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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Friday, September 26, 2008

A little jaunt to Cinque Terre.. (again)

So I suppose I should be showing you photos of me pouring over the books, squirrled away in the library at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Bologna, Italy.

It's more fun to show what one does on the weekends ... hop, skip, and a jump over to Cinque Terre. I must say, one must feel truly blessed to visit Cinque Terre, Italy two times within a year's time, on separate trips.

The windswept chics beside me are (left to right) Heather Kauffman, Yumna Madi (my housemate!), and Lauren Consky. We became friends as a study group in DC, during four weeks' Microeconomics intensive pre-term. (Along with our dear friend, Roberto Pena, who also came to Italy).

For some (odd, but delightful) reason, Johns Hopkins decided to offer this graduate program as two separate years: the first overseas, the second in DC. Why not? So here I am. Classes begin in serio, this coming week. In the mean time, we are taking 5 hours/day of italian. (The courses are in English, not Italian.)

(The fall grape harvest has begun, they make their own brand of Cinque Terre wine which is delicious)

Yumna; eating our focaccia + pesto + cappuccino + strawberries for breakfast.

We left on a Friday evening, took a train for a few hours, dropped at La Spezia, where we were supposed to take a connecting train to one of the little Cinque Terre villages (actually a campground nearby). None of the trains appeared to be moving, however. There was a strike. It seems to be a hobby of most train personnel, as I experienced the same exact problems in Florence, heading to Cinque Terre last year.

(l to r: Lauren, Yumna, Jonathan, Joe, Heather)

So, we grabbed a hotel across from the train station. There just happened to be a festival in La Spezia that weekend, with performers throwing flames and swords into the air. The next morning, the only possible way to get to the five (cinque) little villages was to take a ferry. Oooh.. how miserable is this life of mine!

Mother Nature overlooking the sea...

In the first consecutive five minutes it rained, I bought an umbrella from a guy on the street. I opened it, the wind and rain puffed on it, and up it went, all the little plastic pieces breaking. The wisest 10Euros I've invested to date. Jonathan valiantly stood in the rain trying to fix it, but when we couldn't.. and the discovered all the little shops didnt' have trash cans "for umbrellas" I (er hum) left it the street.
The seas were rough, so we couldn't make it all the way to the villages, and had to stop in Porto Venere... it was cold, with blustering busts of rain to chill us. No matter, we warmed up in a castle hovering over the village.

The two little churches capping the hilltops were full of nuns, brides, bishops and sailors ... a slightly bizzare conglomeration.

Nuns strolling down the street is a common sight in Italy ...

A bride emerging to the sounds of church bells tolling, white doves alighting in the air, and clusters of tourists and guests huddled alll about.

Heather discovered a little snail on the trains between the villages ...

The girlies splashing around in the surf ..

Photos courtesy of Lauren Consky, Jonathan Vogan, and Heather Kauffman

Nine months interlude...

I am now a student at Johns Hopkins University, in Bologna, Italy. Nine months lie between my new life here and that ferry ride across the Straits of Gibraltar.

Those months were spent working at Play Mart, the family playground business ... including working with a great team certifying our playground equipment to meet international playground safety codes, analyzing the recycled content of our plastic lumber, making a short-film of how are playgrounds are made from milk jugs and giving tours, to name a few fun items. I also got to spend quality time that I dearly missed while in Morocco with my parents, siblings and little niece and nephew.

The whole crew: L-to-R, top row first: Nathan, Laura (his wife), me, Dawn (bottom row:) Priscilla, Gracia, Mom, Dad, Samuel, and Tabitha

This is Gracia, running away from her "aunties"

And little "mambo" aka Samuel

I also soaked up every minute I could spend at my parents' luxurious abode... we gardened and landscaped and potted flowers and cooked and watched movies and took strolls through the neighborhood or down to the lake. This was basically my life outside of work. A lovely interlude between "roughing it" in Morocco (if you can call my Peace Corps service that..) and an intense graduate school program.

My sister, Dawn, also happened to be transitioning from Virginia Beach at the same time I was there. We were able to reconnect as adults, having both lived in different places ever since she left for college in Texas.

Mom, Dad, Priss and I went to San Francisco one weekend in May on a whim. Priss wanted to move there, but it somehow didn't "click". Instead, she visited me last month in Washington DC (during pre-term, before I flew to Italy), fell in love with the place, and has already moved in with my friends!

Mom, Dad, Priss and I went to San Francisco one weekend in May on a whim.
Priss wanted to move there, but it somehow didn't "click".

Instead, she visited me last month in Washington DC (during pre-term, before I flew to Italy), fell in love with the place, and has already moved in with my friends until she gets established. Hopefully we'll live together next year when I return.

Like clockwork, one of my Cedarville friends gets married: every six months to a year. Always a perfect excuse to reunite. The problem: the group of ladies standing behind the bride, waiting to catch the bouquet of flowers has dwindled ... to me. The boys have almost caught up to the girls, so I'll have to decide if I'm going to keep us on schedule or remain the single friend who hops around the world, giving them a life to live vicariously.

Photos courtesy of Dennis Beach, Tabitha Beach, Dave Black