Monday, February 2, 2009

In Sickness And Health

(The view from Villa Ulivi, where most classes are.)

10:00AM January 31

This past week has been a bit up and down health-wise, as the germs being spread around campus finally caught up with me. The bug has been deemed the Australian flu, but we more commonly refer to it as “the black death,” due to our location, and the fact that it lasts about twenty-four hours. Tuesday night just before I went off to my politics class is when I first noticed it. At first it just seemed like a stomach ache from lack of food—although I hadn’t been eating any differently that day—and then I was extremely conscious of my body’s simultaneous over and under-heating. This was not helped by the fact that I sat in the back of the classroom next to the cold window at my head and warm heater at my back.

I walked home, quite miserable, noticing several Italians pass me by (I walk faster than about 99% of people in New York, and the Italians are notably slower.) I even took the elevator up to my room on the first floor (three flights of stairs). By this point I couldn’t tell whether I indeed needed food, or whether I had too much already, so I just tried to sleep it off. The only problem was I couldn’t sleep, and my body continued to heat at a variety of temperatures. After three hours of writhing about in my bed I decided to get up and drink some water for my dry throat, only that made my stomach feel worse. Eventually I fell asleep on the couch—which I found a bit more comfortable than my bed—around 1:30.

I got up the next morning for class, and I decided to stop for some pastry on the way to school as I had by that point not eaten in nearly 18 hours. I did feel a bit better afterwards, but still a little queasy. I had a banana for lunch on Wednesday, and by mid-day I began to feel like I was on my way back to health, although quite tired. Fortunately, Wednesday is my shortest day, and after keyboard class I went back home and successfully slept for three hours. When I awoke around 5:30, I felt almost back to normal. It was quite strange, to be so miserable, and then practically healthy again within twenty-four hours. In fact, the last few hours I was feeling sick, I think it had more to do with the sleep and food deprivation caused by the sickness than the “flu” itself.

Wednesday night we had our pizza meal with Antonello, the housing supervisor, who has a 50 Euro budget to spend once a week for an event with some or all of the 50 students he oversees. Free dinner always sounds like a good idea, so we settled on doing pizza this week. I can’t say it was anything special though, and it may have been the weakest meal I’ve had since I arrived. I’m surprised that anyone here would be satisfied making decent pizza, but I guess someone has to be at the bottom. In two weeks we plan to go out for gelato.

Thursday I would usually have aural comprehension in the afternoon, but our teacher, Greg Burk, whom we saw in Umbria, was off touring with his trio, so class was canceled. I went with friends to the Tabaccheria up the street from campus for an eggplant sandwich, although the man making it got distracted in some money exchange with another client and put tomatoes on instead. I was not to distressed though, as it seems all of it is in season here. I have yet to eat tomato, eggplant, or artichoke that didn’t taste incredible. As the weather had been nice this week, we decided to take our sandwiches to go, and we ate them at the legendary gardens of La Pietra, the main villa which our campus is centered around. I had not yet been to these gardens—hidden behind a wall in the back corner of the property—but they were quite spectacular. Walking through the courtyards, each more gorgeous and green than the next, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the movie The Secret Garden. Statues overlooked each plot of land, filled with fountains, neatly laid paths, and lush green fields of grass.

We found a spot to eat our sandwiches on a pretty staircase. Again, the food was unbelievably tasty, but we were quickly taken by the sound of a playground and chickens off in the distance. When we were finished, we went off in search of these mysterious noises and quickly came to the edge of the property: an olive orchard lay in front of us, and beyond that the northern reaches of Florence could be seen. Off in the distance we could see the snow-capped mountains of the Apennines. Unfortunately, at that moment, my camera battery died after snapping one picture (below), and I had neglected to bring my alternate.

That night, school was having a free showing of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which I thought I’d go see, having missed the first fifteen minutes on the plane ride. It would also give me a chance to pick up some of the dialogue I may have missed on the noisy airplane. The movie did not start until 8:00 though, so I decided to hang around all afternoon rather than burn an hour walking to and from my apartment. In the meantime, I got my fill of computer time, working to catch up on my blog—which had been slacking since I left my computer charger in Umbria—and the news of Obama’s first week in office. The movie was nice to see again, and I felt more free to laugh out loud at some of the absurdities of the film this time, but my overall take on it was unchanged.

Yesterday I awoke feeling a bit sick in the stomach again, so I ate some grilled bread and an orange, but it didn’t seem to help much. Adam, John, Jaimie, and I were off to Uffizi, hoping to get a real viewing of the galleries before, as Antonio put it, “the sheep arrive.” It was quite spectacular, and although I had spent plenty of time with the Botticelli’s the previous time, I was again drawn back to them, looking more closely at the textural detail in the paintings. I was also intrigued by a piece Antonio had showed us before: the statue of Flora walking, robes flowing about her, which Boticelli modeled his Flora from Primavera on (she is the fourth statue on the left below). The movement in the statue is really incredible. Half expecting him to show up at any given moment, we were not completely surprised to find Antonio showing people around the galleries, and he offered to give us a private tour of an exhibition he helped curate if we came back the next day at 1:30. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the immensity of the gallery space, and knowing we would return the following day, we decided to leave after viewing only the first of the museum’s two wings.

Last night for dinner, still feeling queasy, I abstained from the risotto, opting instead for breadsticks and a soda. I was beginning to feel better again, as the twenty-four hour sickness came to close. I did get access to my friends’ phone though, and it was nice to check in with my sister and wish her a happy birthday. The two of us have traveled plenty around the United States, but this year saw both of us getting our first real European adventures, and it has been interesting comparing the stories I’ve heard from her trip to Copenhagen with my own experiences in a very different European setting.

(My apartment, entered by a door behind the tent in the bottom left of the picture.)

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