Archive | May, 2016

The Roman African

27 May

Billboard in Rome

This title may be a bit misleading, but I do want to talk a bit about Blackness in Rome.  I knew that when we came to the city, my experiences with Blackness would be vastly different than what was going on in Montepulciano.

Here’s the thing, while everyone else (namely white heteronormative ideologies) profess that Rome is one of the first civilizations, Rome does not seem to be confused about how much of their “knowledge and power” actually came from the AFRICAN country of Egypt. You see subtle acknowledgements everywhere including the seeming acceptance of many African immigrants in the city.  Now mind you, I ‘m not naive, there are similar issues here  as with the Africans in Spain (see my posts from Spain in 2015), but monuments, art and even the ancient ruins demonstrate that Rome is clear there was an exchange of information.

There are obelisks all over the city and many have hieroglyphs on them

Now, we all know the saying “the winner writes the history.” So you really have to look for it to find it, want to see it to identify it and admit is presence to acknowledge it. But Rome has it, EVERYWHERE.

I have enjoyed my time here in Italy.  Ups, downs and all.  I need to come back when I have more time to experience this Black identity here. My observations this trip have me fascinated. Between the expats and the immigrants, there is the pulse of a co-culture that I think is been missed by the glitzy tourist attractions.  I need to return and put my finger on THAT pulse.

When planning becomes a sport: Rome with family

26 May

So, as much as I have loved this whirlwind tour of Rome with my students, I have a few lessons learned when it comes to the tourist sights here when traveling with family.


Rome is a big city, y’all. Everybody wants to come here.  In fact, many people use Rome as a stopover to go to other locations and EVERYBODY has the brilliant idea to stay for a day or two before moving on.

Here’s what I have been able to gather about the big name locations.

Jacob Lawrence at the Vatican!

1) The Vatican: very crowded and a bit difficult to maneuver with small children.  Not saying it’s impossible, but you are essentially shepherded through the various exhibits and there is not a whole lot of time to take it in.  You stopping to take a picture can hold up a line of hundreds of people.  Also group tours are numerous and obtrusive. When a group stops to talk about a room or a work of art, you’re kind of stuck until they finish. By the way, you will need to give yourself at least 2 hours. My students and I started breezing through certain parts because hunger was setting in for them and it still took 90 minutes.  If you go to the Vatican, please gauge the pulse of your kids while you’re there. I can see how cranky can set it in easily.

the Coliseum (I swear I saw this spelled 4 different ways today)

the Forum in the Palantine Hills

2) The Coliseum and Palatine Hills: DO NOT DO THIS THE SAME DAY AS #1. It really needs at least a half a day with a fresh face and mind to take it all in. The steps in the Coliseum are pretty steep for small children, but there’s AN elevator. There is a walk up hill in the Forum/Palantine Hills, but one ticket can get you into both. Be warned, even though they say it “closes at 7pm” you will not get into the Palantine Hills after 6:30pm.

Trevi Fountain at night

3) Trevi Fountain: GORGEOUS at night, but big city problems.  We did witness a pickpocket that nearly knocked over a child trying to get away. It is also pretty crowded. Take your picture, make your wish and continue on.

the Pantheon

4) The Pantheon: a cool quick trip if you choose to walk for a bit in the city. You won’t spend too much time inside, but there are many “Old Europe” side streets with cafes and restaurants out of the tourist path.

5) Transportation: the train is safe and easy. But keep in mind when traveling with a larger family, it’s a good idea to purchase both the going and returning ticket at the same time and you can only purchase 6 at a time.  Although the the booth says it take 20 or 50 euro bills, we were not able to use anything larger than a 10 euro bill.  

If you really plan the days, you can have a great time in Rome. In all honesty, you need 2 full days at minimum. But be sure to plot routes, have back up plans and please, PLEASE plan for lunches and eating. 
I think I have one more Italy post in me…

Of course I have not forgotten the FOOD!

24 May

Typical Antipasti at most of our dinners (image pulled from Internet)

So, how do you give proper attention to how MAGNIFICENT the food was?  Even as a vegan/vegetarian (don’t judge the mixed use, I know they’re different), I am eating well here.  I may even venture to say I may be eating a little more than the folks I am here with.

Typical Italian fare is going to give you three courses:  primi piatti, which is usually the pasta (lasagna, penne, spaghetti); due piatti which will be meat and potatoes; and then a dessert.  This is A LOT of food.  But I have to focus on this side trip we took to a farm near Montepulciano to talk about the DIVINEness that is the food in Italy.

San Martino Farm, Montepulciano

Yesterday, we visited a farm that actually uses Egyptian Cosmology to plant and harvest their self-sustainable organic crop.  Antonio, the owner was lovely and took careful time to explain the fresh foods served to us in their restaurant on the property as well as explain how he uses the elemental order of plants to plant them in particular groupings, uses the planetary alignments to determine when they are harvested and uses absolutely NO chemicals or pesticides anywhere on his farm.  Even the pool is natural water that is self-cleaning and does not use chlorine.

Antonio explaining how these plants are gathered by the elemental combination of fire, water and air

Antonio talking to the students about the spirit of his farm and how he works for research and not profit

So, lunch….Fresh ricotta and pecorino cheeses with pears  topped with a honey nut sauce.  The ricotta had a sauce of tomato, garlic and sesame seed, and of course bread.  But the everything about the bread was homemade, even the yeast was made by hand!  Due piatti consisted of fresh whole wheat penne pasta with grated zucchini, carrots and beets (now, I HATE beets, still do, but these were tolerable) drizzled with olive oil. Dessert was a fabulous chocolate mousse with jasmine flower petals and caramelized apples on top.  (Mouth watering yet?)

All in all, the food is exactly what you would expect it to be here.  I have had marvelous grilled vegetables and bean stews that have filled me up way more than I need to be (I guess all these hills are a good thing).  Tonight I am going with some of the students to a cooking class.  I will post about that tomorrow!

Tuscany with family

23 May

The view of the Tuscan Hills from Montepulciano

I feel like I needed to immediately follow-up after my last post so I’m sharing this one a bit early…

Tuscany is BEAUTIFUL. Like any location I visit, I encourage you to come with your family, but here are a few things you should know:

Best meme I could find

1) Italy is still VERY much a smoking culture – like, EVERYWHERE! There are more smokers than non-smokers here. It is very much a part of the social culture and something to be mindful of when traveling with children. I actually witnessed a woman scowl at a child because he accidentally bumped her cigarette. As if to say nonverbally, how dare you almost knock my precious cigarette out of my hand, you audacious child? This is something to keep in mind for families with asthmatic children especially with hotels. We don’t feel the need to specify smoke free in the States, but it is a MUST here in Italy.

Half way up the hill to the Piazza Grande

The other half of the hill to Piazza Grande

2) Tuscany is not short on hills – actually, I think that may have been too mild. Hills and mini mountains are all throughout most Tuscan cities. You will be trekking up some pretty steep ones, especially in Montepulciano and Siena. This means really weigh the pros and cons of traveling with a stroller. In fact, for practice, get your nearest mountain (if you have them in your area) and try climbing it with your child in a stroller and lugging your suitcase. When you get to the top, you have just walked in Siena and Montepulciano, in one direction.

This road is for cars and people. Notice, no sidewalks no driving lanes

3) Public transportation, is limited to intercity in Montepulciano and although there are taxis, I did not see many and the town is more of a pedestrian town than a driving one. Parking and bus stops are outside of the city at the bottom of a steep hill and many of the streets are not passable by car.

4) The chocolate lab! – for those of you that love the stuff, or have children who do, absolutely go to the chocolate lab. It’s about 200m from the Piazza Grande and DELICIOUS!

Crociani Wine Shop and Cellar

Inside the Crociani Wine Cellar

5) Wine, wine, vino, vin. However you say it, there is plenty of it – Montpulciano has 75 vintners in the area and almost all of them have cellars in town. You have tour the cellars and have wine tastings (a lot are even free). I would suggest stash the euros to do the wine tasting at Crociani. Susana Crociani is phenomenal and her tasting is filled with the wine history of he area and her family. Her wine is terrific and I promise you, you will never drink a Merlot or Cabernet in the States the same again. My husband jokes that I’m a wine snob now, wait until these bottles get delivered to our door (yes, they ship to the USA!)

It seems morbid, but may be interesting to folks

6) The Torture Museum – okay, yes, it sounds grotesque and eerie, but my students said it was actually a pretty interesting history lesson attached to the exhibits. May be better for older children though.

View from the Caffe in Piazza Grande

7) For the younger ones – Piazza Grande is a huge open space with some cafe tables lined around it, perfect to sit back with a caffé (or vino…do you) and watch the children let off some steam. For something a bit more “organized,” the Fortezza at the top of the city, has a play area with swings, slides and the like.

8) Lake Artemezza is 30 minutes outside of the city and ideal for a getaway from the tourist scene of the town.

You can walk the entire city in less than 45 minutes, but it is jam packed with so much stuff to see.  

Pulling on strength

23 May

So let me shout out every last one of those Black Away from Home expats who pick up and move across the world to live in countries and locations where there may be no one who looks like them and may not speak the language. You all are courageous, bold, and extremely patient…with yourselves. The difficulties that come with living in a another country are intensified when other components such as language and skin color are thrown into the mix. To endure microagressions from another culture, to deal with being by yourself with few friends and more than likely no family for months and months and months on end, is truly a courageous feat, that so many people do not have the stomach for. Sure, many of dream of it, but few have actually DONE it. My hats off to you. My complete and total respect and honor for what you endure each and every day without family and friends to run to, lean on or release with.

I say all of this because in a very real moment here in Italy, I had a critical moment. One I have NEVER had before. Now critical moments happen all the time in international travel. It is discussed in many ways through international education and culture shock literature. It is the moment when the novelty of being in another country has worn off, you find yourself essentially at a breaking point. The moment passes, and you continue on, but I think for this blog, it’s important to share this particular range of emotions with you all. It is a direct Black Away from Home moment and my processing of it may be helpful for others of you living overseas.

Here goes….

The sunset from the Fortezza

Today, the isolation of being the seeming interloper for this class I am co-leading (because I came into the class after the class synergy had already been established), the isolation of being on the outskirts of town in the “apartment ” I am living in here, the isolation of not being able to fully communicate with folks because I don’t speak Italian like I wish I could and the isolation of seeing very few African descendent faces in the midst of all of this.

It peaked today, y’all. The students decided they wanted to do a group dinner. The peer leaders decided they were going to make dinner for everyone. I have quite a few diet restrictions, so my plan was to make my dinner for myself at my own apartment and go over there after to fellowship. Well, my stove doesn’t work. Didn’t know that before I went to grocery to buy food, because the person that brought me to the apartment said all I needed was to light the gas eye before I cooked and everything would be fine.  

So, another faculty member suggested I use the stove in her apartment and since she was right across the street from where the dinner would be, it might be more convenient. By midday, she realized her stove doesn’t work either. A few plan Bs, Cs and finally D later, I end up waiting for one of the 2 working eyes on the stove of the place where the dinner would be held to finish prepping the food for 20 to cook my own food. (2 hours later, I finally ate)

Emotion 1: HUNGRY

The memes are purely for effect.

It took a minute before my meal was actually done, and folks were starting to leave. I really did want to actually socialize with folks, since I knew once I got back to my apartment, I would have no human contact until late morning the next day when we have our first activity.  


Because everybody was leaving, that meant it was time for me to go too. To take the long 20-minute walk sola back to my apartment to sit alone until I can finally go to sleep.

Emotion 3: LONELY

Again, only for effect. No need to send the calvary

So not the best combo, right? Well, what do you do? I walked the long walk back to my apartment and sat in silence and wrote this blog. This albeit way too long blog.

Stock photo from the Internet

What I find in these moments, is that many times the act of purging and releasing can do a lot for the spirit and a sense of peace. So that’s what this is. A release. I (as per usual) dumped it all on my husband in a loaded text message. He sent me back a Stevie Wonder song. He knows me well.  I wrote the very real feelings in this post to purge it all out.  The feelings have subsided.  I am able to get back in the groove and get back to enjoying Italy.

Purging is one of the best things for a person’s spirit. Purging, releasing and addressing critical moments in the best healthy way for you while traveling can reveal so much about who you are and what you need. So Black Away from Home folks, how are you dealing with your critical moments while overseas?

The color of identity, the limits of language

22 May

Not quite Montepulciano, but gives you an idea

There is something to be said about language and how we see ourselves. There is also something to be said about how others see you despite language. I admit, I was a bit nervous about going into a country where I was the minority and did not speak language. But when I tell you microagressions see no geographic boundaries and only color, I’m not playing!

Montepulciano is a city in the mountains with a population of a whopping 14,000. It is still a tourist town, because well, WINE (#drinkingvinonobile). Be clear that there is a particular type of tourist this town is accustomed to catering to daily and folks that look like me are few and far between.  

So. Many. Wine Barrels.

This means there are ways in which color means more than nationality here. There have been few establishments I have gone into and in one, I ordered a cup of cappuccino and sat at one of the outdoor tables. After about 10 minutes, I was asked to leave because “it was lunch time not coffee time.” It wouldn’t have bothered me, there was a steady stream of folks coming in to eat, but just the day before, I witnessed two women sit at that same table for HOURS without being asked to leave and there were others there the same time I was drinking coffee or soda who were not asked to leave. You only have to guess the difference between us.

How I’m feeling right now

Today was not the best day for this. I am already dealing with microagressions of students refusing to call me Dr. and instead butcher the pronunciation of my first name despite the fact I have asked repeatedly they not do that and finding out that I am the only faculty/staff person housed in the worst conditions and farthest from the heart of the city. So this event at the coffee shop, is not entering in on the best of circumstances.

I am having a rough time asserting my identity in places where it is neither desired nor respected. The difference is, language leaves me powerless to fight for its presence at this Italian table. We did have lesson one of two of Survival Italian. So if, someone asks me in a restaurant tomorrow Che cosa desidera? Would I be out of place to answer: Vorrei rispetto, per piacere! Probably. But a piatto of respect would taste really good right now. I’ll take that over pasta at this point.

Language Key

Che cosa desidera? = What do you desire?

Vorrei rispetto, per piacere! = I would like respect, please

piatto = plate  

Tuscany: Privileges and Power

21 May

So…I’ve actually been in Italy since Wednesday, but access to “da innanets” has been limited and sporadic to say the least. We arrived in Florence on Wednesday and spent the day there.  I was able to see this guy in person:

That was as impressive as it seems.  Walking around Florence and going in and out of churches and duo so, I was able to see something that sets Italy a part from other former imperialist countries.  Usually you go into churches and you see gold and glitz and opulence, but here, there was a focus on the marble and stone work.  David, being a statute carved entirely out of marble and intended to sit in front of a church.

I am accustomed to seeing colonial powers and imperial powers showing off riches as a means of asserting power, but Italy as a different M.O.  Italy uses marble as the means of showing its power.  Stay with me:  All of the work and effort it takes to carve out marble, the cut the stone, to sand and polish the stone, all takes advances in technology.  To show this off is churches is a sort of rhetorical positioning, a testament to how strong they were.

It’s fascinating really!  To think about how much it would take to cut and carve marble, and then to place all of that in places of prominence and influence like the church, says just how powerful Italy wanted to appear to its citizens and the rest of the world.  Now mind, you, I have not been to Vatican City yet, so all this may very well change once I see the museum there and the Sistine Chapel…

This brings me to another point, how great minds are valued here.  At Santa Croce, a church in Florence, just about every great Italian mind and artist can be found there:

Macchiavelli ‘s crypt

Michaelangelo’s Crypt (I had to do a panoramic shot in order to get the whole thing!)

Dante’s crypt (always the thinker even in death)

Galileo’s crypt

I was a bit mesmerized by the veneration of thinkers and artists at Santa Croce.  Being honored just as much as the Medicis in the same church.  It shows the impact of not only these men on many lives and the world, but also how much it is appreciated by the Italians that they are honored almost like royalty.  As a US citizen, I am a bit jealous, we don’t do as much for ALL of our great contributors (many of the non-profit organizations that are trying to maintain Monticello, Frederick Douglass’s Home, the King family home, etc. are STRUGGLING).  I wonder what some of our historic landmarks would look like , what urban sprawl and gentrification would look like if we honored the homes, burial sites and the like of ALL of the great thinkers and contributors to US society?  Notice, I am emphasizing ALL here.  No need to place your comment about the memorials in DC to certain presidents and leaders, no need to add your two cents about Mount Rushmore or Mount Vernon.  I am thinking primarily about those thinkers who revolutionized our understanding of the marginalized (ahem, BLACK away from Home).  How’s Susan B. Anthony’s house hanging in Rochester?  Is it preserved to the nines? What about WEB DuBois’s House?  Anna Julia Cooper’s? There is something to say about the way we pay tribute to those who made great changes to how we see the world.  I have much respect for the way Italy is doing it.

(Almost) Wheels up (again)!

6 May

As I prepare for the next trip, I am excited and nervous at the same time.  When I traveled to Brazil in 2012, my Portguese was not all that great (can only boast minimal improvement even now) so I couldn’t say confidently I was stepping into a country where I knew the language and the surroundings.  The same holds true for this trip to Italy.  But here’s the difference:  for Brazil, I knew I would be around people of African descent and that would be enough to diminish any fears of not knowing the language.  For Italy, not so much the case.  I not only don’t speak a lick of Italian (I am soooo hoping my Spanish, French and Portguese will allow me to tread water), but there is little chance of me seeing an Afro-Italian.

I know, when I went to Madrid last year, I was shocked to see Africans. But, I knew the LANGUAGE. So I could still catch the subtle nuances of passersby, of folks I passed by and still felt “comfortable.”

Something about this trip has me a bit more anxious.  I am leading way more students than ever (16 this time), but, although there are logistical things there of concern, it really is about this anticipation of the unfamiliar in all respects.  I am used to being somewhere and not really knowing the language well (Brazil, Senegal, South Korea, Haiti) and I am used to being in spaces where my color sticks out as the beautifully different thumb it is (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Spain, heck, the USA in some places).  But the combination of these two are rare for me.

Needless to say, some of my posts this trip may be a public negotiation of this combination.  It will also be an opportunity for me to, for a moment, sit in the places of those Black Away from Home ex-pats living in Japan, China, Russia (well kind of, there are Afro-Russians) and all those other places where language and identity are impacted simultaneously.  It will really put a lot of my research into perspective.

I am thrilled, EXCITED to be going to Italy!  For all of the reasons that anybody else would be excited to go.  But also for the reasons I list above that may read as apprehension.  It’s not.  You should know by now, I set the stage for my thought process in order to prepare myself (and you).


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