Postcard from: Italy

<strong>Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the Office of International Education, The UTD Mercury is highlighting the adventures of UTD students who study abroad. In this installment, Aidan Skoyles, a senior electrical engineering student, shares his experiences in Italy, where he is studying opera and language for the summer.</strong>

FLORENCE, ITALY – Buongiorno! I write to you from a trattoria, a small restaurant, on the Palazzo Pitti, a plaza built by the Pitti family in 1460 which was once owned, like everything else in this town, by the Medici family. It is beset by tourists, though not as badly as some of the other town’s showpieces like il Duomo in the city center, the Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno and Michelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell’Academia.

I am studying Italian here in Florence for four weeks, perfecting my cappuccino order, and realizing how infuriatingly similar Italian is to Spanish, which I learned in high school. It seems every usage of an ‘e’ in Spanish is replaced by an ‘i’ in Italian. el becomes il, yo becomes io and endless others. It’s close, but not quite the same.

When I finish my course, I will venture around Italy with a rail ticket and youth hostel addresses in hand studying opera in many of the houses in which the pieces were originally performed 200 years ago. So far, I’ve only seen Verdi’s Don Carlos in the impressive Teatro dell’Opera the day after I arrived in Rome last week. Above the proscenium is an engraved dedication to Benito Mussolini. It was a fantastic through protracted performance that brought the old lady sitting next me to tears and me to… well, let’s just say manly heartfelt empathy.

Despite being a whole act shorter than Verdi’s original intention (he made the adjustment himself in 1883) the opera was still over four hours long. Without supertitles like in Dallas, it was difficult to follow the plot’s nuances and equally difficult to read the synopsis published in Italian in the program. Nonetheless, the anguish of Don Carlos’ love for Elizabeth was clear and she had some tremendous arias throughout. The old lady and I got to our feet and shouted ‘bravi’ at the end. When in Rome…

The train ride north to Firenze took me through the countryside past ancient hilltop castles and tumbledown villas in the provinces of Latium, Umbria and Tuscany, and since arriving, save for some clouds at the weekend, I have been continually “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Not surprisingly, everyone here looks and acts just like they do in the movie – they all ride motorino scooters, they all sit outside drinking wine, and they all are molto modo, very stylish. Everyday-people here manage to wear the ultra-stylish sunglasses you see in shops – the bug-eyed wrap-around Posh-Spice type – with the same coolness that you might hop in your SUV and drive to McDonald’s. No one drives big cars in la cítta. They drive Fiats and Smart cars that make the VW Beetle look oversize.

Food and wine in Italy are institutions to say the least. You get past the minor annoyance of all the shops closing between 2 and 5 in the afternoon, after realizing that restaurant workers probably enjoy their food just as much as you do. Eating can be a drawn-out event with multiple courses spaced out over a two-hour interval. All meals are accompanied by glasses of wine and, fingers crossed, no one has asked to see my ID yet. I turn 21 next week. Something gives me the idea that it’s not such a big deal here.

For quick eating there is, of course, pizza and panini and calzoni – all those things that we are familiar with through Americanization. Don’t tell the Italians, but I’m not a huge fan of their purist pizza. The Papa John’s variety has more varied and more plentiful toppings.

I am, however, a fan of gelato, Italian ice-cream. Gelaterias are everywhere here, as common as gas stations in America. They sell all flavors from conventional cioccolata to exotic pistachio. For a taste, go down to Fresco’s Italian Ice Cream on Coit. It’s the just like the real thing!

So, in general, life is molto bene here in Florence. As long as I can keep an eye out for the wayward motorini and not fall in love with a bella donna italiana, I think I’ll be back at UTD in the fall with an appreciation of all things Italian – if not for their pizza, then certainly for their opera.

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