Friday, June 5, 2009

Florentine Finale

10:30AM May 26

Thursday was a surreal day. I had three finals left to take, and yet, within twenty-four hours I would be leaving the country for an indefinite period of time. Italy would never and could never be the same as it was during those four months of fantasy, and the friends that I made there will be different once they return to their natural environs. We were living in a dreamland that I doubt can ever be replicated. I was still there in the thick of it all Thursday but with the knowledge that it would all be gone in a day's time.

The exam in Italian was not bad at all. It followed suit with the previous two tests we'd taken. Nothing was tricky about it. You simply had to know the material, and as residents in the country, it was in our own best interest to work on that every day.

I took a brief lunch, my final meal at the great school cafeteria, before playing my piano final. Our piano teacher was on tour at the end of the semester, so our aural comprehension teacher, Greg Burk, a world-renowned jazz pianist himself, was the proctor for the exam. That final went better than I thought it might. I struggled a lot this semester to keep up with the material, which was far more challenging than in previous semesters, especially considering we didn't have much practice space. Unlike most piano finals I've had where we play a piece of our choosing and maybe a scale, this time we had five or six things to play, including Gershwin's "Summertime," a piece in alto clef, and a sizable excerpt of figured bass (essentially a melody, bass line, and chord changes as it would be written in the Baroque period.) Thank to the practice I put in the previous week, it all went really well.

I waited for everybody else to finish their piano finals, and then I went back in as the second person in alphabetical order to do the extensive atonal singing portion to our aural comprehension exam. We had to sing tone rows (an ordered collection of all twelve pitches), collections of intervals that featured tritones (the devil's interval), and sing and clap two complex rhythms together. My favorite part though, was singing and playing the jazz standard "Detour Ahead." On guitar, I played the bass line and sang the melody, and then vice versa—most people did this on piano, except for Evan, who played it on bass. As there were sixteen of us in the class, and we each took five minutes or more to sing for the teacher, we spent a long time waiting for the exam to finish. I twice walked across the hill to Villa Ulivi and back, saying goodbye to Antonio and David Travis. Once the singing was done, we had about fifteen minutes left in class where we took a brief written portion to the test. And just like that, I was done with half of my college career.

The Baptistry outside the Duomo

The Duomo

I'd already packed, so I used my last hours in Florence to go check out Piazzale Michelangelo, a famous city overlook on the south side of the Arno that I'd missed out on up to that point. I asked several people if they wanted to come with, but I believe most everybody was preparing for the journey home before we went out that night. I walked right through the center of the city and its numerous tourist attractions, taking pictures all along the way to supplement my all too short supply of Florentine photographs. The views were simply stunning from up there. The piazza and famous nearby church, San Miniato, are perched up on a hill close to the city center, with what is possibly the best view of Florence. I would compare it to Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia or Twin Peaks in San Francisco. This was absolutely the best thing to do on the final afternoon, catching the sunset as I walked back down the hill and over the bridge adjacent to the Ponte Vecchio. It was wonderful to soak in the city that one last time, taking it in from a new vantage point.

Looking across the river towards San Miniato (right) and Piazzale Michelangelo (plateau at left).

Ponte alle Grazie

La Chiesa di San Frediano peaks over the Ponte Vecchio, as seen from Ponte alle Grazie.

The steeple of Santa Croce sticks out above the city along with the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale

A monument at Piazza Nicola Demidoff

Re-entering the dense city streets on the south side of the Arno

Gates at the south end of the city

Climbing the hill towards Piazzale Michelangelo

The Rose Garden just below Piazzale Michelangelo

Approaching San Miniato

Taking in the city from San Miniato

I look towards Fiesole with David

Many people enjoy the view

Palazzo Vecchio rises above Florence

The Ponte Vecchio at sunset

Approaching the girls' apartment on Via Pier Antonio Micheli

I then made another attempt to get into the Florentine synagogue, but it was closed on that Thursday evening, so I continued on towards the girls' to meet up before dinner that night. We were going out to Dante's Pizzeria, a nice joint just over the Arno half a block from La Cité. Obviously, they are known for their pizza, but the one other time I was there, I wasn't particularly impressed by the pizza, so I went with "gnocchi con salsicia." I'm glad I chose pasta because it was a really excellent dish. I'm not sure anything will compare to the gnocchi I got in the south of France, but the dish was extremely tasty, and the Italian sausage broke up the monotony of the cream sauce pasta.

We took our time with the meal, spending probably an hour talking before we even got our food. Our usual crowd of the Mercato Centrale guys and Via Micheli girls (along with a few of our close friends from Via Cavour) was joined by a whole slew of students who live on campus that showed up for the latter half of the meal. A few people made speeches saying how much they were going to miss Italy and all of our newfound friendships. My roommate Sean made a particularly awkward one where he criticized some of the teachers that I, along with most of the music students, have really enjoyed. We were all done by 11:00 though, at which point we had our first prolonged session of goodbyes.

The group then splintered into three, and I walked back towards the girls' apartment with Kate and Brittney. Along the way we got separated somehow from most of the group, as they hadn't informed us they were stopping to take a ride on the merry-go-round at one end of Piazza della Republica. We all sat around in their apartment for another half-hour or more before Kate and I departed. It was at that point that the tears really started flowing. Everybody had kept on their best spirits for the better part of the night, but as our time dwindled, it was harder to repress, and both Jen and Marielle were sobbing as we left.

I stopped at home briefly after walking Kate back to her hotel—she was hanging around for another week or two with family. I then went back to Dante's where the large Via Mafia (muh-fee-uh) apartment was celebrating the end of the semester. A lot of the music students were in that apartment, so I went to see them one last time, hanging around long enough to chat a bit and discuss some plans for the future before saying my goodbyes. Apparently Antonio had been there some twenty minutes before I showed up, who is the person I most wanted to see one last time, but he'd disappeared quickly.

Originally I planned to stay up and with people, drinking wine, and watching the sunrise over the Ponte Vecchio. If there was ever a time when sleep didn't matter, with several hours on planes the following day, that was it. It seemed like a great idea for the final night, but the people who were initially interested had all gone their separate ways that night, and I gave up on the idea, heading to bed a little after 2:30.

The moon and the David

The Duomo

Ponte Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

Santa Croce

Piazza della Republica

The Arno, as seen from the foot of Ponte alla Carraia

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