James, outbound to Italy

Here we are, 4 months in. Much has changed, much has remained the same. I have switched host families. My first host family lives across the street from my current one. In this family I still have two siblings. I have one sister, who is 15, and one brother, who is 9 and 5/6ths. I have never had a younger sibling before and I am relishing being so all-knowing and important in his eyes. Of late, I have had the great pleasure to work through the dreaded long division with him. We are due to study the verb “to have” for English tonight. I find these interactions legitimately rewarding.

After my first post the weather turned a trifle dull. It became rather cold in the mornings and remained cloudy for what felt like 3 months. There sadly hasn't been any precipitation for quite a long time in northern Italy so at the moment we are lacking snow and there is a small air pollution problem in the city centers of Torino and Milan. I am still holding out with the hope that come January we will be graced with a few inches of snow. In such a case I believe a ski trip would be in order. A boy can but dream.

Thanksgiving and Christmas have both gone by with manageable levels of homesickness. I feel I have been very lucky so far in regard to my host families, who have treated me extremely kindly. My current host father loves to bike, and for Christmas he bought me a used mountain bike so that I could go on rides with him. We just recently went on our first ride with the new bike to the top of the small mountain on which we live. The weather was really beautiful that day, and has been much more often since. I am so relieved to see the sky once more.

On the top of the mountain there were some ruins of a small catholic church. I went inside and gazed at the classically curved roof and at what seemed to be a deeply faded Jesus, painted directly onto the arched cement of the ceiling. I asked my host father how old the ruins where, he nonchalantly responded “They're from around 1200 A.D...”. I was absolutely stunned. On this mountain on which I had been living for a whole 4 months, and on which mere minutes before I had been cursing for being too steep for any human being to bike up, resided church ruins that were over 800 years old and I had no idea! Nobody had thought that piece of important enough to mention at any point in 4 months. Even my host father considered it more of an afterthought out of all the attractions of the peak of the mountain.

This, I suppose, is one of the most stunning things about Europe that I find the most difficult to really grasp. It's age. So much human history has passed by the same places that I so take for granted. For example, in a short visit to the mountain ski town of “Sestriere” my first host family was recounting how the 2006 Winter Olympics were for the most part held there. Right after that we passed by an out of the way stone marker. We stopped for a moment to read it, and I was shocked to find that the marker was a death-marker of the place where Homer died. Homer. The Homer. As in, The Odyssey and The Illiad Homer. I find it absolutely unbelievable how much history there is in Europe, especially in Italy.

Italian is going very well, I am making progress slowly but surely. There are good days and there are bad days. It's interesting how much real fluctuation I experience day to day in competence. I suppose patience is key in learning, don't expect to ever see gigantic leaps in fluency, that's simply not a trait of learning in general, especially not of learning languages. Patience is not the same thing as indifference to the learning process, however. I have found that I learn most from focusing on individual words and phrases and then making a conscious effort to reuse those same words and phrases.

Still to come is the second half of this year, I really hope it doesn't fly by as did the first half, barely giving me time to process it.

Nevertheless,

Until next time,
Happy new year.
Best of luck, and better of life.

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