Monday, February 28, 2011

Carnevale: Video

By Janet Lawrence, Resident Director.

Masks! Confetti! Chocolate-covered treats! Just when we had recovered from Sant’Agata, it wa

s time for Carnevale, Italy’s equivalent of Mardi Gras.

CET hosted a Carnevale Party for students, Language Partners and Italian Roommates. Folks turned up in fabulous masks, costumes and make-up.


taly’s largest Carnevale celebration takes place in Venice, where the masks are meant to

liberate citizens from social class and

inhibitions and just let loose!

Down here in Catania we let loose alright – with some serious snacking and line


Friday, February 25, 2011

Are You Hungry Yet?

Written by Ariel Goldenthal, Student, CET Intensive Language and Culture Studies in Catania.

First of all, let’s be honest. The reason for the large number of students who choose Italy as their study abroad destination is the food. Sure, the weather is heavenly—especially here in Catania—and the history, art, and architecture are beautiful, but Italian cuisine is legendary.

Having been here for a month now, the five other CET students - Tess, Sam, Angela, Julie, May - and I have gotten to experience quite a range of pasta. The pasta that dreams are made of. Admittedly, our first night cooking was not particularly successful. For a few of us, this is the first time living in an apartment with other students. We quickly realized that cooking for eight people was going to be a challenge. We started out simply, just pasta with sauce (or salsa, as it is called here) and spinach (spinaci). Our table was set, we had bought bread from the local panificio (bakery) and we were quite proud of ourselves.

The pasta wasn’t perfect; there was a bit too much spinach and just not enough sauce. We gobbled it up anyway.

But we have improved since then. Our resident chef, Julie Hooper, maintains that cooking is relaxing, therapeutic, and, simply, what she wants to do. And try as we might to keep up, the rest of us can’t compare. Several conversations regarding dinner have consisted of us trying to explain to Julie that we don't know how to just throw something together! But we keep trying, and hopefully soon we will soak up Julie’s culinary knowledge through our stomachs.

Over the past month, we've moved beyond pasta and sauce. We are trying new things; after all, that’s what study abroad is all about! Our first step was to branch out and start buying food the Italian way: at one of the outdoor markets in Catania.

On a recent Saturday morning, we decided to brave the famous fish market. True to the stories, we started to smell the fish market as we began to cross the Piazza del Duomo and head down the steps into the extremely crowded mercato.

We tried to dodge the puddles of questionable, fishy liquid on the cobblestone ground as our minds reeled from the crowd. Although we couldn’t quite understand what the fishermen were shouting in Sicilian dialect, we did understand that, much like learning to cook for eight people, this too, was going to be a challenge. As we eyed the abundance of fish: skin, bones, eyes, and all, we all wondered how on earth we were supposed to cook it.

While we considered what we would cook that evening, we split up and wandered through the meat, fruit and vegetable sections of the market.

Finally, we rendezvoused with a plan: artichokes and swordfish for dinner. Since the cuts of swordfish available were in steak form, we felt confident that we could cook them.

Well, the other students felt confident. I keep kosher, and so I was exempt from the swordfish venture. I assigned myself to artichoke duty.

About an hour later, we were all sitting happily at the table. Our neighbors probably heard the compliments that filtered out of our kitchen: the swordfish was a hit. It turns out that while learning to cook in Italy, it’s best to take Miss Frizzle’s advice: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

As long as we don’t end up inside a swordfish, I’d say we’re doing a pretty good job.
Edited by Janet Lawrence, Resident Director.

Monday, February 21, 2011

See ya Starbucks, Wine and Book is the place to be

Posted by Tess Raser, Student, CET Intensive Language and Culture Studies in Catania.

As a college student, I am used to grabbing my books and heading to Starbucks when I desire a social studying environment. I can cram for the next exam, write that final paper, or meet with friends and chat over our favorite java beverages.

In Catania, it’s a little different. Of course there are more cafes serving delectable espresso drinks than I can count. However, the place where I go with fellow CET students to study and reflect on our Sicilian days, is called Macondo Wine and Book Cafe.

The first time I saw the small shop’s name, just a block away from the Residence, I was intrigued. It stood out among the panificios (bread shops), pizzerias, and gelaterias. And it seemed that every time we passed by, the shop was closed. That is, until one Wednesday night when May, another CET student, and I walked past it and saw the lights on. Excited, we ran home and grabbed our compiti (homework) and returned with painted grins.

When we arrived the door was locked even though minutes before a man had been standing inside. The lights were all still on. All we could do was stare through the window and watch a computer’s screensaver, a fake flickering fire with candy corn in place of flames and pretzel sticks in place of logs. A couple minutes later, a hip-looking couple arrived on a Vespa and casually said, “He probably just went for a walk or something.” At that moment, May Bayer (middle, pictured with Julie Hooper and Angela Pisoni, CET 2011) and I remembered that we were still in Sicily. This was not unusual.

Eventually the man returned, and we were finally able to enter the mysterious shop. The walls are bright orange and covered in tall, wooden bookshelves, which hold hundreds of books—some old, some new, some tall, some short, some green, some written by Spanish authors, some by Japanese. The only book we could focus on was the wine menu on the table in front of us. There are wines from all over Europe and Sicily in particular. We got generous-sized glasses of wine and a plate of fresh bruschetta; the perfect accompaniment to Italian language homework. Of course, we couldn’t do homework forever and soon were distracted by the shopkeeper’s dog.

Since then, every time we’ve returned to Wine and Book, there has been a different dog there. On our first visit, we played with what I think was a very chubby pitbull, pictured above. That day, while we smiled, smitten, at the dog, an older man sitting across from us was also smiling at the dog. Perhaps because of our mutual love of dogs, he asked if we wanted to play with the checkerboard set on his table. Instead, we challenged him to a game. Embarrassingly, May and I lost. It was a two-versus-one game, but he was a particularly tricky opponent.

Still, the defeat has not stopped us from returning to Wine and Book, and we have gone back several times with our other housemates. We hope to get through the whole wine book. After all, the only thing more embarrassing than losing that checkers match, would be returning home from Italy and not being wine connoisseurs.

Edited by Janet Lawrence, Resident Director.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gyms in Italy: Working Out...Or Hanging Out?

Posted by Julie Hooper, Student, CET Intensive Language and Culture Studies in Catania.

The gym in Catania is different than gyms back home. Our first gym experience in Catania can most closely be compared to hanging out in a university cafeteria. As my Italian teacher puts it, the gym is mondano, a social place.

Italian women arrive in their street clothes. They change into what some would refer to as their casalinga attire (sweats and a nice shirt). They leave their hair down, long and swinging behind them in the air conditioner-generated breeze, like a Garnier Fructis commercial. It seems as though the women spend a total of twenty minutes walking on the tread mill, and as if not a drop of sweat rolls down their made-up faces. They take breaks to hug, kiss, and greet other gym-goers. A smile always lights their faces.

The weight room is a different story. Here, Catanian men are in their natural habitat. They parade like peacocks, muscles out, hair gelled into place, cologne on. At the gym, men are social creatures, always ready to jump in to help spot one another.

Angela, another CET student, and I observe all this from the
cardio section. Although we have taken to socializing on the treadmill, we remain identifiably American in our running shorts and workout tops. We have seen men swarm Sam. His curly blonde hair - blonde by Sicilian
standards, that is - sets him apart from his gelled colleagues.

Here, Sam is the queen bee. In a single day at the gym, he is invited by Francesco to the disco and swaps stories with Simone. No one can get enough of the American.

Post-workout, we head back to the dressing room where we do not shower, dry our hair, or do our makeup, as the Italians do. We opt instead to throw a jacket and pants over our sweaty workout attire.

Exiting the gym we pass the hip-hop and the baby dance classes. We call “Ciao” to our new friends at the front desk. “A domani!” Another day, another workout, another social hour.

Edited by Janet Lawrence, Resident Director.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Our Excellent Language Partners!

Written by Janet Lawrence, Resident Director.

Riccardo Fichera comes from Catania and he studies Political Science. He lives right in the historic center of Catania and is really proud of his city. He loves meeting new people and learning about new cultures, so he wanted to get involved as a CET Language Partner. He was a great teammate for Charades-he knew all of the Sicilian authors that no one else could get! Giuseppe Verga anyone?

Jole Fontana, (pictured here with Julie Hooper, right) a native of Catania, studies Political Science. She loves speaking Spanish, English, and Czech. Last year, she won a scholarship to study in Prague and loved getting to know Czech students. Now, she hopes to welcome the CET students to her hometown and show them what a wonderful place it is. She and the group – and the rest of the population of Catania – turned out to see the fabulous fireworks display in the main square to celebrate la Festa di Sant’Agata!

Gianluca Scerri hails from Catania and studies International Relations. He has loved Americans ever since he studied at Rider College in New Jersey. Gianluca enjoys political films – and he sure sees a lot of them, because when he’s not studying, he works in a movie theatre just outside of Catania. Gianluca likes to wax poetic – in Italian and in English - and he’s a thinker. When asked to describe himself, he said “But how can one ever describe himself. You’ll have to give me a couple of days.” Enough said! We love you, Gianluca!

Chiara Pane studies Global Politics and Euro-Mediterranean Relations too! She loves going to the beach and playing water sports – she is pretty fierce in water polo and an accomplished scuba diver. She is fascinated by North Africa and loves to travel. Her favorite musicians are Ligabue and the famous singer-songwriter from Chiara’s own hometown, Carmen Consoli.

Ornella Urso studies at the University of Catania and is an alum of the Scuola Superiore di Catania. She is interested in global politics. She’s fascinated by the Middle East and hopes to travel there soon. Her favorite film is the Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.

Pamela Valastro is a part of the Global Politics and Euro-Mediterranean Relations faculty at the University of Catania. She loves to sing and travel. Most recently she went to Tunisia, where she loved tasting the exotic foods in the markets.

Our Excellent Italian Roommates!

Posted by Janet Lawrence, Resident Director for CET Intensive Language and Culture Studies in Catania

Claudio De Leo:

(Claudio left, Sam right)

Claudio is 23 and comes from Messina. For his first few years of university, Claudio studied Economics at the University of Messina. He then moved to England for six months and worked in a bed and breakfast to improve his English. When he returned to Italy, he registered at the University of Catania where he studied Foreign Languages. This semester he is taking one course and working at Vodafone. He can’t wait to return to being a full-time student next semester. In his first week as an Italian Roommate, he spent a great deal of time with the American students. They played music and ate dinners together. He brought them on a trip to a shopping mall to find Sam the perfect Italian scarf. Now Sam and Claudio plan to travel Europe together over spring break.

Ivana Pulvirenti:

(Tess left, Ivana right)

Ivana is 23, comes from Catania and is interested in languages, history, and sociology. Last year, she spent a semester studying in Spain where she learned to love cultural exchange. So far, Ivana has been showing her new roommates around Catania. She has introduced them to the active night life, the delicious, homemade culinary inventions of her mother, and made up silly nicknames for everyone in the Residence – basically showing the Americans what la vita siciliana is all about.

Festa di Sant'Agata

What a way to start the semester! Last weekend was the Festa di Sant’Agata, Catania’s patron saint. Sant’Agata, or Saint Agatha, was martyred here in 251 AD. In her honor, nearly one million tourists and Catanesi filled the streets for her annual Festa. Our students, Italian Roommates and Language Partners were there to see it, in all its crowded, messy, chaotic glory!

And what a spectacle it was. Thousands of local devotees wore white robes and black caps and helped to cart the Saint’s relics and effigy through the streets on a gilded caravan. Together residents pulled on a thick white rope to lead the Saint throughout Catania for 48 hours.

Other Agata devotees trailed the caravan with burning candles perched on their shoulders. The candles were the size of tree trunks. Their wax drippings left such a sticky residue that sanitation workers were out the next day with blow torches to remove it. Until the wax comes off completely, the sound of tires squeaking against the waxy streets fills the night air.

And the purples, golds, and dazzling silver fireworks on Friday night in the Piazza del Duomo were, as they say down here, folcloristico, which can mean colorful, eccentric, and traditional, all at the same time.

CET Sicily: Welcome Spring 2011 Students!

Sam, Ariel, Julie, Claudio, Angela, Ivana, Tess, May, Janet (left to right)

Greetings from Catania! Only one week has passed and the group has already begun to enjoy la bedda vita siciliana - local dialect for living the good life, Sicilian-style!

For our Welcome Dinner we chowed down on some Pizza alla Norma -- yummy thin-crust pizza topped with tomato and eggplant, a Sicilian delicacy. Then during Orientation, the students traversed the city for a Caccia al Tesoro (treasure hunt). They interviewed residents, i Catanesi, to learn about local sites like the Roman Amphitheater, famous citizens like composer Vincenzo Bellini, and what exactly is an aperitivo (a pre-dinner snack or drink). Photos to come!

To top off the first weekend in Sicily, the group took in the long-faced portraits of Modigliani at an exhibit in the Castello Ursino (built in the 13th century!). Claudio and Ivana, the group's Italian roommates, came along. The show's organizers were excited that American students visited and snapped the above photo as a memento!

More to come!