Tag Archives: SAIS

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.

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.

Vacation!

28 Jan

After a long, tough semester and an intense few weeks of finals, Colin finally is at the end of his first semester at SAIS. The joy in the air is palpable, as more and more of his classmates wrap up final papers and group projects and head off to Prague, London, Spain, Budapest, Egypt (uh-oh!), and elsewhere.

As for us, we’re heading to northern Italy, the Dolomite Mountains, for some fun in the snow. Another couple, my friend Leah and her fiance, Aaron, who is a SAISer, are sharing a cabin with us. We’re taking games and hot chocolate and a frozen lasagna that I put together this afternoon. I’m super excited.

I found the cabin on AirBnB, which aggregates all the people who want to be amateur BnB hosts. It’s a better deal than an actual BnB, and the experience can be just as enjoyable. So far the host has been really great over email!

We get back late Monday night, and the rest of the week holds a (day)trip to Venice and possibly a (day)trip to Florence. Also a lot of sleeping in and watching movies.

Fledermaus

24 Jan

You know how in old period movies set in the 18th century there’s usually a ball scene that has at least one big number with all of the dancers in rows and doing set moves? Well, I figured that if that ever really happened, it was something that had long ago drifted out of fashion and never would have guessed that it was something that still happens today.

I would have been wrong. It will happen at the Austrian ball, and our Austrians have dutifully prepared us for it. At the stroke of midnight at our ball, any number of SAISers may be participating in the Fledermaus quadrille.

How ridiculously exciting is that? We started learning it of Friday and, I have to say, we looked pretty good. More practice is needed, certainly, and we’ll need to learn more than the first minute, which is all we know now, but I’M SO PUMPED!

1-2-3, 1-2-3

17 Jan

Stacked desk chairs lined the walls of the auditorium to clear enough space for the hundred or so students who’d shown up to learn the waltz last night. With the girls against one wall and the boys against the other, a few of the Austrian students stood in the middle and demonstrated.

We started as simply as you can, with the basic step of the simple waltz, but within half an hour we were in pairs and learning the under-arm turn. By the end of the hour, they’d demonstrated the spinning Viennese waltz, but people were struggling a bit with that.

I was partnered with an Austrian guy for one of the numbers and, when I asked, he said he’d been doing the waltz since he was a young child; going to a ball is something they would do pretty much every year. I wonder if that is perhaps a treat limited to wealthier or more influential Austrians.

Colin and I were rusty, but had an easier time than most with the Viennese having learned the steps before in a ballroom dance class at Santa Barbara. We’ve got a wonderfully long hallway that we can practice in whenever Colin needs a study break, so hopefully we’ll be more polished in time for the ball.

Unrelated, here’s my evening sky tonight:

An actual final look at Cioccoshow

29 Nov

You thought the photos were the end, but I’m here to say they were not. Colin asked me to write up a Cioccoshow review for the SAIS blog, and I will redirect you to that now.

Rise and fall

20 Nov

I’ve started taking an art history class offered at SAIS with Melody and Jane. I joined late, and the professor was just jumping into the Renaissance, explaining it as a reaction to the Gothic style that had spread to Italy from Spain and France.

I don’t remember how it came up, but in the lecture last week, the professor briefly lamented how English has come to replace French as the lingua franca. I imagine she learned French as a young girl and then also was made to study English.

I don’t think possible leftover resentment at having to study a third language sums up her resignation. She’s an art historian whose list of publications suggests a focus on Italy and France from the 1600s through the 1800s, and during the lecture which the comment was made, we were learning about Masaccio’s paintings from the 1420s. America just doesn’t have that old of stuff! In my head, I see her imagining America as this unsophisticated party crasher taking over the music selection and eating up all the food.

Obviously I know English comes from England and not America. A quick tour of Wikipedia explained that the British Empire of course laid the foundation for English as a global language, but noted that it wasn’t until 1919, at President Wilson’s special request regarding the Treaty of Versailles, that a diplomatic document was written up in English in addition to French.

An English person might disagree, but International English strikes me as America’s doing. However, all of the business and culture that flows from America to the rest of the world doesn’t change that even in America, English isn’t the official language. I’m not in favor of making that so, by the way—check out this language from our House of Representatives back in 2001:

The Government of the United States shall preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the United States of America. Unless specifically stated in applicable law, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English. If exceptions are made, that does not create a legal entitlement to additional services in that language or any language other than English.

It didn’t get very far on the path to becoming a law, and that’s the most recent federal action I could find in under a minute on Google.

Meanwhile, Colin’s classes confirm that the United States has seen her best days. We’re over the hill and not handling it with a whole lot of class, what with our economic stumble threatening to the stability of the entire global market and Hollywood distributing pop-culture greats like “Saw 3D” and “Grown Ups.” All great empires have to fall at some point. I wonder if the Romans, the British, and the Chinese circa 1850 felt as though the whole world was collapsing with them, too.

Italy as a state is presented to the world as something as a joke, helped greatly by playboy Prime Minister Berlusconi, the politician with nine lives and at least as many scandals going on at any given time. That Italy is a cultural mecca, however, cannot be contested. My professor said that Italy takes its art more seriously than its politics. The father I babysit for complained that Italy doesn’t have tourism infrastructure worthy of the country’s treasures. Luca Montezemolo, aka Mr. Ferrari, who gave the SAIS start-of-term address and is a potential candidate for prime minister in the near future, spoke about Italy falling out of the top three in worldwide rankings as a tourist destination and his determination to reverse that. The United Nations World Tourism Organization ranks Italy fifth for the last three years.

Decline is not a fatal condition for a state. China is proving that a country can remake itself from the ashes of a former world power and potentially grow to be stronger than before. It only took China 150 years and a cultural revolution to do so.

Hey, check this out

9 Nov

A handful of Colin’s classmates have created a blog for students to submit thoughts and reviews and announcements on, and he and I help out a little bit with the editing and organizing. Anyway, they post new stories every Monday, and this week Colin has a piece in there about the fear culture in America. You can read it by clicking here. To read in the future, click the link on the side of my blog that says SAIS blog.

Making friends

3 Sep

Remember the first week in the dorms? That feeling stretched over the first couple weeks of being here in Bologna and meeting some of Colin’s classmates. What’s your name? Where are you from? What are you studying?

I feel compelled to tell people I wasn’t a student at SAIS (School of Advanced International Studies—the name of Johns-Hopkins international studies master’s degree program) before they had a chance to ask about my focus.

Most people were really cool about it, especially those we met early on. Maybe early-arrivers are a self-selected bunch of people who are a little anxious and a little eager—be it about housing or making friends. More than one person expressed jealousy that I’ll be here with more time to do all of the fun stuff and none of the homework.

Compared to our (self-imposed) reclusive lifestyle in Taipei and three months of very little contact with friends, the first weeks here were a whirlwind of social activities: pizza dinners, beers in Piazza Verdi, apertivo, and straight-up college house parties with angry neighbors threatening to call the police next time.

We still drink out of plastic cups, but they’re filled with wine. There’s music playing, but since the speakers had to fit into a suitcase, no one can hear it. And I found myself discussing the pros and cons of a device like a kindle, which I believe is doing damaging things to the book-swapping community.