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Performing in Pisciotta

THP 3232 / 4 credits / Summer (offered in Italy) 
“Italian performance and plays from the 20th century are considered in their social and political contexts, including the works of Dario Fo, a performer and playwright who received the Nobel Prize in Literature. The course culminates in a student performance of selected scenes and excerpts, staged in an ancient piazza.”

Over the summer, while I was studying abroad in Pisciotta, Italy through SUNY Purchase, one of the classes that I took was called 20th Century Italian Theatre and Drama. Throughout this course, taught by Professor Champagne, we read through many Italian plays of the twentieth century.

Early on, we started to memorize lines from the plays, because at the conclusion of the class, when we were to leave Pisciotta, we had to put on a play for the entire town. We memorized quite a few scenes from a few different plays, all in Italian. This was no easy feat for me since I have had to previous acting experience, unless a play that I did in 2nd grade counts, and all of the other students in the class were Theater majors. The other aspect of the play that was difficult was that all of the lines that we had to memorize were in Italian. At least this aspect was a little bit easier for me since I had been studying the language much longer than the others had been; most just started to learn the language when we came to Pisciotta. Aside from our scheduled class times, where we would rehearse, our professor would schedule time for us to do rehearsals in the old piazza where we were to perform. I ended up acting in a few of the scenes in the play such as in La distanza della luna by Italo Calvino in which I played “la Luna” or the Moon, L’ispezione by Ugo Betti in which I played Iole, and in Dario Fo’s Non si paga! Non si paga! in which I was an extra dancer for one of the scenes.

After weeks of practice, we finally performed our stitched together scenes in front of the entire town in their old piazza. I am a person of extreme stage fright, so I did not know how I was going to be able to do it, but somehow, with a lot of encouragement from the locals and from my friends, I did; I went out into the piazza and said my lines without forgetting anything. I may have completely avoided looking at the audience, but I performed nonetheless. One thing that my professor was nervous of was that throughout practices I was always to quiet, but after the performance she congratulated me and told me it was as if I had turned into a completely different person which does make sense since I was playing a range of other characters. As much as I may have detested going to extra rehearsals and fearing the thought of performing a play in another language that is not my native to tongue to native speakers, I think that if given the chance, I would do it again and again, as long as I have Pisciotta and the people I was surrounded with to work with again.

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Nord e Sud

During the summer I spent I spent five weeks in the south of Italy studying and visiting some historic cities and towns. Now, in the fall, I am studying in Urbino, Italia which is in the northern region of Marche, Italia. The differences between the North and the south are quite clear, and I honestly wish that I was back in the south of Italy. I had known before I even came to Italy that I would prefer the south to the north just from things that I had heard and knew about Italy. I had my mind set on studying in the south in a little town called Pisciotta, and even though my professor really did not want me to go there, it was my decision to go. I cannot describe to anyone really how happy I am that I chose to go to this remote little town in the south. I was very comfortable down in the south, I made friends with the townspeople, I bought the local produce and ate at the restaurants in the town. It specialized in seafood, had some amazing sauces, the olive oil was out of this world, and it knew how to utilize its garlic. The people were very amicable and animated and would always say boun giorno or buona sera whenever they saw you. My Italian greatly improved while I was there, mostly because I was the one who knew the most Italian in my group of friends so I was always the one that had to do the talking and understanding whenever we went anywhere, and no one there made me feel nervous or intimidated.

When I arrived in the north, after having stayed in Istanbul for a month and a half with my boyfriend and his family, I knew that my Italian was a little rusty, but I was prepared to jump right back into it. I was excited to be back in Italy, the place that I had loved so much. Little did I know that nothing would really be the same here. It just did not have the appeal that the south had. The north is much more Anglicized and most of the people here do not share the warmth of their southern neighbors. They all seem to think that they are better than everyone else because they are from the north and not the south. Another major difference was the food. Sure, it’s great, but it lacks everything that the south provided. Everyone in America always links garlic and Italians together. I think the main reason that they do that is because most Italian-Americans are from the Campania, Calabria, Puglia, and Siclia, all these areas are in the south. The food in the south, delicious, garlic in everything, they know how to make sauce and great homemade pastas, and pizza. I don’t even think the north knows what garlic, good sauce, and pizza are. I haven’t had garlic in anything that I have eaten since I’ve been here, the sauce tastes like it’s from a can, and the pizza? I think that they should just leave that to the professionals down in Napoli.

The landscape in the north is absolutely gorgeous, that I cannot deny, but it also true for every other location in Italy. Everywhere I have gone in Italy, I have been in awe of the mountains and valleys, the fields, and the views. Everything here is just so picturesque. In my opinion, the south was a bit more picturesque simply because it was just more real, if that even makes sense.

I suppose that the only real thing that I like more about the north is the fact that I can go and wear my Juventus jerseys anywhere I want and show my Juventus tattoo without having to worry if anyone will want to attack me, I’m even know as “La Juventina” on campus. In the south, I was a bit uneasy wearing my jerseys and showing my support for my team. Especially in Napoli! The Napoli fans just kind of scare me. I’m not quite sure why, but they just come off as “nasty” in a way. I honestly would not be caught dead wearing a Juventus jersey in Napoli. There was even one Napoli fan in Capri who saw my tattoo and started yelling, “Juventus?! Dio mio! Perchè? Perchè? Dio miiiioooo!” All the while, putting his hand over his heart and then grasping his face in horror as if he had just witness me commit a heinous crime. It did provide a good laugh though. It should be quite interesting when I travel to Torino for the Juventus – Napoli game in two weeks for my birthday.

My real problem with the north is that everywhere I go, I am just too nervous to speak in Italian. I’ll be great when it comes to reading, writing, and listening, but when it comes time for me to talk I completely blank out and forget everything I’ve ever learned. I do not feel nearly as comfortable with the people here as I did in the south. The only person who is as warm as people I’ve met in the south is Mario, the gray-Einstein-haired, smiley, always happy, old owner of Mamma’s Café. He’s always animated and has a smile on his face and is not intimidating. Every other person that I have met here intimidates me. At times, I feel like I’m not smart enough to be here because most of the students that are here have been studying Italian for many more years than I have, and they are all Erasmus students. The problem is that they all know English even better than they know Italian so that’s what they all always speak in. I somehow need to get some more speaking practice and not be so nervous all the time. I wish I had been able to study in the south for the fall semester, but I’m here so I might as well suck it up and deal with it. After all, I am in Italy, and I need to make the most of it in my time here. I also have a feeling that my friends that I’m making here are probably sick of hearing me say, “But in the South…”

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Un giorno tipico a Pisciotta…

Wake up at 7:30, shower, wake the others up, have some juice, slump out the door to theater class at 8:30. Try to act my best during theater class but not really be able to since I’m barely awake. Class ends at 10:00, head up to the piazza and go straight Bar Germania to get a chocolate cornetto and a peach iced tea, sometimes a double espresso as well, help out the others order what they want in Italian, chat up the owners since they too are Juventus fans, sit outside, go online, grab another cornetto, run back to Advanced Italian at 10:30. Struggle my way through Italian because the class was not split up properly and we spoke to much English out of the classroom. Get out of class at 12:30, run down to the apartment, and run back into town with Jenn before the stores closed at 13:00 so we could get what we needed for lunch and dinner. Do homework and study, make lunch for the girls, smell like garlic, drink wine, eat lunch, drink wine, get ready for the beach, try not to die while walking down the mountain to the beach, get to the beach, get comfy in the sand, get way to hot, cool off with the others, bake a bit more in the sand, nod off, have a gelato, climb back up the death mountain, shower again, make dinner, smell like garlic and basil, drink wine, eat dinner, drink wine, go to the piazza and skype my boyfriend and family, have another cornetto, go back to the apartment, write a bit, pass out around 00:30-1:00. Do it all over again the next day.

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I ragazzi e Manuela…

In Pisciotta, there are many children. The children in this town are free to run around at all hours of the day and night. The children are raised very differently in Pisciotta than in the United States. The parents trust the children to run around the town with the other children and they’re not expected home until very late. I suppose that’s alright though in such a small town. The population is only about 3000. In my personal opinion, the children there lacked manners and respect. Everyone has their own personal space bubble, and these children would not just invade your bubble, they would pop it as hard as they could. If you’re sitting talking with friends, they just come over and start talking. If you’re online, they want to be online with you. If you have a phone, they pretty much take it out of your hands to see what kind of phone it is and what they can do with it. If you’re skyping with someone, they stand behind you and stare at you at the other person. They were also extremely loud at all hours, running around and whatnot, screaming, blowing whistles, etc.

It seemed to me that there was a sort of hierarchy amongst the children. It didn’t necessarily go by age or gender. Two of the main “leaders” were Domenico and Manuela. We met them on the second day that we were in Pisciotta. Domenico is about nine years old, and he has the worst attitude; he was one of the rudest children that I met there. Manuela, on the other hand, was quite the interesting eleven year old. She’s very tom boy-ish and seems to take charge in a lot of the situation. Her eyes are a gorgeous sky blue. The first week or so we weren’t sure how we felt about her, but she came to be close with us. She’s help us with our Italian, and she had the best facial expressions and expressions. An eleven year old with the mentality of a forty year old. If we were wearing a sweatshirt or something off the shoulder, she’d pull it up over our shoulders! Not too  much later, she started to hug my roommate Jen and I. I think that we were the closest with her. A lot of the other students did not like her too much simply because she was a bit brutish and if she had something to say, she’d say it, in Italian of course.

One of the girls on the trip has a scar on her arm, and whenever Manuela would see it, she would cover it up and with a kind of scared voice say, “Cheschiffo!” One of the guys that was on the trip is a really big guy with a long beard and really large gauges… Manuela was legitimately afraid of him. He’s not a common sight in Italy, and especially not in our little town of Pisciotta. Even beards aren’t common in Italy, most people shave. She’d hide behind me and again say, “Cheschiffo!”  whenever he’d come around. It was a bit strange, I know she was definitely a tom-boy, but there was a part of her that just seemed very girly to me. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was something to her.

The night before we left, she wouldn’t stop hugging me. She’d hug me, go to leave, then keep coming back for another hug. This happened at least 5 times. I would really love to see how she is in a few years or so. She’s definitely one of the girls in that town that I want to keep tabs on in the future. 

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The trek to Pisciotta…

The morning that we were leaving Rome was a bit hectic. As usual, nobody in our group was on time and we left a little later than we should have left. Our first stop on our way down to the south was at our professor’s sister’s house / farm. They have an olive oil factory and a wheat and baking factory too. We watched the process of how wheat is made into flour; it’s a loud but interesting process. The flour in Italy is so much healthier, and it also tastes better. The fresh olive oil and bread was absolutely divine. My roommate and I even got a bag of fresh whole-wheat flour. After we toured the wheat / bread / olive oil factories, we walked over to our professor’s sister’s house for lunch. And what a lunch it was! We started off with a plate of olives from the farm, prosciutto (from a pig raised on the farm), some sort of egg and zucchini frittata, and bruschetta. Then came the pasta fagioli soup, amazing; I had two helpings. After the soup came lasagna. Then came the main course of fresh chicken, string beans, and potatoes. This was followed by a salad, and then melon. All this food was accompanied by homemade wine, red and white. Somehow, I was still hungry after this enormous meal. We then said our goodbyes, thanked everyone, and headed back onto the bus for about five hours… I tried sleeping but I couldn’t keep my eyes closed. There was so much to look at. The views are gorgeous! The mountains and landscapes here are beautiful from any angle. Finally, we arrived in Pisciotta. The trip up the mountain was very curvy and twisty and dangerous. Not to mention, that the roads here seem to only be made for one small car. My life probably flashed before my eyes a couple times. Especially when another bus was would be coming from the other direction and the two buses would have to somehow squeeze past one another. We pulled into the piazza and caused quite a commotion in this little town. It was as if the circus had arrived in town, which to a bunch of southern Italians in a small town a bunch of Americans probably are the circus, what a ruckus we caused. We all got off of the bus eventually made our way down or up to our apartments. My two roommates and I were very lucky. We got one of the best apartments that there is. We even have a washing machine! And the view from the balcony is pretty amazing. We have an little old lady neighbor who even brought us fruit the first day that we were there. Image