Posted in College, Italy, Travel

Benvenuto a Orvieto!

It’s hard to believe I’ve already been in Italy for a week!  Between adjusting to the time difference, starting classes, and exploring this little town, the time is already  going by quickly!  I landed last Friday morning completely sleep-deprived, and by the time I reached my apartment for the month, I just sort of fell into bed for a few hours.  Fortunately though, I woke up in time for the group tour of important places in the city (school, supermarket, pharmacy…).  I was still a little tired and not sure of where I was going  to meet the group.  I knew Orvieto’s cathedral was impressive, but on such a small hill, people tend to  build up meaning that it’s not until you  get close that you really see the building that makes Orvieto a destination in Italy.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I turned a corner to see this:


Last Sunday was Pentecost, which in Orvieto is celebrated with La Palombella festival.  This is another draw for tourists to Orvieto both from Italy and around the world.  The main part of the festival takes place in front of the cathedral.  As visible in the above  picture, there is a structure in front of the main doors.  This is a baldachin (baldacchino in Italian), which is basically an elaborate canopy of sorts that goes over an altar or throne.  The one here is temporary and was moved following the Pentecost celebrations.  For the festival, a statue of Mary and the apostles was placed in the top portion of the baldachin, and on Sunday morning, a dove in a glass cage “floated” down a zip line into the same space at which point sparklers went off around the statue to symbolize the Holy Spirit.  It was really exciting to watch.  The whole day was taken up with celebrations and booths to buy flowers and such, but the day culminated in a  parade and crossbow contest in one of the main piazzas.  Everyone in the parade was dressed in medieval costume, and there were four teams in the crossbow competition to represent some of the ancient noble families of the region, who were also represented in the parade by people in costumes.  The whole event was just a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it!


While here in Italy, I am taking two art history classes, and I’m really excited to get to see the works we’re learning about in the classes.  However, you can find really cool art and architecture all across Italy.  From the cathedrals to coats of arms painted on buildings, there’s a lot to see.  On Wednesday, we took a walking tour of Orvieto, and my group really got to see some of that art as we went to the Opera house, inside the cathedral, and through the Orvieto underground.  The Opera house was opened in 1866, and pictures really can’t do it justice.  From the intricate curtain that hangs over the stage to the dance of hours painted on the theater ceiling to the busts of composers in the stairwells, the whole building is simply incredible.  The cathedral also is impressive with artwork everywhere.  In the Chapel of the  Madonna di San Brizio, a 15th century addition, there are frescoes by Fra Angelico, who is studied in every Renaissance course, and Luca Signorelli, who is not as famous, but his work in the Orvieto cathedral is considered his masterpiece.  The underground of the city didn’t have quite so much artwork, but it did take us back even further in the city’s history to Etruscan times when people dug into the rock to create tombs.  Later, the underground was expanded for use as both cellars and olive oil presses.  In the 20th century, it was expanded even more to use as a bomb shelter in WWII, though in fact Orvieto was almost completely left alone thanks to a German general’s appreciation for the cathedral.

I think the weekend trip to Naples and Pompeii yields its own post, so that will be up in a  few more days.  So until next time, here are a few final pictures of this lovely little town.

Posted in College

Iced Coffees and Sunburns

April is halfway over, so of course the weather is in the mid 90s (except for Friday on which the temperature inexplicably hovered around 65).  It feels like a lot more than two weeks have passed since I last posted because I’ve done a lot of stuff.  Last week, for example, I attended a screening of a documentary and a guitar concert both of which were excellent.

Iced Coffee to power through Sunday afternoon homework and heat

The documentary I saw was Sonita about an Afghani girl who dreams of becoming a rapper.  Unlike most documentaries you may have seen, the filmmaker in Sonita takes an active role in Sonita’s story, which, if you’re in the mood for it, can create a really interesting discussion on the role of the documentarian in making films.  Or, if that’s not your style, you can sit back and let yourself become involved in Sonita’s story because whether or not you think the filmmaker should be objective, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami (the director) is very talented in making the audience both understand and care about Sonita’s struggle.  Should she pursue her dream or go home to marry as her family wants?  The film is mostly in Dari with some Arabic and English, but there are English subtitles throughout.  If you don’t have time to watch the whole documentary though (available on Netflix), I recommend at least watching Sonita’s video in which she protests child marriage that has, in the years since the making of the documentary, become her primary platform.   I highly recommend both!


I also had  the opportunity last week to see guitarist Grisha Goryachev in concert.  Although the link provides more biography, for my purposes it’s suffice to say that Goryachev, who specializes in Flamenco music, is a thoroughly impressive guitarist.  It was a lovely way to spend an evening and a nice way to preface celebrating my birthday last Friday  (thanks to everyone who posted on Facebook or otherwise said hi!).   Coincidentally, one of the clubs I’m in was having a Masquerade Ball to raise money for Diamond Children’s Center in Tucson.  The event was beautifully decorated with great food, and I had a lot of fun just making cards to give to the kids.


Because all that isn’t enough, I got up early the next day to go to Tohono Chul with Parks in Focus.  This was my first real outing with the group, and I had a lot of fun hanging out with the kids and also exploring the park.  I look forward to future trips, even though it’s getting hot.  But the warm weather is part of why I came to Tucson anyway, and Spring Fling this weekend reminded me of that.  Sure I got a sunburn, but it was wonderful weather to wander around a fair on campus.  With the summer coming, they’ve started selling glass-bottle sodas on campus, so we had a nice lunch in the sun eating churros and curly fries with cream sodas.  So now, as I head into the final weeks of the semester, I’m just enjoying the sun and drinking iced coffee to stay cool while I work.

Until next time~


Posted in College

Orange Blossom Spring

I knew spring was here when I walked out of my dorm and found myself enveloped in the scent of the orange blossoms on the trees around the buildings.  Every where you walk on campus now, there are flowers blooming.  Although the greenery never really left for the winter, now everything is in bloom, and it’s like a constant reminder that after spring comes summer.  I found out a little over a week ago that I’ve been accepted to the Arizona in Orvieto program and will be spending a month of my summer in Italy  to study art history, so that’s some exciting news!

Exploring Tucson

Since the last time I wrote, spring break has come and gone, which means I’ve done a lot.  For example, just before break, I had the opportunity to tour the Tree Ring Laboratory on campus.  The history of this lab is actually really interesting, since its founder is considered the pioneer of Dendrochronology  (Tree Ring Dating).  As a friend of the astronomer Percival Lowell, Andrew Elliot Douglass initially thought that tree rings could help explain the eleven-year sunspot cycle.  He was wrong, but the establishment of the Tree Ring Laboratory has led to discoveries of a lot of things trees can tell us.  The scientists here have worked with researchers around the world to date objects and learn about the environment.   It was a really incredible tour, and I definitely recommend a visit to the lab because even if you aren’t interested in the history of forest fires, you may be intrigued by the remains of an Ottoman Empire bridge that was constructed in Turkey from Moroccan wood (because they can actually tell you where a random piece of wood came from).

Tree Ring Laboratory Lobby

Although I’ve been in Tucson for almost a year now, I haven’t seen a lot of the things in the city, so it was fun over break to go to Reid Park Zoo and see the lions and tigers and bear.  My favorite part though was definitely the bull elephants who got into a bit of a tussle over a branch while we watched.  They also have Red Pandas and some incredible aviaries for bird enthusiasts like me.  Be warned though –  there are at least a dozen peacocks, and they kind of just go where they want.


I also went to three museums.  I had been to the UA Museum of Art, but they had some new exhibits from the last time I went, and I never get tired of looking at the old paintings in which Baby Jesus doesn’t look like any baby I’ve ever seen in real life.  I had also toured the Arizona State Museum, but the Paths of Life exhibit on the history of Native Americans in Arizona is packed with information.   Also I get into both of those for free as a student, so that’s another reason they’re great.  Finally, I went to the Arizona History Museum, which first of all is much bigger on the inside than it looks from the street.  This museum started with Native Americans, progressed to early settlers and then went into a huge exhibit about mining that included a realistically shadowy and creepy set of the inside of a mine and a life size contraption that processed the ore.  Because all this wasn’t enough to fill the deceptively small building, there was also an exhibit on 1870s Tucson with an interactive second level for kids to see the kinds of houses lived in by the various kinds of families in the city.  Beyond that, you move into the transportation part of the museum that features glassy-eyed horses, oxen, and a Model T.  Finally, there is a room with  pictures of the city’s history, and  you return to the lobby.


Overall, spring break was very  relaxing and a lot of fun with a culmination in the annual Tucson Festival of Books in which the white tents that have been covering the campus for weeks were put to use by thousands of people buying books, attending lectures, receiving flyers, and eating fair food.  An important note: Fair food in Tucson is not limited to cotton candy and overpriced cheese fries, it also includes churros and slightly overpriced tamales that are still worth it because they’re delicious.  I had the opportunity to attend a talk by actress Jenna Fischer, best known for her role on The Office. Studying at the library last Sunday was also fun because the Tohono O’odham pavilion outside the library was putting on a small concert while I studied.

School’s back in session now, but the advantage of the second half of the semester is that you have more long-term assignments and  less day-to-day homework.  So although I’m spending about the same amount of time on homework, the stress is a little less since if I need to, I can delay French to practice for my guitar midterm (which is what I’ve done this weekend).  I also got to see The King and I performed on campus, which was kind of the main reason I bought season tickets for these Off-Broadway shows, and it did not disappoint!  I love the musical and already knew the songs, but seeing it live was spectacular!   The semester feels like it’s flying by, but I’m loving the flowers and the stuff I’m learning.  I don’t want my classes to end, but I also can’t wait for summer.


Until next time ~

Posted in College

Chilly in Tucson

The weather the last two weeks has not been the Tucson weather I signed up for.   With highs in the sixties, and A LOT of rain last week, it’s been a little cold and dismal.  Fortunately, however, the weather was bright and warm last Saturday for the Tucson Rodeo (a.k.a La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros).  The rodeo has been going on all this week, but I was lucky enough to be there for the opening day.  I wasn’t really sure  what to expect to be honest, but it was actually a lot like in the movies with riders attempting to stay on a horse’s back for eight seconds, and steer wrestling.  It’s not completely my style, but the food stands and games around the stadium reminded me of the State Fair back home.  Ultimately, I had a lot of fun!

While I don’t have pictures of it, I also had the opportunity this week to see a performance of Dances Near and Far performed by the UA Dance department with a few guests.  It was absolutely amazing, and even though it was  30 degrees as I walked back to my dorm, it was completely worth it!  The performances featured everything from folk dances from Ireland to modern creations like “STYX” by Michael Williams, which draws inspiration from Greek mythology.  One of the highlights though had to be “America Through the Ages.”  This included excerpts from a complete show performed a few years ago that was condensed for this program to include square dancing, swing, and hip-hop.  It was a really incredible program to watch.

That’s about it for this post, but with spring break just around the corner, I’m excited to see a bit more of Tucson in the next couple of weeks.

Until next time ~

Posted in College

Stars and Things

Wow, a lot has been going on the last two weeks!  I started going to Lezginka classes for one thing.  Lezginka is a style of dance from the Caucasus region, and though the style varies from place to place, it basically mimics the flight of eagles.  It’s a lot of fun and a really good workout too.  I joined another club as well – the National Society for Collegiate Scholars.  It’s a philanthropy club that I’m really excited to get involved with, and they also do fun things like movie nights, one of which I attended on Friday.

Under the library

Food is also a great thing to talk about.  The RA in my wing has started organizing a little snack-time get-together on Monday afternoons, and it’s super fun to hang out and talk with people over cookies.  Every dorm also has a Faculty Fellow, who is a member of the faculty who works on organizing some events and getting to know the students.  Yesterday, she ran a CV workshop and brought vegetable lasagna that was absolutely spectacular.  Today, she also got tickets to take 15 students to see the play Doubt:  A  Parable by John  Patrick Shanley.

Normally I would be in class at this time of day

And finally, astronomy!  Although I didn’t get any pictures of the super-blue-blood moon last week, we did get up early to see it, which was incredible!  The astronomy club also took a trip to Kitt Peak Observatory last weekend where we toured the WIYN and the 12-meter telescopes before having a star party where we look at the stars with our own telescopes and the naked eye.  Driving back to campus around 10pm, we were all a little hungry, so a group decision was made to go to IHOP, which is where we were until midnight since they were surprisingly crowded.

Beyond that, I’ve been working hard on school stuff, except for that one day where my Global Studies professor was in Japan and had to cancel class.  That day I went to Starbucks.  But all the hard work is paying off – on Wednesday, I received official approval to study abroad in France next fall!  I can’t wait to finalize everything with that, but I’m also still loving the classes I’m in now.

Until next time ~

Posted in College

January in Review

I’ve been in class for only three weeks now, but it feels like a lot more than that.  The month has flown by, and I can’t quite believe it’s almost over.  In these opening weeks of the semester, I have mostly just adjusted to classes since clubs are only now starting again.  Although I plan to join a Lezginka dancing group (a very professional example of the style) and will be going on more trips with the astronomy club, for now I’m just going to go into detail a bit about some of my classes.

Arabic & French: These languages are quite different, but since they’re both languages, I”m grouping them together here.  In both classes, I have the first major assignment due this week (an essay for French [finished] and a video for Arabic [not finished]).  Anyone who knows me knows that I love languages, so even when these classes get challenging, I still enjoy them – in part because of the challenge!  It also helps to learn fun new words like the adjective “raplapla” in French, meaning roughly worn out.

Global Studies: Probably my favorite class so far, this is one of those classes that tells me I chose the right major.  There are two foundation classes in this major, one of which I took last semester that focused on global cultures and languages, and its compliment which discusses states and institutions.  We’ve spent the first several classes discussing “Globalization” and both its advantages and disadvantages.  As we come to the end of this unit, we will be studying the effects of and reactions to globalization in specific regions of the world (Europe, Africa, Mid East, East Asia, and Central America).  My professor is one of my favorites for how engaged and excited he is to discuss the topics with us.

Linguistics: As I said already, I love languages, and knowing how they work is fascinating to me.  This class is surprisingly easy (we have not yet had any homework), but I find it interesting to learn about the phonetic alphabet and, when attempting to transcribe words, realize that my transcriptions are different from the person next to me because my accent means I  pronounce the  word differently.

Astrobiology: Gen eds are supposed to be fun, right?  Apparently this is one of the more difficult science gen eds (you actually do math; it isn’t just a lecture), but when I saw there was a class about how we search for alien life, I had to sign up.  So far the class has been really interesting and not as difficult as I was led to believe since the math component is no harder than general science in 9th grade.

Guitar: So since I’m minoring in art history, I don’t actually need a fine arts gen ed credit, but a one-unit guitar class sounded fun.  After only two actual classes, I am pleasantly surprised that I can actual play something that resembles music.  Although I attempted to teach myself guitar in 11th grade, it’s completely different to actually have a teacher, a textbook, and requirements to meet.  This is basically my relaxing class because, despite my issues with stretching from fret to fret, playing any sort of music after memorizing a map of Europe is fairly calming.

Honors Colloquium: My last class to mention here is another one credit class, required for all freshmen in the Honors College.  Out of 50 options, I chose “How Stories Work,” and already  I’m having a lot of fun learning about narrative and rhetoric and how they engage us in stories.  My professor here as well is a lot of fun, and I’m really excited to continue with the class.

So, in short, I’m enjoying all my classes and excited about where they’re going.  It’s a heavy schedule, but I also like having the discipline of it and being able to learn so much.  My weekends especially are great; on Sundays, it’s fun to go to church in the morning, eat lunch, and then spend a few hours at the library Starbucks to prepare for the coming week.  To conclude here’s a few pictures from my first few weeks.

Until next time ~

Posted in College

Going Home!

It’s hard to believe that a week from now I’ll be back in West Virginia!  The last couple weeks have actually been pretty relaxing, even with finals approaching.  Thanksgiving break was definitely relaxing, although it was a little strange to have dinner with only six people, since the meal was just for people staying in the dorms over the break.

Celebrating Thanksgiving

Although in Tucson, the weather is still firmly in the 70s and 80s, it’s clearly getting close to Christmas, so my roommate and I went to see some of the decorations that are up on University Blvd.  Despite the decorations, I still wore a sundress to church yesterday.  I can’t convince myself it’s cold when I still work up a sweat walking across campus.

Since I have been studying for finals and finishing projects, I haven’t done a lot of exciting things over the past two weeks.  Also, since I’ll be going home, this will be my last blog of the year.  So here are a few pictures and a wish for everyone to have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Until Next Time ~