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Kate (the Great) Date

My roommate, Kate, and I get along very well. We love the television and book series Outlander, are are enamored with Downton Abbey, and are major art history nerds. That being said, we are in an art history class together on Thursdays at 9:00 am. Our courses are 2.5 hours long, but only occur once a week. In these classes, we learn about various works and then go on-site to see them firsthand. Last week, for example, we went to the Bargello museum and viewed some of Michelangelo’s early sculptures we discussed not thirty minutes previous.

After class is over, Kate and I are both hungry. A shared look passes between us and we know that we’re about to hunt for something good. Two or three weeks ago, we ventured across the Arno river, about thirty minutes away, to get legendary American bagels. I feel so un-Italian when I admit that I get American food once a week, but then I remember the variety available back in the States. It isn’t uncommon to eat Mexican food one night for dinner, but feast on Chinese food the next. This fact makes me feel better, and also a little spoiled in the way we get such a mish-mash of cultures at home. Anyway, we chose different bagel sandwiches and cried a little inside.

Last week, we went to another American place and got ourselves some brunch at a local cafe specializing in American breakfast foods. Although it is American food, Italians frequent here, too. Our waiter, therefore, knew both Italian and English. Most shops in Florence employ people who know basic English as this city is filled with tourists and study abroad students. English is generally the common language for transactions, unless, of course, you are Italian. It is nice to be in a restaurant where Italian is the predominant language, and this little cafe is just like that. It is called La Vespa and is charming and quaint; similar to local brunch places in Kansas City. I had a breakfast burrito and Kate had a traditional egg, bacon, and toast combination platter. Again, we cried inside at the taste of home. It was absolutely delicious.

Afterwards, we went to a cafe called La Menagere. Again, this place is frequented by many locals and visitors alike. It is a cafe, bistrot, restaurant, flower shop, and even has a space for live music. Needless to say, it is large and beautiful. It faintly reminds me of Anthropologie from home. There are colorful couches interspersed with real tables and chairs for seating, and there is a lower level in addition to an heated patio outside. Although laptops and homework set us apart as Americans, we brought both to cross some schoolwork off our agendas. At normal bars (in Italy, a cafe/coffeeshop is a bar), one goes to the front to order and generally takes the espresso or drink there, if by yourself, but this cafe has waitresses milling around to take your order. We both ordered cappuccinos and settled in to work on our assignments.

That’s just a taste of what my Thursdays are like with Kate. She’s a marvelous lady, enjoys alone time just as much as I do, and is one of the kindest, most understanding humans I’ve ever met. Abby and Kate Dates on Thursdays are something I look forward to every week. Making friends in Florence was something I was nervous about, but having a roommate turn into a dear friend is a relief. I am grateful for this experience and for Kate!

Garden Teacher

No, I am not taking a horticulture class as I study abroad. The title of this post comes from my art history professor. She introduced herself by having us repeat her name back to her and then asking if anyone knew what her name meant. Only one student in this class is fluent in Italian, so he was the lone soul who answered for us. As it turns out, her last name means “garden.” She told us if we ever forget her name or how to pronounce it, we can simply call her Ms. Garden. Something as basic as this introduction shows me that I will enjoy my time in her class. All three of my art history classes are taught by her and I can honestly say I am eager to be in the lectures.

Every art history professor I’ve had the fortune of taking a course with is passionate about what he or she studies. Each is obviously an expert in the period that he or she has chosen, but all of them desire for this expertise to be worn off on his or her students. My professors teach me to look critically at a work of art, to go past the aesthetics and examine the work from a social, political, etc. context. She has this passion, but it means even more abroad because she is from and continues to reside in the city housing the art she is passionate about.

In my second class with her last week, she told us that she has learned so much more about the world through the lenses of art history. She told us she is not a wonderful historian, but has understood history by reading the images, the art. She has understood science and politics through the context of art history. She told us that this subject is a vehicle to understand the past.

Yesterday, in my first class of the week with her, we took a field trip to the church we were just discussing in the classroom. Our classes are two and a half hours, so we have the time to take excursions into the city. What other experience is like this? My professors at home lecture over images of works of art or architecture projected over a screen, but here, my professor highlights the frescoes by Giotto as we walk through the church, points out the wooden beams as we wander underneath them, and has us pay attention to the stones used in the columns as we touch them when we pass. I feel so fortunate to be here.

In the second class of the week with her yesterday, we continued to discuss Giotto. She told us that her professor gave her a 29 out of 30 for some project, and when she asked the professor why she was marked down, she was told it was because she was too passionate. She then told us that she does not like to say she deserves anything, but she felt that she deserved the 30 out of 30 because to be passionate about what you do and learn is good. She said she was angry and believes her professor is wrong. She said that we, as art historians, do not need to be passionate about what she is passionate about, or cool with what she is cool about, but to be passionate about something. That, she said, is what marks a good art historian.

And then she proceeded to tell us about one of her favorite frescoes and explain what makes her passionate about it, jokingly, with hopes of making us passionate about it, too.

Ciao!