Italia Part 1: Asissi & Castillo

My poor little blog, how I missed you. I’m back on track, and back in Brussels!

Last Friday I woke up to complete darkness, caught a cab to the bus to the plane and watched the sunrise over Europe as I flew to Perugia, Italy. My wonderful, intelligent, lovely, hospitable friend from UConn invited me to her hometown so off I went. Editing these photos might take ages so I’ll do a couple mini photo essays… I took about 75 pictures a day, so I’m trying to keep it under control here.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

Immediately after getting off the plane, she picked me up and we drove to Assisi.

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Francis is one of my favorite saints – being an animal lover and sharing his name with our Jesuit pope and all. (Go stags.) We visited his church and his tomb first. There were so many people, even some in their sweet little nun habits and monk robes. I didn’t take any pictures of them because I know I’d feel weird getting stopped for pictures in my work clothes. Anyway, St. Francis!

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We also visited the Basilica de Santa Chiara. St. Chiara was one of the first followers of St. Francis, and eventually founded the women’s order similar to the Franciscans. She also has a pretty pink basilica. And how about this, she was once a part of the church of San Damiano (Francis is also connected to this church), and that’s the saint my BXL house is related to (Kot St. Dam). Whoaaa full circle.

After the church-visiting, the temperature soared so we went into a little restaurant lined with stone walls. We hid from the thunderstorm and drank coffee and caught up on life.

When the rain stopped we hopped back in the car and drove the top of a mountain for a photo shoot. I mean really, she’s a girl after my own heart. Sometimes I can’t believe my own luck.

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jenclinton/072413jBut the clouds followed us uphill so we went home.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I could speak French to my friend’s parents – I was afraid that communication would be impossible. But even getting by on our rough around the edges ‘francese’ and Italian hand-speak (is that the official title? hmm) made for a much richer experience. Everyone got a kick out of talking to the American in anything other than English – I’m finding that a lot in Europe.

Now I try not to be too crazy with the hyperbole here, but for real. The best meal of my life was my first dinner here. It easily toppled my last favorite meal (which was a breakfast, if you’re curious) and was only matched by Sunday’s lunch. Handmade, hand rolled pasta, filled with chicken, beef, and pork, topped with a tomato sauce from home-grown roma tomatoes, basil, fennel, and herbs de provence. I can still taste it. Not to mention the caprese salad, salami and other meats we cut ourselves, and buffalo mozzarella picked up from the nearby farm that morning. The wine was made by a friend. My life, the movie. Welcome to it.

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that by the end of the weekend her Italian mother told me I had a good appetite (read: I ate wayyy too much). We finished with a couple glasses of Pastis and then walked into the downtown area to meet up with more family. I’ve adopted her Italian grandfather, watch for him in tomorrow’s pictures. He offered me coffee, a cigarette, and gelato within three minutes, so I took him up on the first one (it was easily after 10pm, and I don’t drink caffeine even in the morning. Oops.)* I passed out pretty hard when I got home anyway.

I could get used to it here.

 

*My reaction to nearly every “do you want to….” was pretty much YEP before the sentence was even finished. It got me into hot water when I yep’ed a hike when all I had was ballet flats, no sunscreen and minimal shade… but we’ll save that story for tomorrow.

 

For the record, Italy pretty much took her own pictures. Only a few got some stylized editing on here, most were just exposure fixes.

Day Eighteen & Nineteen: I host a UN meeting.

And by that I mean a Fourth of July party. Countries represented were Ireland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Finland, and the good old US. And by “good old,” I mean the Irish person pointed out that Guinness is like 75 years older than my country.

First of all, good on you for knowing that off the top of your head. But what!

I tried to have as many American foods as I could find… by some kind of miracle I found Fluffernutter (which I don’t even eat at home, but whatever). But there was not a single graham cracker to be had in this entire city, gosh darn it. Fortunately there was a non-cinnamon French version, and my Pinteresty version of S’mores was a success. I also made homemade mac n cheese. 🙂

This was the first year I’ve spent the Fourth outside the country. It made the whole day feel rather anti climactic, what with going to work and no fireworks and all. The only event I saw for Americans in Brussels was discounted food (with your US ID) and “live American-style music” at the Hard Rock Cafe in the middle of the city. I was tempted to go just to find out what music they’d be playing.

'merica 2012

‘merica 2012

Last year I had a super, small-town-America Fourth of July – fireworks, little parade, everything. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss being home for that, but it also gives me a new sense of pride for the US. When people approached me to say happy fourth, it felt just as good as a happy birthday to me. 🙂

Granted, despite the American pride I have, Snowden is becoming quite the polarizing topic of conversation when you’re talking to a roomful of Europeans. That situation comes up almost daily now, what with the Bolivian president’s plane being searched and jokes being made in meetings about choosing one’s words carefully, ‘because you-know-who is listening.’ (I pictured Snowden cracking up in the Moscow airport when he heard what they did to President Morales. That was a baaaad move.)  I don’t quite know what a happy resolution will be to this situation, or if there is one, but I hope we find one soon.

To all mes amis back home, I hope you had a fabulous Fourth, I miss you, and wave some sparklers for me.