Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dottore, Dottore, Dottore...

Me, My coronocina and my Torre :)
I'll let you finish the saying that I started in the title if you know it...And if you don't, maybe you'll learn it by the end of this blog post, maybe ;)

Any tourist, visitor, or inhabitant of Bologna has witnessed the weeks of graduation ceremonies that occur throughout the year in the city center and might identify the laurel graduate crown, students dressed in costumes and loud Italian chanting as the symbol of Bologna instead of Piazza Maggiore, Le Due Torri, Mortadella and tortellini.  And right they are, the laurea is a key aspect of the Bolognese lifestyle, an enriching part of the city's identity and one of the main reasons why many of Bologna's inhabitants have chosen Bologna as their Alma Mater.

As a matter of fact, in my first weeks living as a Bolognese I was sometimes startled by the scherzi or jokes that Italian students play on their graduation day, some of those scherzi include signs with graduates faces imposed on interesting images or others bodies all over the city (jokingly), students dressed up as Pikachus, unicorns, fairys, you name it, running all over Bologna, La Dotta, forced to pull pranks on tourists and any willing volunteer, commanded by their peers. This could have been me, had I acquired that group of friends...but I was luckily blessed with low key reserved friends :) While some people are sprayed with ketchup and egged on their giorno di laurea, graduation day, there are also other graduates who walk through the Bolognese streets, and while they don't stand out in a crowd like a Pikachu might, they do wear a distinct head piece that separates them from the rest and also resonates as a powerful symbol of Bolognese (and Italian) culture.

La Coroncina di Laurea or La Coroncina di Alloro per Laurea | The Graduation Crown or The Crown of Laurels for Graduation

Priceless. Ti voglio Bene :)
This is the symbol that resonated with me in my first days in Bologna, and this is the symbol that inspired me to make it to my Italian graduation day (along with another superstition I'll explain later).

The Laurea is a coveted accomplishment in Italian culture, especially in Bologna who is home to the world's oldest university in continuous operation, founded in 1088. After I was introduced into Bolognese society, began taking courses at the prestigious university and witnessed newly graduated students roaming the streets in their coroncine, a goal was set in mind and it motivated me from my first stroll through the main square. Additionally, it also fostered a new found appreciation for the city that I fortunately chose to pursue my masters studies in.

Throughout my first year at Bologna, I noticed there were distinct times of the year when the neo laureati (newly graduated) would be out and about showing off their laurels or pulling pranks with friends throughout the city center. As I dove into classes and got familiar with the Italian university system the Italian graduation day became more clear and justified the various potential graduation dates for a group of students who might have all started class on the same day. Just as getting used to taking oral exams was a challenge, understanding the graduation was a challenge as well, but as I started to understand the exam schedule, la laurea logistics began to fall into place as well.

In the Italian University system exam period is much different than exam period in the United States. A typical course runs the semester and attendance is often given as a choice. A student can either be considered a frequentanti, someone who attends the class, or a non frequentanti, a student who does not attend the class. Both types of students are enrolled in a particular course and have the opportunity to receive a grade and be tested on the coursework, however each path comes with merits and challenges. I chose the frequentanti path since I knew I was incapable of self study to learn the material, and it just made sense that I would get far more out of seeing the teacher, hearing Italian every day, interacting with my classmates and building relationships at school was a far better option than the latter. But a non frequentanti might argue that they work two jobs and don't have time to attend class, can teach themselves well out of the book, and are capable of putting all their eggs in one basket to either pass or fail the one exam that counts toward your grade. I opted for the interim assignments to test my knowledge and help my grade, along with creating relationships with my docenti and colleghi. 

For any class, there is the normal class period where class is in session, normally the duration of a regular semester. Immediately following the end of the class period, exam period begins. BUT, exam period is not as simple as it may sounds. Exams are broken up into appelli or sessions, and each class has the opportunity to take the exam at one of three options of appelli. Generally there are three appelli immediately following the end of the semester for a certain course, so a student will have three different exam dates to choose from. If you are a frequentanti like I was, most professors also do a pre appello or pre session offering of the exam then generally follows the week after classes end. The regular sessions start 4-5 weeks after the end of the semester, for example, classes ending in may would have their first exam session mid June, and the following sessions would happen monthly, in July then in September. If you fail the first session or get an undesirable grade you are allowed to take the exam the following session or even wait until the next semesters session to re take it.

Huddled around my kitchen table!
For me, the appello I took my exam in was always obvious. I don't know if it was my Union College experience that helped me not procrastinate or just the thought of studying for longer than necessary that turned me away from postponing exams, but if there was a pre appello in my classes I took it, and if I couldn't I took it the first session possible and as a result I was the first student in my class to complete all of my exams. Carrying this mentality, I learned about the graduation sessions, and since I was successful in completing my exams on time, this allowed me to be successful in graduating on time as well.

Graduation in Italy does not happen all on one day like it does in the US. That becomes obvious when you stroll down the cobblestone streets of Bologna and see a neolaureato on almost any day of the week. Why? This is because the graduation dates happen similarly to the way exams happen: in sessions. Each department has their own appelli di laurea that generally follow the same monthly schedule, for example, my department of Political Science has graduations sessions in July, October, December and then March the following year. Since I completed all of my exams by June, I was able to apply myself and write thesis like crazy to be ready for the first session in July. In retrospect, maybe I should have taken my sweet time writing and extend my Bolognese experience through the following year?

But Lina and I had the same mindset. Finish your studies as soon as you can, do not prolong the torture of stress associated with studies! And we did it!

051 @ Piazza Maggiore
A year ago today marks my Bolognese graduation day. It's hard to believe it's been a year since I had one of the best days of my life. The stress of the Italian education system culminated on July 22, 2014. I was successful in completing all of my classes and exams on time (without failing) and my language skills had developed enough to be able to defend my 119 page thesis in Italian! What an accomplishment! I had been through ups and downs during my studies and my time away from home, and I had also avoided climbing the beautiful Torri Asinelli for two years, in fear that the old Bolognese superstition claiming that if you climbed the tower prior to your graduation date you would never graduate could be true. Finally, July 22nd was going to be the day to prove it was all worth it and boy was I not disappointed at all!
Al Sangiovese

Tim, Alex & Michael arrived the Friday before my graduation, I don't want to get into the detail of everything since this post is already long, but man did we have fun! We ate and drank in all the great spots including Osteria del Sole, birra up at San Michele in Bosco, Piadine, Tigelle, Marsalino, gelato, Spacca Napoli etc. We made it to Modena and Maranello for the car lovers, and even managed to force Alex to walk up to San Luca... Cappuccino pit stops were necessary and welcomed.

The rest of the family arrived on Sunday evening. The nonni had been driven up by my parents and Toni in the rental car (Happy that Toni thankfully gave in and stuck around long enough with the Nonni at Muto to make it to Bologna!), it was a long 8 hour drive from Muto and after my Nonno had fallen earlier that week they thought the trip might not have been possible. I was so grateful for their arrival and they seemed beyond grateful to have arrived safely in Bologna for my Italian graduation. The next two days leading up to my graduation were madness, it was amazing having so many family members and friends (Thanks Marana!) there to support me, but wheeling two vecchieti around Bologna and making a decision for a group of 14 people was not easy and as low stress as I had anticipated. While I tried to entertain and show my beautiful BO to family and friends, I also had to deal with printing and binding my final finished thesis product and prepare myself on the Italian vocabulary I would have to use in my discussion as well as be prepared to answer any questions asked of me concerning my paper.

Despite the stress and arguing, I still managed to have my last few days in Bologna be among the best. On Sunday evening we all walked to Piazza Grande to eat outside al fresco in the alley the hugged the right flank of San Petronio. Nearby we could hear "Cabaret" being screened on the Maxi schermo in the Piazza as part of the Cinema Sotto le Stelle program that extended the month of July. The previous days had been burdened with unbearable heat, but that Sunday temperatures started to cool and we had the most perfect evening in Piazza. Pignoletto was drank, tortellini were tasted, roses were bought from street vendors, and jokes and fun were had by all.

Monday was craziness as well. We dragged my Nonna and Nonno across town so they could see some of Bologna. My Nonno was very excited to be back in Bologna since his only time in the city had been when he was passing through during World War II. He loved sitting in Piazza Maggiore and soaking up the atmosphere, and I don't blame him, there just isn't anything like it! My mom and I grocery shopped at the Coop in Santo Stefano while the Nonni rested for a little, then we ran home to prepare lunch in my lovely little Via Solferino apartment. While we prepared lunch everyone opted to do their own thing, nap, walk around, shop, grab a cappuccino... then at lunch time the Nonni were whisked to my apartment that thankfully had an elevator and we all squished around my table meant for 4 or maybe 6. We had the best lunch among the best company and enjoying the best view of San Michele in Bosco. My nonni were so happy to see the apartment where I had lived for the past two years and they were excited to have a family event over good food and wine in my tiny little kitchen My Nonna couldn't believe I managed to survive using the tiny stove, oven and sink for two years! What a riot! After lunch the cycle restarted, naps, cappuccios, shopping and walking on your own accord until yes, dinner time! The rain began before dinner time so walking efforts became hindered slightly, but we managed to all make it to Al Sangiovese in my neck of the woods for another fabulous dinner. The food, the wine and the company made it exceptional! I tried not to drink much vino since the big day was to follow, but I joined in a lovely brindisi and we all made it to bed on the early side, with most of my nerves subsided for the big day.

Nonni & Lucio Dalla
Planning for the graduation day had been a nightmare since leading up to it we weren't positive on the timing of la discussione and la proclamazione. Tuesday there would be two separate events, 9:00am started the list of defenses (la discussion), luckily I was second in line, but there was no way to tell the exact time I would defend my thesis to the panel, and then the proclamation was held at a different location a few hours later, making eating and drinking logistics with a group of 20 people kind of difficult.  I woke up stressed as heck, I was nervous about my family making it to my defense by 9, them causing a scene (because that is normally how it goes down) and then nervous for my own material, afraid that I might not be able to search my Italian vocabulary in a time of desperate measures in order to efficiently and correctly communicate the point of my thesis. But there wasn't much time to stress. Tim and I headed off down Via Rialto, past La Sorbetteria and we stopped at my go to Cafe on Via Guerazzi where I had half a cappuccino in fear that the caffeine would affect me negatively, then we walked down to Scienze Politiche at Strada Maggiore, 45 to get the scoop from Lina on the proceedings of the morning and to make sure everything was in order. When I had left my apartment Alex and Michael were barely awake and certainly not showered so in the back of my mind I was stressed about their arrival, and similarly I had no idea on the whereabouts of my parents and Nonni. Additionally, I had Gaetano and Christina arriving from Torino, and my wonderful famiglia fiorentina arriving from Firenze with two little ones in tow... who knew how the day would unfold!

By 9:00am I was prepared. I had found Lina and conferred with her about my fears. I had found my wonderful relatore or advisor, Professor Partington, who advised me I was well prepared for my discussion. And slowly but surely my friends and family began to fill the courtyard of Strada Maggiore, 45 while the first graduate went into Aula A to be questioned by the Commissione di Laurea. Relief, anxiety, fear, excitement, you name it! Was all happening in my mind. I was due second according to the list, but after the first person finished, I was asked if someone could cut me in line, so I was bumped to third, unknowing of what time I would actually face the Commissione and my graduation fate. My friends and family distracted me as I waited anxiously for the door to open and for them to call the next candidate "Lia D'Ambrosio". I rushed in and my family quickly mobilized behind me wheeling my Nonno into the tight turns of Aula A, behind him came the carriage with Chiara's two children, Giada and Andrea, Claudia followed, then Gaetano & Christina and the rest of the crew (Alex, Tim, Michael, Samantha, Jessica, Lina, Li etc). I was unaware there was a head of the commission, so before I sat I handed copies of my thesis to my advisor Professor Partington and my Co advisor, and looked clueless on where to hand the third, when Partington nicely pointed me to the man sitting in the middle of desk and panel of professors and opposite a lone chair that was clearly going to be the hot seat. I gave the head of the commission (Prof Gozzi) my thesis and sat nervously with my back to my friends and family audience and facing Prof Gozzi directly along with 5 professors to his left and his right... talk about intimidation! Ha! It was go time! Professor Gozzi mentioned that I might like to present my defense in English, and I let him know it was kind of him to ask but since I did my studies in Italian I'd like to give my final stand in Italian as well, he agreed and I proceeded to give my spiel, stumbling at first over the Italian, but then getting into the flow. A couple minutes in, my advisor kindly reminded me I had a handout for the panel/commission, so I got flushed and embarrassed again, handed out the sheets and recomposed myself to finish my 15 minute defense. At the close of my time, I was relieved, but only for a moment! Now it was the panels turn to ask a question... starting with my advisor (such a nice man!), he asked and I responded... generally only your advisor asks a question, but I was surprised to here Prof. Gozzi directly across from me begin to ask me a second question... he seemed really truly intrigued in my work! Psyched, I answered his question and I was done, they sent me (and my audience) out of the room to deliberate, they called me back in a few minutes later expressing that I had done well enough to be invited to the graduation ceremony that afternoon... WHAT A RELIEF!!!
Grandi amici :)

Out in the courtyard I was congratulated and overwhelmed with all of the built up anxiety that I could finally let go. I thanked my professor for helping me achieve such a wonderful accomplishment then I went back into see Lina finish her discussion since she was right after mine. What a thrill to have both accomplished so much and in such a short time. Lina and I were the only ones from our class graduating during that appello there were maybe 7 students in total, some from other programs within political science and a couple from our International Relations program but who had started the year before us.... che grande emozioni! Lina and I were finished! So I told her I'd see her at la proclamazione and I was off with my posse to grab a cappuccino on Strada Maggiore and then to have a fabulous lunch at Al Torinese under the porticos of Piazza Maggiore. Life was good! After lunch my host family had to depart to catch their trains, I thanked them immensely for attending since they were a huge part of my initial florentine experience and my love for Italy, then I walked the crew down to the classroom where la proclamazione was held. The actual graduation ceremony was short, simple and underwhelming. A number of our professors were dressed in judge type robes and marched into a classroom with the graduates in it. We line up along the side of the room and then Professor Endrici (La Endrici) announced each of us and proclaimed we had become Dottore by Italian law and also announced our final grades. I was psyched as I achieved a 100/110, which was beyond my expectations of a grade, my lovely Lina got a 110/110 con lode, she is such a hard worker and truly intelligent woman, lucky to have her as a friend during my two years at Uni :) But the main thing I walked away from that proclamazione with was a title and a feeling, I was now a dottoressa, and my adventure to becoming a dottoressa was above and beyond and the most important people in my life were there to witness it! SO thankful for everyone who supported me through my ups and downs in BO and so thankful to have such a strong family bond through my Nonni who inspired me to embrace the country they immigrated from so many years ago. I was and still am so proud to have completed this feat with them as witnesses!

So blessed :)

From the semi underwhelming proclamation of 20 minutes we headed outside for photos and auguri, and Alonso, Alena, Li and Lavinia brought Lina and I our Coroncine with purple ribbon (Purple signifies we were from the department of Political sciences) - It was official! My turn to shine and walk the streets of Bologna as a dottoressa and coroncine! Coroncine and all we began to diverge from the classroom, some may have begun to chant dottore, dottore, dottore... (they were probably for the other graduates and I know Alonso was saying it under his breath as well, haa!) as we walked away, and I don't know if everyone knew where they were headed, but I sure as hell was headed straight towards that Torre Asinelli...

New campanello title!
What a reward! For more than one! -- Tim's Union graduation reward as well ;) A group of us climbed the tower, grins on our faces and excitement exploding. It was the perfect end to my time in Bologna. The view was breathtaking, I could point out all of the different places I had walked to so many times, I could point out my house, where school was, where I ate pizza the most often and you could see the outline of Bologna la rossa enveloped by the famouse viale e porte and engulfed by green rolling hills. It felt amazing to be on top of that tower looking out at the breathtaking landscape and medieval towers and porticos of Bologna, and to be doing at as a new dottoressa with my best friends, boyfriend and family was an indescribable feeling! We stayed up there for hours admiring the view, soaking it in and chatting... the day wasn't over yet, cocktails and aperitivi were to be had to close out my numero uno day and my last day living in Bologna! Bittersweet!

If you're still curious about the dottore song.... take a look at this link! But shhh... I didn't tell you about it!  -> Typical sight in BO!

Monday, July 6, 2015

La Pietra di Bismantova

Have you ever heard of la Pietra di Bismantova!? I certainly hadn't, and even once I had heard of it, I still was unsure what I was about to embark on when I agreed to go hike it with a couple of my classmates. But I am sure glad I said "yes! I'll come!" when they asked :)

The beginning of June marked the end of the first appelli of exams and the commencement of the brief period before the next session of exams that many of my classmates would not be taking. I, myself had finished all of my career exams, and June marked a quick 2 weeks where I decided I could be a little adventurous and still be able to finish my thesis in time for a July 11 deadline. So, when Alonos and Giulia asked if I wanted to head to Reggio-Emilia (Giulia's hometown), and hike La Pietra di Bismantova, I said "Come no!?"

Alonso and I got a semi-early start, early for him! We met at la stazione centrale around 9:00am to take the regionale train to Reggio Emilia where Giulia was waiting for us with her car. The train ride was pretty quick, and we found Giulia easily as we excited the train and headed towards the parking lot where she indicated she would be waiting. 

First stop: Il Panificio. We couldn't hike the Pietra di Bizmantova without a little nutrience in our backpacks and in our bodies. Giulia drove us to a Panificio near the center of Reggio-Emilia and the train station. She suggested we try this spinach filled pie, typical of the area, known as Erbazzone.  This delicious pie is made of dough, spinach or collard green filling, garlic, onion, parmigiano-reggiano and tiny pieces of lardello (layer of fat, prosciutto bits). Delicious to say the least.

With erbazzone in our backpacks, we were off towards the Appenines of Reggio-Emilia. 

Giulia drove well and explained the sights and the various roads as we headed toward the mountains. We passed the apartment complex where she lives as we exited the city center, she commutes back and forth from there to get to class everyday. City turned into rolling hills and green fields quickly. The windy road brought us through hills and valleys, weaving between small towns every so often. I wasn't quite sure how long the drive to the hike was supposed to be, nor did I know what to expect but as we got closer, about a half hour out, Giulia pointed out a flat plateau-like feature that rose steeply out of the rolling geography. THAT, she explained, was the destination. We could see the destination for most of the hour ride, but as we neared closer and closer, the plateau shaped geographic form grew even more impressive.

The landscape was beautiful. Rolling hills carved out by the road we traveled on, small towns sporadically placed, and green, lush fields engulfed our car. The green hills gave way to the impressionable Pietra di Bismantova, a steep rock face that jutted out of the hills and was capped with another lovely blanket of green grass and wild flowers, what a treat! But as we near, I also grew weary... how on earth was I going to climb the steep rock face? There was no way the three of us were getting up there easily! Rest assured, Giulia was sure the hike would be an easy 40 minutes and that there were no difficult parts of the climb... I wasn't going to believe her until we arrived at the top!

We drove up the base of the rock formation, driving farther up than I had anticipate -- already a good sign for my legs. We emptied from the car and started heading up towards the beginning of the path where there were bathrooms, a small tourist shop and a a restaurant. The first leg up to that point was pretty steep, but manageable and no rock climbing attire proved necessary, so my nerves had already settled.  We made our way through the woods to find a path that Giulia assured us would take us zig zagging around the rock instead of straight up. In good fiducia we followed her. The hike was beautiful, curving around the rock wall at a slight incline and opening up to a grassy field almost at the top. Giulia pointed out a path straight up the vertical rock face where two people were getting geared up to climb up utilizing the anchors that you could see staggered all the way up the face of the cliff. Who the heck put those there!?  This discovery sparked a conversation on rock climbing vocabulary, that seemed very difficult, and writing this now I see why it was so difficult. I had to google what those metal hooks they put into the rock to figure out what they were called in English, no wonder describing them in Italian was no breeze! The difficult part was that there wasn't just a single type of anchor used to rock climb and scale mountains like the one we were staring up at. I couldn't name the various types of anchors in English and I hard a hard time describing them in Italian and Giulia and Alonso also struggled to come up with the right set of vocabulary for the rock climbing word. Whatever words we did establish that described the anchors clearly did not stick, since I now cannot remember the vocabulary set! I'll have to do a little wordreference-ing ;)

A few key vocabulary words you should know before you go climbing in Italy:

Agganciare - to hook
Ancoraggio - Anchor
Appiglio - Hold (place to place your hand)
Arrampicare - to climb
Chiodatura - nailing
Corda - rope
Crevaccio - crevasse
Imbracatura - harness
Protezione - belay
Salita - way up, climb
Scarpata - steep

So after tackling rock climbing vocabulary proved to be more difficult than continuing on our way up the mountain the easy way, we decided to proceed with a loss for words. The climb was quick, steep at parts, but mostly painless since it was only a total of 40 minutes up the mountain. At the top of the path we approcahed a clearing and a dramatic view. We had reached the flat top of the immense plateau of La Pietra di Bizmantova and man, oh man, it was impressive! Just as we had seen the rock stick out of the rolling geography on our drive up, we could now see the surrounding hills and valleys below us and the winding roads weaving between them, with that I pictured myself standing on top of that massive rock!

There were a few trees and tall grass that covered the top of the plateau and the terrain was quite rocky underneath, hence the name, Pietra. We walked near the perimeter and looked straight down at the steep drop off and massive rock wall that some crazies climb straight up. We found a flat area near some shade that wasn't directly next to the drop off and we laid our picnic blankets/towels down to rest.  We sat on top of La Pietra di Bizmantova for a couple of hours, we chatted, ate our delicious erbazzone and soaked up the sun and the friendship, and I, the language. How lucky was I!? The trek down the hill proved to be much easier and quicker than our hike up, we stopped at the bottom for another snack, Alonso a smoke, and then Giulia drove us back to la stazione di Reggio-Emilia and Alonso and I were back to our beloved BO!

Vi consigliate di andare ad arrampicare la pietra di bizmantova se vi trovate in zona! E da non perdere!

Alla prossima! xxx