Friday, September 25, 2009

Week 1

Orientation and First Week of Classes: September 2 – September 11

Phil, Alice, Johanna, Kathryn, Kat, Kayla, Hilah, Ben, Anna, Hannah and me (Dana). Ciao from Catania! First week of classes down and all is well. The group is a perfect mix of personalities. Perhaps we can all get along despite our differences because when it comes down to it, we are all mildly to extremely nerdy classics and art history majors. The first rain of September came and went and the sun is as strong as ever. The temperature is hovering between 70 and 80°F.

The whole group minus Hilah, our photographer, at dinner in Piazza UniversitĂ .

During orientation Alan Earhart (our Resident Director) told us we had come to the right place. He explained how many college students decide to go on abroad programs to Rome or Florence where they will be surrounded by other Americans, but the eleven of us with CET/ICCS Sicily will get an authentic Italian experience. I am sure shop-keepers and other Sicilians easily recognize the gang of American college students with big back-packs, pale skin, blonde hair and flip-flops. We have tried to figure out what most gives us away, the garb or the looks of wonder as we pause at corners to figure out which way to turn or to look at an architectural marvel that appears in the middle of 70s style apartment buildings.

So far it has been quite satisfying living in Catania. I am far from being a city girl, coming from a suburb just outside of Boston. Getting away to more rural retreats is my usual goal, but city-life is treating me well…mainly in the gastronomical sense. At nearly every corner is a gelateria, pizzeria, panificio (bakery) or bar (cafĂ©). I am a strong believer that food is essential for happiness. It follows that Catania is making me exponentially happy. Here is why.

1. The gelateria at the corner of Via Etnea and Via Umberto has the most amazing tasting gelato ever. I would be willing to go every day for a scoop of hazelnut and coffee (nocciola e caffe – the first time I asked for Nickolai and caffe, but the workers are patient and I now know how to pronounce my favorite gelato flavor).

2. The panificio up three blocks from our dorm smells amazing and makes beautiful thin crust pizza. I think at least one person from our group must stop in every day whether to buy something or just smell the air.

3. A block from where we have classes (Palazzo Biscari) is a Kebab shop (Sicily Foods) and a Bar. Sicily Foods has spinach lasagna that is so creamy and rich and the Bar has granite (a frozen treat resembling Italian ice). If you order mandorla you receive a heaping cup of what tastes like cold, liquefied marzipan.

4. The large open aired market has everything from shampoo to fresh produce to music to underwear. It is open every morning and is a great place to stop by and get some delicious peaches for a less than 1 euro.

All of this food has been accompanied by several trips, both through ICCS and self-orchestrated. The night of our arrival we went to a dinner of pasta, tomatoes and eggplant (penne alla norma) in what I can only explain as a Lady and the Tramp setting; small alley-way with red and white checkered table clothes. Later in the week, we were lucky enough to get a guided tour of parts of Mt. Etna by a local geologist, Sandro. Getting to see lava flows from as recent as 2002 and 2006 was incredible. Listening to Sandro speak about the various craters, fissures, cones and forests that had come and gone in the last few centuries inspired awe and made it quite clear why he called Mt. Etna a living mountain. His passion and knowledge about the area made the trip truly special. In addition we had a tour of Palazzo Biscari, and several trips to the plywood beach, which is just as it sounds; a large piece of plywood over some lava rocks that is jammed backed with Catanese. This weekend we are looking forward to trips to Gole di Alcantara, Isola Bella and Reggio Calabria.

Views from Etna

On our own we have explored much of the city. My roommate, Hilah, and I have gone for runs nearly every morning since our arrival. Not only is this a testament to how safe the city feels, but it has been a perfect way to orient ourselves. The first few days we made sure to start out in different directions to explore. Today, Friday, Alice, Kathryn and Johanna organized a trip to the beach, Lidi Plaia. The sandy beaches are a short bus ride south of the city (1 euro for a 90min bus pass) and the beaches are free and the water is a toasty change from New England coasts. If you look up the shoreline one can see Catania and Mt. Etna rising into the clouds and gas. It always seems like Mt. Etna has its own weather system. We are all hoping it erupts before December 19th.

Above: View down Via Etnea – Mt. Etna in clouds. Below: View of Catania from Lidi Plaia.