Thursday, July 31, 2014

More adventures in Italy!

My visit to Italy is almost over… and it's finally feeling like a vacation!  For the last few days, my mom, grandfather and I have been staying at the Amalfi Coast, which is near Napoli.  The Amalfi Coast, and the general region, was known as "Felix Campania", which means "happy land" and was some sot of vacation paradise for them.  It definitely lives up to it's name nowadays.  When we left Narni, we drove for over four hours… the mountainous Umbrian terrain soon gave way to low valleys and extemely blue skies, and then to brilliant turquoise water and steep cliffs splotched with citrus trees and clinging herbs and wildflowers.  The water mirrored the shadows cast by the cottony clouds, turning it into a leopard patterned blue mirror.  On by winding highway, fruit stands appeared as ubiquituously as those in Manhattan.  

When we first arrived, we sat at a cafe and ordered some drinks to get the internet password.  I had a glass of orange juice, half a glass of limoncello, and some amazing olives.  I didn't think I would ever like olives, but these were amazing- meaty, buttery, salty, with a mellow olive oil tang.  I liked the limoncello much better than that I had in Firenze.  

During the last dinner there, we had paid SEVENTY DOLLARS apiece several weeks back to reserve dinner at a very fancy Italian restaurant.  I wore my black velvet cropped top, pink neovictorian skirt, and gothic makeup.  The food really was amazing, and I think I'm starting to pick out different styles of the different regions.  Campania's is very SUNNY- light herbs, zingy with lemon, with delicate olive oil.  Umbria's seems "forestier", and the olive oil is heavier and richer.  Toscana's has a lot of meat, but that was no problem for me because the pasta is out of this world as well.  It was excellent seeing my grandpa there again, and hearing his sassy remarks about the bel canto institute, and how he would have run the dinner.  It was a freaking six-course dinner, and it's no wonder I can barely fit into my shorts!  When I get back home, I must exercise!  Anyway, at the end, Jane gave all the adults a glass of limoncello.  In case you don't know what that is, it's a hard liquor made with sugar and lemons, and it's usually from the aforementioned region, Campania.  My grandpa took one taste, made a face,and handed me the glass.  I sipped it.  "Not bad" I thought, but then the fiery liquor hit me!  It burned as it went down, but… I liked it!  It tastes like lemondrops made of dragons and fireworks.  I downed the rest and then noticed that my firends sitting at a neighboring table were laughing at the face I made.  I don't think I was tipsy, but I was rather giggly that night.  Maybe.

I had a really great last day in Firenze- me and my friend Emily made plans to go to the Uffizi gallery.  If you guys (if anyone reads this blog!) EVER go to Flirenze, you MUST go!  People say that you need to get reservations months in advance, otherwise you have to wait three hours in line, but I found that untrue.  Emily and I got into line at 8 AM, before it opened, and were one of the first people in there!  Also, since I was under eighteen, I got in free.  So, that's my little travel tip to you.  
The museum itself was AMAZING- it was all renaissance art and ancient greek/roman statues that the Medici family collected centuries ago.  There were some TRULY amazing pieces, including the famous painting with Venus coming out of the ocean on a shell.  They put the renassance Italian section at the Met to shame!  Then the ceilings were half the splendor.  They were meticulously painted with figures of greek myths, floral scenes, pastoral scenes, portaits and animals, and inticately bordered with gold leaf.  I was really very glad I went.  

I was quite sad when I said goodbye to my voice teacher, my new friends, my roomies, and of course, my host mama, Maria.  Even though it was extremely difficult to be in the Bel Canto institute, I would miss the friends I made, and really, the voice lessons made my voice amazing!  It's so much easier to sing broadway style, too!  
It was soooo good seeing Valentina and Matteo again.  I had watched all of my mom's students perform, and I was amazed at how much they all grew as pianists!  Valentina was very reluctant to play classical music, or do scales, but it made her play much more fluidly and fluently.  Then we went to dinner at everyone's favorite karaoke bar, where I belted out "I will survive" and "all that jazz".  It was SUCH a relief to sing musical theatre again!  I missed it so much.  I also got to perform several showtunes at the concert where my mom was hired to play the piano in Amalfi, which is why we went.  She played a bunch of "salon pieces", plus my favorite piano piece of all time, "Rhapsody in Blue", by George Gershwin.  I'm always reminded by that adorable animation done by "Fantasia 2000" when I hear that song.  My mom killed that song!  (I mean it in the good sense f the word!) Then I sang "Summertime", also by George Gershwin, and then two songs from "Annie Get Your Gun".  The latter two I had to explain to everyone… in Italian.  I feel that my Italian's gotten a lot better this month; while I'm not fluent, I'm very comfortable speaking it, and I can understand almost everything people say if I concentrate.  I was a little bit nervous when I left Toscana, because I had heard that there are, like, 20 different dialects in Italian, but the only thing that changed was the accent, although we did meet this one guy that spoke in the Neopolitan dialect, with a very thick accent; I couldn't understand him at all.
It really is like paradise here.  I got to swim in the ocean two days in a row!  The water was very salty, making it very easy to float, and making my skin shimmer when I dried off.  The day after the concert, we had a real, proper vacation day… no schedules, no rushing, no work… just lemon sorbetto and napping on the beach.  

Yesterday we went on a tour of Amalfi, led by a tour guide who spoke English, and led us through narrow tunnels and alleys that we had never noticed before to see the REAL history of Amalfi.  It was one of the first independant maritime nations from the Roman Catholic church, and they were extremely successful because they had a trading triangle (not sure how you would call it) with the Arabs, and the Byzantine, and when the church was like, oh you guys are more Arab than Christian, the Amalfitani were all, yeah, we dress like Arabs, eat like Arabs, and talk like Arabs; it's true!  If any guide book says that the Arabs conquered Amalfi, they're lying.  As he put it, they married the Arab culture.  Our guide pointed out the Middle Eastern influence of the church.  Also, it was one of the few places in the world at the time (medieval) when women had equal rights!  One of my favorite facts was that they got attacked really badly by pirates, so they had a system planned out.  Amalfi was very poor when the pirates attacked them, so they took their women and children to sell as slaves.  SO, they trained a bunch of women who could run fast to get the pirates to chase after them, through all of the winding alleyways and tunnels, then the women would run off to a sidetunnel, and BAM!  The pirates were scorched by boiling oil!  

After that, we attended a truly god-awful musical ABOUT the history of Amalfi, in Italian.  It offended me as a writer, actress, and singer, and afterwards, my mom and I had to listen to the Yeast Nation and Ella Fitzgerald songs to cleanse our ears of the filth that we saw.  It was the worst musical we had ever seen, and we had seen some PRETTY BAD musicals this year.  The one good thing we could say about it was that the lights were pretty.  The acting was bad, the story was poorly written and broke one of the biggest rules of writing/acting- SHOW, DON'T TELL. Not to mention, most of the singers were bad, and the songs were inapproprietly placed.  

Currently, we are driving up north to Lazio, where we will hang around in the Milano vicinity until we leave on Saturday morning.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bel Canto institute is over…. but not my trip to Italy.

As of last night, I am finished with the Bel Canto Institute.  Currently, I am driving through beautiful, beautiful Toscana/Umbria/Lazio with my grandfather, listening to a podcast called the "the Shazamcast", made by two of my best friends, Leo and Dan.  (You all should listen to it!  If you like superheroes, it's your thing.  Anyway, Italy… is ridiculously beautiful.  I'm not sure if I said that in the last post, but in my opinion, almost everything about Italy, primarily the landscape and the FOOOOOD are so much more beautiful than that of America.  
My friend Valentina, who has lived in Italy/ Monaco all of her life, never seemed very pleased with American food.  Now I see why!  
I'm going to miss Florence… while the Bel Canto institute might not have been fun, the rare moments I had time to actually explore were extremely enjoyable.  For example, I spent most of the Saturday before last walking around Florence- I meant to go to the flea market, the 14th century pharmeceutical garden, and an art collector's house that got turned into a museum when he died 30 years ago.  The flea market was right next to my host mama's house, so I rather enjoyed going there.  The location was quite nondescript- several narrow shacks in the middle of a piazza.  There were people that tried to sell you two-euro bracelets, dusty old bookstores, and lots of plane trees.  Romany ladies (gypsies) in their loose t shirts and long colorful skirts shook their cups of coins in your face.
I love the Romany!  Even though I'm always wary of getting my wallet stolen when I'm near them, i've always been fascinated by the culture, and it's really funny how different it ACTUALLY is than, say, my board of "Gypsy/B0hemian Clothing" on pinterest.  They're very interesting people.  There was the woman with the long braids who hung around the Duomo, the man who always played the accordion near my music school,  the old lady with the scarves tied around her hair who asked passers by at the grocery store for a bit of spare change, and the girl who looked around my age, sitting outside of the bank, drinking beer after beer.  In september, I plan on studying the culture. 

Anyway, the flea market looked quite seedy from the outside, but once you actualy went in, you saw the cute gardens, dusty stalls, and charming white lawn chairs everywhere.  I had no money, but I enjoyed peering in through the dusty dark windows- I saw many creepy dolls, shiny mandolins, jewelry, books, victorian furniture, and jars of strange old knickknacks.  My walk to the garden was in vain, though, because I couldn't seem to find it.  The church itself was quite beautiful, though… I was quite disappointed when I found you needed to pay 9 euros to go in, and even more disappointed when my friends told me they had been there, and how to get there.  There was a little shop nearby, that sold herbal remedies and soaps and such.  After that, I took a walk across the Arno to the south (well, it looks south on the map) half of Florence.  I was hot, sweaty, and extremely tired from the long working hours of the Bel Canto institute, but everything I saw was freaking beautiful.  It blows my mind how old Florence is… it's very, very different from New York City!  Florence is a lot more organic, a lot more preserved, whereas Manhattan is very shiny, new, and mixed.

I never did find the museum.  But I was very glad indeed that I took a walk that day instead of going on the excursion with the rest of the class.  It's not that I was trying to avoid people; it's just that Jane said that "there was a surprise" on that day, and if you wanted to go, raise your hand… you could only go if you raised your hand, and she would only tell you if you raised your hand.  I can't commit to something unknown!  I think that next year, the "surprise" should have been going to the beach, rather than playing botchi ball (however you spell it).  
The next week was the week leading up to the performance.  It was AMAZING how much my voice teacher helped me with my voice!  I love her energy, and the techniques and visualizations she gave me to help.  I recorded every lesson to listen to when I got back home.  Mercifully, the performance classes were over, and my mom sent Jane and email asking Jane to stop talking about my hair.  We had a class on how to do stage makeup, and I had bought some concealer, eyeshadow, and lipstick for practicing.  Apparently, I was really good at doing makeup, and it was my first time!  I suppose it helps when you've been ODing in Rupaul's Drag Race all month.  I'm fascinated by the drag culture, and I love seeing a man transform into a woman… for me, it's the height of makeup magic.  I miss the gay community of New York!  I haven't seen any gay people AT ALL in Italy… but the day before I left for Italy, my mom took me to a gay piano bar on Christopher Street on the weekend of the Pride Parade.  I was facing out the window, so I could see all the drag queens walking by.  Our waiter, a slim graceful man wearing shorts and an artfully slashed shirt, was scandalized when my mom and I said that we just wanted water… "JUST water??  It's f**cking Friday!  It's Pride weekend!"  

The pianist's boyfriend sat right in front of the piano, and then the same waiter started flirting with him.  All of a sudden, the pianist stops playing, slams his hand on the piano and yells, "HEY!  That's my man!"  Then the whole bar starts chanting "Fight!  Fight!  Fight!  Fight!"  There wasn't any violence, though… at one point, when the pianist was playing "Piano Man", he let the waiter sing a verse.  He sang it, "Jim, I believe this is killing me, as a smile ran away from my face, well, I'm sure that I could be a porno star, if Michael just sat in my face!"
I'm a little sad that I missed the pride parade, because that was the exact same day I left for Florence, and they were having some of my favorite drag queens perform there!  Milk… Jujubee… Pandora Boxx… well, there's next year. Hopefully, I'll be staying home more next summer, or at least hanging out with my family.  Remember when I was talking about GAD last year?  The Going Away Disease?  Well, it hit me pretty hard this year.  Especially as my family wasn't there!  So, I had read somewhere that doing your favorite hobbies that you do a lot at home helps you cope with it.  So, I went to the fabric store near my house and bought several yards of dusky pink satin and shimmery copper organza, and made a very poufy neovictorian skirt.  Then I went to the 99 cent store and bought a ton of duct tape and also some plastic dish racks with which I cut out some crude boning.  Then after I made the corset base, I covered it with strips of what looked like teastained brown ribbon with latin script all over it.  Then when it was done, I burned some holes in the back with incense, and laced it up with ribbon.  
I wore it on monday (my version of giving Jane the finger).  My mom had sent Jane an email, and apparently she responded saying that "there were problems with my focus" and that "I might have trouble with college".  This sounds an awful lot like how my teachers in public school talked about me to my mom, but WHO'S HOMESCHOOLED NOW??  For the concert, I had my hair done up really fancy by my good friend Kate, who used several elegant pictures on pinterest for reference.  I wore my grandmother's fuschia necklace and a long, elegant wine-red gown.  I had serendipiduously found it in a thrift store with my mom for ten dollars!  Of course, I wore makeup, as well.  My friend Nicolas said that he liked my makeup, but "it wasn't me".  My friend Kira, who lives in New York, wore a slitted turquoise dress which looked extremely beautiful with her red hair, which she did up in a complex braided knot.  She sang several art songs, and also an aria from "La Serva Padrona", where she was an extremely sassy serving maid named Serpina.  My other roommate, Eva, wore a floaty, pale pink gown, and pinned her hair up with silver rhinestone pins.  One of the songs she sang was one of the songs that Jane had assigned to me, but my voice coach admitted it sounded too silly for me too sing it.  I loved how Eva interpreted it, though.

I sang two songs that I had been working on before ("Segui, segui, dolente core", and "O cessate di piagarmi"), plus an EXTREMELY fun song in the Neopolitan dialect called "Me voglio fa'na casa".  I had first heard it in performance class, but it was a lot funnier, because somehow to me, operetic tenors make songs a lot funnier, and I was laughing so hard when I heard the song.  The concert itself was held in a big, grand auditorium, with several hundred seats.  I was slightly nervous about singing Italian in front of italians, but I just let the music take over me, and communicate more through my actions.  Afterwards, I was reunited with my mom, my grandpa, and Valentina, who had driven ALL the way from Narni to see me!  There was a lot of tearful hugging, but I had to say goodbye, and spent the rest of the night at an excursion with Mary Elizabeth eating fried potatoes with jam.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I am finally doing the program that my whole year has been leading up to

Saluti d'Italia!  Ora, sono in Firenze… e si, parlerĂ² in italiano quando io voglio!
In case you didn't understand that, I was basically saying that I'm in Florence right now and I relish the power of having another language… Okay, yes, I speak at the level of a three year old, but I LOVE speaking in Italian!  Maybe I'll be bilingual by next year!
It took SO much to get me here.  It made me want to cry, seeing how many people wanted to get me to Italy to study what I wanted.  So, I 'd like to take this opportunity to thank them.  So many people have helped me out… if I listed them all here, it'd probably take half the post!  I wish I could, though, because I owe you guys a HUGE one.  Thank you.
Many things in Italy are so beautiful, fresh, and amazing, it makes the food, culture, food, art, food, attutude, and food of America pale in comparison.  I'm very grateful that veganism is a little more well-known in Florence than in the rest of Italy.  I thought I would have a hard time finding food, but it's just the opposite for me!  The food is so fresh here that it NEVER fails to disappoint, no matter WHAT I order or eat.  If I were in New York, and I had a slice of toasted bread with olive oil, I would be all, "Screw this, I'm getting Indian food instead,".  Normally, eating this much bread would make be feel sick to my stomach, but for some reason, not here.  Maybe it's different/less pesticides?  The placebo effect, even?
I think the food here is my favorite part of being in Italy.  And I'm really happy that I can eat gelato, too.  A lot of gelato places where I am have gelato made of soy milk.
Me and two other girls from Murrica are staying in a beautiful complex that used to be a convent over 700 years ago.  Our hostess is a very Italian, very kind woman named Maria.  She's very motherly, and cooks amazing food, but at the same time, very sassy, and I've also learned Italian profanity from her.  At the dinner table, we ONLY speak in Italian.  That's our rule.
There seem to be a lot of rules here.  I'm not used to so many rules.  For example, we're not allowed to go out on our own, we can only go out at certain hours, we're not allowed to wear such-and-such clothing, this is where we're allowed to go, etc.  Of course, I got away with dressing weird.  I'm extremely glad I brought my harem pants, because I'm rather sick of skirts and dresses.  You can't sit comfortably in them.  Also, we have a three hour class.  In a classroom.  With desks and everything.  And you can only sit in them with your legs straight out.
Being homeschooled, I'm not used to this one bit.  So I find myself needing to take yoga breaks.
Usually, I sit in the back, with my friends Nicolas and Gabrielle, which gives me a bit of leg room, and a bit of coverage to hide that I'm writing in my journal, because I get my best ideas when my mind is relaxed.

But recently, I was instructed to sit in the front because Maestro Klaviter (I call her Jane when she's not there) said that "she wanted me to participate in the class".  I actually do concentrate!  I just find it difficult to hold my attention onto something for so long.  So, I started to doze off… which didn't help as she kept drilling me on acciacchaturas (however you spell it).  I managed by taking a break in the middle of class to sleep in the hallway.
It's kind of uncomfortable to be in a situation like that, where the only feedback we're allowed to give is "when she calls on you", which is, more often than not, having us agree with her if the singer was legato or not.  I haven't sung in performance class for a week.  I get that it's helpful in the long run, but I don't like sitting still for that long.  If I put ALL of my concentration on something, it's hard for me to learn.  In the middle of performance class, she was talking about what you should wear for THE performance.  Suddenly she asked me to stand up.  I wondered if I was in trouble.
"I hope this is not how you plan on doing your hair for the performance, Miss Harris,"
I flushed with embarassment, but channelled my bellydancer friend, Neva, and whipped it around in an attempt to make her laugh.
"Now you just messed it up more.  You need to make your hair look good."
Ugh!  I was never angrier with a teacher like that before!  I sat down and crossed my arms.  Remember your karma.  Remember your karma, I kept thinking.
"Thank you, Maestro Klaviter," I said.  I felt a flame of defiance in me.  I wanted to break the rules.  I wanted to dance around the classroom or play Billy Joel on the piano while she was talking or play improv games in the halls, but I couldn't because then I'd have to go back to America and let my whole family down!  I'm doing this for them.  While Jane's back was turned, several of my classmates made heart shapes with their hands at me, and felt heartened at their sympathy.
Why me?  Was it the way I dressed?  As stated before, clothes and makeup are art to me, so why make them boring?  Dressing "goth-yogini" absolutely was within the dress code. Maybe she didn't like my nose ring?  I wasn't wearing anything skimpy or that would make singing difficult.

While she played a CD of classical music for us to listen to, she stood right next to me and stroked my hair with a sinister leer on her face, as if saying, "Remember, your hair isn't acceptable," or "Someday your hair will be mine,"
I was somehow reminded of Umbridge.
I missed my brother, Quintin, I think, most of all.  I messaged him on facebook saying what happened.  Quintin has a reputation in our circle of friends for being very fabulous and flamboyant with what he wears.  This summer, he got accepted into the prestigious Wooster group for acting.  Apparently, the teacher used him as an example of "how not to dress for acting", because he was wearing skinny jeans. BS.  When we were in Yeast Nation, he did SO much physical acting, probably way more so than in the wooster group, and he wore skinny jeans!  His sympathy made me break down in tears.  I never realized how close I was to him!
I missed my whole family and my friends.  Homeschooling seemed so magical at the moment, almost like it was too good to be real.  It was like forbidden faerie fruit… one taste and everything else seemed like dust.
I found myself fantasizing about being with my friends, while singing "Stasis is the Membrane" while crying on my bed.  (I dearly miss being in musical theatre… while I love classical musical, there's a certain level of outrageousness you can't get away with in opera.)
My mom would be visiting Florence for ONE day before she left for Narni to teach piano in their music program.  Naturally, I wanted to see her, and I asked Maria if I could leave the house at four or five AM to see her before we had to leave for a field trip to Lucca.  I figured that since it was before curfew, it would be cool. Maria said yes, but then we got a call from Maestro Klaviter saying that I wasn't allowed.
Eva and Kira, my wonderful roommates, said that they could leave with me at 6:30 to see her in front of the building, 30 minutes before we had to leave.  I was so happy.  I would be able to hug someone from a situation I wasn't thrown into!  I would be able to tell her about Jane and get Mom sympathy!
We walked there, and guess who was there?  Maestro Klaviter.
I'm glad I'm an actress, because it kind of hurt to address her formally and cheerfully.  Nonetheless, I was extremely happy to see my mom again, and she whispered, "Chin up, Syd.  It'll all be good in the long run!" to me.  This was very true.
Later, I had an epiphany- why not write a comedy sketch about my less-than-pleasant experiences in the Bel Canto institute??  From a different point of view, it could be quite hilarious.
Anyway, I got to see her for five minutes, which was good enough for me.  That day, we went to Puccini's house.  Puccini wrote a great number of operas, including one of my favorite, Tosca.
His house was very beautiful and was built to inspire him and to hold music to the best advantage.  Ironically, he died of throat cancer from smoking 60-70 cigarettes a day!
His house was extremely beautiful, and I loved the gardens especially, which looked like flora from Hawaii.
Fun fact:  Puccini got one of the first speeding tickets in history.

After that, we went to the beach for like, five minutes, and man, I wish I could have brought my bathing suit, because the surf and sand of that Mediterranean were so perfect, soft, warm, and beautiful.
Then after the ridiculously long bus ride back to Firenze, I had a voice lesson with my teacher, Maestro Thayson, a woman who's title I do not use sarcastically at all.
Maestro Thayson is SO kindhearted and sweet and supportive of you, you can't help but want to make her proud.  My voice lesson is probably my favorite lesson of the day, because not only do I get to see her, but I've been getting THE best vocal training I've had, every day of the week!  I learn so much, and she's been working miracles on my voice.  Recently she assigned me this hilarious Neopolitan sailor's song to sing because I've been doing "so many melodramatic, sad songs,"
She lives really close to the Duomo, so I get a really beautiful walk on my way to her house.  The buildings in Italy are ridiculously beautiful.  Also, the streets make it ridiculously easy to get lost; once I ended up at the Ponte Vecchio when I meant to go home.
Fun fact about the Duomo: The constructor was building the decorative strip around the tallest dome when he asked Michelangelo's opinion on it.  He said what literally translates as "it looks like a cricket house" and then that made him really sad and give up on the project.  I'm glad he didn't ask Michelangelo sooner, cos that building is BEAUTIFUL.

My second favorite class is my Italian class; it's rather small, and the teacher is very quick, sassy, and clever; her name is Sara and she somehow reminds me of the Doctor.  Every day she dresses in a different color, with a corresponding fan that she fans herself very dramatically with while perched on the desk.
We learn a different thing about grammar each day, and she never makes you feel bad if you got a question wrong.  Then, at the end, we all talk in Italian.  My SPEAKING Italian isn't that great, but I can understand nearly everything people say if I concentrate.  I really get a lot out of the class, and there's a view of the Duomo!  Also, a cherry tree, which just makes me hungry.
I love doing homework for Italian class.
I really wish I could explore Florence more, because when we do go out, it's for mandatory excursions at night with another teacher that will not leave us alone because she needs to watch us… feels like a dog being walked more than anything, but at least I get gelato!  Or for a tour.  In the tours, it's also with a teacher, and it's rather touristy but I'm glad I learn something in them.  Oh!  I got to see THE David, by that critical maniacIMEANartistic genius Michelangelo… it looked like pure perfection manifest!  Like, not human-made at all.
Next time I'm on my own and have free time between classes, I would REALLY love to explore Florence on my own… apparently there's a GREAT jazz scene in South Florence, and there are also several gardens that have been described as heartstopping.  Maybe I'll go to a service in the Duomo.  Of course, I'd LOVE to visit any old castles, or that then-secret tunnel built by a princess to visit the other side of Italy in the dead of night.  I appreciate the excursions and everything, but the constant feeling of having my every move watched makes me uncomfortable.  I had a really lovely day today, doing nothing at all, and then we all had fresh pizza, fed pigeons, and visited the tea shop.  It was a day of great smells.  Okay, maybe not the pigeons.

Despite my quiet struggle with patience for Maestro Klaviter, and being thrust into a situation with an uncomfortable amount of rules for me, I love being in Italy and experiencing Italy and eating Italy, Juilliard will love to see this on my high school transcript, and dayum, my voice is gonna sound great.
The overall experience is amazing for me; only ⅓ is kind of mreh because it hurts to miss people so much, and also culture shock; not with Italy but with education.
This is an adventure, though, and a lesson in many other ways than one.  I love all of my friends and miss them so much.
Wow, it just hit me.  I'm.  In.  Italy.  Meraviglioso.