Friday, November 24, 2006 0 comments


I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! We certainly did here...

Thanksgiving, of course, is a very American holiday, so we took the opportunity to host the party for our friends and students, both American and Italian. All together, we ended up having around thirty or so guests. We tried to fix the traditional feast: Turkey, ham, homemade rolls, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes, dressing, salad, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and a dessert (the named translates to something like 'chocolate sausage'; it is chocolate with nuts and cookies and such crumbled in it shaped into a sausage-like roll and then sliced) that Melissa, our Sicilian friend who is visiting for a few weeks, made.

It was all an interesting undertaking since our stove, which is broken, only has two temperatures: off or 600 degrees. So, most things either cook very quickly, or we cook with the door halfway open (yes, it gets a bit warm in the kitchen at times...), or the oven must be turned off and on every ten minutes or so. But, everything turned out fine. Even the 'sweet potatoes.' Sweet potatoes as we know them in the U.S. do not exist here in Italy. The closest thing is a type of potato that is considerably sweeter than a regular potato, but still white and with a regular-potato texture. So, Matt mashed them and added a whole lot of food coloring. They turned out reasonably orange, and we pretended they were real sweet potatoes. They were actually pretty good, though not quite as sweet as real yams.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the dinner. I invited some of my friends from language school, and one of my students, Laura, came by. She was expecting a regular lesson, so she was in for a bit of a suprise. However, it turned out to be quite a good English lesson for her, anyhow, as she learned a lot about Thanksgiving and our traditional foods, and practiced her English with my friends. We learned a few Italian words, too. I told my friends how my great-uncle always says, after every big meal like Thanksgiving, "I'm full as a goose." Turns out 'goose' in Italian is "oca."

The funniest part of the evening was Tiziana's poem. Tiziana, a friend and frequent guest here at the Bible school, is both an English student and a member of the church here in Florence. In the past few weeks, she wrote a long poem (in Italian) telling the story of Thanksgiving. As we finished eating, Greg (as a pilgim), Gary (as an unusually blonde Indian--I guess we don't have any darker wigs), and Matt (as a turkey) acted it out while she narrated. It was all the funnier because she read the poem in imitation of Gary--in a major southern accent. It was hilarious to hear the Italian language redneck-style. :) I got a video of the whole thing, luckily.

Anyhow, it was a great evening and I enjoyed spending time with all of our guests. Anyone want any mashed potatoes? We still have entire heaping bowl! Or maybe some salad, or dressing? :)
Thursday, November 23, 2006 0 comments

Wednesday, November 1, was a holiday here in Italy: All Saint's Day (Ognisanti). Traditionally, it is a day to honor the dead--to visit cemeteries, put flowers on graves, and remember the ancestors who made you who you are today, very similar to our Memorial Day. And, like our Memorial day, it has become over time a great time to take a long weekend and get out of town. It's late-fall date lends itself well to trips to the mountains. For us at the Bible school, it meant a taking a day off from our regular students and classes (most of whom were out of town anyhow) and spend a day in Alfredo's Olive grove.

Alfredo, one of the church members here in Florence and a good friend to all of us, owns some land in the hills just outside of Scandicci. He has several hundred olive trees on his hillside, and November 1 generally marks the beginning of the olive harvest. We met him at a nearby gas station at 9:00 and followed him up the steep, winding hill. At points, it didn't look likely that our van would fit on the narrow curves. Greg was driving, as usual, and he said, "Just think, this is a two-way street!" It was one of those roads that are so narrow that you have to honk when you come to a curve to make sure no one is coming around it from the other direction. It was peaceful up there--you could see the buildings of Scandicci down in the valley, but we were far from the noise and traffic. We parked in the middle of the olive grove and walked down to a corner.

For us first-timers, Alfredo showed us how to put the huge round tarps, specially made for the purpose, around the trees. Then, those on the ground use small rakes with short handles to rake each branch, knocking all the olives down onto the tarp. A couple of people would climb up into the tree or lean a ladder against it to reach the higher branches. Luckily, olive trees aren't exceptionally tall. You have to be very careful where you step while working, or you will have olive oil on the tarp a little too soon. After the tree was sufficiently relieved of its olives, we would pick up the tarp and dump them into crates.

It was a cloudy, rainy-looking day, but after a few sprinkled in the morning it never really rained. At first we were all expecting to freeze, but as Alfredo explained the process to us and we got to work, we realized that it was perfect sweatshirt weather so long as we kept moving. We would have gotten hot climbing around and under the trees if it had been sunny.
We worked all morning, usually doing three or four trees at a time. At lunchtime, Alfredo left us a little early and built a fire in a little clearing near the top of the hill. By the time we came up the hill, he had sausages and ribs grilling. They smelled great after a morning in the grove, and the smell of a bonfire reminded me of camping trips, burning leaves in the fall, and the wood stoves my grandparents used to have. He also had brought along a huge round loaf of bread, gouda cheese, and of course a bottle of olive oil from last year's harvest. We ate the bread with the brilliantly green olive oil and a little salt. Now, I'm not always such a fan of olive oil, but eating out in a field on top of a hill after a morning of gathering the olives, it seemed to taste unbelievably fresh.

After we finished our meal, we sat around our makeshift table on the ground and talked and rested. We picked a few more trees in the afternoon, and then tallied up our crates. We gathered fourteen crates of olives that day, off of about so many trees. It was a fun experience to see a bit of rural life in this area, and I think we all appreciate what goes into the bottle of olive oil on our table a little more.
And if you want to see my pictures of the day, they are here:
Tuesday, November 7, 2006 0 comments

Aprilia Convegno

On October 27-29, the Aprilia congregation held a convegno (convention, similar to a youth rally, in this instance) for young people. Aprilia is a town about the same size as Columbia, and is about an hours' drive south of Rome. All of us AI workers, and Robbie, the director of the Harding University study abroad program here in Florence, piled into our 80-something model Volkswagon van on Friday afternoon...

Not far from Rome, we were driving along when we passed a bright red van with white letters down the side. "Hey, I think that was the Vicenza group!" someone called out. We slowed waaay down, trying to get the van to pass us so we could see if it really was them. Finally, they did, and sure enough, it was the Vicenza group. They recognized us and waved (our van isn't marked, but most of the other church groups know it well enough--they've prayed at past convegnos that we'll actually make it home in that thing...:) ). We honked and waved, and we passed each other a few times and then they followed us all the way through Rome.

We made it into Aprilia pretty late. Kelly, Anna, and I stayed with a couple from the church, Roberto and Rosa, and their daughter Cristina. The next morning, we all met at the church at ten. The theme of the weekend was a song, "La Vita di un Mediano," by a popular Italian singer, Ligabue. The title means the life of a mediano, which is a soccer player who plays a certain position. (You know how little I know about sports; don't ask me what exactly a mediano does!) The point was to compare us as church members to a team. We all play different positions, but we all have to do our part for the church to do well. Robbie was the main speaker, and then several of the young people gave short talks about the church as a community. Later, we had discussions about being active in the church. As we were all getting ready to leave that night, some of the members from Aprilia began to sing, and several of us joined in. We sat around and sang for quite awhile. Although I'm no star singer, I love to sing and I enjoy singing together with other Christians. It reminded me of the many times when my friends and I would sit around with a song book and sing for hours when we were teenagers.

The Aprilia congregation has a large group of young people, and they did a great job organizing the weekend. I believe we would all agree that the best part of the weekend was meeting so many people from various places around Italy, and for those who have been here longer, seeing old friends from past convegnos. Since the Christians here are such a minority, they appreciate each other and their time together all the more. There were several people who came all the way from Catania in Sicily in the south and from as far north as Vicenza. I don't know the exact count, but there were probably 50-60 of us.

Overall, it was a good experience for my first convegno, although there were frustrating moments when I had a hard time understanding the discussion with my still-limited Italian. I am looking forward to the next convegno, when hopefully I will speak more Italian and be able to get to know all of the people I met.
Friday, November 3, 2006 0 comments

Halloween Festa!

On October 20, we had a festa (party) and invited many of our students, as well as friends from church. I invited a couple of friends from my language school. We cooked a ton of food; you know how that goes. I was debating making more lemon bars that afternoon, but we had so much food that we ate it all week.

I dressed up as a Christmas tree. That's what I was the last year I went trick-or-treating as a kid, and I happen to own a lot of green clothing at the moment. However, I'm still trying to get all the glitter out of my room, and I'm pretty sure a few of the people at the party did not ever actually find out my name--I heard, "Hey, Albero!" (hey, tree!) several times... Matt and Lauren dressed up as the king and queen of hearts. Anna dressed up as a redneck, and Greg was a soccor player (a USA team jersey, no less...he's very brave considering the Italians never let anyone forget that the Italian team won the World Cup this year...). Kelly dressed up as a butterfly, and her boyfriend Marco carried a net and was a butterfly-catcher. David wore the only scary American tourist. Shorts, tall socks with loafers, fanny pack, visor, camera around neck, guide book, and all...). Several of our friends dressed up, too.

Halloween is just now beginning to be popular here, and so most people are still a little embarrassed to actually wear costumes. It's catching on, guy came as a toilet-paper mummy. Anyhow, we had a pretty-good turnout and I enjoyed meeting all the students who came.