Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I almost hit a pedestrian the other day. She was very apolegetic though. I was cruising along in the (I think) bus lane and she stepped out in front of me. I slammed on my brakes but still came up right beside her. Then she noticed me and started apologizing fervently. I didn't realize until I was biking away that I hadn't even said one word. I would have said "I'm sorry" but I don't eve know how to say that. I really only know how to say please, thank you, and your welcome. And 'Preggo' means please and your welcome, so I pretty much only know two words.

Anyway, not discouraged by my last almost-accident while biking, I got a littel stir-crazy today and decided to go on a longer ride. I glanced at a map decided to head south-east (sort of towards Florence) and try to get out into the mountains.  On my way out of the city I passed the stadium where, I deduced from the masses of riot police loitering around, there was a game going on. I later confirmed this with Jeannie, apparently David Beckam was there, which I guess explains the riot police. 

At one point I had sort of a Taiwan flashback. There was a line of cars at a stop light and I went ahead and pulled up all the way to the front. Cause I'm on a bike and I get special privaleges. After I had been there for a second a moped pulled up beside me. Then another one pulled up in front of both of us. Then a Mercedes pulled out into the intersection and stopped in front of all of us. I realized I probably should have been wearing a helmet. The light turned and I pulled out into the intersection. I was in the center of the intersection and it seemed much more prudent to be on the right side so I decided to merge. I looked over my right shoulder to check for traffic. All I saw was my hair. I looked again and saw mostly hair but it seemed clear and I was starting to lose intersection so I went ahead and moved over. Apparently I don't just need a helmet, I need haircut too.

It seemed to take a while to get out of the city but once I did the mountains were very scenic. I could even see, off in the distance, snow on the hills. I only consulted the map once after I made it out of the city. However, after I saw two bikers ahead, I quickly disregarded the knowledge gleaned from the map though, and decided to follow them. I turned too late and missed them but, after a brief period on a road, albiet a 2 lane road, with higher speeds than I would've liked, found my way out into the mountains. It was gorgeous, quite, and virtually car-less ... everything I had wanted. Unfortunatley it was only about an hour before dark and I felt like I should turn around so I didn't make it far enough to be turned around by snow (which had sort of been my vague goal.) 

On the way back I saw 2 more bikers turn into the same road that I had followed bikers down before, which leads me to believe that there is either a good biking trail down there. That or some kind of wierd commune where a bunch of bikers live. I also ran into a police road block near the stadium on the way back. Really it was just a small car and one cop blocking off half of the road, but I was worried that he wouldn't let me pass and that we would have an awkward half Italian and half non-communication conversation. So, doing my best to smile nicely, in hopes of avoiding any awkwardness, I biked past. The cop, however, didn't even appear to notice me. The reason half of the road was blocked off quickly became apparent. It was filled with busses, presumable those of the football team. I did my best to ride along unperturbed with busses towering over me on my one side and traffic zooming past on my other side. I ended up making it home without incident.

Other interesting tidbits:

Our kitchen is tiny. Tiny enough in fact, that I can touch both of the sidewalls at the same time. There are benefits to the tiny kitchen though. For instance, if I sit in the right spot at the table I can reach the sink, the food cabinet, the refrigerator, and the oven without getting up. So thats pretty handy. Heck, if the kitchen was any smaller I could do all my cooking from a sitting position. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post 2

In some ways a lot has happened since my last post, but in other ways nothing has really happened. I am going to be taking Spanish and I now have the textbook for the class but it isn't actually going to start until mid February so, right now, I don't have anything that I have to do. I usually go to school with Jeannie in the morning and apply for jobs in the DC area or read. Then I come home in the afternoon and practice playing the fiddle because, if I'm going to go play on the streets in the spring to try to make an extra buck, I figure practicing is really just like increasing my job skills. So that has been the more boring/routine part of my life.

Jeannie babysits here and she and I had dinner with her babysitting family last Thursday, which was one of the more interesting things. It was actually very enjoyable and, although the couple's English isn't perfect, there were no real problems in communication. Both Nicola (husband) and Federica (wife) have very good senses of humor. Federica had already given Jeannie an Italian name (apparently Italians have a hard time with the 'j' part of the name) and she also wasted no time in giving my own Italian name, Gaspare, so I felt like the evening was off to a good start. Also, when they were asking why I chose to study Chinese, I paused before answering and so Jeannie stepped in and said "Jasper enjoys challenging things." This was a perfect set up so after a moment I pointed out shrewdly "That's why I'm dating Jeannie!", which Nicola and Federica had both been thinking, so I knew they had good senses of humor.

From talking with Jeannie I knew that their child (Matilda) wasn't entirely planned and that, although he loves her very much, sometimes Nicola doesn't recognize that he can no longer do all of the things that he wants to. This was illustrated clearly at dinner because he was, apparently, staging a major offensive, the goal of which was moving the family to the UK or the USA for a period. Although it was clearly doomed to failure, I felt out of a sense of fidelity, that I should support him. So when he started jovially using me as an example of someone who travels frequently, I did my best to go along. Federica, on the other hand, continually rejected all his attempts even though some of them, being able to make more money in other countries for instance, didn't seem entirely unreasonable.

Hearing Nici and Fede (as they refer to each other) tell the story of how they met, turned out to be another high point of the evening. Apparently they were both going to a summer retreat at a school in Sicily. Nicola and a friend didn't get to the campus until very late and there were no rooms left. The desk clerk asked if they would mind sharing a room with two girls. (At this point in the story Nicola opend his arms wide, shrugged his shoulders, and smiled in the worldwide gesture of "Of course we wouldn't!") So the clerk gave them the key and they went up to the room. Federica and her roommate were out on the town at the time, so Nicola and his friend had time to scout it out. Nicola began looking around the room, trying to find out what he could about his soon to be roommates. He noted that one of the girls had huge shoes ("A tall girl," he thought). The same girl also had skinny clothes ("A thin girl," he thought). But the thing that caught his eye most was a book by the German philosopher/scholar Goethe ("A smart girl?!?!?!" he thought). At this point, Federica and her friend returned from their night on the town. They had been warned at the front desk that two men would be sharing a room with them, so they, rightfully so, stormed off in a fluster to reclaim their room. As Federica said, "We were girls! We couldn't stay with boys!" Federica decided she would do all the talking (because her friend was shy and Federica is a better talker). When she got to the room she threw open the door and found Nicola. To her chagrin she accidentally blurted out "Che buono!" (so beautiful) after which she quickly slammed the door. And the rest was history.

Another fun point of the weekend was a birthday party Jeannie and I went to on Saturday night for one of her classmates. The most interesting thing was that he lives with two Italians, which opened up the possibility of a real cultural experience. This revealed itself later when it came time for cake. I saw one of the Italians put what looked like a piece of bread (presumably cake) in a bag and pour white stuff on it (presumably sugar) and start to shake it. "This is great Jasper, you're getting a cultural experience." I asked Jeannie what was actually happening. "It's a traditional Italian birthday cake where they put bread and sugar in a bag and shake it. DUH!"

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Part II: Italy

I made it, without any hiccups, to Italy: the land where wine is cheaper than water, where dogs go to the bathroom on the sidewalks (and more importantly no one cleans it up), and where, once you get in the bathroom, there are directions on how to get to the toilets. The directions aren't just printed out on paper and taped to the walls, they are engrave in the tile.  And you know when you get there because behind the toilet there is a tile that says 'here' and behind the urinals the tiles say 'these are the toilets'.
The trip over was very enjoyable and worked out, basically, completely perfectly. Jeannie and I were worried about how we would get my bike back to her apartment but, to our surprise and good fortune, my bike had been left in Munich. So we went on into Bologna and bought some gelato, which was delicious, like ice cream but richer.  After gelato we went to school because, hopefully, the airline was going to ship my bike straight there. Alas, I still had to fill out a customs declaration and fax that in, which we got done the next morning (Monday).  The bike came Monday afternoon and I carried back home and put it together Tuesday, which was pretty exciting. Before I left Idaho I bought a rack for it, with the idea of Jeannie being able to ride around on the back.  Success! Jeannie had to babysit Tuesday afternoon and, thanks to my help, she got there 10 minutes early.  And I popped a wheelie once because Jeannie was sitting on the back.  Then I rode over to the grocery store to pick up some beer and eggs but, to my disappointment, it was closed. This, however, wasn't entirely unexpected because Italy celebrates Christmas on the 6th, so I tried to make it back home a new way. I did get lost, but just before I was about to turn around and go back the way I had come, I saw a familiar street sign, which led me straight to my front door. Overall the I'm very excited about bike riding in Italy. The one ride I've had so far was very enjoyable not only do I see loads of other people biking around, but some streets even have bike lanes, making the whole enterprise a lot safer than I had originally thought.
I also have some interesting things to relate about Jeannie's apartment.  1st of all, the shower is a death trap.  It is similar to a normal shower in that there is a bathtub attached to it, however, the bathtub is about 1/3 as big as a normal bath tub. It is also tiered so that about halfway from the spigot to the back of the shower there is a step. The dangerous part is that the whole thing is curved. So, its sort of like showering in a big wet bowl, with little lateral maneuverability. Everytime I have to turn my body, I wish there was a handle to grab onto, but there isn't, so I just put my palm against the wall and hope that if I lose my balance there will be enough friction between my palm and the wall to keep me from tearing down the shower curtain in a last ditch effort to prevent my fall from being a rib breaker.
Another interesting thing about Jeannie's apartment is the radiator. Basically, it sounds like a waterfall. I've lived in rooms before that had radiators and none of them sounded like this. Also, it's barely warm to the touch, although if we leave it on constantly it somehow seems to keep the room liveable. However, the combination of the waterfall like noise and the luke warm surface of the radiator lead me to believe that basically there is just hot water running through the radiator, which warms the metal, which warms the room. This seems horribly inefficient; however, I don't really know anything about radiators so if anyone does, I would welcome any knowledge you might have on the subject.