Now that I’ve (somewhat) settled in here at Florence after landing in Italy, I think I can rustle up the spare time between unpacking, starting my new work, and grocery shopping to update you guys a bit on how my weekend spent in Vejano was! To give some background, as I didn’t just flounce off to some random town in the Roman countryside without a plan, Vejano is the hometown of my dear Italian friend, Irene. While she was completing her business studies in Milan, she took a semester to study abroad at Arizona State, and I was assigned to her as her American mentor, having just returned from study abroad myself at the time. We ended up quite good friends, and she spent the Thanksgiving holidays with my family and I back at home. She got the chance to return the favor this past weekend when I came to visit for a few days while my apartment was being prepared here in Florence.
I was picked up by her dad, Orlando, and brother, Alekkos, from Roma Termini station, which is the biggest frickin’ train station ever, and the hour-long car ride to Vejano through the countryside was spent attempting to regain some of my forgotten Italian and cajoling Alekkos, who speaks some English, into translating for both Orlando and I. Arrival at Irene’s home meant a fantastic, traditional dinner with the family. Mom, Elena, and sister, Serena, and Irene’s boyfriend, Andrea, were quite excited to see me, I think, so I suppose Irene must have talked me up a bit before I arrived! We sat down to eat three courses of dinner, including rice-stuffed tomatoes and bellpeppers, chicken, and an array of fruits and cookies for dessert. Orlando made a comment about how, now that I was in Italy, I was going to get fat, and it seemed to me that they were going for a running start with that prediction!
Vejano happened to be gearing up for their annual celebration of the city’s patron saint, Sant Orsio, who I admit to not knowing much about, but there was the promise of much rejoicing, which naturally implied copious amounts of alcohol and food. I arrived in Vejano on Thursday evening, and Irene promised a fun-filled Friday at Viterbo’s famous “Terme dei Papi”, a series of natural hot springs where popes of old spent their holiday time. I guess sweating your guts out gets you closer to God? Anyway, Andrea, Serena, Irene, and I of course had to spend some time in the natural caverns and the heated pool, filled with sulfurous hot water (and was that an unholy stink, if you’ll forgive me for saying so), but before entering we had to have our blood pressure checked to ensure that, you know, you didn’t pass out from the heat or your veins didn’t explode from freaking out or something. We were instructed to spend no more than 10 minutes in the cavern proper and to take 5 minutes in the ante-chamber to accustom ourselves to the temperature. Now, I like heat. I went to university in Phoenix, Arizona. On purpose. This kind of heat, however, I was not at all expecting. The antechamber seemed manageable, even at 50˚C, but that natural cave was like being socked in the face, gut, and face again with a giant ugly bag of sweat. All of the liquid in my body attempted to escape through my pores the second I stepped into the “room”. It was the strangest feeling, despite enjoying the experience, but I wasn’t able to go for a second round. That kind of fortitude is definitely for the second visit!
We scrambled to return home after our invigorating cave visit in order to prepare for the big Borgo party that Vejano hosted to kick off the festival weekend. Irene and Andrea took me to a massive pizza dinner with 28 of their friends, which, to say the least, was an exercise in my ability to understand Italian (as none of them aside from Irene spoke English). However, once everyone got a bit of wine and beer in them, language didn’t seem so insurmountable a barrier anymore, and we proceeded to dance the night away at the old part of the town. Irene and I had to call the night at 1:00am, but we learned the following morning that a few of her friends managed to keep going until 4:30am! Power to you guys, I can’t do that anymore. Out of practice.
Saturday was spent visiting Andrea’s town of Tolfa and their friend who had recently had a baby. There wasn’t much by means of activity, but I liked taking a slow day after the previous night’s festivities, and the best part (nerd) was seeing each house’s kitchen. Italian kitchens are surprisingly varied in appearance but there are the staple products in each of them: olive oil and pepperroncini. I didn’t have time (or balls) for much snooping, but I imagine that there were plenty of other bits and pieces in common throughout, kind of like going over to a friend’s house in the States and knowing for sure that there’s going to be a stick of butter for toast in the morning. I know, for sure, that I can make a quick pasta in every house I visit here. Not that I’ll be allowed to, that is. The entire weekend in Vejano was my offers of help (increasingly guilty) being rebuffed with a laugh. Though I was instructed by Orlando to tell my parents that I was worked like a slave, so, there you are, Mom.
Saturday night saw us visiting a neighboring town with Orlando and Elena for a Candlelight Festival. V____ tried to cover every available surface with candles in various designs and various packing (plastic bottles, glass jars, paper bags, wine/beer bottles, etc.), and the effect was fantastic. I got some practice shooting night-time photos and I’d forgotten how hard it was to keep still for the low-lighting shots! Otherwise everything’s a big messy blur, and hundreds of moving people jostling your camera arm definitely don’t help. Check out a few photos down below!
Sunday was the day I’d looked forward to most of all once I’d heard Irene’s plans for me. As a matter of custom (and festivities, but more custom), the entirety of Irene’s family got together for a massive family lunch. If there were ever a chance to pop open from over-consumption of food, this was it. A brief summary of the menu: for i primi piatti, there was a “choice” (in quotes because there was really no choice at all, you just have all of them) of pesto-tomato fettuccine, white sauce and ground beef fettuccine, cabbage and provolone lasagna, and eggplant parmesan. For i secundi piati, a selection of meats: roasted rabbit, turkey cacciatora, and chicken scaloppine cooked in beer. Let’s not forget that there were aperitivi before this in the form of chips, nuts, and two kinds of quiche. Are you fat by thought process yet? Dessert was massive slices of watermelon, tiramisu, an assortment of little cakes and pastries, and, naturally, after-lunch liquors. Limoncello and espresso flowed like water, but my favorite had to be the fragolino, a thick bubbly sweet red wine that tasted impressively of strawberries. I’ll have to get me some of that, if I can find it!
Sunday also found me leaving back to Florence. My apartment was ready for me on Monday, so I had to be in the city to pick up my lost luggage (to be explained in the next post, grr) as well as be prepared to move in before the arrival of students (which is today). Irene and Andrea drove me back to Roma Termini station and were kind enough to wait until the last minute before my train left to say good-bye. I had a wonderful time staying with them, and I’m very keen to visit again sometime before Christmas. Maybe even FOR Christmas? Come on, an Italian family Christmas would be the bestest best thing EVAR. No joke. Seriously. Just think of the food.
Most of all, though, I’m very grateful to Irene and her family for having me over the weekend. I had such a great time and I felt so welcome, which really put me on the right foot and in the right mood to arrive in Florence ready to work. I’m very excited to see what the future brings for us, but for now, I should probably, you know, get back to work. Ciao ciao~~