Weeks 93 through 97

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View of the castle in Malcesine.

The last month has been a whirlwind of work! I somehow managed to submit nearly everything that was due. I never quite wrote the outline for the thesis for my UniTN adviser. Instead, I sort of started rolling all the reports I had written into a preliminary thesis outline, and then worked on fleshing parts out while my models were running. It’s still not entirely clear to me how much detail I should go into on certain aspects of the thesis, so I am just writing what I can in the meanwhile, and hopefully, I’ll manage to flesh it out better once my results are in.

Unfortunately, I’ve hit some snags in my code (i.e. nothing runs!), so I haven’t been able to get the type of results I’m looking for (i.e. any results!). I still have results from the internship portion of my work at FBK, but they aren’t well organized or complete. I think because of how long it takes to train models on our hardware, I’m going to have to sacrifice having an interesting and novel work to present, since I have to finish running all the baselines and the different data combinations. Basically, I won’t have any time to play around with two thirds of the things I would have liked to play around with, and that’s just sad. I guess I could theoretically extend my thesis until December, but I really would prefer to graduate in October.

I don’t want to drag this out, partly because I am looking forward to moving elsewhere. It has been a good learning experience to live here, but in the end, there are certain aspects of life here that I find incredibly exhausting. Bureaucracy is, of course, the main thing. It’s possible that I would become accustomed to it over time, and there are certainly aspects of life here that are wonderful, so I’m not totally against staying, but in any case, I would want to move out of Rovereto, which is simply too difficult to travel to/from.

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Light show on a building in Nancy.

The LCT meeting happened last month in Nancy, and just like last year, it was an absolute blast to meet so many awesome people. Nancy was practically impossible to get to from Rovereto, so I actually traveled back to Saarbrücken for the week. I met with my University of Saarland adviser there, to present to him the proposal for my master’s thesis. I had a lot of slides prepared on the math and the models and such, but, of course, he is an expert in my field, and so for those, he just said “skip it.” I was happy to hear that, because I didn’t want to talk about it anyway! Overall, I think the meeting went pretty well, because I was able to anticipate most of the questions that came up, and he did have some good advice for me as well. Apart from that, I got to see a bunch of folks from last year, which was of course the best part.

After that, I headed to Nancy for the LCT meeting. Although Nancy was nice, it didn’t compare to last year’s destination of Malta, of course. Also, unfortunately, we couldn’t all have a nice dinner together either, due to some organizational issues. But we still managed to hang out a lot. The city had a nice vibe, with plenty of buildings decorated in the art nouveau fashion. There was a river that we hung out at one of the evenings. They also had this awesome light show at around 11pm on the buildings in the main square. Actually, it was probably the coolest light show of this type that I’ve seen.

In any case, this year, the meeting was shorter. As a second year, I had to present a poster on my internship/thesis work. It wasn’t that great, because I don’t really have good results or conclusions to make from my thesis work, but it was still a good experience. I had to present the same poster at a mini-conference at work the next week, so I was happy to have the whole thing down pat by then. There was one pretty good invited speaker, and the others, I don’t know, because this time around, I had the good sense to sleep instead. However, I still got pretty sick at the end of the week. I guess travel, and late nights will do that for you. The worst part was that one of the days I was walking home, late at night, like around 2am, and suddenly, from a window above me, someone threw water, and it hit me. I got splashed with dirty who-knows-what water, out of a French window– just like in the movies, but in a bad way! Anyways, I spent the next week coughing and sneezing, but luckily got better in time to enjoy the next few weeks of summer.

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View of the Dolomites from Kolbenstein, a small town above Bolzano.

So then, apart from work, I’ve had a nice summer, full of aerial silks performances, and friends visiting. More friends are scheduled to visit soon, and I’m very much looking forward to that. The only trouble is that I haven’t had much time to travel to the places I would like to travel to, since every time friends visit, we go to the same big touristy places that they haven’t seen yet. Maybe it will be possible for me and my husband to plan something over a couple of weekends in the next month, but time is wearing thin to make plans; the rest of Italy is going on vacation in July and August, and things are basically getting booked out. In any case, I will be very busy with work, besides. So I’m not really optimistic about getting to see much more of Italy this summer, I’m afraid.

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Ducklings in Lago di Garda, at Malcesine.

Nevertheless, I’ve very much enjoyed spending time with friends! Last weekend, we went to Malcesine on Lago di Garda. The weather was lovely, so we walked around the town, and then rented some stand-up paddle boards. I managed to get on my feet on the thing a couple of times, but I found that controlling it, and especially, having any power to move against the wind and the waves, was pretty difficult while standing. I was able to move easily while standing on my knees though, and it still felt great to just be on the water. It reminded me of the times I used to go to the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon. If I have a free day again this summer, I just might come back here.

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Little birds (swallows?) were swooping all around the castle in Malcesine.

Costs:

  • €225 – rent
  • €55 – internet
  • €85 – phone (for 2 months)
  • €320 – travel (including some tickets and food)
  • €260 – clothes (including new sandals)
  • €60 – medical expenses, including routine blood check for hypothyroidism levels
  • €8 – video games
  • Total: €1,013
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Spring Hikes

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The weather has gotten warmer, and we’ve been able to go hiking. I’ve done three hikes in the last couple months. The first was a wine walk organized by a few of the PhD students from CIMeC. This was a hike including four wineries along the way, one of them in an old castle. It was a nice ~7km walk down the hill, with great wine and food (parmiggiano reggiano, salami, and other small bites) along the way, although it turns out that a steep downhill hike through narrow forested paths and twisty city alleyways is a bit challenging when you’re with a group of fairly drunk people. Still, the views were lovely and it was a great way to spend an afternoon. My favorite white wine from the walk was the Gewürtztraminer from Cantina d’Isera, and my favorite red was the Lagrein from Castel Noarna.

The next hike went up to Cima della Marzòla. We did this one with a friend we made in the last year at Saarland who was visiting, and the hike was much longer than we expected. It totaled in around 18-20km, with approximately 1000 meters elevation difference, first up through forest and fields of wildflowers, and then down around the side of the mountain. It took around 6 hours to complete it, I think. Needless to say, my calves and thighs were hurting on the way up, and my knees on the way down, but we survived, and the views were well worth it. The whole way up was covered in these beautiful trees, whose yellow flowers hung down like willow branches. And just as we were at the peak, a rainbow shone over a smaller hilltop below. How lucky! Most of all, I enjoyed spending time with friends. I miss that wonderful community we had at Saarland, as well as the relatively decent education/organization there as well, for that matter (which is not something I expected to say at the end of last year).

The last hike went up Monte Stivo. This one was the longest. We left from the base somewhere near Passo Bordala around 10:00 in the morning, and returned, I think, around 19:30. I’m not sure how many kilometers we walked, but it was a hell of a lot. The way up was winding through some forest at first, but after the first peak, it became rather steep. Amazingly, at one of our stops, we saw a group of 30 horse riders taking a break before continuing their climb to the top. I wouldn’t have expected horses to be able to make it up there, but I guess they are more nimble than I thought.  The path up to the first overlook wound its way through wooded underbrush, and grassy cliff sides, dotted with lovely yellow, white, and violet flowers, where bees and butterflies buzzed and fluttered around us– and it only got better from there.

As we climbed over the last rocks along the steep path, we saw a wide grassy hilltop covered in beautiful wildflowers. The top was breathtaking. I think this was my favorite hike out of all the ones we’ve done here in Trentino (or maybe ever).  In each direction we turned, we saw a landscape of valleys and mountain tops, many of them lower than Stivo, though some in the distance were much higher and snow-capped. The sun was hot, but the breeze was cool, and it brought with it wispy clouds that occasionally obscured the view of Lago di Garda in the West, far, far below us.

We had climbed around 900m in elevation to get up Monte Stivo, and so we had to go the same distance down, this time around the back of the mountain. As we walked along the ridge of the mountain, over a path flanked by wildflowers, we encountered a small farm with cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, and a dog guarding the little house. The farm was literally just on the side of this giant mountain, barely even fenced off.  As we made our way through the farm (that’s the way the path went), a curious baby goat bounded up to us, getting so close that we could pet it, and feed it a bit of grass. What kind of a life must it be to lead a farmstead in such a remote, and beautiful place? I bet it’s really cold in the winter, when the snows cover Monte Stivo, along with all the mountains and valleys surrounding it. We continued our descent back into the forest.

The way back, was much longer than the way there, since it didn’t cut straight down the mountain, but looped all the way around back. Much of it took us through the somewhat wild underbrush. We had to hike through deep mud, clay, and leaves, and some parts of it were actually fairly tick-infested as well. One of our party members ended up finding 9 ticks on her that day! Somehow, the others of us didn’t get any biting into us at all, just a few that we managed to brush off before they took hold.

The whole thing was pretty crazy, but I can’t deny that it was breathtaking (both metaphorically, and literally)

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Officialization 11: Thesis Registration

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Spring and summer means master’s thesis work. As part of the LCT program you have three sets of requirements that you have to fulfill for your master’s thesis. The information is hard to locate on the websites, and often, you don’t end up receiving it at all. So far I’ve managed to get lucky somehow, and I haven’t missed any major deadlines– as far as I know. I really hope I haven’t fucked something up already, because I honestly can’t be sure (and if someone seems mistakes here, please let me know). The deadlines for the three programs that I have understood are as follows:

UniTN

The deadlines for UniTN are fairly strict, and you can only delay things with the help of local supervisors. See also deadlines for 2018.

  • Some time before graduation: Completion of internship (see below)
  • 4 months before graduation: Thesis title declaration form signed by your UniTN adviser
  • 1 month before graduation: Master’s defense application
  • 1 week before graduation: Master’s thesis submission, and presumably the slides for your defense
  • Graduation: this is also the date of your defense

UniTN internship (15 credits):

There are no strict deadlines for starting or ending the internship, but if you want to graduate on time, start it as early as possible in your second semester (or even your first). After you officially finish the internship, there are no strict deadlines for when to turn in the report and paperwork either. It’s important to save all documents as pdfs, because you will need to print and sign them, even if there’s no space for a signature.

Don’t be shy in contacting jobguidance@unitn.it with all your questions, because the websites are confusing, but they are very helpful and answer quickly. Just email them and ask them to confirm everything.

To start the internship (see also here and here):

  • The company needs to contact JobGuidance on your behalf and submit some forms to them.
  • Your UniTN adviser needs to contact JobGuidance to approve your internship.
  • You print out a copy of the agreement from the Esse3 (online student platform), which must be signed by you, your company supervisor, and your uni adviser.
  • The form needs be submitted to the office of Job Guidance, which is at Via Verdi 6, Trento (the red building behind the building with the language classes).

To end the internship:

  • Your evaluation of the company. Make sure to save as pdf before you leave the webpage.
  • The company supervisor’s evaluation of you, signed by them (even though there’s no place for a signature). Make sure s/he saves it as a pdf before leaving the webpage.
  • Certificato parte prima, which includes the timesheet, available in the online Esse3 platform, signed by you, and the company supervisor
  • Report up to your uni adviser’s specifications (probably 2-3 pages in length), so that he can give you a grade (I think it’s pass/ no pass) in Esse3
  • Certificato parte due, which is sent to you from Job Guidance, signed by your university adviser

UdS

The deadlines for UdS are very strict, and you risk missing your graduation deadline if you don’t follow them, so make a note of the dates. See also the description for 2018 and these annotations for LCT.

  • Some time before graduation: Master seminar registration
  • 3 months before graduation: Thesis registration (this is a physical form that you have to turn in to the exam office, but LCT students might have the possibility to email it; however, you have to ask for the form well in advance since the exam office is very bad at email)
  • 6 weeks before graduation: Master seminar proposal submission (and if your thesis adviser is in Dr. Klakow’s group, then a presentation on your proposal before you turn in the proposal paper)
  • Before the final date of the semester: Thesis submission and Colloquium presentation (a presentation instead of a defense)

LCT program:

In addition to all the credits from the correct categories, you have to present a poster at the LCT conference in the second half of your second year. It can be on your thesis, or on some internship work, or even on a proposal for your thesis, but it is mandatory.

Vacation

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Last month, our families came to visit. First my husband’s family and then my own. In total, we had family here for around a month, although I was only able to take around 2.5 weeks off. It was great to see everyone, and to get the chance to travel around Italy a little bit. In total, we visited Bologna, Venice, Bolzano, Castel Beseno, Florence, Rome, Pompeii, and Sicily.

Tips

I don’t have many tips for these places that you can’t find elsewhere, so I’ll compile the few I have here at the top since the rest of the post is pretty long.

  • Rome: 3 days is enough, official taxis are white and they are cheap and efficient; deep fried artichokes are amazing (“carciofio alla giudia”)
  • The Vatican: during tours at the Vatican, you can drop off your headset and keep going on your own if you want; spend a bit of extra time in the map room, because there’s a lot going on here; Garage Vespasiano can even take giant cars (but bringing a car to Rome is pretty pointless)
  • Pompeii: use the Circumvesuviana train to get there from Napoli (follow signs from the central station to their platforms), but watch the stop names outside the train to make sure to get off at “Pompei Scavi”, because the map might be missing stops on it; check out Villa dei Misteri (NW corner) for some really cool frescos
  • Sicily: spend a week here; renting a car at the airport makes sense to travel around the island; driving on highways feels similar to driving in LA (but I don’t know about driving in Palermo; that might be hard); don’t rent a big car or it won’t fit on small roads; keep in mind that Google maps will send you on tiny cobblestone streets that you aren’t supposed to drive on because they are limited to residents, so pay good attention to street signs
  • Venice: 1 day is enough to walk around the center and then take a ferry (“vaporetto”) back to the train station; there is parking in one area on the island but there’s not much point in bringing a car
  • Bolzano: buy speck (cured pork), take the cable car (10 euro there and back) to Soprabolzano and check out some of the views and hikes there
  • Trentino area: check out Castel Beseno, which is the largest fortification in the area and the views are amazing; there is 2 hour break between 10 and 12 in trains in the mornings, so plan around that for travel
  • Florence: the line for Uffizi can take an hour or more, so plan accordingly; eat amazing lunch sandwiches at “I’ Girone De’ Ghotti” on the way there from the cathedral

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The families

Our two families are similar in some ways, but different in others. They bring with them different stresses. My husband’s family likes plans, and I find it difficult to improvise or to explore, lest we go off the rails. My family, on the other hand, fails to make any plans, and as a result, everything is in utter chaos most of the time, making it difficult to achieve goals. Both families have strong opinions. Also, both families have members temporarily dealing with some health/walking difficulties so we move pretty slowly.

However, I feel that this year, things went pretty well overall. There were no big arguments and we got to do almost everything we set out to do together. The biggest stresses came from factors outside our control, that is, less from our interpersonal relations, and more from just stressful situations that occurred, and in the end we handled all of them.

I would very much like to pretend that the successes partly came from my experiences in Italy over the last year. I wish I could say that I have somehow become a more open and laid back person, capable of handling complex situations in a calm manner. I remember in the past once being playfully called “small and intense” (but in every joke there is a kernel of truth). It would be nice to think that over the last year I have become more relaxed, but without losing whatever positive aspects “intenseness” entails (such as perhaps focus or emotive capacity). But most of the successes of the vacation can more likely be attributed to my husband’s empathy and forethought than any of my own abilities, or else just to dumb luck with things working out as they should.

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Crisis

The most tense moment was when we lost someone. We were on the Circumvesuviana train from Napoli to Pompeii, and although this train is the simplest way to get to Pompeii, it is really shitty. It’s old and rattly and hot, and it makes many stops along the way. Before heading out, I got a timetable and map of the stops from their info center. As our stop was nearing, we moved to the front of the train. On the map, I saw that the next stop should be “Pompei Scavi (Pompeii excavations)” and told people to prepare themselves.

My husband’s brother was at the front as the doors opened and his parents were behind me (my husband was sick that day so he wasn’t with us). The doors opened and my husband’s brother hopped out. As quickly as they opened, they closed! I swear, it was something like 3 seconds that they were open, maximum. I tried to hold them open, but it was the old sort of train where the doors don’t sense people (it was kind of dangerous, to be honest). Just in that moment we realized this was not Pompei Scavi, but some other stop, although the map had not shown another stop in between. The train left, with my husband’s brother stuck on the platform. He didn’t have his phone since it wasn’t working in Italy, and he doesn’t speak a word of Italian. As the train pulled away, I made a motion for him to wait through the train door window, which I felt he understood.

We got to the next stop and went into full gear. I ran to buy a ticket for the next train back, and my husband’s parents got the station to call back to the previous stop to tell them what happened. Unfortunately, the station said they didn’t see him on the platform. Everyone was freaking out, but all things considered, I felt pretty calm. I felt that he had understood to wait (where could he go, after all?), and that the next steps were clear to me. I only had some restless anxiousness as I waited for the next train. Fortunately, it came in just 10 minutes, and the stop was only another 5 minutes away. All told it probably took around 25 or 30 minutes to get back. As I exited the train, however, I realized the platform was completely empty. No brother-in-law. No one at all, really. I descended the stairs, and saw only the exit doors.

Somehow, in this moment, it all caught up with me, and I felt that wave of panic starting to rise. I forced myself to calm down, and decided to thoroughly search the platforms above before trying to head past the exit doors (which I would be unable to re-enter without spending a ticket). I finally returned downstairs and went around the corner towards the exit doors– and there he was, sitting at the cafe bar. Of course, he had known the best course of action was to stay put. The station operators had found him after we called ahead (without being able to inform us), and had gotten him some coffee and water to calm his nerves while he waited. Crisis averted.

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Pompeii

We spent the rest of the day in Pompeii and I returned later once again with my family. I can really recommend spending a day there, especially if the weather is nice, because it’s just incredible to see how people lived back then (not so differently from us in fact), how vivid their frescos and other art was, and how much of the city has survived until now.

The Vatican

Other than the time we lost my husband’s brother, there were no major incidents. Of course everyone traded sicknesses as usual, we were late to many places, and had to figure out how to get around and where to eat, but these were normal every day stressors. Our families were together for only one of the days, and this was the day we decided to go to the Vatican. We had been too late to buy individual tickets, so we ended up having to get tickets in part of a tour. This tour was awful. The Vatican was super crowded and the tour lady raced through the coolest parts of it, so we kept losing people in the crowds. We should have just returned our radios to the lady after we got past the doors at the start, and walked through the rest of the museum on our own instead, because it would have been way less stressful.

Rome

In fact, we spent too much time in Rome, since our family trips only overlapped over one day there, and both families wanted to see everything. Unless you travel there specifically for the many different museums, it’s really just a big city like most other big cities, which is to say, 3 full days (not counting travel days) are enough to see the main sights. In terms of traveling around Rome, it’s true that we could have likely taken public transport almost everywhere, but being with people who had some trouble moving around, it made better sense to take taxis, especially since they were actually surprisingly cheap and incredibly efficient. It probably cost us an average of 5 euro per person per ride.

My parents had decided to rent a car since they were staying at an AirBnB some ways outside of Rome, but the only car they could find to fit everyone was a massive behemoth, half the size of a bus. This sequence of decisions all made little sense. The behemoth could hardly be driven in Rome and we would spend at least 30 minutes just searching for parking. Eventually, we found the one parking garage (Garage Vespasiano) that the behemoth could fit into, but sometimes that garage was full so we’d have to keep searching. In the end, after we parked, we still had to take taxis everywhere.

Sicily

After Rome and Pompeii, we continued on to Sicily. We flew from Rome to Palermo Airport with Rynair, which was another mistake. The plane was around 3 hours late, and that caused us to actually come later than if we had driven there. In fact, we ended up having to rent cars at Palermo Airport anyways, since once again, my family chose to live somewhere without a train connection. This time, we rented two smaller cars including one manual transmission SUV and an Alfa Romeo, the only automatic they had at the time. This turned out to be a good idea because we were able to get around pretty quickly this way, and to see many beautiful sights along the way.

Having two cars also gave us the ability to split up which also helped keep stress levels low. Driving on the autostrada (highway type road) wasn’t a lot worse than driving on Los Angeles freeways, but driving around small streets was harder even with the normal sized Alfa Romeo sedan. I would recommend renting as small a car as possible (a two door hatchback maybe), and I just wouldn’t bother to rent anything bigger than a small SUV.  Also, when you are driving around, if you are using Google maps, keep in mind that it will send you on tiny cobblestone streets that are actually illegal to drive on unless you are a resident there. So you have to pay close attention to the signs yourself, and don’t fully trust Google maps.

We only spent a few days in Sicily, and it wasn’t enough at all. A week, at least, would have been much better. We didn’t even visit Palermo, because we were staying in the countryside. Also it was a bit rainy and some of us were trading sicknesses around this time, so we really saw very little. We spent one day wandering around the lovely town of Cefalù, where we saw a centuries old laundry, and another day at Agrigento, which took us a couple hours through some lovely mountains to get to.

North Italy

After Sicily, we returned to the North of Italy, and visited Venice, Florence, and Bolzano. Once again, my parents rented a car and we had to drive and park it everywhere. It did come in handy since it gave us the ability to leave when we wanted, so we didn’t have to conform to train schedules (something my family is very bad at doing), but we still had to find a place to park before taking public transport around the cities.

In Venice, there is parking in only one place on the island but there are a few different garages there with plenty of space in them. In Florence and Bolzano there is parking near the train stations. So yes, it is possible to take cars to these cities, it’s just a bit of a hassle, and parking is around 20-30 euro for a full day. The cost of tolls also adds up, being between 5-15 euro one way.

Anyways, we had a nice time with both of our families, but we did get pretty tired out. After all the family was gone, my husband and I just ordered pizza and slept for two days straight.

Weeks 79 through 83

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Apart from the terrifying accident that happened last week, we did manage a bit of a vacation. This weekend was Easter weekend, which is a huge holiday in much of Europe, Italy included. Because of the accident, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make it to Trieste, as we had planned. Fortunately, the whiplash wasn’t so bad and I have few other injuries so we managed to go after all. We wandered around the center of Trieste itself on Saturday evening, enjoying the churches, Grand Canal, and pier. On Sunday, we took bus line 6 to Miramare, a lovely castle on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic sea (where I fell in love with a lizard, and stood taking pictures of him for like forever). Finally on Sunday, we took bus line 42 to Grotta gigante, a huge cave full of stalagmites, with a massive cavern over 100m high. In total we had one full day and two half days in Trieste, and I feel like this is enough to see the main sights, though in our case we missed a couple things due to my recovery.

Costs:
  • €235 – rent
  • €55 – internet
  • €30 – phone
  • €30 – garbage
  • €163 – groceries
  • €172 – trip to Trieste
  • €130 – aerial silks
  • Total: €825

The Accident

I vaguely remember going down the sidewalk on the street to aerial. I guess I was trying to catch up to my friend ahead, and didn’t see the car as I went through an intersection. Thankfully, I always wear a helmet (Europeans don’t always do this and I think it’s insane), and thankfully, my friend heard the accident. She called the ambulance. They put my neck in a brace and I have a funny picture of that, but I don’t remember any of it. From my perspective, I woke up around 1am with my husband next to me and my friend at the foot of the bed. They told me I had been in an accident. It turns out, I had been awake the whole time asking the same questions over and over, unable to keep the answers in my head. Some pieces of memories have returned, but in the end, I still  remember very little. My head and neck hurt (my husband said I had whiplash) and I had some bad bruises where I must have fallen.

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Hospital lunch.

I slept badly– they kept waking me up to do various tests throughout the night and morning: blood pressure, cardiogram, and maybe more. The paperwork says they did a CAT scan when I came in, which showed negative for brain injuries. In the morning, they offered me a tiny breakfast of biscuits with jam and tea, and at lunch I got a small helping of plain oriechietti pasta with olive oil and parmesan, and a baked apple (safe foods I suppose). My husband kept me company the whole time, only leaving to get a few supplies, and my Italian friends came while he was out, so I never had to be alone. It was really nice knowing that there were people looking out for me.

I was afraid of the cost of all of this, but at the start of the year, I paid around 300 euro for a bunch of bureaucracy, including health insurance. Since I now have the usual national Italian health insurance, the healthcare was entirely free.

On the other hand, car repairs aren’t free. I met with the woman from the accident yesterday evening, and had a rather long conversation in mostly Italian with her and her husband. They didn’t quite believe that I didn’t remember what happened. I understand why that might sound fishy, but it’s true in this case.

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The dent my head made in the car.

Anyways, the lady seemed mostly like a reasonable person trying to get paid for car fixes. Her husband, on the other hand, was kind of a dick. He wasn’t there during the accident, and he spoke very poor English compared to the lady, and yet he felt the need control the conversation from the outset and to ‘splain to me everything that happened there, in particular underscoring the importance of the giant dent my head made in the car (nevermind about my head, by the way). He further proceeded to ‘splain to me how American insurance works and that it would pay for the accident– even after I said multiple times that I do not have American insurance, and that even if I did, it wouldn’t work the way he thought. Perhaps he was under the mistaken impression that I was a frightened American college student willing to write a blank check to make the situation go away? That is not the case. He obviously thought he deserved to be in control of this situation, which he had literally nothing to do with. It took me some 10 repetitions of “I need documentation of the incident before I can do anything,” to shut him down. I was only polite, but I was willing to repeat the same thing a million times if that’s what it took. He eventually gave up and started smoking like a chimney instead.

After that, I was finally able to talk to the actual adult in the room (the lady from the accident), and we figured out what we have to do next, starting with her calling the police to get information about the documents I need. It also helped that one of my friends who was at the accident showed up at just the end of the conversation by complete luck (it’s a small town). My friend and the lady talked in Italian and came to much the same conclusions that had already been decided upon. Although no new information had been exchanged, the lady and her condescending husband seemed to finally accept that they were probably going to get what they wanted and we parted ways.

It’s possible I was in the wrong (though once again, I don’t actually remember anything at all), in which case, I might have to pay, but I’m waiting for all the police statements now. Hopefully some impartial passersby saw what actually happened. I do have some personal liability insurance through LCT (Dr. Walter travel insurance), and my hope is that this gets reimbursed, if I do have to pay. The dent my head made in the car was huge, and the repairs will likely be expensive.

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The memory of the beautiful visage of the lizard from Trieste keeps me going.

Update (12.04.2018):

Today was stressful in many ways. I want to describe my day just a little, so as to set the scene for what is to come. Firstly, I realized yesterday that my bike wheel had been bent in the accident, and I had to pick it up from repairs today (annoying errand number one). Also, I got the most terrible rope burn on the back of my knee from learning a new aerial drop, and didn’t get much sleep last night from the pain, which also makes walking difficult. I did have some American disinfectant cream (Neosporin) lying around, but this morning I had to go to a pharmacy to pick up other wound dressings (annoying, and painful, errand number two). Finally, my glasses also broke the day before yesterday, and my backup pair actually give me some headaches, as do contacts when working in front of the computer. So I’m struggling against that, while also trying to find time to go to an optometrist (another thing I have to learn to do in Italian now). So with all of these small annoyances going on in my life, I needed to brace myself to face the Italian bureaucratic system, yet again. Today, I would be dealing with the carabinieri (military trained police, as opposed to polizia di stato, who are the civilian state police– I’m not entirely sure where their duties overlap or diverge).

Friday of last week, I went to the carabinieri to try to get a statement of what happened during the accident. I had to wait an hour (which made me miss the last train before the 2hr morning break in trains) to receive a piece of paper stating that there was an accident and who was involved. This was not a statement of what actually happened though. I was told to return today at 18:00 for that.

So today I went to pick up the statement of what happened. I arrived at 18:00, as I was told, but of course, I expected things to not be ready. Indeed, I ended up waiting around an hour in the office of who I assume might be an important head guy, because he had the nicer jacket with the most number of stripes. There were 3 people dealing with me. This head guy, another lower ranking guy, and an English-speaking one. That was nice of them to provide the English speaking one, because he was able to more quickly make me understand what they wanted from me, namely, a copy of my insurance.

The head guy was pretty outgoing, and talked to me at length about his home, Licata, Sicilia– the warm weather, the lovely beaches, the food. He asked me a bit about myself, and talked a bit about his take on Italian culture vs. German culture (since the North used to be a primarily Germanic region, people tend to have strong opinions about this). However, his home seemed to be the only thing he was really interested in talking about. With nothing much else to do while waiting, I did my best to engage him in my mediocre Italian; I guess it made a good practice session. In the end I ventured to ask “Lei piace vivere qui? (Do you like living here?)” He considered this question for a moment and answered with some lamentation “Ti abitui (You get used to it).” Clearly, he had not really gotten used to it.

Finally, almost an hour later, the other guys came back with the statement I had been waiting for. They told me that in order to receive it, I needed to go to the tabacchi to buy five marche da bollo for 0.26 euro each. By the way, these are some sort of revenue stamp that makes documents official, though I have no idea what the cost and amount you need are based off of, and I also couldn’t tell you why the tabacchi are the ones to sell them (just as the tabacchi are the ones to sell bus passes). I went to the tabacchi, but the guy there told me that their Internet was down, meaning they couldn’t create the stamps for me. He told me I would have to go to another tabacchi about 5 minutes away to do it. I walked there slowly, dealing with the stinging pain from the abrasion on my leg, but they told me they can’t give me marche da bollo for a lesser value than 1 euro. They realized, before I mentioned it, that it was the carabinieri who sent me on this mission, and expressed their frustration that the carabinieri don’t know by now that no one sells marche da bollo for less than 1 euro. I really didn’t want to argue over a few bucks at this point (and my Italian isn’t good enough to do so anyway), so I just asked them to give me five 1 euro ones.

I returned to the carabinieri, with hope in my heart that this horrible process would soon come to an end, only to find that everyone who had helped me earlier seemed to have vanished. The head person who was on duty now didn’t know anything about me, and was much less friendly than the Sicilian. He told me the office was closed. Apparently, the office closes at 19:00 and no one who had been working with me before had thought to mention this neither to me, nor to the people who would relieve them at their posts. I tried explaining the situation, but I speak Italian slowly, and I kept getting interrupted (frustratingly, this happens a lot to me in general, since Italians tend to have a short pause indicating turn-taking in conversations). I must have seemed really desperate, because finally, he told me to wait while he yelled to the back office. Luckily, one of the guys who had helped me earlier was still there after all, and he was able to finally get me sorted out, though not before I requested he correct my residency information on the paperwork, for which he needed to contact Anagrafe (the municipal bureaucratic office).

One and a half hours later, I could finally go home. I had missed stopping by the optometrist’s office since they were closed by now, and I couldn’t bear to walk anymore, so I failed to complete some other smaller errands I wanted to do today.

Update (11.06.2018):

So I’ve been meaning to update for a while about this. I submitted a claim to the LCT Dr. Walter liability insurance about the crash, and I have to say, the process wasn’t too bad. The LCT coordinator found their contact information for me, and surprisingly, I was able to do everything in English and by email (yes, the latter is also surprising, given my previous experience here in Europe). They are a German insurance company, so they speak German best, but nevertheless, they found someone who spoke good English when I called them, and the forms I needed to fill out were in English.

The forms were all quite logical. The police report was the hardest to get (as mentioned above), but that’s because of Italy craziness. In total, I needed to attach to the email:

  • Completed damage report
  • Photos of the damage
  • Calculation for a possible repair
  • Purchase receipt/invoice of the damaged object
  • Police report

Once I did this, they emailed me back a confirmation with the amount that they would pay directly into the other lady’s bank account. At first, this amount didn’t include the VAT, but when I alerted them to that fact, they said they would pay that as well. To be honest, I still have some confusion as to whether they actually paid the lady or not… I only had a quote for the purchase receipt from the lady, and I think she actually needed to have the work done before getting the money. She contact me, asking for their contact info, and I passed it along. It’s been a while now, so I assume she either got it sorted out, or I won’t hear from her again until a very long time from now. In any case, given the insurer’s correspondence with me, I feel pretty confident that they will take care of things now, once they have the proper documentation from the lady. I am honestly shocked as to how apparently easy this was.

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Hiking through vineyards. A glass of wine sounds good right about now.

 

Weeks 73 through 78

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The view outside my window at work (in Povo) last week.

The last couple of months have gone by really fast. It’s been cold and snowing, which has been quite lovely, but I am certainly looking forward to spring. This month, I started my new internship at FBK, I took an intensive Italian language course, and I’ve been training my aerial silks skills as well.

At work, my main project deals with understanding the speech of second language learners. In the Trentino area, there is an examination company which administers English proficiency exams to Italian high school students. The goal of the project is to write a program which recognizes the spontaneous speech of the students, and to give their answers a grade similar to the way a teacher would grade them. The difficulty of the project as a whole comes from the fact that we have relatively little data of the students, they are speaking with an Italian accent, and the teachers’ grades may not always be consistent.

There are further difficulties that I’ve encountered in my own work. Firstly, I’m constantly fighting with Kaldi (an open source speech recognition toolkit). It’s basically written in C++ and shell script. I have to admit to you now, that I haven’t worked much with compiled languages in general, and certainly not C++. Fortunately, I haven’t had to dig too deeply in that part of the code yet. In terms of the shell scripting, well, it gets rather messy in Kaldi. I’m certainly getting a lot more comfortable with the linux command line now, although I feel that might be a never ending process.

A few weeks ago, I started attending an intensive Italian language course. The language courses here are organized by the CEFR levels, but they further split each section into two parts. When I first came to Italy, I took a placement test, and skipped straight into level A2a. It was a little bit higher than I was necessarily comfortable at, but I find that that’s a good way to learn quickly. During the next round of intensive courses, there was no A2b (the next level) available, so the teachers let me skip straight into B1a. This was again a fair bit harder than I was entirely comfortable at, but the course was actually really good. We got a lot of practice speaking, so I began to feel like I could start making proper sentences. I still feel pretty far behind in terms of grammar, but I am at least able to reason about it, if not speak it properly in the heat of the moment. The main difficulty I had with the course was that I had to wake up super early to get to work early so that I could leave early for the course. I didn’t have much time to eat after lunch, and sometimes I went straight to aerial silks even after Italian!

Speaking of aerial, I’ve been practicing 2-3 times a week (trying to get closer to a consistent 3 times now), and I have really begun to see improvement. The week before last, I couldn’t hardly do an inversion, except from the ground with a bit of a jump. Now I’m able to get into them in the air, if I give it a bit of a swing. It still looks all wonky, since I really can’t keep my legs straight while doing it, and I still struggle to throw my legs back at the very end so I end up sort of awkwardly catching the silks with my feet and bent legs, but I am seeing progress. Now I need to work on flexibility and lifting the weight of my straight legs (rather than bent legs) during inversions. This last Sunday, I learned my first drops– three different ones!

I really like the feeling of achieving new things in aerial. It’s nice to know that something that I couldn’t do yesterday, has become routine today. It’s really cool to feel like I can hold myself up in the air long enough to start playing around and experimenting with the silks. It’s also nice to work with people who are better than you in the class, because you can see what you’re working towards. All in all, this is one of the most fun things going on right now.

Costs:

  • €225 – rent
  • €31 – trash fee
  • €50 – utilities/internet
  • €21 – phone
  • €167 – groceries
  • €6 – dining
  • €30 – education (text book)
  • €21 – gym
  • €5 – video games
  • €180 – train tickets, souvenirs, etc. in Venice
  • Total: €736