Monday, June 25, 2007


Occasionally in life we happen across the surreal. I currently seem to encounter it every day. Today it came in the form of San Leopoli, a small comune in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Picture rows of olive trees and breathtaking vineyards scattered across the rolling Tuscan hills that are dotted with villas. That's where I spent my afternoon. Like I said, surreal.

I was the designated page turner for a faculty concert, featuring a trio playing Mozart and Dvorak. We caught a bus there that took me back to the days of high school choir tour. Only difference was the bus was about 1/3 the size and the company was all significantly older. Our driver was really nice, but definitely a little crazy in the way he took on the winding Italian roads. I found myself extremely relieved when we took an hour and a half break in the small town of Greve. Who wants to be sick in a bus filled with faculty? I saw my career vanishing with my mounting carsickness. All was well, however. Grabbed a diet coke, a bench, and some fresh air and felt fine by the time we started the second, and much shorter, leg of our journey.

When we reached our magical destination in the heart of Tuscany, I felt like I had found myself. Odd, I know, but you know how you occasionally meet people who you just click with? You skip the whole "making friends" process because somehow you just already are? It's like there's a piece of you in them and vice versa. I decided that happens with places too. After the concert we went for an evening stroll through the garden of the comune: the scent of fresh rosemary and lavender scented the postcard perfect view. Everything was still and serene, and gazing out at the landscape, it was like I'd found one of those soul friends. It's difficult to explain. But I discovered a place where I could just exist as me. No defenses, no mental barriers---I could just breathe, relax and know that I was safe while defenseless. It's like going home. Or really trusting someone. Just feeling whole. It happens more often than I used to think; it's just a matter of awareness. But it happened in Chianti.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

il fine settimana

The concept of a "week-end" is beautifully universal. This week Friday came as it always does and I was truly grateful. It was as if once the faculty determined I was a functioning pianist, they decided to schedule me for as much as they possibly could. No complaints because this would have to fall into the "good experience" category, but my day's are frequently more intense than one would hope for while sojourning in Italy. HENCE, my excitement for the weekend.

This weekend I decided to stay in Lucca and "take it easy"---a favorite expression of Lorenzo Malfatti whom I work with. Friday night I met up with friends for dinner and we made a nice, un-Itlian, chicken alfredo. Alfredo is definitely an American invention, but it's one I enjoy. It was one of those wonderful summer evenings when the temperature's beautiful, you've had a fantastic meal, and then you get to just sit and talk with friends. Or in this case, several people that I didn't know who I'm now friends with. :) A refreshing change from the standard bar pilgrimage.

Saturday I played the part of tourist with gusto. My new roommate, Kelly, and I started of the day with a fantastic brunch of fresh cantaloupe and prosciutto sandwiches and then grabbed a Frommer's guidebook and went to town. Literally. Lucca is an incredibly old city that is basically a walled fortress. "La mura" that currently stands was the built from 1544-1654, and it was the 4th set erected. The town is filled with ancient churches, quaint markets, and gorgeous scenery. We visited several of the churches, grabbed some gelato, and wandered through the shopping centers. And it was absolutely wonderful. One of those times when you remember you're in Italy and it takes your breath away.

I found a clothing store that needs English-speaking help and if they're willing to hire me under the table, I think I'll just stay here. There's so many things about life in Lucca that I love. I line-dried my laundry yesterday. I bicycle everywhere. While I'm busy, stress is something that doesn't really exist in the Italian culture. Olive oil is inexpensive and amazing! Eating in general is a joy, but considerably healthier. In a nutshell, I love living here. Going home will be a serious culture shock. It makes me homesick for Europe just thinking about it. So I won't.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

20.06.07: A day in Lucca, Italy

Woke up. Without any help from my alarm clock. I'm getting back into a relatively early morning routine which I love! It also helps that by 11 pm I'm so exhausted that going to bed is the only thing that sounds fun. When did I get so old?!

Beat the boys to the shower. Since our day's don't officially start until 9, they're not up until about 8. After writing that, I realized that most of you don't know my housing situation. I live with an Italian family which consists of Cesare, and his son Giacomo who is 26. There are also 2 boys from the music festival who live in this same house. Yesterday I got a roommate so I finally have some female company! Definitely felt a little foreign living with 4 guys! Anyways, back to important matters: I bought a new shampoo in town yesterday and it got my day off to an amazing start!

Started the day off with a little Italian study. I have GOT to learn some more verb conjugations! Pretty much I walk around using lots of infinitives or just sticking an "o" on the end of French verbs.
Ate some amazing Italian granola called "Vitalis." Pretty much makes my life every time I eat it. One of those simple pleasures.
Biked into town for Italian. I'm becoming a big fan of my bicycle. Never mind that it's 100 years old, is completely rusted over, and feels like it could fall apart at any moment. We spend a LOT of time together during the day and I feel like she really understands me.

Italian class. This was a little intense today. The teacher told us an hour into class that we were finished for the day and that he was leaving. Apparently we weren't reacting enough to what he was saying. It's a little rough trying to just spit things out in Italian though! Even after he said we were through and asked us if that was ok, no one said anything, so I had to once again pretend like I speak Italian and told him that we wanted to learn, please continue, etc. I can understand his frustration, but I'm not sure that he understands ours all the time. It ended up being a great class, nonetheless.

Had a coaching with Donna Brunsma, one of the coaches that directs the program I play for (called Solisti). I have to play a recital next Tuesday and the program has 16 arias and a few songs that they want to make sure are up to par. The coaching was fine, but the singer didn't show. LAME!

Group class with Lorenzo Malfatti. Lorenzo is a wonderful Italian who's lived in America for some time but knows everything about Italian music. He did a Fulbright study with Aaron Copland. Despite his useful information, the man is about 85--no exaggeration--and I frequently get frustrated because he doesn't always seem to be quite on top of things. Which would be fine in any other type of setting. But it's frustrating trying to put together a recital program when he's not up to organizing it until a few days before.

Played a voice lesson and got PAID! Yeah for making money! Especially when it's in euros.

Learned music and sweat approximately 5 gallons. It's been SO hot the past couple of days. And it's really humid. Which wouldn't matter if air-conditioning were more popular. Oh well!

Played for coachings with Lorenzo and Donna. One excellent thing about the program thus far is that all of the faculty really like me, which I have a feeling will come in handy at some point down the road. I especially like working with a coach from the Florence Conservatory, Rolando Russo. He's fantastic! Donna's also great. She worked at the Florence Opera for 10 years, and the Chicago Lyric for 21.

HOME!!! Checked the emails, made some pasta (Love the Italian staples!), chatted online, searched for apartments in Michigan, and updated my blog. Chatted a bit with Cesare to work on my Italian. He speaks no English, which definitely makes for good practice!

And that was my day! For all of you who were wondering what my life is like in Lucca, that gives you a snapshot. And some background for future blogging!


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Where did you spend your weekend???

"You may have the universe if I may have Italy."

~Giuseppe Verdi

As I watched the sunset over the Arno on Saturday night, the universe and Italy were both mine. It was one of those magical moments when time freezes, the noise of the crowd dims, and the world is yours. The sunset only lasted for 30 minutes, but my entire weekend in Florence was rose-colored.

Certain moments capture this weekend best:

Karlie and Lauren (her friend from Annecy) had a pizza waiting for me when I got into the Florence train station. As if seeing my sister couldn't get any better!

Some of you who know about the audible knot that I've had for 5 years in my right shoulder. Karlie gave it her magic massage treatment, which was much needed after my first week in Lucca. While that might seem like a random comment, it was something that altered my spirits considerably and set the weekend off wonderfully. That warrants mentioning.

In 3 days I sampled around 15 flavors of gelato. I did NOT eat all of that myself, but sharing flavors between 3 of us made for a wonderful weekend of Italia's finest! And let's be honest, gelato is heaven on earth.

While we're on food, our hotel had a free breakfast buffet. Nothing like Geneva's, but it was a definite plus. I'm a big breakfast fan.

If there is such a thing as a perfectly-timed and executed day, that would be our Saturday. It really was phenomenal how everything aligned in our favor. We started off the morning at the Galleria degli Uffizi, the oldest art gallery in the world. We only waited in line for about an hour before we got in, which is a feat considering our hotel owner guaranteed us it would be at least a four-hour wait. Then we went to see Il Duomo, climbed to the top of the tower for an aerial view of Florence, and finished off the afternoon with panini and people-watching in the Piazza della Signoria. Did some shopping, spent some time on the Ponte Vecchio (the oldest bridge in Florence and one of the few that survived the bombings in WWII), sunbathed at the Palazzo Pizzi, and wrapped things up with an amazing dinner at Fuori Porta. I had spaghetti with tuna, tomatoes and olives in it and it was one of the best things I've ever tasted. GO ITALY!!! We ended the night overlooking Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo, watched the sunset, caught a bus back to the hotel and had an amazing night's sleep. AND EVERYTHING WENT SMOOTHLY! Like I said, it was a perfectly-timed day. And considering the number of times traveling that things aren't...

We hiked 414 steps to the top of the Duomo. Not that bad. But then we walked all day, climbed a steep hill to the Fuori Porta, and then a seriously steep set of stairs to the Piazzale Michelangelo. But what was waiting at the top of those stairs? A gelato stand!!! We'd joked about it during the climb, but only in fairy-tale Italy was it actually waiting there at the top!

This morning we waited in line for the Galleria dell'Accademia extra-long to compensate for our perfect Saturday. But the wait was entertaining and well worth it. A portion of the Accademia is a museum of musical instruments and since Karlie and I are was cool!

The crowning moment of the day, though, and possibly all of Florence was seeing Michelangelo's David. You see pictures of the David your whole life. It's one of Michelangelo's legendary masterpieces. But until you stand before it, you really have no comprehension of it's beauty and majesty. I was awestruck. Looking at the intricate detailing and contemplating Michelangelo's mastery, the only emotion that can somewhat describe what I felt was reverence. I've always enjoyed and appreciated art, but there are few things that I would consider as inspiring and as moving as the Statue of David.

We had amazing sandwiches, shopped around this afternoon: I bought Karlie the best perfume I have ever smelled in my life, Calvin Klein "In2U." Go smell it sometime. Or find my sister. Anyways, HAPPY BIRTHDAY KARLIE!!!

And finally, we said good-bye at the train station. And Karlie had tears in her eyes. There's something about sisters. It's a relationship unlike any other and I wouldn't trade it for the world. And when you take that relationship and stick it in's just that much better!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


You are reading the blog of the new and improved Stephanie Rhodes. Today marked the commencement of my new exercise/diet regiment. I realize that Tuesday is a random day to start something like this, but since I arrived in Italy on a Monday and didn't get situated until evening rolled around, today just made sense. Resolutions include:

A limit on daily gelato intake
Whole grains
Fresh Fruits
Meat, if affordable
Daily run/bike around the wall of Lucca = 2.5 miles (This might not seem like much but please do consider that I already walk and bike EVERYWHERE I go.)

Please feel free to guess how long this new routine will last.

Today's off to a great start! One thing that's really helped out my diet (of a day) is the water here. There are fountains all around Lucca with "potable" water that's apparently fresh from the mountainside. But all the Italians drink it so they told the students here to do so. Unfortunately, there are different types of bacteria in this water than in ours, so...we'll just call it a dietary aid. Normally it only takes about 3 days for your body to adjust, but I'll keep you updated. I went running this evening around the wall and it's absolutely beautiful. The sun was setting and it made the landscape even more breathtaking. I love the use of color in Europe. All the bright houses and rooftops against the green grass and trees just make life seem a little more cheerful.

And that's it! The new me. We'll see how long she sticks.

I'll leave you with my thought of the day. This stems from the fact that I'm in Italy, that I don't speak the language, and that I managed to fake my way into the intermediate Italian class by modifying the French I know into Italian. Our placement exam was an interview and while I understood what I was being asked, replying was definitely another story. BUT, as with life, when learning a language the best way to do so is by speaking it. It feels risky and it's daring, but that's life. So I totally made up Italian answers. The end.

"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. ~Pablo Picasso

Life's a risk! Live it!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sisters in Switzerland

Switzerland is a great place. But Switzerland with this girl is an even better place! This weekend has definitely been one of the highlights of my time in Europe. I left Nice on Friday afternoon and caught a flight to Geneva to meet up with my sister, Karlie. She's currently studying French in Annecy, about an hour and a half bus ride from Geneva, so it made a convenient meeting point. Despite the convenience, trying to find each other was far from being so! Kar has no phone, mine only likes to work occasionally, and the train station in Geneva isn't the smallest. After getting several phone calls from my mom and traipsing across the city to the other station where my sister WAS NOT, I finally found her waiting exactly where I'd been an hour and a half earlier. Despite a rough start, our weekend ended up being fantastic!

Friday night we started our self-guided tour of Geneva. We walked along the lakeside, checked out the famous fountain "Jet d'eau," and then walked a REALLY long ways to find a restaurant called Cafe du Soleil. And it was well worth the walk! This cafe is famed for its fondue, and I am happy to testify in the fondues behalf. It's amazing! The creme brulee and mousse du chocolat were not found wanting either.

The next morning we experienced one of our favorite parts of Geneva: the free breakfast in our hotel. Packets of Nutella, light, flaky croissants, cheeses, meats, granola, need I go on? I'm just sayin'...We decided to eat enough for two meals. It seemed like the economical option. Afterwards, however, we decided we needed a work out so we spent the entire day on our feet. We spent the morning in Geneva and went to the Jardin Anglais with its famous flower clock and the St. Pierre Cathedral. Both were absolutely amazing. The hike up to the towers of the cathedral was a bit rough, considering we each were about 10 lbs. heavier than when we woke up, but I'm still blogging, so I survived.

We then took a train out to Montreux, a smaller town on the other side of the lake and walked to the Chateau du Chillon. For me, this was probably my favorite afternoon of my entire European stay thus far. I love the mountains! And I live in Texas, so it's been awhile. But the Swiss Alps are amazing and with their majesty comes a peace and serenity that revitalized my "I can't believe I've been doing homework again" self. We headed back to Geneva around six to catch dinner at another fantastic restaurant, "On y mange du poulet." Translated, it basically means that "here one eats chicken." Guess what the specialty is on their menu? You got it! Chicken! And it was probably some of the best chicken we'd ever eaten. (I feel like I can speak for both of us Kar).
Today was Stake Conference and the 25th anniversary of the Geneva Stake. It was a really neat program with speakers that had been there with President Ezra Taft Benson at the original organization. After church we went to the Jardin Exotique and followed it up with a quick stop at the Musee Adriana and a guided tour of the U.N.'s Geneva headquarters. And that was our trip to Switzerland!
I conclude this entry of "Sisters in Switzerland" with one of my favorite expressions in the French language, due to its unique conjugation, and send it out to my sister who's currently on a bus to Annecy: Tu me manques! (I miss you!)

Stay tuned for next weekend's episode..."Sisters in Florence!"

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

On Aging

"A man's age is something impressive, it sums up his life: maturity reached slowly and against many obstacles, illnesses cured, griefs and despairs overcome, and unconscious risks taken; maturity formed through so many desires, hopes, regrets, forgotten things, loves. A man's age represents a fine cargo of experiences and memories."
~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wartime Writings 1939-1944, translated from French

I'm now 23 years old. "Mon anniversaire" passed rather uneventfully. Went to school, came home, ate lunch, took a nap, bought some toothpaste, ate 2 packs of PIMS single-handedly, and then had an International birthday dinner with a few friends from Mexico, France and Spain. I heard the equivalent of "Happy Birthday" sung in 4 different languages. The most entertaining was English, due to the heavy accents.

At the end of the day, it was just another ordinary day (as birthday's tend to be) and it was absolutely perfect. As I did a mental summary of the past year of my life, and then reflected on the past 23 years, I decided that, for me, the ordinary things about life are what make it truly extraordinary. Basically, it's the simple things happening every moment that add beauty and dimension to our lives.

So here's to the ordinary things that have made my life "a fine cargo of experiences and memories"!

Sunshine * Laughter * Sisters * Being pulled in a kayak behind a speedboat at Lake Powell * Having a family plan that lets me call my mom whenever I want * Watching movies from Netflix and ordering in dinner with Jenn * Attempting to diet and failing miserably * Running * Being outside * Putting on makeup and getting ready to go out * A fantastic first date * Sharing ice cream with my girlfriends while venting about the ridiculous boys in our lives * Not having to set the alarm clock * Reading a good book * Crying when you haven't let yourself in months * Thinking * Making lists * Getting emails * Watching a sunset * Going to church * People-watching * Playing piano * Learning something new * A hot shower * Pedicures * Going shopping * Cafe Rio * Having a bad day and knowing that somehow life has to get better * Working with a singer * Talking politics * Staying in when it rains * Making plans and setting goals * Failing often and succeeding sometimes * Always waking up in the morning * Having someone smile at you * Trying something new * Loving someone

Life's not perfect. This year of my life's been far from it. But if I had to give a summary of my life today, it would be extraordinary. And I owe it all to the amazing people in my life and the extraordinary beauty of "every-day," ordinary living. Let's see if I feel the same at 24. :)

"We turn not older with years, but newer every day." ~Emily Dickinson

PICS: Marie-Therese, Marie, Daniele and I at my birthday party.
The hideous pair of slippers that Daniele gave me for my birthday. She rocks!

Monday, June 4, 2007

It's a Small World

What a weekend!

Started out in Monaco on Friday afternoon, and I loved it. Would have loved it more if I had loads of money to spend in all the ritzy boutiques, but it was fun nonetheless. The casino, le Jardin Exotique, the panoramic was all fantastic. But my favorite part? The Musee Oceanographique! If you're ever in Monaco, I highly recommend it. The bottom 2 floors are an aquarium (which I didn't know before going) and, although I've never been one to get overly excited about fish, this was awesome! I broke out my iPod and turned on "La mer," classic French song, and it was a bit surreal. And that's Monaco in a nutshell!

Saturday there were 3 noteworthy occurrences. #!-I slept in until 10:30! Might not seem like such a big deal, but I haven't been able to sleep since I got to France, so it was miraculous! Got my day off to a great start! #2-I went to the flower market that happens every morning in Nice. It's breathtaking!!! I love flowers in general and the variety at the market was unreal. Fantastic scents, gorgeous colors...truly beautiful. #3-There was a type of "fair" going on along the Promenade des Anglais called "L'Italia a la table." Inside a series of enormous tents they had displays of everything edible Italian. Cheeses, meats, pastas, name it, it was there. Once again, there were some amazing scents! And although I'll be sad to leave Nice the end of this week, I realized that Italy will definitely be bearable.

Sunday was the definitive day of the week! Randomly found out that one of the elders in the ward went to school with my sister Karlie. Also met a girl who had arrived in Nice to meet up with her friend and travel around Europe. She just happened to be from Orem, UT and goes to UVSC! Small world! She'd been in France studying (French) for 5 weeks and was just returning from Paris. So I totally ran around with two girls from Utah for an entire afternoon/evening! It honestly was a bit odd to speak English nonstop, and I found myself constantly wanting to respond in French. New sensation. But I was reminded of the beauty of companionship! While my solo traveling routine is convenient in many ways, it's also nice to have people to share in your experiences. So Melissa, Melissa and I roamed throughout Nice, revisited the chateau, waded in the Mediterranean and ate a fantastic French meal! Random acquaintances, but now friends! It was probably one of my best days in Nice. When I came home in the evening, I also found out that I have a new apartment-mate. He's from Madrid, Spain and speaks almost no French so I've been picking up Spanish and he's been putting his English to good use! And while it's not the best French practice, it's nice to have another person to talk too.

Last interesting development of my life came today. There are 2 new students in my class and it turns out that one is from Houston, Texas! It really is a small world. It seems to be the pattern of my life that as I start getting settled in a city, I immediately have to uproot. Apparently it's no different here. This will be my last week in Nice and then it's on to Italy. While Italy will be equally amazing, I can't help but feeling like I'm leaving home all over again. Such is life!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Updates for my Daddy!!!

This entry is officially dedicated to my father. Apparently he reads my blog! I have been rather lax with my entries lately, as he pointed out, so here come the updates.

That being said, my week has seemed pretty ordinary. Granted I'm in France, so ordinary's a bit different, but...The weather has been a bit bizarre. "Mistral" winds have hit, bringing in cold fronts and rain at random points throughout the week. That's contributed to my "home" lifestyle, because I don't fancy being out and about in the rain much. Also, I've had a great deal of homework as of late. I haven't had to conjugate imperfect subjunctive French verbs in a long while and I'm definitely rusty! But mostly, I love ordinary. Not in the negative connotation, but in the sense that I'm settled in here. I truly feel an attachment to Nice and the people here that I know and love. It's hard to believe that I'll be leaving it all behind in only a week.

Today was a bit more eventful...I went to Monaco! But that's another entry. :)

PICTURES OF THE WIND-TOSSED MEDITERRANEAN: One of the few times the beach has been empty!!!

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