The problem with attempting to relate each of my articles back to life at school is that studying abroad is intended to get students away from Stanford, to give us opportunities we don’t get on campus. This has also contributed greatly to my complete inability to properly answer the question, “How’s life in Florence?”
I have both nothing and everything to say, and condensing it all into a snazzy sentence or five-minute soundbite (depending how close I am to the person who asked) is difficult when not everybody has been here and hard even when they have. It’s a similar experience to trying to explain how college is going to somebody from back home. If I leave out the tiny details then it isn’t interesting, but if I put them in I seem to talk forever, and it isn’t all relevant or understandable if you haven’t been there anyways.
Here’s an example of the types of things I would say if I always had the time, inclination and audience for it.
This past weekend was our Bing trip to Cinque Terre, which is a series of five coastal towns in the northwestern part of Italy. The Bings, who are both insanely generous and insanely rich, give each study abroad program the funds to go on an all-expenses-paid educational trip to a location related to the program. Classes were canceled on Friday so we could spend two nights, not just one, in a hotel, and we went on guided tours of a marble quarry, a castle and a couple towns before being set free on Saturday afternoon to do what we liked.
For dinner, some of us took a train to Manarola and hung out for a few hours before going back to the station to take the last train back to our “home” town, Monterosso. Except the train workers were on strike, so there we were, 11:30 at night, and we could either hike for two hours in the dark to our hotel or, alternatively, swim back.
We went back to the restaurant and asked them (in Italian) to please call us a taxi and were told (in Italian) that we would have to wait at least an hour for a 45 minute cab ride that could seat four of us (we were a group of six). What else could we do? We called one of the Stanford staff members to let them know we were stranded and to double check we’d be reimbursed for the cab, then loitered on the street a bit, wondering if we might as well find some benches and drink our last bottle of champagne while we were waiting.
Then this guy came up to us and told us he had a friend who could be there in 25 minutes and could take us to Monteresso in his boat for 100 euros. That sounded a lot sketchier than a taxi ride, but it was also faster. We weighed the chances of us getting our kidneys harvested against how sleepy we were and decided we weren’t THAT attached to our organs.
We followed the guy’s directions to the dock and sure enough, half an hour later, a small boat pulled into the bay. We heard it at about the same time we saw it — instead of white headlights, the front boasted one green and one red light. Most importantly, the boat was not a rowboat or an inflatable life raft. Theories had abounded while we were waiting.
Perched on the prow was a woman wearing a bikini and a sarong, who dangled her legs over the edge and smiled beatifically at us as they approached. She was probably fully aware that she looked like the figurehead of some ship a la Pirates of the Caribbean, and right as the boat was going to bump into the cement, she pointed her foot out and eased the boat to a stop. She helped us aboard, and the man piloting the boat introduced himself as Daario. He wasn’t young exactly, maybe in his thirties or forties, but he had long brown hair and announced that his boat was named the Aphrodite after the Greek goddess of love.
Without any additional fanfare, he had half of us sit in the front and half of us in the back of the boat, then backed the vesselboat up and chugged away from the dock. The plastic cushions were uncomfortably damp. I stuck my head over the edge and watched the way the green light lit up the rocks beneath us like an aquarium. “This is nice,” somebody said. “We’ll get to Monterosso pretty quick this way.” Then Daario cranked up some clubbing music, revved the engine and took off.
I promptly found myself wishing Monteresso was a lot further away than 25 minutes. Even though it was past midnight, the breeze was warm, and the sea was calm, and the boat was fast, and it was beautiful. We glanced at each other and burst into disbelieving giggles at the same time, hit by the ridiculousness of it all. We were on a tiny boat with a stranger and his Italian girlfriend in the middle of the night on the Ligurian Sea, taking what felt like a joyride to the soundtrack of some nameless electronic pop song, all after stuffing ourselves with seafood pasta and margherita pizza and spending the afternoon sunning ourselves on a beach.
Daario (and yes, that’s the name of one of the characters in Game of Thrones) did not harvest our organs. We arrived in Monterosso safely, paid, got off, and he drove (sailed?) the Aphrodite away with the music still thumping and his girlfriend no longer sitting on the edge of the boat. It was disorienting, being back in town after cutting through the black waves for so long, the sky a smear of dark blue above and the boat’s wake trailing silver behind with the orange glow of streetlights in front.
You can’t plan for things like that to happen. If we hadn’t gone to another town for dinner, if we hadn’t spent so long sitting at the restaurant after eating (just for the immediate future, we kept assuring each other), if the transportation employees hadn’t gone on strike, if we hadn’t walked back to ask our waitress for help, if Daario’s friend hadn’t overheard us, if, if, if. There was no tidy moral we had learned by the end of the night, no pictures or videos we could post. Nonetheless, it was — is — an adventure I feel blessed to have experienced, lucky to share and privileged to remember.
But yeah! Italy is great. The pasta is good. Lots of traveling. What about you? How’s life at Stanford?
Contact Katiana Uyemura at kuyemura ‘at’ stanford.edu.