Coppa, Christian

Name: Christian Coppa
Location of Study: Italy
Program of Study: Italian
Sponsor(s): Mimi Ravarino

28 thoughts on “Coppa, Christian

  1. 1˚ settimana

    Siena welcomed me, luggage in hand, with a beautiful hilltop panorama of the cityscape, and boasting as highlights the breathtaking heights of the Torre del Mangia and the marvelous zebra-striped marble of il Duomo, both situated among a clustered gradient of clay-colored building fronts, almost all accented with green Persian shutters. Having successfully navigated my way from Firenze to my new apartment in Siena thanks to a handful of successful requests for directions made along the way—all without relying on the crutch of English—I relished the view with a long-drawn breath and a smile.

    My single-room apartment, located just a few paces away from Siena’s bus station in Piazza Gramsci and the gothic basilica of San Domenico, equipped with a bathroom, kitchenette, wardrobe, desk and window overlooking a winding street in the historic city center, is already feeling like home. I am a temporary resident in the Contrada del Drago, or Dragon, who will not be participating in the upcoming Palio—but this doesn’t mean that they’ll miss out on the festivities! The whole city is already buzzing excitedly as preparations for the Palio are underway, and the energy is infectious. Within the first day, I have already seen numerous parades, performed in full contrada regalia, which leads me to believe the volume and intensity of these parades will only increase going into next week.

    After a preliminary, aimless amble through the city center, I settled down for dinner to digest what I had taken in in my first few hours. Every turn and street offered a novel charm or was gem in itself, whether manifesting in the form of a particular architectural feat, a locus of cultural significance, or a plainly ineffable intuition of beauty in its particular evocation of a living past.

    My first day of class, at the Società Dante Alighieri, was promising. The grammar practice has served as a review thus far, in addition to the several exercises on idiomatic usage and pinpointed local grammatical issues. The conversation-dominant lessons has been rewarding, too; since the students in the class come from all over the world, from Japan and Australia to Switzerland and Germany, Italian is the only language in which we can all communicate, so it has been great for my immersion that there is no safety net of English to fall back to if a certain thought or question is at first a bit difficult to express.

    I took my first day trip with another student to Montalcino, where we got a taste of the Tuscan countryside, lined with groomed cypress and dotted with twisting olive trees. I am impressed with the incredible maintenance the landscape must require, and am constantly trying to imagine how these views might have appeared at any given time in the past ten centuries. We visited a small Benedictine monastery, founded in 781 and nestled among the outskirts of the city, which blended seamlessly with the rest of the surrounding wine country and helped my imagination better calibrate a lens of life in medieval Tuscany.

    Saturday was the assignment of the horses for the Palio, which follows the training heats, in which 10 out of 32 horses are chosen as participants in the race. I was shocked by the turn-out for the race, which I interpreted as a testament to both the significance of the race for the local community and also the tight-knit character of the community to begin with. My expectations have been shattered already, in terms of the beauty of the city, the palpability of the local tradition, history and community, and the progress of my language acquisition; I expect more of the same next week as the Palio approaches!

  2. 2˚ settimana

    I have started attending mass at an intimate yet ornate chapel in the sanctuary of St. Catherine, the patron saint of both Siena and Europe at large. These masses offer me a chance to polish my auditory skills, as well as immerse myself in the daily liturgical life of the community. Each contrada of the city has numerous conveniently situated churches, but the palpable energy of the sanctuary’s chapel, Santo Crocifisso, where St. Catherine is believed to have received the stigmata, draws churchgoers from both within and without the neighboring contrade.

    The Palio is finally here! Monday night, after attending the prova generale, or final practice run before Tuesday’s race, with a close friend and mentor with strong Sienese roots, I attended a Gala dinner for the Torre contrada, to which I was graciously invited by the school director where I have ben taking classes, a native of the neighborhood. The dinner was put on for around 2,500 guests, all of whom are members of the contrada—the evening was full of song, rally speeches, emotion and cheer as everyone braced themselves for an exciting Palio race. The next morning, I attended the blessing of the horse in the Torre contrada, which is a ceremonious occasion that each participation contrada honors. Afterwards I headed back to the Campo to reserve a spot to watch the race. I couldn’t believe the energy, or sheer number of spectators, packed into the Campo for a mere 90-seconds—the Oca contrada, or Goose, emerged victorious, which meant two things for me above all else—since they are neighbors of the Drago, meters away from my residence, I will be close to the celebrations that will ensue over the next few weeks, but also subject to non-stop clanging of bells. As a life-long sports fan, the camaraderie surrounding the Palio here seems to transcend any sporting event I have witnessed in the U.S., or elsewhere for that matter—all I can say is that I hope someday I’ll be able to return for another.

    My private lessons with an instructor from the school have also begun, from which I have benefitted already. We talk for about an hour before focusing our attention on whatever issue it may be that has been particularly tricky for me as of late, and once we tackle it, we continue our lesson with either reading or with more conversation about some socially relevant issue, etc. These lessons have proven to be a great complement to my morning class time.

    Toward the end of this week I took day trips to both Pienza and Montalpulcino, two more gems in the Tuscan countryside, much like Montalcino on the surface, but each possesses its own distinct color and character. The incredible preservation of the Renaissance and medieval architecture of the cities, including Siena, has astounded me. Returning to Siena, a general observation: the lives of the citizens here seem to be more simple, in the most complimentary sense of the word—perhaps this observation will seem naïve, but from what I can tell, the more relaxed pace of life, generally speaking, allows the natural beauty of the local scenery to sink into the very essence of the city, in addition to granting a greater attention to person-to-person contact and outgoing interpersonal activities than the fast-pace routine of a city like New York tends to lend its residents on a daily basis (at least to this extent); people congregating in a piazza to just talk or walk around the city center for a few hours as the flocks of day-trippers retreat has been a refreshing sight, and experience, for me.

  3. Among the ‘challenges’ of living in Siena has been learning to cook for myself; after a few short weeks, however, what I expected to be a tedious chore has evolved into an anticipated task, almost a therapeutic exercise. I have already invested in a hefty amout of pici, a very thick, hand-rolled regional pasta that is famously served alla cinghiale, in a brown sauce with wild-boar, or for herbivorous types such as myself, all’aglione, simply with garlic and tomato. It takes a while to cook properly, so I’ve been testing it out at almost every restaurant I go to, to learn from the city’s best by their example. I have had a cooking lesson through the Società Dante Alighieri, in a kitchen annexed to the school where I take language classes. There, I learned how to properly make lovely focaccia bread and craft light-as-air gnocchi by hand. I also attended the outside mercato, a market of vendors selling food, clothes, and miscellaneous goods under rows of tents near the city walls, where I got lost among the throngs of locals and tourists looking for the best deals and freshest products.

    Continuing the gastronomic theme of this post, I visited San Gimignano this week, after a wine tasting in the Chianti region. Sam Gimignano, a notable stop along the medieval pilgrimage route Via Francigena and now a popular day-trip site for vacationers in Firenze and Siena, boasts not only a breathtaking assortment of dozens of medieval towers, but also a gelateria voted ‘Best in the world’—as a self-dubbed gelato expert, this spot was a must, if only to put its high acclaim to the test! To my good fortune, it didn’t disappoint.

    I also took the opportunity in the post-Palio period to visit Siena’s main attractions in more depth; I visited the Duomo and its museum, which included access to the Baptistery and Crypt. Though I have studied art history in the past, this was my first real exposure to the work of the Sienese school in the High Middle Ages; the masterful command of renowned talents such as Duccio over color and line was unlike any I had seen before. A painting by Caravaggio was on display in the Crypt, but the real treasure of the recently discovered crypt was the marvelous array of medieval frescoes that somehow survived, for the most part, without any intervention or even the slightest clue that they were hidden there.

  4. Having lived tucked away in the suburbs of New York City for my whole life, I have never experienced this level of sustained communal solidarity and conviviality that I have witnessed in a few short weeks living in Siena. A great example of this happened this week: only two weeks after the Palio, the Bruco, or caterpillar, contrada hosted a week-long block party of sorts in its hidden, splendid garden overlooking the city from a unique angle. The event, open to the public, was coordinated by members of the Bruco community without any outside help; they organized the live music, prepared the food, set-up the tables for the hundreds of guests and cleaned them up afterwards. Gathering so many people on a weeknight for such a spontaneously joyous occasion would be nearly impossible where I’m from, so it was amazing to see how much the spirit of community and a shared effort can accomplish.

    This week, as part of a concert series offered through the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, a world-class music academy, the Mahler Symphony Orchestra accompanied by soloist Paul Lewis performed in the Teatro dei Rinovati in the historic Palazzo Pubblico, in what was certainly a major highlight of my week, and of my trip overall.

    The advanced language class into which I switched last week has moved at a faster pace, and has challenged me to incorporate an expansive vocabulary and greater attention and focus to minor aspects of grammar when speaking. It is a better fit from what I can tell so far, as our class time is geared more toward reflecting upon and discussing social and cultural phenomena in greater precision and depth, alongside the exploration of subtler grammatical and linguistic terrain.

  5. 5˚ settimana

    The painful awareness that this has been my final week in Siena was mollified by the exciting and rewarding activities I was able to squeeze into a few short days. Thankfully, I was able to participate in some extra-curricular activities and excursions related to Dante, the Florentine poet on whom I plan to write my senior thesis upon my return to Notre Dame and because of whom I began learning Italian in the first place. I spent a long-weekend in Florence, Dante’s home before his exile, and took a day-trip to Ravenna, where he died, is buried, and likely wrote most of the Paradiso. While in Florence, I visited the Uffizi gallery, home to masterpieces by Cimabue and Giotto, both renowned artists and contemporaries of Dante, with whose work Dante was well acquainted. I participated in a walking tour of Dante’s neighborhood and the locations of important events that transpired over the course of his life, which allowed me to mentally recompose Florence as it might have been for Dante and his contemporaries, and thus, the physical context in which Dante and his poetic and political identity were born and shaped. The Galleria dell’Accademia had a few early manuscripts of Dante’s poem with commentary on display, which were wonderfully beautiful to behold, but also incredibly informative to study. I also visited the Baptistery of Santa Maria del Fiore, a spot beloved by the poet. I gazed in admiration at the mosaic work, which was unmatched by any mosaic work I had seen—that is, until I visited Ravenna.
    In Ravenna, I meditated on the stunning 4th and 5th century mosaics littered all over the quaint city, which alone have garnered UNESCO—world heritage site recognition for Ravenna. These works helped illustrate not only the context that inspired the later portions of Dante’s Comedy, but actually helped clarify the more abstract descriptive passages in the text, some of which are clearly inspired by meditation on the rich, Byzantine-influenced mosaics.
    I returned to Florence to embark on a 30-km bike tour of the Chianti region with some close friends. As tiring as riding through the hillside proved to be, it was unforgettably fun, and reinforced the splendor of the Tuscan countryside.
    After returning to Siena for my last wave of classes and last-minute souvenir shopping for family and friends, I said goodbye to all the friends I had made from all over the globe, and made my way to Florence, where I would spend my final night before taking off in the morning for New York. That night, I got to see Italian actor and comedian Roberto Benigni perform his ‘Tutto Dante’ show in front of Santa Croce, which brilliantly capped off an unforgettable and unparalleled trip, one in which my language skills increased exponentially alongside my love for Siena and Tuscany.