Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ritorno a Esenta

With my host parents
What a fantastic weekend.  I traveled to Italy and back in time this weekend, returning to my tiny Italian hometown of Esenta di Lonato.  I began this crazy lifestyle of living abroad fourteen years ago as a high school exchange student.  This weekend, I returned to Esenta to visit my host family for the first time in seven years. Esenta is a time warp where very little has changed in the past decade and a half.  There are a few more grey hairs; an extra wrinkle; new children, spouses and girlfriends; and in the case of my little host brother Marco all of puberty.  But the basic outline of life remains the same - people live in the same houses, have the same friends, and still derive the most enjoyment from simply being around each other.  It was utterly fantastic.  (I realized on the flight home that Esenta is the only place that I can still sleep in my childhood bed.  There is comfort being in a place that was once yours long ago and still feels the same a decade and a half later).

 I couldn't have accidentally picked a better weekend.  My best friend from Esenta, Alberto, lives in Mozambique.  He, along with his wife and child, were on vacation in Esenta, leaving next week.  Nicola moved to the US for school and was also on vacation with his girlfriend.  Each year Esenta hosts "La Sagra" which is a four-day festival of food, music and small games and rides for kids.  That was this weekend, so I got to see a number of people I didn't expect to see.  There is something magical about tapping someone on the shoulders and watching their eyes go from inquisitive to recognition to astonishment as their minds time travel to long forgotten memories instantly remembered.

I flew into Verona on Friday night and Sergio and Daniela picked me up.  I had been worried that I wouldn't remember any Italian and that was completely true on Friday.  My mind only has two compartments for language, English and foreign.  It makes absolutely no distinction between German and Italian, which presented a problem because I spent much of the weekend accidentally speaking German when I meant to speak Italian.  The Italian was closed up behind a locked door - as the weekend wore on, more and more of the doors were unlocked and my Italian improved greatly, but it was always a struggle.  The weirdest aspect was that I knew the meaning of words, but I would be completely unable to tell you if the word was German or Italian.  For example, I had the word paura in my head which I know means "fear", but in that moment I could not figure out if it was German or Italian.  Very strange experience.  I must tip my hat to anyone who can switch between multiple foreign languages seamlessly.

Dinner on the porch
The food this weekend was simply outstanding.  There is a chance I put on five pounds this weekend despite going for a seven mile run on Saturday morning.  Fresh bread, home made pizza with buffalo mozzarella, delicious peppers, fresh tomatoes, chicken with the most delicious marinade, prosciutto, and more Parmesan cheese than I can justify eating in a weekend.  So yummy.

Everyone in my host family is doing pretty well.  Sergio and Daniela are both still working in their same jobs.  The house is still amazing.  My host grandparents, who live below my host family, are both alive and doing well.  Jacopo is done with classes at the University, but still has to do his thesis.  He just moved in with his girlfriend, Giulia, and is working at a bookstore.  Marco finished high school and may be going to study architecture this fall (he still has to take the entrance exam).  He's lifeguarding this summer and has the tan to prove it.  Cousins Marta and Anna are both doing well.  Anna was on vacation, but I got to see Marta and somehow since I was last there, she went from a slightly-awkward teenager to a beautiful young woman.

I started off Saturday with a nice long run.  I had planned to run from the house to Castiglione, the near-by town where I had attended school.  Esenta is clearly separated from Castiglione and in 1999 I would never have considered going from one to the other without a car.  When thinking about my route, I thought I might be able to reach the outskirts of Castiglione before needing to turn around.  If I were ambitious, I might run all the way to the school.  Clearly, the distance was longer in my memory  than in reality as I not only ran to the school (about 2 miles away), I ran all the way through town to the other side and still had to meander on my way back to get the distance I needed.

I spent Saturday afternoon at the lake with some of my friends.  The day was super hot, but fantastic nonetheless.  The water was crystal clear and the perfect temperature-a little chilly, but not too cold to swim.  I got to spend some quality time with some of my good friends from 1999 and some of their friends who I have met over my several visits the last few years.  Saturday night I had dinner with my host parents and then went down to la Sagra, spending the evening with friends, both old and new.

One of these is not like the others (hint - it's the blindingly white guy)
Allesandro with his zia Marta

One of the downsides of my job is that I don't have the long-established friendships and relationships that you see in a town like Esenta.  It takes a bit of time to establish those relationships and it can be hard during the times that they don't yet exist.  But, when they do exist, they don't go away with space and time.  With certain friends you fall back into the groove of things almost immediately.  My friends and host family from Esenta are like that - we've all changed over the last fourteen years, but when we get together, we are all old friends again.  This weekend rejuvenated me more than I even realized I needed.  And for that, I can say Grazie or Danke - I'm really not sure which is which, but they both mean "Thank you."

Jacopo and his girlfriend

Me with the Musatti family

With my host brothers

Cousin Marta with her boyfriend

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Two Weeks in

(Note: This post got inadvertantly deleted, but was originally published on July 12, 2013)

It's hard to believe, but I have been at post for almost two weeks now.  I've been settling in as much as I can and trying to get acquainted with my new job, my new city, and my new house.  I am sure I am glossing over the difficulties I had in Belize, but this move seems a lot more difficult than moving to Belize.  A few themes have stood out.

(1) Frankfurt is big.  I don't just mean the city, which is about twice the size of the country of Belize, but also the consulate.  The consulate building is a former Air Force hospital.  Frankfurt is one the largest U.S. Consulates in the world.   There are so many people who work here that there are entire hallways that I have not yet visited and probably never will.  Despite the size of the Consulate, my section is very small.  I work with only a handful of people in the whole building, which makes me feel a bit isolated.

The housing compound is huge too.  It is more like a big city neighborhood than a small community.  In Belize - if there was someone new on the compound, you introduced yourself because you knew that they were new.  It's different here.  No one goes out of their way to introduce themself.  If I introduce myself, people are very friendly, but it definitely takes more work on my part than it did in Belize.  This is a common complaint of FSOs at large posts and it will just take a bit more time and a bit of adjusting.

(2) Despite all stereotypes to the contrary Germans are not efficient.  I first noticed this in language training - German born teachers were often late and poor with time management.  We often joked that this is why they were in America; the Germans had exiled them for their tardiness and inefficiency.  I now know that the stereotype is simply not true - German customer service is horribly inefficient.  So far, there have been numerous examples:

  • A week after signing up, I still don't have internet at my house because they are mailing a modem to the housing compound, rather than send a technician out.
  • I spent 5 hours on the 4th of July trying to get a smart phone, only to be turned away by three different companies for three different reasons.  (I was able to get it the next day)
  • The two German movers who unpacked my HHE from Belize took about 5 hours, including three 20 minute smoke breaks, to complete the job.  I could have paid two guys with pizza and beer who would have worked faster AND not dropped my stuff several times.
  • My UAB is stuck  processing in customs for a minimum of 5 working days!  This is bullshit - it should not take 5 days to clear duty free boxes through customs.  Ironically, I have all these items from Belize that I don't really care all that much about and I can't get my computer or clothes that I packed in my UAB.
I must point out that everyone is incredibly polite and friendly, even though they are completely unable to accomplish what I ask for.  Annoyingly, this keeps me from being able to get too upset about the issue.  I want to be mad at them, but they are to polite to become angry with them.

(3) I miss Sara.  Things were going really well between us in the months before I left.  We text and skype on a regular basis, but its not quite the same as seeing someone almost every day.  Plus, everyone is just a bit more adventurous when they have someone to do things with.  Exploring is more fun when you have someone to explore with.  I am positive that I will find friends to explore with here in Frankfurt, I just haven't found them yet.  (But, yeah, Sara is coming to visit next month!)

So, meanwhile, I am keeping myself busy in other ways.  First, I signed up for my first marathon and half marathon this fall.  The half-marathon is on Sept. 1 in near-by Darmstadt.  The Frankfurt marathon is on October 27.  I have no idea if I am capable of doing this, but I have determined that I am a pretty stubborn runner and can continually put one foot in front of the other for however long I need to.  Amazingly, if I pull this off, I will have gone from worrying about completing a 5K to finishing a marathon in under 13 months.

I also have a trip to visit my host family in Italy planned for the end of this month!  I haven't seen them since 2007, so I am really looking forward to that.  I am pretty sure my Italian is going to be horrendous and filled with German words.  My mind has successfully developed a split between English/foreign words, but it doesn't really care what language falls into the "foreign category."  I am pretty sure I will say things like "Ich non habe capito"  or "Was machen wir, sta sera?"

Last weekend I took a day trip to Rüdesheim for the Rhein in Flamen (Rhine on Fire) festival.  This festival takes place in several river towns throughout the summer and shoots off fireworks over the river.  Rüdesheim is a cute little town in the wine region.  I arrived in late afternoon and walked around town a bit, before taking a sky tram up the vineyard covered hill side.  From there, I had a majestic view of the Rhine valley and a great spot to watch the fireworks.  The intern in my office and her boyfriend (who told me about the festival) met me a bit later in the evening.  The fireworks were the perfect touch to cap off my first full week in Germany.

Sorry that this is a boring, pictureless, blog post.  I promise to post pictures as soon as I get my computer and internet in my house.

Monday, July 22, 2013


On the weekend after the 4th of July, I took a day trip to Rüdesheim, a nearby town on the Rhine River.  The town, weather, and fireworks were all amazing.

See the sky tram in the background?  I have a traveling rule that
I should always ride these.  Never not worth it.

Main street in Rüdesheim was packed

View from Sky Tram

Having fun with manual focus

Gorgeous Rhine river

A bridal shower taking pictures

Jennifer the intern and me

I pretended this was for America

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Not dead

I am not dead.  I am settling in here in Frankfurt, and have some posts in my head, but typing on an iPad sucks, so they will have to wait until I get my computer and home internet.