For those of you not in the know, my roommate Lisa and I decided to stay in a homestay while in Italy. It is seriously the best decision I have made by far.
Students not in homestays live either on-campus in one of two villas, Villa Natalia and Villa…um…something, or in off-campus residences. The residences are apartments that house between eight and twenty students in each apartment. Their bedrooms alone can have six or seven people in them. While those apartments are all in Il Centro, and therefore very close to the nightlife and everything historic there is to see in the city, I am glad I don’t have to sleep with five other people breathing next to me every night. On-campus housing is pretty cool, the villas are beautiful, as you saw, and they have much more of a colleg-y feel than any of the other residences, but on campus you are surrounded by English speakers, and it’s very easy to go the whole semester without learning much serious Italian.
My homestay, on the other hand, is completely awesome. Lisa and I are living with the Saracinos (no pictures, I thought it would be creepy to be like, “Hey, can I take your picture and post it on the internet?”). Giuseppe and Annamaria are the mother and father, and they have two kids, Davide, 13, and Olga, 11. They also have a live in housekeeper, Valentina. Giuseppe is very good about helping us with our Italian, and it’s clear that a large part of the reason they host students is to improve their English. I was talking to one of the housing coordinators today, and she said that Giuseppe gets upset if he is assigned a student who already knows Italian, because then how is the family supposed to improve their English?
At dinner we often trade words (Tonight we had tangerines for dessert, which they taught us are called mandarino or mandarini. Now that I think of it, we probably should have said they were mandarin oranges. But to us, mandarin oranges are canned. Huh. We also taught them the words “uphill” and “downhill,” which Giuseppe in particular thought were awesome, and clarified that in English we say we go “by train,” “by plane,” “by car,” “by bike,” but “on foot.” Then we clarified that English is indeed ridiculous.) Giuseppe will often say something, then have the kids work to translate it for us, then have us try to say it in Italian, then help us if we don’t know how. It is completely perfect, since the whole reason I did a homestay is so that I would actually learn the language.
They live on Via Luigi Lanzi in a three story house about a 15 minute walk from both La Pietra in one direction and Il Centro in the other. The floors are a beautiful marble design and each room is comfortable but not huge the way we build in California. The entrance is on the second floor, Lisa and I live on the first floor, halfway underground, and the family lives on the third floor.
The food is absolutely wonderful, though admittedly can be a little strange. Last night was my favorite meal so far, as we started with bruschetta (pronounced, for all you English folk, as brusketta. Giuseppe asked Lisa and me to please, never call it brushetta). For dinner we had an egg frittata and some sort of boiled vegetable. Then fruit for dessert!
For those of you interested, here’s how you prepare actual bruschetta. You don’t need that fancy jar from the store!
1 slice of toast per person (just normal toast. It tasted like white bread but it might have been sourdough.)
Tomatoes, chopped , enough to pile in a sizable layer on the toast
1 garlic clove, roasted and sliced into about 4 little pieces
Take a slice of garlic and, using your fingers, rub onto the toast. You don’t have to do this very hard, they just kind of slide it over the bread so the oil rubs off. Next, spoon the chopped tomatoes onto the toast. Then, pour a small amount of olive oil over the tomatoes, not enough that it soaks through the bread and is all over the plate (I learned the hard way), just enough to cover the tomatoes. Pick up and enjoy! The toast we had was cut in halves and thirds, so feel free to make the bread as small as is manageable for you.
Also, a note for Spanish speakers, “casa” in Italian is pronounced “caza” not “cassa,” which is why the leaning tower of Pisa is pronounced the way it is.