lunedì 22 febbraio 2010

And on the weekend...

After my traveling plans for the weekend of Carnevale fell through, I decided to make the most of my weekend in Milan and take advantage of all the cool events in giro. I also had my camera with me for my adventures. My Saturday consisted of:

-bike ride into centro with F to see the children in their holiday costumes. We found a Trasforma Milano exhibition that turned junk into toys:

(Duomo lookin' imposin')

-Then we swung over to the Samedi Gras Multirazziale, a march against racism in Milan. ("Dove tutti sono milanesi, tranne i razzisti"). We danced with our bikes to reggae, watched the destruction of Lega Nord political posters, and paused in a tunnel to sing and curse at the vice sindaco of Milan.

-After our daily dose of politics, we returned to my neighborhood, Isola, for the Milano Clown Festival. The Festival, which lasted over three days, included street performers, artists, and musicians from all over the world.

The night before, I had watched the Brera Street Band perform al Frida. Saturday, we caught Le Rang du Frond al Teatro Sala Fontana.

They were fun (I especially enjoyed the fishnet-wearing banjo player), but they were playing strange banjo glam punk for a crowd that was half under 10, and I think they were a little confused. Their attempts at Italian were adorable though (Per favore potere lower the volume perchè i bambini sono *puts hands over ears*).

We headed to Piazza Gioia for the clowncerto of Hibiscus Theater from Spain, grabbed a beer at Frida, and then returned to Gioia for the concerto finale.

I never figured out the name of the band, but they were French and played gypsy music that everyone felt in their feet. The PIC Clowns mingled and danced too. At one point one of the singers began talking about a mystical experience (in French. All I know F translated for me). The accordion player began wiggling his fingers at the crowd, and we wiggled back. He climbed down from the stage, we kept wiggling our fingers. As he moved through the crowd, he caught my eye, cocked his eyebrow, grabbed my hands and pulled me to the stage. The singer began chattering in French, asking me my name (Rachel. Vashayl? Ra-chel. Mayshell? Rachele! Machall? Rachel! Ahh, Ray-shell!) Next thing I knew I had an accordion strapped to my back and the accordion player embracing me to play it. We spun around in circles while the crowd cheered and the band played along. Then as a finale, the entire band kissed me four times on the cheek, merci merci merci, bravissima. My head was spinning. F laughed at me and said he could tell I was confused about the kissing the entire band deal. And as we left to go dancing at Circo Bussa, strangers said, "Ciao Ray-shell!"

Then, on Sunday, we took a little trip to Cremona, the birthplace of Stradivarius. We wandered around, saw the Duomo, and visited a little flea market. I bought two records, Johnny Cash and Doc Watson, to play on my new (borrowed) giradischi.

All in all, it was a good weekend.

mercoledì 17 febbraio 2010

Bars e caffè

And the autogestione continues. I went into school for about an hour today, read Faulkner, and chatted with Fabrizio about grammar (Does the sentence "The question was asked to her" sound as weird to you as it does to me?). Doing very little tends to make me all sorts of hungry, and since I couldn't justify lunch at 10:30am, I headed to the bar around the corner for a cappuccino e brioche (I miss my sfoglia crema I used to get in Florence, Milan is all northern-European-y and frequently shuns my pastry of choice).

I walked in and said ciao to the barman, who always responds, "Ciao prof!" Then I heard "Ciao Rachel!". One of my students from the first two months was there, milling about in her raincoat and backpack. Her mother works the cash register. I immediately switched to English. During a short and terrified exchange half in English, half in Italian, she explained that the vice-principal had sent her class home early for the day. Then she helped me pick out my brioche. The barman whipped out a plate for my pastry and put my sugar in my cappuccino for me. When I finished, I went to pay, and I found out that my lovely student had paid for me. It made me all warm and fuzzy inside. I thanked her profusely in English (sweetie!) and headed on my way...

Bars are the best. Good things tend to happen in them. At Brother's Bar, the first bar I went to in Milan and where I go every time I tutor at the family's house, the two old barmen always seem so delighted to see me. They always ask me, "Come stai?" and when I respond bene, "Ah si vedo che stai bene," and then make some comment about being too old. At the bar near the school, the young barman knows what I get, knows what kind of sugar I like (grezzo), and always calls me prof. Returning for a visit to Florence with friends from study abroad, the barmen at our favorite cafè (TabacchiBar per sempre) not only were delighted to see us but bought us our coffee. It's one of my favorite parts of Italy, the ritual of ordering an itty bitty coffee and standing by the barman to down it in a minute or two, making a mess of crumbs and cream, eavesdropping on conversations, making friends...

lunedì 15 febbraio 2010

Autogestione (self-management)

No matter how many times the profs half-explain it to me, I still don't fully get it. This is the week of autogestione, which means the kids run their own lessons. Or study by themselves. Or don't run their own lessons and hang out in the hall, buying packaged snacks and shots of espresso from the vending machines and drawing hearts on each other's faces. Either way, if they want they can kick out the teacher and take over class themselves.

BUT don't think that you can hang out at home, or godforbid explore the city, do something adventurous. You must be at school. Maybe the kids will want you, maybe they will decide to have lessons. You never know. I waited a little bit with Ms. R because she wasn't sure whether the kids in her 2G class would decide to autogestire or not. Probably not, she said, because she had heard they wanted to paint their classroom instead. Still, we waited until a little before the class started when we could see the registro, which had the records of the previous lessons that day. Sure enough, autogestione. No class.

It was nice to have a bit of a break, however. I hung out in the teacher's lounge all morning, figuring out my schedule for the next few weeks, planning tutoring for this afternoon, reading Absalom, Absalom! (I gave it as a gift to Fabbro, then realized that I didn't remember it at all and better re-read it).

The profs were feeling gregarious. Ms. R came up to me to ask me what I was reading. Then later, while I was at the computer, she asked me to borrow it. Then she asked what I was doing on the internet (finding photos for story prompting). Then she came and sat by me while she read so she could ask me about words she didn't know.

Ms. S also came to talk to me while I was at the computer, which delighted me because even though she always has lovely ideas for our classes together, sometimes she is a little cold towards me. She told me about a K-12 creative writing organization called 826 Valencia in San Francisco, as well as other organizations whose newsletters she subscribes to. She talked about the city with such a longing, I hadn't known she had lived there. We agreed to do something with creative writing in our next classes together. She seemed very happy, excited.

Every conversation seems to start with an almost-accusatory "What are you doing?" What is that American up to now? They're just curious.

Ok, now I know: Autogestione = bonding with profs

giovedì 4 febbraio 2010

Teacher's pets and favorites

Never the twain shall meet...

I've been thinking about the teacher/student dynamic a lot in these past days. For a teacher, what is playing favorites? Is having favorites okay? Because I definitely have them. I try my absolute best not to show it, but I have them. For example, there's a girl in one of my younger classes, A, who always has a smile on her face, wears brightly colored sweaters and turquoise pants, does her best to speak in class, and plays in a band. If I were 15, I would want to be best friends. Does it show in my face when I walk in the class that I am in love with her? I sure hope not. I don't look at her more than the others, I call on (torture) everyone as equally as I can. But after a sometimes full and stressful week, a smiling face like hers plus the seemingly genuine desire to learn absolutely delights me, and I look forward to that class.
Alla fine, though I may have favorites, I won't play favorites.

I haven't encountered too many teacher's pets in these months (perhaps because I don't actually give grades), but the quality of the few I've encountered has been quite high. For example, R, a handsome boy at Parini passionate about cooking, sailing, and French classics, never misses an opportunity to ingratiate himself. He's the first to help me if something isn't going right (like when the CD player wouldn't work, cazzo, I'm 22 years old, I shouldn't need help with these things!). Today as I arrived in class, I gave the erasers a sideways glance and commented that they looked very white, someone must have made lots of mistakes. He immediately collected them and took them to the window to beat them against the sill, only to discover that they were, in fact, white erasers. I can't help but smile. No one has ever run to clap erasers for me before, but it ain't gonna help him pass the FCE.

It's a delicate balance to maintain, the democracy of the classroom. Every student has a right to my attention, and I try to give it equally, even though to some I would like to give more, and to others I would like to give less...

martedì 2 febbraio 2010


Rounding the corner to enter a classroom, I noticed a commotion near the trashcan by the door. A boy had darted towards it to throw something away, then moved away quickly. The kids were making casino, laughing and joking in Italian, and the prof, Fabrizio, was giggling.
I came in the class and asked, "Hi guys, what's up? What's the story?" They just pointed to the trashcan. Under it lay a big green zucchini clothed only in a purple condom.
"Oh, look at that, a zucchini" I said, attempting to minimize the condom part. Fabrizio just shrugged. We started class.

The next week, we only had a half-hour lesson, so I decided to play 20 questions with them. A guessed my animal, which was an elephant, so she came up to the front to have the kids ask her about her type of food. After remonstrating them for asking in Italian ("I don't speak Italian. I only speak English, please"), she answered some questions (Is it Italian? Sometimes. Is it a vegetable? Yes. Is it long? Sometimes.). Someone guessed zucchini. Fabrizio turned to me and said, "They really like zucchini."