Posted on February 19th, 2011 at 2:20 PM by admin
As a kid I knew that my great-grandfather was from Sicily and although he died when I was very young I do remember him saying something to me in Italian (or most probably in Sicilian). And no – I don’t remember what he said because I didn’t know a lick of Italian I just remember it being Italian and not understanding. I definitely internalized the fact that great-grandpa must not speak a lot of English. Recently I decided to expand my knowledge and got in touch with a sicilian relative and planned a trip during my in-between-semesters break to Palermo and Partinico – the city that my great-grandfather came from and where most of the family still lives.

Fiorella and I touring Palermo

Partinico is about 35 km southwest of Palermo and much smaller of course. My cousin Fiorella graciously hosted me in her house and was so welcoming and helpful. I will be forever grateful for her hospitality and the stories she shared with me about our family. She also forced me to speak quite a bit of Italian which was great practice for me. A friend of hers took us on a tour of Palermo for nearly an entire day which I didn’t expect but ended up really enjoying. She also took me around Partinico and showed me where my great-grandpa lived and where his sister had a jewelry store. It was a bit surreal to imagine but fascinating as well. Her brother is a fabulous cook and made me two wonderful sicilian dinners that rival even the cooking of my grandpa that I have so missed since he passed a few years ago. And her parents were equally welcoming and gave me a beautiful scarf to take home with me.

The inside of Cathedral Monreale was AMAZING

A glimpse of Partinico

Where my great-grandfather lived before he moved to the US

Unfortunately I was only able to spend 4 short days there and one of them I wasn’t feeling well but I will surely return some day. That day will likely be in the summer instead of the winter though – Sicily is one of those places that isn’t cold enough for good heating but not warm enough to not freeze your #$@ off in the winter. But I loved the mix of cliffs (that looked climbable!) and ocean. Beautiful scenery beautiful family. I WILL be back!

Pizza dinner with cousins Fiorella and Benedetto

Posted on February 6th, 2011 at 10:04 AM by admin
This school year was different from any other I’ve had in that the entire month of February was off between the winter and summer semesters. I had been told that many European countries have similar setups but I must admit that this is the first time I’ve experienced it myself.  I wouldn’t be exaggerating in estimating that I spent half the month doing work that should have been done last semester and even some that should have been assigned during the semester so that it would be possible to finish it during the semester and not have to do it in the break but I digress.  Despite this reality I decided to go on “vacation” anyways. And after my first week of the next semester I am STILL trying to finish things from last semester.

So back to the vacation – although I have been before I decided to return to Italy with the intention of learning some Italian and meeting some of my cousins in Sicily that I had never met.  I was slightly embarrassed that even though I’m half Italian (according to my ancestry), Italian is officially the 5th language I’ve taken up.  I can’t really take full responsibility for this though – my high school didn’t offer Italian so I took the closes alternative – Spanish.  Then I got to college and realized that Spanish didn’t really go with my Engineering major so I switched to German.  After many years of commitment i did become fluent in German and then went back to Spanish thinking I should finish what I started as not to really confuse my developing multilingual brain?  After some level of fluency I moved back to a German speaking country and started Arabic on the side.  And now…finally I am getting to Italian.

In order to pass into Italian II here at Universitaet Salzburg this semester I decided to do a 2 week intensive course in Bologna, Italy.  I must admit that my Spanish and even some of my German background helped me to start to pick up Italian relatively quickly. The language school I attended is called Cultura Italiana and one of my favorite things about the school was that they had cultural events almost every night! This certainly helped me avoid be lonely since I was traveling there by myself. I did stay with a host family minus the family. It was just a woman living along and I could barely communicate with her at all when I arrived (or before I arrived when I called to tell her when I would be arriving but you get the point). By the end we even had a few entire conversations in Italian.  I also had the pleasure of seeing some old friends who came to Bologna to visit me after several years of not seeing each other.

My room in Bologna

The city of Bologna is pleasant.  It’s a nice size – not too big not too small.  Those who know me well know that I like these kinds of cities.  On the down side it is a very expensive city. Yet another reason to just stick to the cultural activities of the language school!  I went on a few tours of the city including churches and museums as well as attending lectures on Italian literature and music. I had about 3 hours of Italian class per day and studied on average of 2 more hours every day on my own.

Loved this view


Inside the museum at night

When Brandis and Maria came to visit we first went out for pizza of course. The waiter was very cute and flirty – he gave us free shots of limocello and was the first experience that got me thinking that Italian men would really do anything for women. After that we went to a bar which was supposed to be a jazz club but it wasn’t.  We drank and smoked some hookah and entertained ourselves as if it hadn’t been 5 years since we’d all been together. The next day we had the great idea to drive to the western coast to see the Cinque Terre I guess none of us realized just how far it was but after 3 hours of driving we all wondered what we were doing.  The weather chimed in with rain and fog so thick we could barely see anything in front of us which was not ideal considering that at that point we were driving on winding non-paved roads barely big enough for one car let alone 2. Oh AND we didn’t really know where we were going. As the gas tank approached E we decided to stop and ask for help and were told that we were thirty kilometers away from any gas station that had anything other than diesel.  After a brief flip out session the carefree Italian says to us: “Come on. You’re young so this isn’t REALLY a problem.” Haha….I guess it’s all about perspective.  I was so hung over and hungry that I couldn’t even consider getting worked up over it. Luckily we made it to the gas station and paid a ridiculous price for gas but we were all relieved regardless.  I was so excited that I made it a photo op. Eventually we made it to the coast and found some more pizza to eat. The weather was still terrible but we all took pictures anyways and I took a nap in the car.  And then… you guessed it…we headed straight back since we had another 3 hour drive ahead of us.

Reunited after 5 years in another country with alcohol and hookah


Holy expensive gas


Excited to see beach even with the bad weather!

My last week in Bologna was a bit sad. I said my goodbyes to all the teachers I’d had. I didn’t think 2 weeks would be long enough to really miss anyone but it was somehow. I really wish I would have had time to learn more Italian in such an immersion setting but my time had run out.  My host lady burned me a CD of her favorite Italian music. I took my last pictures of the city and packed up for a 4 day trip to Palermo.

Piazza Maggiore (part of it anyway)