First day in Italy

by allegrainitalia

Hi everyone! Sorry–no photos for now!

It’s great to be able to post this. As I expected, my host family doesn’t have internet, so I had to wait until I go to a place with free wi-fi to post. I wrote this at home on the notes app on my iPad and I am now posting it at my school.

It’s been a crazy few days! My flight schedule, to begin with, was insane. I had to take three planes: from Dallas to Houston, from Houston to Paris, and then from Paris to Rome. Unfortunately, I got sick on the flight from Houston to Paris. By that time (I was traveling in a group of the people in my study abroad program) we were all exhausted, but restless with the idea of meeting our host families.

On the plane from Houston to Paris, my friend Marina and I discovered that since it was a French airplane, we could order alcohol even though we aren’t 21. We both ordered celebratory champagne, wine (horrible) and would have ordered cognac if I hadn’t fallen asleep! Additionally, I guess I haven’t flown in a long time because I realized that now, the planes have touch screens on every seat that shows the view from the front of the plane and a bunch of movies. I watched Lady and the Tramp in Italian while drinking champagne. It was magical. They had classics like You’ve Got Mail and more contemporary movies like The Hangover (which they retitled “A Very Bad Trip” for easier comprehension for those who wouldn’t know what a hangover is). The flight, which was about 9 hours, could have been a lot worse, but I was very impressed with Air France’s various comforts.

Finally, we arrived in Rome. I know this will seem ridiculous to you, but upon my arrival in Rome, I was struck by how much Italian there was. I couldn’t believe that everyone spoke Italian! Of course I expected it, but back where I’m from, the only time I get to practice my Italian is in school, so whenever I see an average person speaking it, I get incredibly excited. But in Rome, everyone at the airport spoke rapid fire Italian with beautiful accents. Rome, even the airport, was instantly a beautiful place because of this. My friend and I declared that the information desk guy, who in retrospect was probably ordinary-looking, was a Roman god because of his beautiful accent.

After a bit of baggage confusion on other students’ parts (one poor student had her baggage lost and as of now she still hasn’t found it), we met up with my Italian professor and boarded a bus to meet our host families. On the way, my Italian professor pointed out various distinctly Roman things. According to her, Rome is the greenest city in Italy, with many trees and shrubs and green grass. They are famous for flat-topped trees that look like green umbrellas. There was a lot of graffiti, I noticed, some in English as well. Where I’m from, there isn’t too much graffiti, but that is probably because I grew up in Texas suburbia.

Finally, we arrived at the meeting spot to meet our host families. The poor families were waiting for an hour at this point, which was especially bad because the weather was cold and it looked like it was going to rain soon. I was shocked by the weather–all of the students planned for scalding weather. the warmest thing I packed was a cardigan and skinny jeans and at the insistence of my mother, some leggings. Man, am I glad that she insisted. Mothers know best.

All the students got off the bus with all of our luggage and made our way to the mob of host families. None of us knew what our families looked like, so we waited for them to recognize and approach us.

Immediately, an older woman dressed in a leather jacket, a black scarf, a studded bag and tall wedges approached me. “Tell me your name, carina” she said in accented English, her face glowing with anticipation.

“Juhie,” I said, “but you can call me Allegra.” Immediately, she crushed me in a giant hug and began to kiss me all over. “Aaaah, che bella!” she announced over and over. “How beautiful!”

She smiled at me happily and hugged me over and over. “Sei la piu bella studentessa qui!” she said. “You are the prettiest student here!”

She complimented my outfit and we chatted. Although I was exhausted at that point, I tried my best to tell her how excited I was. It wasn’t long before she began to introduce me to other families there. “Lei e’ Allegra,” she introduced me. “E’ perfetto perche’ lei e’ vero allegra, si? Ridi sempre!”

She joked about how my nickname, Allegra, was perfect for me. I hear this a lot and it makes me happy to see that almost a year ago, I chose a good Italian name. To be honest, most people in the Italian department don’t know my real name and are confused when they figure out it isn’t really “Allegra”.

After a while of chatting with other host families and announcing how lucky she is to have a beautiful daughter like me, we walked to the bus stop with another student and her host mother. My host mother began chatting with her and they exchanged phone numbers. We will meet them today, in less than an hour, to travel to meet with my professor and the other students for a tour of Rome. When I asked my host mother, who said I’m her 17th host daughter, why she does these programs, she said it’s her only income. She said she does it for money and, of course, “l’amore.” She made several gestures toward her heart to show how she loves all the students as if they were her own children.

At one point on the bus, a woman dressed in a long floral skirt, followed by several children, went to sit in the back.

“Statie attenti,” my host mother whispered for us to be alert,” loro sono gypsies.” She eyed them suspiciously.

We got off the bus, struggling with our luggage, and began to trek to her apartment. On the way, she stopped several times when she wanted to ask her a question or tell me something, sometimes in the middle of the street. At one point, she stopped with a sad look on her face, to tell me that she lives with her husband, who unfortunately has Alzheimers. She asked me to please be patient with him, and repeated several times “povvero.” Since the information I received prior to my arrival had no mention of a husband, I was surprised, but happy that I’d be living with two Italians. Two for the price of one!

Finally, we arrived at her apartment building, which looked just like the street view google maps provided me when I first received her address in Texas. When I first saw it, I couldn’t tell if it was a house or an apartment because it was blocked by a gate. It reminded me of a bungalow in India, and when I showed my dad, he agreed.

She used her large, old-fashioned key to open up the building and I realized that we would have to trek up the stairs with my luggage. The stairs, made of marble, are slippery and slope circularly. On the insides of the stairs, they become smaller because they slope, so they are particularly dangerous. She and I struggled, alternating who had to carry the large suitcase, going up one flight after the other. Finally, I asked which floor she was on. She told me sadly that she was on the top floor. There is no elevator.

Eventually, we made it and she opened the gate, and then the door. She went in first, introducing me to her husband, and then showed me around. She showed me my tiny, intimate and simple room, where I’m typing this now, which has a beautiful little sunroom attached. The sunroom has a lot of sewing equipment and a comfy rocking chair. It opens to a balcony that overlooks the city. She tells me both rooms are my own, and I will have complete privacy here. I love it.

Her apartment, I realized, is the penthouse of the building. Each floor has about 3-4 apartments, but ours is the whole floor. Although it is technically an apartment, it is like a small house to me. The apartment has a tiny kitchen, my room, her room, her husband’s room/study, a living room, a dining room, a bathroom, and two more balconies. Every room has a window. Interestingly, the kitchen has the tiny laundry machine and the bathroom’s shower is more like a giant tub with a showerhead attached. More on that later.

Midway through packing my bags, she knocked on my door to tell me that dinner was ready. Although at this point, it was 4/5 p.m., I was ravished and she made me a beautiful meal of pasta with fresh marinara sauce, bread, and strawberries marinated in lemon juice and sugar. It was delicious, and she was happy to see me taking many photos.

Afterward, I packed some more and then I asked her how to call my parents to tell them I arrived safely. We were told before the program that we were not allowed to use the home phones of our host families because it was incredibly expensive, and we were to buy calling cards. My host mother declared that we were to go to a tobaccaio to buy it, and she would accompany me because she needed parmigiano.

We trekked over to the tobaccaio, got the phone card, and then went to the maccheria, the butcher, next door. She ordered a bag of parmesan ground “fine fine.” On the way back, we met a man with a beautiful Great Dane. My host mother and I stopped to chat about his beautiful dog, and we discovered that he was an Aussie! People are so friendly in Rome.

I came home and called up my parents immediately. To do so, I used my sunroom. Midway during the call, the door that lead into my bedroom closed, probably because of the wind. When I finished my phonecall, I realized I was locked out with no way to get back in. It took about 10 minutes of knocking on my door and shouting “aiuto!” for my host mom to find me and help me out. After she rescued me, she showered me with hugs again. The woman is affectionate, I tell you.

Then, I took a shower. This was a very interesting experience, and I’ll do my best to explain why. Although the apartment is quite spacious, there is one bathroom with a toilet, a bidet (which I avoid for lack of knowledge), a sink, and a bathtub, which has a shower head. Now, the bathtub is normal-sized, but it doesn’t have a shower curtain and the showerhead rarely hangs on the wall (it can, but I’ve always seen it hanging on the side of the tub). So I took a shower with it hanging on the wall and by the end of my shower, the whole bathroom floor was wet. this is because the shower head doesn’t hang parallel to the tub, like in the US. It hangs perpendicular to the tub, so the water ends up spraying outside even if I try to block it. I’m going to have to work on that because even though she said it’s ok, and there’s nothing to be worried about, I felt terrible for making her mop up the floor, which she wouldn’t let me do myself.

Before I went to bed, she asked me if I wanted anything before I went to bed. I said no thank you repeatedly, but she insisted on giving me a nightcap. She made decaf coffee with biscotti and toast and nutella. It was a wonderful end to the day and I slept beautifully.