Monday, August 18, 2008

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostro viaggio / Mi ritrovai in una casa dello studente, davanti al computer...

Me I'm funny, eh? Two euros to whomever knows whence the title of my post came. (It's very appropriate to the country in which I find myself.)

Ciao a tutti e a tutte! Sapete che mi mancate? Ve lo giuro!

I'm just past halfway through my trip and I still have much to do and see. Today we had our first day of 08.30 classes. And last night most of us went to bed at 02.00 or later. So it was a little rough waking up, but I still managed to be pretty nerdy and woke up at 07.00. Anyway, rambling as usual, I am! Yesterday was my birthday, and as I found myself in Prossedi, the town in which my paternal grandparents lived and live, I celebrated it there, amongst long-lost and finally found family members, and lots of lovely food (as usual). And, as usual, Laurie and I were very well taken care of; Italians have to be the most generous and thoughtful people in the world. I may be making a vague and generalized statement, but I am in awe, still, of how in Canada and possibly the U.S. and other places, it is a burden, almost, to others to have to cater to a vegetarian, not to mention a vegan, but here, it is a welcome challenge and it is accepted without any judgement whatsoever. I really appreciate that and all slight changes to menus and dishes that were made for me. GRAZIE MILLE!!!! I must confess, however, that I have been feeling slightly weak as my protein intake has been quite low in comparison to my intake in Canada. I have brought some vegan jerky from home and some granola bars and mixed dried fruits and nuts, but that hasn't seemed to suffice. I've been consuming delightful vegetables GALORE but my diet has been relatively devoid of protein. So, I must make a point to drink a glass of soy milk each day, or else risk being tired and energy-less all the time. I feel good today, though, despite the random fruity drinks that I was fed last night. I haven't drunk at all for this entire trip except for one or two quarter-glasses of wine. Nevertheless, I am fine and dandy today and looking forward to the week ahead.

This upcoming weekend, I will be heading to Milan to visit some family. The final week in Italy I believe will be spent sightseeing or something. I found out today, actually, that there are no courses next week, except on Tuesday we have our final exam (based on...?). To be honest, I haven't learnt anything new, but it is still a pleasure to sit in class, you know, because I'm nerdy and all, right? Oh! Also! There's a local newspaper here called La Provincia, and photos of some us (myself included!) were published in it. The professor gave us a copy today, and I look forward to showing it off when I get home. Ha! Also, a friend I made here, Josh Botticelli (best last name ever), had posted some of his photos from this trip, so I made a point of finding myself in some of them and tagging myself so that you can all see what a good little student I'm being (and that I'm still pasty white. Yay SPF 35 sunscreen!). So run to my Facebook page and see me being Italian.

I suppose that's all for now. I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to write again before I come home (seeing that my first post on this trip was at the beginning), but I will do my best to keep you updated. I'm having a kickass time and I will be ever so sad to leave the people who have become such close friends of mine in such a brief period of time. All of us on this trip have been so blessed to have received such a magnificent opportunity. Imagine that: a free return-trip to Italy, paid food and board, priceless family visits. Who could ask for more? Well, the only think that would make it truly complete, as I've expressed many times before, is having my loved ones with me and sharing this cultural experience with them all.

Ah, one last thing before I go buy some bananas and make myself some rooibos chai tea (with soy milk!): Thank you all for your wonderful and very kind happy-birthday wishes. I can't wait to get home and BAKE and have a mini party when I get back. Yes, someone asked me today what the first thing I'll do when I get back is: I said bake. And what shall I bake? Suggerimenti?

A presto,

Vegan in Suburbia

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Vegan in Italia

... It is possible!

In case you are confused, I am referring to the title of this blog post: that is, it is indeed possible to be vegan in Italy.

Hello everyone!

I am in Italy right now! And I just figured out how to type an apostrophe. Sweet! '''''' heh heh

I am staying in a slightly crusty student residence in the town of Cassino, in the region of Lazio. It is bloody hot, the locals are amusing and very friendly, and the older men like to yell "compliments" that are devoid of meaning in English at the girls: yesterday's gem was "Ve-rri ve-rri compleement!", yelled to my cousin Laurie and me. (In Italian, the expression would be "tanti tanti complimenti" but it loses virtually all meaning in English, literally. Amazing!)

As this trip is paid for entirely by La Federazione delle associazioni laziali, even our meals are paid for. As such, we receive three vouchers every day, one for each meal. The first one is redeemed at this one bar (a bar in Italy is a place where various snacks and drinks [as far as I can tell, none serve alcohol] such as juices, water, and coffee are served, whereas a pub would serve alcohol); the voucher is worth £1.50, I believe, so it includes a cornetto (croissant) or some pastry equivalent, as well as an espresso or cappuccino or macchiato. As a vegan, I can't eat croissants, so I get my money's worth by giving my pastry away and having an espresso with a bowl of boiling water--for the oatmeal I brought from home! Yippee! The waitresses are very kind and accomodating at this place. So, breakfast is possible for the vegan if the vegan is prepared. Also, at the grocery store near our residence (it's called Conads--ha! So many things hear have such absurd names that are too funny in English; I saw a dress that had "Hoochie coochie" as its brand name), they sell vegan croissants, plus quite the assortment of vegan cookies--healthy ones, too!

For lunch and dinner, we go to this place called Pepper's (see? That totally wouldn't fly in Quebec). We have this one waitress named Silvia and she's accomodating and ever so patient: we're 42 students on any given night, and she's usually the only waitress working. So far, we have tipped her a few euros every couple of nights because she truly merits it. Anyway, it's only four nights into the trip and people are already starting to tire of the menu there. In fact, we barely get a choice of meals at all, for they have a daily menu, each meal consisting of two piatti (I'm not sure how to say that in English) and a dessert (gelato or fruit salad. The fruit salad here is actually good, the fruit being fresh, juicy, and probably free of GMOs). It has happened on some days that the meal choices each consisted of meaty or cheesy dishes, but the chef/waitresses have accomodated us greatly. Oh! Did I mention that there are three vegetarians who are part of the group? Pretty cool, eh! What a relief. Anyway, so people were starting to tire of the menu because it was always pasta and pizza, pasta and pizza, pasta and pizza. The food is so tasty but holy moly--we're gonna end up rolling home! Ha!

As a side note, I went for a jog yesterday morning. The air was wonderfully chilly and my legs are sore today. Good. As another side note, it is a good thing that our university course is located in a building a decent walk away, not to mention that the lunch and dinner place is a good 15 minutes from our residence. Even if I jog just once a week, I should be just fine.

Anyway, the food is splendid, but it is carb-tastic. Oh, and I even had a gross moment: I was served a portion of cold veggies (there were only meaty and cheesy options that day at the restaurant), and on top were two small hunks of meat. I scraped off about half the plate that had meat on it and attempted to swallow the rest of it. Ha ha. And the other night, after explaining at a different restaurant (one to which we were supposed to go tonight, but the owner or the owner's father passed away. How sad) that I didn't eat milk products, eggs, meat, or fish, though I did eat pasta, I was brought a dish made of egg noodles. Cazzo! So, unfortunately, I had to send it back, but I got a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce instead. That night was crazy, though; so many dishes were floating about, and it was almost all pizza! There was so much food that one entire pizza remained at our table, untouched, though it looked like the tastiest one, because everyone was full. One last tidbit about the food: I requested a salad without cheese (insalatone mista [mixed big salad] was one of the meals offered today. Score!), and when it arrived, I saw mozzarella on top. I was like, "ah, ma c'è formaggio" (ahh, but there's cheese!) and the waitress replied that it wasn't cheese but rather it was mozzarella. I proceeded to explain to her that I don't eat any dairy products. I gave it to someone else, and she gave me a new salad. Once again, Silvia was very understanding. Aww. Oh, and one of the best things I've eaten there so far is their grilled veggies. So good!

Already I have acquired the nerd reputation. Sono una secchiona--lo so! I got a perfect grade on my placement test for the Italian course; I even added the correct answer to the three (wrong) possible answers in a multiple choice question. I'm a loser. But last night I did hang out with everyone outside, just till about 1 am, and I had a great time without even drinking. I am a happy camper... though that doesn't mean I don't miss home and all you loved ones. I MISS YOU!!!!!!!!!

We have a lovely group of people here, though. Forty-two people from Montreal, Toronto, New York (we affectionately call them "The Americans"), and Australia (whom we affectionately call "The Australian") have gotten close over the space of four days. My cousin Laurie was saying how difficult it will be to say goodbye at the end of the month.

I am craving chocolate, actually; good thing I brought a bar of it from home (and it hasn't even melted!). Hmm...

Today we went to visit Monte Cassino. What a beautiful building. Go look it up on Wikipedia, for it has a very interesting history. What I most appreciated about visiting the abbey is that we learned about its founder, San Benedetto di Norcia, in my Italian Civ class. Talk about putting faces and places to the names. I took many photos but my camera died right before I was able to take a photo of the inscription "Ora et labora" in the wall (pray and work); it's something we learned it class, something upon which San Benedetto insisted with his monks.

This weekend we're being taken to Rome! We're going just for the day, on Saturday, though Laurie and I will indeed be staying behind to visit Prossedi, the town where my paternal nonni are from. I'm pretty excited.

Finally, when our Italian prof here, Bernardino, saw how freaky I was with remembering certain grammatical rules, he asked me whether I would one day like to teach Italian. I said maybe, and he invited me to attend the beginner classes he teaches each morning, to see how Italian is taught to foreigners. I am debating attending.

Please forgive any crappy English!

Missing and loving you all,

Vegan (out) of Suburbia

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Arrivederci!

Hello there!

The Vegan in Suburbia is about to leave... suburbia. Yes, it is true; no, I am not moving out, but I am leaving. I am heading to Italy on a flight that leaves this evening at 19.50 from Montreal and I will be returning the morning of the 29th of August. It'll be quite the trip! Three and a half weeks of relaxation, family visits, and yes, 15 days of Italian courses. I'm curious to see where they'll place me in terms of competence in Italian; I hear there are only three levels. I'm done my grammar studies at Concordia, so, well, we'll see. I'll be posting on here whenever I get access to a computer. I'll be studying at l'Università di Cassino, and residing in the city of Cassino, which is about 1.5 hours away from Rome. In Rome I should be able to find Internet cafés, if not in Cassino itself.

So, that's pretty much it! I'm looking forward to constant sunny weather there, since this rainy summer in Montreal has been quite a drag. This really isn't normal. And yes, I have brought my SPF 45 sunscreen so that I may return as pasty as I was when I left. Ha!

And Matthew and I have exchanged rings... you know, the kind that demonstrate there is a future together.

:-)

Lots of love, and arrivederci,

Vegan in Suburbia