Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The concept of the "queue"

Night 1
Arriving back in Bologna today was fairly exciting with a hint of homesickness.

At this point, how much time have I spent in Italy over my lifetime, and especially over the last 4 years of my life? A heck of a lot.  That being said, this is not my first encounter with the Italian version of a line.  Actually, the theory behind a line or a queue makes so much sense in America, and its concept is generally obeyed or else you will be called out on it.  Even after spending so much time in Italy, I still haven't adapted to the Italian version of a line, which in fact, is no line at all.  Whether it's at the line in the post office, in the grocery store, getting on to a train, buying a ticket, or hailing a cab, their tactics are clear, they do not care what "rules" the concept of a queue puts in place, they just believe they are entitled to cut the line and hope that no one refutes.  Generally no one does because here it has been accepted that this is the proper line etiquette -- an essential free for all-- but as an American in Italy, I have not quite come to terms with this, generally I let the occasional cutter slide by and start to be more aggressive in my own stance in line, but never have I confronted an Italian cutter.  Until Today. Today, was that day.

I left my house Monday at 2:30 pm to visit my grandmother and grab dinner with my parents before I caught my 8:15 flight to Bologna.  Upon picking up my mom at her office building, I checked my flight status and realized that it had been delayed till an 11:00pm departure time.  Already stressed, we did the necessary re booking of my connection flight, and were feeling good that I might not have to show up at the airport until 2 hours before the new departure time.  However, on the phone we were told that regardless of the delay, I needed to present myself at check in as if the plane was taking off at it's original 8:15 scheduled flight.  Great... After a lovely dinner at Row 34 (I recommend), we arrived at the airport at 6:15 where I would then have to wait 4 hours until boarding time... ridiculous.  Needless to say I wasn't thrilled with my flight plans, the only icing on the cake was that the plane was nearly empty, so I got a whole row of 4 seats to myself to lounge back in. My flight ended up arriving in Munich only 10 minutes later than my original connection flight, but nonetheless, I had missed it, so now had to wait 3 more hours in the Munich airport.  That being said, right when I stepped onto Bolognese soil, I was ready to book it home as quickly as possible, so after I grabbed my luggage I made SURE to weave in and out of the people ahead of me, aware that they would most likely be heading to the taxi line.

This is where my issue occurred.

When I walked up to the queue there were three taxis, but they were all currently being filled with passengers, so I decided to stay at the top of the queue where I knew the next taxi would drive all the way up to... aka the line. However, there are no rails, or guidelines for this "line", only a sign at the origin of the line.  So, two women proceed to walk past me, hoping to secretly create them as the "first" in line, and soon after the rush of people follows, everyone just lined on the curb with intent to be the first one in whichever cab arrived.  I knew this was going to be the case so I started going over some lines in Italian in my head, because after my long journey I was not ready to be taken advantage of line misuse. Normally, if I hadn't just traveled for 18 hours I would have found this situation comical and would not have said anything, but at this point I realized this was just one of those few experiences where I say in my head "This wouldn't happen in America".  Yes, cutting does occur at home, but it is easily dealt with, people generally owe up to it, and it does not happen as frequently as it does in Italy.  Naturally, I knew I had no chance against these two middle aged women, but I knew I would feel like I had been stepped on if I did not at least attempt to get in the cab that was rightfully mine.

So, as the cab approached the queue I stepped off the sidewalk ready to defend my position.  The women were quickly at my side ready to say they were the first in line. I used my best Italian to politely say I was first in line and they had blatantly saw me waiting first as they walked past me. However, it was two versus one.  As I was laying my case, one woman was arguing back at me, the second tried to get in the cab that pulled up behind the first, but she was already out beat by the next ferocious Italians, so upon her return to see me and her travel companion fighting, she simply opened the cab door and started putting her stuff in.  I tried to hold my own, but failed, and then realized that I also failed at getting the next 3 cabs because I was too busy arguing. I thanked them for making me not the first in line, but effectively one of the last, and stormed off to hold my ground.  Some spectators saw the scene, and a woman kindly said I would be next in line, and a man helped me get my stuff to the next cab that came a few minutes later.

So there is that! My first Italian yelling fight of the semester.  I am always happy for myself after I manage to hold my own in Italian (for the most part).  And that is just a small example of why I cannot foresee myself living permanently in this beautiful country.

The ironic part about the line question though, is that it's either too disorganized, or too organized.  For example, they have ticket numbers, like you would get at the cold cut counter in a grocery store in the most random places of business here.  And unless you know that the mass of people waiting in line at the post office, or in the questura, or at the registrars office are all holding tickets that secure their place in line, you could be waiting for hours in total awe without knowing you were supposed to pull a ticket when you entered the room.  Italy is just so entertaining like this.  Luckily, most of the time I find it humorous when I find myself in these situations that are so different than the United States that I can appreciate the lack of efficiency, but other times, like after a 15 hour flight... no thank you!

Anyways, after I did secure MY cab, which happened to be an unnecessary 8 person van, I arrived home to my wonderfully clean apartment (THANK YOU ZOE), vented to Tim and my family, got organized, then set out to enjoy beautiful Bologna, and do one of my favorite things... food shopping!

So now here I am! Three semesters of my graduate education complete, one to go, including three new courses and a thesis.  One wonderful semester left in this beautiful city.  I can't really believe it because right now I'm still undergoing the homesickness of transitioning between my two very different lives.  I hope that I don't hold myself back this semester. I hope I do the right combination of studying, grabbing coffee with friends, aperitivos and travelling (inside and outside of Italy).  I only have one semester left where I am really not tied to much except three classes and a thesis.  Ce la faccio. I can do it.  And I can have fun doing it.  I can make the most of this experience.  I know I'll always be able to do more and more, but I think I am capable of leaving here in July or August or whenever, knowing that I had argued with real Italians like a real Italian, learned so much in International Relations, got to know myself better, overcame some very difficult transitions and assimilation in a foreign culture, got to be closer with my family even though for most of the time I'm miles and miles away, sustained a strong relationship, made great friends, ate great food, drank good wine (great is probably an understatement for the last two clauses), visited countless new places, ran a marathon, skied the Alps, etc. etc. and I can't emphasize it enough, but I learned, I simply learned, SO MUCH, on so many accounts. And the fact that I can already write this list out means that I have basically already accomplished all of that, I'm sure I will be able to add a few more to the list come September (Like climb the asinelli tower, knock on wood), but even as I stand now, I am so far past the person I was when I graduated from Union College a year and a half ago, and it is amazing.  I couldn't ask for more!

So now what...? Off to continue the list! Off to study for an exam I have lingering over me from the fall, and off to start REALLY working on my thesis... but don't worry, I already have a few trips planned, so no hard feelings in returning quickly to my studies (not too many anyways!)

Alla prossima cari!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


So -- I read someone else blog post regarding the Marathon, and I realized that I've only published one post this entire semester... I'll pretend that that is the fault of my tedious studying and running miles and miles. That being said, I have yet to retell a few adventures that I managed to squeeze between the studying and the running, hopefully I'll be able to fit those in to some posts while I'm home over Christmas.

But for now... THE MARATONA!!

Holy cow -- looking back, I still feel as if it was a dream... I never thought the day would come when I could run 42.195 kilometers, aka the big 26.2!! My dad always makes fun of me - running the mile from my house to the end of Farrar seemed like a big enough accomplishment for me and some days it seemed like I might not even make that! So, in the days leading up to the big day I started to question whether or not my longest run of 17.5 miles actually happened or if it was a dream, and if it was real, was I capable of just winging another 9 miles?

Carboloading on Zoe's Bolognese

Dad arrived in Bologna Friday afternoon where we commenced our carboload early.  My fabulous roommate Zoe cooked us up a hefty pot of gramigna with her homemade bolognese sauce.  Delicious! Then we napped and hit the streets of Bologna for a quick stroll in order to make it to dinner at a reasonable time, aka after 7:30.  We arrived at the Antica Osteria Romagnola, happy to escape the pouring rain and almost shocked that we were still the first ones at the restaurant and the hostess was hesitant about giving us a table. Sitting down we were given a welcome glass of prosecco -- my plan of ZERO alcohol prior to the big day immediately crushed -- but we proceeded to enjoy a few sips of the sweet bubbly, and had a fantastically over priced first meal complete with two caraffes of acqua con gas, a mushroom and scamorza lasagna, wine mushroom risotto and a suckling pig that my dad could not say no to and that our stomachs did not have enough room to finish so the leftovers went to my very grateful roommate.  Stomachs almost too full we went to bed with the anticipation and excitement of traveling by train to Florence the next morning.  The big day was coming quick!

All week Dad and I had been keeping tabs on the weather hoping the big day wouldn't be filled with rain.  It didn't bode well when we woke up and it was still pouring out, and it wasn't very warm either! Regardless of the downer in the weather, we walked to the bar at the end of Via d'Azeglio to grab a delicious cappuccino and an excellent pastry. Nom! From there we headed home, grabbed our bags and were off to the station! Waiting for the train we were already eyeing the competition for the next day.  It is rare when Italian wear athletic clothes in public so it was obvious to us when we saw men sporting asics with their dark straight jeans, sweaters and wool jackets. Skinny, fit, athletic, well dressed men where lined up outside our same train, and the sneakers gave them away... we were getting nervous! and excited!! No expectations for us, but still, we didn't want our performances to be laughable.

Pulling into Santa Maria Novella train station we were getting very excited.  The weather looked like it was clearing up, and we were finally in gorgeous Florence! We walked through the Piazza of Santa Maria Novella to find our hotel right on the corner, to check in, get settled, then plan getting our numbers from the race expo and meeting up with mom. We decided to take the train from SMN to Campo Marte for only 2 euro for a ticket and then decide whether to take the train back or a cab back depending on our time situation and to meet mom back at Hotel Orologio before heading over to Claudia's house for lunch. We arrived at the race expo ground eager to get our numbers and to see what free goodies we would get, but because of our time crunch for lunch, we did not have much time to linger.  After we found our way through the balloon arch entrance we found two tents, one with a huge version of course map and another with all of the participants listed in alphabetical order.  First we studied the 26.2 miles of road we'd (hopefully) already finished running through by the same time the next day, then we checked out the life size list of enrollments searching the lines for D'AMBROSIO - USA!! It was rather entertaining because right above my dad's name there was a CARLO D'AMBROSIO, so two Carlos would be running tomorrow!  From there we proceeded into a tent and through a well constructed maze of booths that lead to the finish, aka, bag and number claim.  Unfortunately the only thing given to us during the maze of booths were flyers for the upcoming marathons in various parts of the world... I think they were getting a little ahead of themselves here. Our goal was to finish this one, and we were pretty positive before starting the race that this would most likely be our one and only marathon run, ha! Anyways, we collected our numbers and our kick ass Firenze Marathon 30th Anniversary asics running vest... we were going to be looking good in that! Number in hand we weaved out of the maze of booths back to the start to take a picture of ourselves in front of the map of the course, psyched. We were PSYCHED.  Psyched enough to almost get injured running to the train as we walked over the over pass and noticed it arriving... luckily we made it to the train without injuries and without having to spend 15 + euro on a cab back to Hotel Orologio. #win

Arriving back at Orologio we found Mom in the hotel room, so excited to be back in Italy as well, we modeled our sweet new blue marathon vests then headed out towards Piazza Santa Maria Novella to hail a cab to Claudia's mom's house on Via XX Settembre! Once we arrived, we began eating.  Claudia made us a bistecca fiorentina, it was fabulous, along with homemade ravioli and tiramisu. It was lovely eating the delicious food and catching up with Carla, Claudia, Chiara and Gabri and getting to know the little ones Andrea and Giada.  The sweetest family! Full and getting nervous for the big race we returned to Orologio to nap, digest and meet Lynn.  We studied the race map, establishing good viewing points for my mom to run to to see us, and we met a few romans who were so nice and gave us a few pointers on how to eat before the race. The hours were counting down! Dad and I were staying hydrated, went to dinner to eat some basic pasta and then hit the pillow early!


The following morning we awoke bright and early to get breakfast in us and digested before the race started.  I remember I had a dream that night that I finished the marathon but blacked out and couldn't remember running any part of it at all... I wondered what that meant for the day ahead...! We noticed our fellow Roman runners in the breakfast room overlooking the gorgeous Santa Maria Novella, then we started to wonder whether or not we were actually capable of 26.2 miles...  Bread, banana and peanut butter down we headed back to the room to get the mom moving, and by 8:15 we were out of the door headed down to the Lungarno.

Immediately as we walked out the front doors of the hotel we were surrounded by other competitors.  Everyone was bundled up with their race packs in hand, some were already starting their pre race jog.  Dad and I were getting nervous and just enjoying watching the other runners in their own prep heading towards the start line.  As we approached the Mercato Vecchio the streets became crowded with everyone following the same route to the start.  We stopped to get a good luck nose rub in from the Porcellino and then carried on.  Excitement was rising! We passed various lines of men peeing in various places and began to wonder how stinky the city would be the following day.  We stopped for a bathroom break in a fancy smancy hotel along the river (Mom's brilliant idea!), then walked on overwhelmed by the presence of other runners and by the lack of direction leading us toward the start line.  Mom snapped a few photos, then as the clock neared 9:05 we figured we better hurry and figure out how to get into the starting point.  We left mom and joined a mass of people who appeared to be trying to funnel in a 2 foot wide space between a large tent and the first section of the starting gate.  You can only imagine how that looked... everyone was cramped trying to fit through the small space, somehow we ran into our roman friends from the hotel and wished each other good luck, and ten minutes later, through puddles of urine we made our way past the narrow entrance and towards the enclosed entrances to the starting gates.  Clearly the gates were not engineer properly for masses of people to get through. The narrow walk way between the gates and the river didn't provide for a swift passage, and the tiny entrance doors every 100 ft or so were not very helpful either!

We finally entered the gate with the finish time of 4 hours, ambitious yes, but we could definitely start at that pace, and we hoped that we would no longer need bathroom breaks from that point on.  We heard the start of the wheel chairs, and then all of the sudden the ropes between starting gates were taken down and the mash towards the start line began.  Surrounded by Italians I could hear a few comments, trying to figure out how long it would be before they started the runners, I can only imagine how my dad must have felt. But more than anything it was just thrilling standing there! Dad and I had been running many miles for months and we were psyched we were finally standing at the start line, like we said through our whole training... "just get to the starting line", and that we did! Soon after we hear a count down from ten and see our neighbors start shedding their layers.  At this point we weren't sure we would actually make it past the starting line, once we started moving, sweaters, jackets, plastic race ponchos etc. littered the floor and it was a death trap for moving ankles! A couple people's feet got tangled up in the mess, and dad and I struggled to avoid that happening to us as well.  Amazed at the amount of clothing (nice clothing at that) left at the starting gates, we joked that the homeless should always find themselves at the start of races... free clothing everywhere!

We crossed the start line and took things slow.  We hung left still avoiding debris on the ground and searched for Mom as we ran.  A couple hundred feet out she spotted us with the smiles impossible to erase from our faces... keep in mind it was only a couple hundred feet out... ha! Dad and I weaved in and out of people, it was rather congested for the first mile.  We saw a runner wearing a BAA marathon jacket and ran along side her to point out my dad's BAA half running shirt... she looked confused then professed she was an "imposter"... not quite sure what she meant, but we could tell she wasn't actually from Boston, but we weren't sure if she had actually run the Boston Marathon or not, so we kept on running... or jogging.. who knows.  We passed the first 5k, I made a friend (kind of) who boasted about how easy marathon runs were for him... he was used to Ironmans and ran a marathon every weekend of the year... ya, whatever.  A band on top of a double decker bus playing some beatles tunes kept us in good spirits as we "sped" off toward the cascine. We cruised along at a good pace feeling good through the 10k.

At the 10k mark we stopped to stretch briefly and noted what the race refreshment points had to offer.  Sale/Salts. Tea/THE. Water. What we couldn't understand was why Tea would be offered at the refreshment points, and when we realized it was actually HOT tea we were even more confused, needless to say we just didn't trust the tea.  So we strayed away from the THE, which was also rather amusing because the large signs just read THE in Italian, every time I passed them I chuckled a little to myself, this helping me smile effortlessly through all 42.165 kilometers.  We had also noted on the website prior to the race that various salts would be offered, so this was what I was up for trying at the 10k mark. Surprisingly, the salts were magic, it was basically an electrolyte lemon drink that quenched your thirst and gave you an energy boost, from that point on I knew I'd be drinking those salts/sale every 5k from that point on.

From there we continued weaving through the Cascine watching some men veer of the course to pee, witnessing a cool dirt bike track and then crossing the Arno around mile 14/15. At this point I was starting to be a few steps ahead of my dad and
knew that his plan was to stop and walk a little at every upcoming 5km marker, so around mile 15 we said see you at the finish and I continued with my race strategy and he with his.  I knew if I stopped to walk often I'd never make it so I just kept on running with a large smile on my face.  Shortly after mile 15 Mom was waiting with the camera ready, I ran by smiling like a loser, telling her that Dad wasn't far behind and I continued out toward the Porta Romana down a road I often walked to get to class in Santo Spirito during my term abroad. At the Porta Romana there was another band that managed to keep the smile on my face as I turned the point and headed back toward the Arno past the Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace.  Did I mention a marathon through a renaissance city in Italy ROCKS? Along this road my smile did not vanish, yet only grew bigger... why you ask? Because there were two ancient little cinque centos on the way to the arno, a BRIGHT blue and a rustic red... I was in love! And still running!! At the turn just before the Ponte Vecchio to head up the Oltre Arno, mom was waiting again!  My smile had not faded since I saw her 2 miles before... I asked if she had caught dad - yes! And I was off again! This next refreshment stand I grabbed another cup of salts, my go to, and noticed they started offering Biscotti! Che bello! Only an Italian road race would offer biscotti, and my stomach was feeling empty so I grabbed a piece and went on my way towards the Half mark across the Arno again! I passed the half marathon mark around 2:13 and was feeling pretty good.

However, the next portion of the race would be the toughest.  It was a long boring loop around the stadium far from the true bellezza of Florence and I had no dad inspiration to keep me going! Luckily after the next station, where fruit was added to the selection, I ran into some other Americans who I was able to chat with and keep pace for a couple of miles.  They kept my mind off the running for a little and soon enough we were headed back towards the old city center and the 30km mark... boy that was a good feeling! This next portion of the race was going to be sweet! I only wished Dad and I could have been running the same pace to experience it all together! The Americans started to pull away as we approached Piazza SS Annunziata with the beautiful Ospedale degli Innocenti.  From there it was through Piazza San Marco then up towards the Duomo whose greatness you could see looming just as you turned the corner of Piazza San Marco.  I was PSYCHED to run past the baptistry and the duomo, it was a spectacular feeling! You felt so small running through it and back towards the Arno. The Duomo marked 35 kilometers and my first experience sucking on a lemon at the refreshment point, I had seen a few others take the slice of lemon, so I was curious as well, and boy was I glad to have tried it, it refreshed my mouth and gave me a boost just like the salts, lemons would be my new go to fruit of the race, bye bye bananas!

At that 35km point with the Duomo ahead of me I felt fantastic, nothing was going to slow me down for the last 7km, but as the course turned out of the historic center and back down the Arno toward the Cascine I felt my fatigue hit in. I tried to keep running, but not knowing where the course was going to turn back around and head toward the Ponte Vecchio was very demoralizing, I ended up running most of the way, but slowed to walk for a couple seconds once or twice before the course turned back in towards town.  I made it over the river and as we approached the Ponte Vecchio I was feeling really tired, but how many times in your life to you get the bridge to yourself and get to run across it? Not many. So nothing slowed me down! I ran over that Ponte Vecchio smiling again, and all that lay ahead was a cruise through Piazza della Signoria (what a treat), back through Piazza del Duomo, up Via Ghibellina and into the finish! ARRIVO!!! Unfortunately during the last 3km knowing Florence all to well was biting me in the but, I had my last refreshment point at the back side of the Duomo and knew the arrivo was coming up soon in Piazza Santa Croce, but I also couldn't forget how the course ran you into the Piazza and as Via Ghibellina led us completely past it I felt defeated because I had know the Piazza and finish were so close, but I had failed to realize they ran us past the piazza, back toward the Viale where the start was, up the lungarno and back into the Piazza, turning along the Lungarno you could see the 42 km mark and it made me so estatic, I just couldn't slow down, and the last .195km were so brutal and so thrilling I can't even tell you.  You started to see the white balloon arches leading you towards the piazza tricking you that the next one is going to be lettered with ARRIVO and balloons, but there were about 7 of them until I saw that final one smack in the middle of grandstand on either side of the course... THIS WAS IT! I looked back at the beautiful colored marble of Santa Croce and its spires then kicked it to the finish arms up in glory and smiling like a goon for the race photographers. Holy shit. Did I finish a marathon? I could NOT believe it! I came to a complete stop about 5 steps after the finish line, was given a kick butt medal and proceeded away to find some water and to grab one of those shiny silver race blankets you always see marathoners wearing at the end of the race.  And now I know why... holy cow those things were warm! And I was FROZEN!! I walked toward the end of the gates to find water then sat on a crate to await the finish of my dad!!

When Dad arrived at the finish I was there waiting for him! We were so excited! We FINISHED a MARATHON!! Never had we ever thought we would see the day, and finishing it in Florence was the icing on the cake! Mom found us through the fence and we hustled down to the end of the gated area to get some nutrients.  We were freezing so we decided to give the THE a try and boy was it delicious! I guess the Italians are right about some things! Little did we know! I downed a few cups of the hot tea and was feeling good. We realized my dad somehow missed the medal, so I went back to ask for one and we were informed they had ran out... what a bummer! Luckily they said they had ordered more and would ship them to the house for everyone who did not get one. Dad was pretty bummed and he wasn't sure if he had finished under 5 hours which was his goal, but as we walked back toward the hotel and recounted our experiences we realized how crazy fun the whole thing was.  We walked back through the Piazza del Duomo seeing the last finishers still running, I requested a GROM stop and got a delicious fondente hot chocolate, then we walked back to the hotel to nap before our big celebratory dinner, shocked our legs were still functioning.  However when we climbed into bed after stretching we noted the excruciating pain of the bed sheets touching our toenails, it was ridiculous! But at least that was the worst of our injuries... bruised toes!

Burata and Prosciutto
When we awoke from our naps we face timed Alex and received the electronic timing system results via email.  When I told Dad he broke 5 hours he was thrilled! And I was pretty stoked to have made the 4:30.00 mark by a couple of seconds.  We both did so well! We celebrated our marathon finish and Lynn's birthday at the Quattro Leone, complete with guilt free indulgence of wine, burata, pasta, prosciutto and dolci.  Was a fantastic way to start our vacation.

Did I mention we finished a marathon? One and done. Wahoo!