Saturday, November 10, 2012

Palermo, and some other stuff

I finally made it to Palermo last Friday. And now I’m desperate to go back because I feel like I hardly saw anything. It’s a strange city, and the last few years have not been very kind to it. It’s a city full of grand buildings, especially on the Via della Libertà which is lined with incredible architecture, but there is a definite sense of neglect, and I couldn’t help but think that it must have been so different just a few years ago.

We started the day by going to a shopping centre on the outskirts of Palermo. I thought that this would just be for an hour or so, but 4 and a half hours later, we were still waiting to get back in the car and go into the city. I didn’t mind too much, I’d been able to visit some familiar shops for the first time in 2 months (I did all my shopping in H&M and Accessorize, which is terrible – I could have bought all the exact same things on Argyle Street), and finally tried the local speciality ‘panella’ for lunch.

When we finally reached Palermo, it was like a condensed day trip. We dashed from church to church, stopping at cathedrals, theatres, and famous piazzas. It was all so fast I didn’t really have time to register names of places. I took photos though, so I can prove I definitely saw the sights, even if I’m not 100% sure what they were.

There is a beautiful fountain in Piazza Bellini, and the girl I was with (from Palermo) was encouraging me to take photographs, and walk around the piazza. At the same time, however, there was a protest taking place on one side of the piazza, of workers who had been made redundant, and workers who had not been paid for months. I felt quite uncomfortable taking out my camera, because as soon as I did, protesters at the edge of the group watched us like hawks. I felt that they must think I was some wealthy tourist, completely ignorant of their problems, but at the same time I couldn’t ask to leave, because I didn’t want to offend this girl, who was obviously so proud of her beautiful city.

I don’t know if it’s because I’d been warned so much about visiting Palermo, that I shouldn’t go on my own, and that I need to keep money in my pockets rather than in a bag, that I need to hide any jewellery from sight, etc., that I felt so nervous and uncomfortable the whole time I was walking around. I’ve visited cities, and lived in Glasgow for 2 years, and I’ve never felt as uncomfortable as I did in Palermo. In many ways, it’s a city like any other – proud of its history, with so much evidence of past wealth, but there was also an open desperation that I’ve never before encountered. I still want to visit again though, I feel like there is so much more to see.
I’d like to go again before Christmas, to spend more time taking in the sights, and to be able to see the markets. After this weekend, I’ve only got 5 weekends before Christmas, so I will have to organise myself.

Last Saturday, I went up La Rocca. I thought it would be a lot like going up the rock in Gibraltar, but it’s a much harder climb. In Gibraltar, the climb is all up roads and purpose-built paths, but La Rocca is quite different. The first half of the climb is mostly steps, which was easy, and the views out from Il Tempio di Diana (Diana’s Temple) were incredible. It was a perfect day to go up, with clear skies and sunshine, and looking out over the town, and the sea from the battlements was spectacular.

From here however, the climb was a lot more difficult. There was a rocky path leading up to the castle at the top of the rock, with a lot of loose stones and plants straggling onto the path. It was well worth the effort to make it to the top though, with views for miles along the coast, and from so high up, (270 metres, fact-fans!), the sea was glittering turquoise. It took about 2 hours to get to the top, and then less that half an hour to get down. This made me feel a bit sad.

The rest of this week has been a battle to get paid. I’m still waiting for my Erasmus grant, and received a worrying email on Wednesday telling me that if I didn’t hand in my forms by Friday I’d be removed from the Erasmus programme. The thing is, I’d sent the forms in 2 weeks ago and heard nothing back. I even emailed the university Erasmus department on Tuesday because I was concerned that I’d heard nothing from them! I replied to the email straight away, and I should (hopefully) be receiving my grant next week… but we shall see. In other financial news, the Italian ministry for education has delayed payments to ELA schools in Sicily until the second half of November. Despite the contract stating that ELAs will be paid by the 5th of each month, my school (helpfully, they seemed to think), offered to just pay me double in December, when they have the money. I politely declined this offer, and asked them to let me know as soon as the funds have become available. According to the ELA facebook group, it seems like everyone else has been paid, but I’ve argued with the school so much, I don’t see what else I can do. It’s a good thing my dad booked my flights home for Christmas a month ago – I’d been counting on booking them ‘as soon as I get my grant’ – I’d never be getting home otherwise.

Anyway, it’ll probably all be fixed by this time next week, when I will be OLD.

22 sounds SO MUCH older than 21. I don’t know why. I hope the weather’s as lovely as it is today. I mean, I’m not expecting to spend the day on the beach, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a birthday when it didn’t rain. Surely a birthday in Sicily is the best chance I have of changing that?

This weekend I’m off to spend two days in Castelbuono, a town about 16km from Cefalù, which should make a nice change. I’ll add photos to this post, and write about this weekend when I get back. I like that I’m getting busier, because I don’t want to waste my time here. I know I’m really lucky to be living in Sicily for 8 months, and it’s flying by already. So I’m off to make the most of the sunshine now – see you next week!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

So, I've made it through my first month...

I’m feeling a bit homesick today. I’ve managed to get through a whole month of my assistantship, and it’s flown by in a blur of textbooks, timetables, and terrible diagrams of ‘my kitchen’ and ‘my bedroom’ on the blackboard. While it feels like it’s gone by in a flash, it still seems like a l-o-n-g way to Christmas, and even though I keep telling myself I’m pretty much halfway there, I can’t help feeling a bit sad. I keep reminding myself that I should make the most of it, and enjoy every day, and I know that this time next year I’ll be in Glasgow, cursing the rain and the sub-zero temperatures, wishing I was back in Sicily, but right now I just miss my family, and my friends, and I miss Glasgow, because I know all the Christmas lights will be going up, and I love the run-up to Christmas. It’s getting cold, but it doesn’t feel even remotely Christmassy here. I’ve had a good couple of weeks though; I even tried my hand at making some worksheets for the class, which resulted in a LOT of second-years sniggering at me and my utter lack of artistic skill. I told them I didn’t care how bad the drawings were, just to get on filling in the verbs (oh yes, how teacher-y I have become!) It’s the school holidays now, just a few days, back on Monday, but it’s nice to have a few lie-ins after getting up for school 6 days a week for a month.

Last Saturday I finally got out of Cefalù for the afternoon. One of the teachers I’ve been working with, Rosa Maria, had mentioned that I could come along some time when she takes her daughter to dance lessons in a town called Termini Imerese, about 40km up the coast towards Palermo. She told me there wasn’t a lot to do in the town, but seemed amused at my enthusiasm at the idea. It turned out that Termini isn’t the most exciting place in the world, and my hopes for a H&M or Zara were left unsatisfied, but it was really nice to spend the afternoon with a bit of different scenery. It was pretty misty and cloudy, so the photos I took look a bit vague, but I think I’ll go back on a clear day and get some nice shots by the coast.

If there was ever any question of whether I’m being looked after well here, well I'm definitely being fed properly. I was very kindly given a whole sackful of homemade Sicilian food by Rosa Maria’s mother last week (4 jars of jam, jars of pasta sauce, pesto, fish, rice…), in addition to a huge pile of fruit, vegetables and eggs by Cettina, and this week I’ve been taken out for lunch and for dinner. I’m going to be the size of a HOUSE by the time I get back to Glasgow! A very happy house, but still…

It’s probably just as well I’ve got all this food, because it’s suddenly become very cold this week. By cold, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been to the beach – on Tuesday night I went out wearing jeans with leggings underneath. I know that I’m not getting any sympathy – everyone back in Glasgow just says ‘HA! Well at least it’s not SNOWING!’ – but it really is something when it’s exactly the same temperature inside as outside (it’s true – I confirmed it in a very scientific way by sticking my head out the window) and you have to create a nest of blankets in the middle of your bed just to retain the feeling in your toes. However, this (nesting) has resulted in most afternoons this week being lost to long, luxurious naps, and not an awful lot else being achieved. I realise I probably should, but I struggle to see this as a bad thing.

I had some lovely visitors on Tuesday. My friend Joel, from Gibraltar is working for a charity in Palermo, and since his parents are over to see him for the week, they came through to Cefalù for the afternoon, and it was great to see some familiar faces! They asked me to recommend somewhere nice for lunch, explaining that they hadn’t had the best luck with restaurants since arriving in Sicily, and I told them that I’d heard there's a great pizzeria at the end of the Città Vecchia, I just wasn’t sure which one (as the street is full of them). I joked that I knew the name of a girl who worked there, so maybe we could just walk along calling her name, when the manager standing outside of the restaurants overheard and told us ‘No, she’s not here right now, she’s working tonight though…’ And so the decision was made. It was a lovely place, with views out over the ocean, and the food was great! It was brilliant to catch up with Joel and his family, and it was fun showing them around Cefalù, I’ve become quite proud of this little town I’m calling ‘home’ for 8 months.

After being here for nearly 6 weeks, and having been teaching for a month now, I really feel that my grasp of the Italian language is coming on quite well. When I first arrived, I struggled to string the most basic sentences together, and mostly communicated through mime and a lot of eyebrow-waggling. Now, I can easily ask for things in shops, and hold actual, fairly sensible conversations with students and other teachers. I suspect they still think I’m a bit simple, but I’m improving, slowly, and definitely becoming more confident with it. I’m not worried now if someone corrects me, I know that they’re trying to be helpful, and I try not to get embarrassed if I get something wrong. I think it’s probably quite good for my students to see me making the odd mistake with Italian, because then they don’t worry about making mistakes in front of me.

I’ve bought an Italian magazine, so over the weekend I’ll try and pick it up and read through it. Even if it takes 10 times longer than it would to read an English magazine, I know I’ll feel pretty pleased with myself if I get to the end of it. I’ve tried to watch a bit of Italian television, I know it would help with learning the language, but everything I’ve seen so far has been terrible! Every time I’ve found a programme in the tv guide that I’ve thought ‘That sounds alright, I could watch that,’ the schedule’s been wrong, and it’s been ANOTHER episode of The (Italian) Apprentice, or a very rapid, over-excited sports reporter jabbering away so quickly that the only words I can catch are the names of the teams. I will persevere, because I really want to be fluent by the end of my time here. It would be a waste to go back to Glasgow and still be terrified of Italian grammar.

I’m very excited to be going to Palermo tomorrow. I’d been warned that it’s quite a dangerous city if you don’t know where you’re going, and I know I have a tendency to look like a clueless tourist, even when I know exactly where I am, so I didn’t want to go there alone. I mentioned to one of my students that I would like to visit, and she very excitedly came up to me at the beginning of the week, to tell me that she would be going to Palermo at the weekend, and asking if I’d like to join her. I’m sure that a bit of sightseeing will cheer me up, and anyway, it’s only 7 weeks today until I fly home for Christmas (not that I’m counting or anything)! I’ve got my camera ready, and a shopping list in my head. I hope the weather’s good, so that I can make everyone jealous with my sunny photos, and I will write all about it this weekend!!