Archive | February, 2011

Carnevale is a story best told with photos

28 Feb


Birthday post

26 Feb

Dinner at Pane e Panelle

I haven’t got much time to write, as we’re catching a train to Venice to experience Carnevale in just about an hour, but I wanted to assure everyone that I had a wonderful day yesterday. Colin took me out for a fun seafood dinner, and then a few friends met us back at the apartment for way too much cake and just enough proscecco. Colin found time to decorate the apartment with streamers and balloons and cute signs and to make me a delicious chocolate zucchini cake. I’ll post a picture or two tomorrow while I’m recovering for the madness of Venice.

Inferno cake

Where are my candy hearts?

16 Feb

Last night while I was trying to fall asleep with visions of Willy Wonka’s Candy Room in my head (thanks, Jon), it occurred to me that this Valentine’s Day was completely devoid of all the silly candy that is normally associated with the holiday.

That’s a good thing. I prefer to spend my sugar and fat credit on just about anything else. Most Valentine chocolate is pretty cheap, and I don’t care for the chalky candy hearts. Have they updated those since I last got them, by the way? I definitely had a “Fax me” in the last box I opened, which suggest that those specific hearts were at least ten years old and that this candy may be the only thing for the cockroaches to live on after a nuclear holocaust.

Now the creative team somehow has to find a way to fit “Friend me on Facebook” on the hearts. Double-sided printing?

I discussed with my Italian conversation partner the Valentine’s Day traditions in American classrooms, and she definitely thought there was some meaning lost in translation. Besides a few extra vendors carrying bushels of roses instead of trays of obnoxious keychains, there was nothing noticeably Valentine-y about Monday. Apparently Italy, a land filled with arguably the most lust-filled men in the world, gets enough loving the other 364 days out of the year.

Digging out the old notebook and pen

15 Feb

While we were at the ball, one of Colin’s friends told me out of nowhere and to my great delight about a women’s studies class she’s taking this semester. It turns out that it fits into my work schedule, so I’m sitting in on it too!

I had so much fun taking the art history class last semester, but there was no denying that it was a fluff class offered to these over-worked students to add to their overall experience of living in Italy. This class, Multiculturalism and the Human Rights of Women, is definitely a real class.

Unfortunately the professor is going to be in New York for the next three weeks, and classes are obviously on hold until she returns, which will be right around the time Noel comes to visit. I think the plan when class resumes is to be discussing the Veil, which I’m really interested in hearing, so maybe Noel will agree to come to class with me that week before we head off on our adventures in the rest of Italy.

I’m really pleased to be able to take a class, especially a discussion class like this, with a bunch of the (mostly female) SAISers that I’ve gotten to know so far this year. I think it’ll really help fight against the feeling I sometimes have of feeling disconnected in this not-yet-real life I’m living here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

Chocolate Zucchini Cake adapted from Tracy’s Culinary Adventures

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Kahlua (or vanilla)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (4 ounces) sour cream or yogurt
2 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounce) Dutch-process cocoa
2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)

2 cups shredded zucchini (about one 10″ zucchini, about 12 ounces)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lighlty grease a bundt pan.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, oil, sugar, Kahlua, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat in the eggs.

Stir in the sour cream or yogurt alternately with the flour. Then add the cocoa and espresso powder, mixing until smooth. Finally, fold in the zucchini.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

Tempting Spring

13 Feb

We had absolutely beautiful weather last week in Bologna. Every day had blue skies, and as the weekend drew nearer, temperatures kept creeping up until Friday when we were in the mid-fifties.

As early in the week as Monday, I took Ludo to the park to play, and though I was so happy to be out of the house, it was perhaps a bit premature. There was still a bit of snow on the ground and a whole lot of mud. Darling angel that she is, Ludo would wrap her little legs around me when I would pick her up, smearing mud from her sneakers all over my jeans. Beginner’s mistake on my part.

On Saturday a couple of SAISers, bored with the lack of work in the first week back in class and inspired by the sun, got together and hosted a barbeque. They bought something like five kilos of ground beef and spent the morning making burger patties. Even tucked back into their private courtyard, we were on the receiving end of several curious stares from the Italian neighbors. My Italian instructors told us the Monday following Easter is typically spent going out with friends for picnics, so maybe that’s the unofficial start of the eating-outdoors season, but we’re not trying to fit in anyway.

It’s back to gray skies today, and we’ve got rain forecast for later this week, but the taste of spring and the fun that will be had was enough to get me by until the weather warms up for good.

Alles Walzer!

8 Feb

Colin Cam

It’s been two days and I’m still recovering from the ball this weekend. It was fantastic, but if I had a do-over, I would have tried to find some other way of arriving in Vienna. The overnight bus that we took with most of Colin’s classmates wasn’t so great for resting up before the big night—who would have suspected that?

Miraculously, the hotel let us check in at 8 a.m., three hours before we were scheduled to arrive and five hours before normal check-in time. Almost everyone headed off to their rooms to nap, but a few brave souls headed out into the map-stealing blustery day to do some sight-seeing. We napped.

At lunch time the Austrians led us to a brewery, and before long, the smell of deep-fried schnitzel was thick in the air. I probably could have snagged another hour of sleep after lunch like Colin did, but I (for once!) opted to give myself plenty of time to avoid any last-minute rushing around.

Rathaus, Vienna's town hall building, where the reception was held. Colin Cam

Finally, at 5:15, the masses gathered in the hotel lobby, dressed to the nines and bunching for photos. We went first to Vienna’s town hall, and in the basement were treated to a lovely reception by Vienna’s minister of cultural affairs, a SAIS alumnus.

The opening ceremony.

Some hours later we crossed a large park and entered the Hofburg Palace, where the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency Ball was being held. Besides the main room where the waltzing was to be done, there was a Latin music room, a disco room, a regae room, a swing dance room, and a Celtic folk room, all with live bands. SAIS had two apartments with tables and a small bar all to ourselves, which turned out to be a lovely place to retreat to and put up the feet without worrying.

The debutantes and their dates.

At midnight I pulled Colin to the main dance floor for the quadrille, which, because we’d only learned one part of six, was sort of a disaster but a whole lot of fun. The people around us didn’t know it either, so we tried to follow the dance-trained debutantes who had opened the ball. Apparently we were caught on the closed-circuit camera for a second and they noticed in the SAIS room. I’d say it was one of the highlights of the night.

Lined up for the quadrille. Colin Cam

By about 3:30 the main floor was relatively clear, and with about fifteen other SAISers we got our waltz on. Every step came with stabbing pain in my feet, but we stayed until 4:30 when a single violinist played a sad sort of melody to signal everyone to go home.

Watching the main dance floor from the orchestra steps. Colin Cam

I managed to do an hour and a half of sight-seeing the next day in between breakfast and before piling back onto the bus, so I really don’t have much to say about Vienna. One of the Austrians last night said he’s thinking of organizing another (ball-less) trip, so I might need to jump on that opportunity.

Walking on water

5 Feb

About as close as I got to a gondola. (They're really expensive.)

Venice struck me as exactly how it looks in the movies, but now that I think about it, I haven’t seen too many movies set in Venice. It’s not how it’s represented in Vegas, that’s for sure, so the picture in my mind must just be from twenty-three years of picking up subtle cultural clues.

My point is, Venice looked precisely how I imagined it would. It was perfect.

Being surrounded by so much water made me bubble over with joy. Colin laughed at me bouncing on my toes and giggling at the boats.

We had blue skies and pleasant temperatures, and since almost no one travels in January, there weren’t even too many tourists to compete with. We didn’t go into any of the museums or churches since I’m planning on visiting again in a couple months with a friend, and I really just wanted to be outside and stroll.

My poor digital camera cannot properly capture the beautiful colors of the marble of St. Mark's Basilica behind me.

Stroll we did, to areas that Venice’s tourists never find. That’s what happens when you have a crowd-averse travel buddy. We found the public gardens and lunched in a trattoria packed wall to wall with construction workers. What was on the menu? Bolognese sauce, of course!

It really is sinking.

We caught the 7 p.m. train back to Bologna with tired feet and one new souvenir to bring home.

O little town of Brez

4 Feb

Winter-tortured vines and the mountains we skied in.

In the town of Brez, in the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy, there is one bakery, one butcher, one bar, one restaurant, one general store, at least three churches, and one little loft apartment that was ours for the weekend.

Our patio with a view of sprawling Brez.

After coming perilously close to staying in on the night of our arrival, drawn magnetically to the couches by a sizeable movie collection and a big bowl of popcorn, we motivated ourselves out the door to try town’s restaurant, an unexpectedly swank place in which we were nearly underdressed. Colin and I made sure to keep our hiking boots tucked out of sight beneath the tablecloth.

I need to give making my own pasta another try because it is seriously good. It’s hard to believe pasta can be so soft, practically melting on your tongue.

Sunday morning we took off under a beautiful blue sky for some not-so-nearby slopes. The boys agreed we should go to Madonna di Campiglio, the most popular ski park in the area. We rented gear there and split up so Aaron and Leah could do the more advanced runs while Colin hung back with me on the beginner slopes.

Colin Cam

I had only two or three really memorable falls and otherwise had a good time. For the second half of the day, all four of us stuck together, as I was feeling a bit more comfortable going down steeper runs. We got a light dusting of snow up there, and for the first time ever, I saw snowflakes that look like the snowflakes you cut out of paper—perfectly symmetrical six-pointed stars. Around 4:30 the lifts stopped, and we trudged back to the car for the hour-long drive back to Brez, where a lasagna was waiting for us.

We decided against a second day of skiing and snowboarding on Monday because it was just so darn expensive, and instead we drove into nearby Bolzano to explore the heavily German-influenced Italian town and get some strudel. How heavily German-influenced? Signs were in German, then Italian, and the strudel-seller sent us off with a “Danke!”