Instalment the Secundo
Well, summer holidays are just around the corner so we’ve been spending more and more time at our holiday house in San Lorenzo and at the beach, eating gelato and sun bathing.
The town seems to have had buckets of paint splashed down the streets with dots of colour here and there, flowers sitting on window sills or blooming from between bright green leaves on the previously dead looking trees.
Speaking of flowers, I have just got back from a weekend at the Infiorata or Flower Festival in Noto which is a town about 20 minutes drive from Pachino where one of my fellow Rotary exchange students lives. She invited all the Rotary exchange students in Sicily to her house for the weekend to experience this stunning festival in a usually quiet little town. The 6 of us spent the 3 days sitting on the grand steps of the town cathedral eating gelato, wandering through the lovely market looking for treasures and meeting people from all over the place each with their own interesting story to tell.
We did our worldly duties by assisting a newly wed couple from Poland in finding their bus as they were only here for a week on their honeymoon and couldn’t speak any Italian. They then told all of us that if we are ever in Poland we can visit them and they will show us around.
I also came across two owners of a jewelry stand who had been to New Zealand and said it is one of the most beautiful, clean and green countries they have ever been too and they look forward to returning there one day.
The flowers themselves were absolutely stunning. People had worked until 5 in the morning completing elaborate pictures using coffee grinds and flower petals.
We had a similar display in Pachino a few weeks ago however flower petals and coffee grinds had been traded for fruit and vegetables as Pachino is renowned for its fruit and veggie production.
I’m into my last week of school before we break for our 3 month summer holiday and the beach towns around Pachino are all packed with tourists and people with summer houses here from the more Northern parts of Italy. I love seeing so much life in the little towns. The gelateria, or ice cream shops, are always full with people and the beaches have been swept of seaweed to make way for prime sunbathing and picnic sand.
School has been more enjoyable in the last few weeks. Everyone, including the teachers, seems to be much happier now that the sun is shining more often. It amazes me the effect that a little sunshine and colour can do to the attitude of people. It’s been between 25 and 30 degrees most days which is an almost crippling heat for me. I don’t understand how the rest of my classmates can function in jeans and jerseys.
I’ve been for a few ocean swims now much to the horror of my friends and host family who still think the water is too cold.
My Italian is improving in leaps and bounds, in my opinion any way. I came to realize this while I was at our Rotary dinner last night and met a young man from Texas who is touring around Sicily with his Dad for 10 days and I was able to translate conversations for him.
I will be on the look out for famous people at the beach but most of all I will be enjoying my wonderful life, peacefully floating in the Mediterranean, speaking Italian and enjoying the extraordinary company of my new friends in their extraordinary country.
I am every day happy and grateful for the opportunity to be where I am and send you this with all my thanks.
Poppy´s first essay for Rotary on her year in Sicily
Well, it’s coming up on 3 months since I arrived here in Italy so I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to so far.
From the patio on top of our house I can look to the ocean one way and to Mount Etna in the other direction.
If I look down to the street below I can usually see a 3-wheeled truck, a scooter or a car with it’s boot loaded with freshly plucked fruit and vegetables from a local garden, ready to be sold to the passersby.
Giusy (Guiseppina) is my Italian Mother. She is a PE teacher at the local intermediate school. Corrado is her partner. He owns a tomato farm in Portopalo, a coastal town about 10 minutes drive from Pachino, so our kitchen is usually stocked with different types of tomatoes.
Tomatoes grown in Pachino are famously delicious all over Sicily and I’ve been lucky enough to have been placed here. I’ve never tasted tomatoes so sweet! Absolutely delicious!
Conversely, I am definitely not sure about eating horse meat in my sandwich! It wasn't too bad really! It kind of tasted like bad New Zealand steak so I set my mind to think of it that way and I didn't feel the urge to be sick. Most of the people here seem to find it “delizioso” so I decided to keep my thoughts to myself.
They can't get over that I do not like to eat their fish and my host mum usually tries to sneak it into my meals thinking I wont notice. I do notice. Sadly, for them but happily for the animals, I do not seem to like Italian fish or Italian meat very much. I almost wish I had told them that I was a vegetarian. At least now I can fully appreciate the extremely high quality of meat that I think we, or at least I, often take for granted in New Zealand.
Giusy’s youngest daughter, Lidia, is happily living in the farming town of Inglewood in Taranaki. We met at the Tatum Park Rotary orientation weekend before I left, in New Zealand and we are now friends. I talk to her most evenings on skype. She is returning home in early July, I am very much looking forward to seeing her again.
The first time I met Lidia she told me that her mother was very, very noisy – well she is right. It took me a while to adjust to the different noise level here, everybody seems to speak a lot louder than they do in New Zealand, I thought they were all arguing when I first arrived but it just seems to be how they talk and I often find myself being told to speak up.
I also have another host sister named Francesca. She is 21 years old and is studying Law at university in the city of Catania which is about an hours drive from where I am in Pachino. She has been coming home quite often as recently it has been exam time and she’s had week-long breaks between exams so she comes home to study. Francesca is fantastic and speaks fairly good English which has been very helpful. We get along very well and she has been a huge help when it comes to meeting lots of people and making new friends.
We have a house cleaner who comes in 6 days a week. She brings her daughter on Saturdays who is very sweet! She is quite shy and can’t speak any English as she is only 6 years old but she follows me around the house while I have breakfast and get ready for school.
Now I want to refer to the “Latin lessons” that my mother gave me as I grew up. It turns out that putting an ‘o’ or a ‘u-s’ on the ends of any word (publico speakingus) isn't really all that there is to it. Learning another language in another language is ridiculously difficult! So Latin is one class that still leaves me completely bewildered at school. Other than that school is interesting.
I am slowly beginning to comprehend more of what is going on in class. Sometimes I miss the actual topic of conversation but I pick up plenty of words which I think is better than nothing. If someone is speaking directly to me then I can usually understand. As well as Latin I also take physics, physical education, art history, history, science, religion, Italian, English, sociology, pedagogia (I’m not sure exactly what this subject is about), philosophy, psychology and maths.
So much for maths being the international language. I can tell you right now that the maths I am trying to figure out here is a completely different language to the one I learnt in New Zealand. On Monday and Saturday school starts at 8:30am and finishes at 1:30pm (yes, I go to school 6 days a week) and from Tuesday to Friday we start at 8am and finish at 2pm when we all go home to have enormous lunches.
My school is called Primo Istituto d'Istruzione Secondaria Superiore, Michelangelo Bartolo, bit of a mouth mouthful. I think it is one of the largest secondary school in the Pachino area and it seems to have about 600 pupils which puts into perspective the size of the other schools.
Half of the tests they do in school here are written tests, like we do in New Zealand and the other half are oral tests or as my class mates call it an “oral interrogation” - sounds terrifying! They seem very scary. It is like public speaking because you get asked questions in front of the whole class and you more or less have to speak an essay on the spot, seems slightly traumatic.
We stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers come around to teach us. We have physical education twice a week when we either go downstairs to the freezing school gym, which is tiny and we do gymnastic/athletics type things or if it is a sunny day our teacher will send us out to the volley ball court to entertain ourselves while he stays in the classroom and reads the paper. For example on Monday we did high jump.
When I say ‘we’ I mean 4 girls from a class of about 20 did high jump while the rest of us lay around on the mats chatting...so that is not where I get my daily workout! I go to the local gym most evenings during the week but not on Saturday or Sunday because that is when I socialize of course! I walk to the gym by myself just so that I do not have to be driven everywhere. It only takes me about 10 minutes to walk there and it’s right in the centre of town near the town square which is just up the road from my house.
It takes me a maximum of 10 minutes to walk anywhere in Pachino. I can get to school in 4 minutes as I discovered yesterday morning when I left a bit late (7:57am) but usually it takes 6 or 7 minutes at a leisurely pace.
There is a police officer that stands on the corner by our school in the mornings and afternoons and directs traffic with his little whistle. It seems so sweet it makes me giggle. He tells me when it is safe so I can cross the street.
Most Sundays we will have a family lunch. Sometimes it is quite big with about 12 people and other times there are only 5 or 6 of us. I prefer the smaller ones because there is less noise and I can try to figure out what their conversations are about. These lunches usually consist of 3 courses. We begin with a huge bowl of pasta in some form or another followed by some kind of meat and potatoes and topped off with a delicious traditional desert. All accompanied by fresh bread and home brewed wine.
I’ve been invited to one Rotary dinner since I’ve been here and we were asked to dress “chic” which is one area of fashion that was not at all a part of my upbringing in New Zealand. However I faced my fears and ventured into a big fancy store with the support of Francesca and quickly bought the first dress she told me looked “nice.” I then I had to top it off with new high heels (I was reluctant to buy heels, but Francesca insisted even though I’m taller than most of the men here when I’m not wearing heels!) and, of course, my RYE blazer.
The dinner was held at a villa in Noto where we had a 5 course meal including Pork Flambe which was very exciting.
I've made fantastic friends in my class as well as from other schools around Pachino and nearby cities who are all keen to help me with Italian. I have a few friends who come to my house every week or so and help me write down different parts of speech for example last night they came over and we wrote the possessivi aggettivi or possessive adjectives. The rest of the language I’m just having to pick up in everyday conversation so it’s quite a slow process. I can understand most things that people say to me and I can keep up with conversations that they have between themselves in Italian. So long as the topic is in context!
So far I haven’t had many opportunities to travel as Giusy has been working but I’m sure I’ll have more interesting stories to talk about soon.
Again I thank you for this opportunity and I will send another update in the next few weeks,