pm on Tuesday, August 1st, 2006. I'm having a better time than ever, but I'm getting extremely excited to come home. I've probably said that already.
I've heard reports of many Missouri friends melting in the heat of the last few days, which does not sound particularly enjoyable, but I figure that after two months in the hottest city in Italy, sans A/C, I can make it. When my roommates were out of town last weekend, I tried one of their fans, just for fun, and was more than content. At home, I preferred to keep my room at a maximum of 70 degrees...I never thought I would adjust to the heat, but, hey, anything can happen when you're abroad, right?

Things here just keep getting better. Every day I've been either making new friends or growing closer to the ones I already had. This is such a drastically different experience from my last term, during which I only began to get chummy with folks the last week or so of classes. The experience as a whole has made me realize how fortunate I am to have all my friends at home. Finding people you click with is not as easy as I had assumed...I have just been incredibly lucky up until this point.

The last week has been fairly tame. I had a lot of work for my classes, and since I didn't have a passport, I decided that I would stay in Florence. My replacement passport will be ready on Friday, but I'm still planning on sticking around Florence, as I have about 14 pages of papers to write--4 of which are in Italian. There are worse places to be stranded, though.

I can't believe I'm actually telling people not to send mail, but I would not recommend it at this point, as the last time I am able to get mail may be next Thursday. If you want to send something to me anyway, I can get it at my SLU address when I get home:

MSC 3297
Busch Student Center
20 N. Grand Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63103

Sorry to be so brief, but the computer lab is closing on me. Much love!

Your lady in Florence,

Week 9.5.

Dear All,

I am continually amazed by my generally great luck. Here is a story for you:

Yesterday's plan was to wake up early so that I could retrieve my new passport and head to the Bargello with one of my roommates. After two months in Italy, I should have recalled that things rarely go according to plan--but this time, it was for the best.

I woke up at 10:44 am and got dressed in a rush, skipping my breakfast and a much-needed shower. (The consulate closes at 12:30, and it's about five bridges down the river from where I live--a decent hike, especially in this heat.) I made it there in less than an hour, and presented the almost alarmingly casual secretary with my receipt. About five minutes later, she returnd with another lady...who was holding a rather battered black Moleskine journal. They told me that just that morning, the police had brought it by.

Everything inside was intact: my letters, my writings, my stamps, my train pass, and, yes, even my passport! I still had to pay for and use the new passport, since the last one had already been entered in their database as lost or stolen, but that seemed insignificant next to having everything else back. They did not tell me where it had been found, and, in my state of shock, I did not think to ask, and maybe it's better that I do not know.

I hope everyone in St. Louis is safe! Much love!