Posted on Tuesday, July 8th, 2008 by Mike Manchester

I briefly mentioned Siena’s famous “Palio” horse race week that takes place twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th. It is one of the world’s most unique events as its origins date back 800 years. For those of you who don’t know about “Il Palio” here’s a VERY abbreviated synopsis:

The city of Siena is divided into 17 different neighborhoods called “contradas.”. Each contrada is represented by an animal and specific colors. The flag in the picture is the flag that represented this year’s July 2nd race. The people of Siena are baptized at birth into their contrada and each year hope that their horse wins the race so that they earn the right to be the pride of the town.

Our students got an insider’s look at the world of “Il Palio” and how it turns during the 4 days of events and rituals that lead up to the actual race. Lavinia’s husband, Antonio was born into the “Nicchio” or shell contrada and he took us to the dinner the night before the race. There were 1800 people at dinner sitting on tables on the streets of the neighborhood! What’s even more amazing is that all of the contradas have huge dinners the night before at the same time! All of Siena’s streets were closed to cars and covered with tables and hopeful revelers.

After a long night, and a long day in the sun, the race finally started. Incredibly, after days of anticipation, the actual event lasts about two minutes as the horses make their way around the Piazza Del Campo three times at breakneck speeds. Having eaten with the “Nicchio” we were hopeful for them, but in the end it was the “Istrice,” (the porcupine) that came across the line first.

I Also mentioned last week that we here at SIS were extremely proud to provide one of our students as the official translator for the Misericordia emergency center in the Piazza Del Campo. Courtney got wonderful reviews from the doctors working with her.

To all who haven’t witnessed “Il Palio” it is one of those rare things that cannot be explained, but must be lived. I encourage everyone to see it at least once in their lifetime.

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Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 by Mike Manchester

This past weekend we went on a hike through the unique and picturesque “Crete Senese” farmland just south of Siena. The sun was out and after completing at least 7 km., we earned our “snack” of cheeses, prosciutto, melon, and ice cream in the small hill town of Chiusure.

Our IPSL Session I came to a close and the Session II students are already here. Yesterday was their first day in their service placements and though the experience was intense, they all came back alive, well, and with smiles on their faces.

The heat is picking up just in time for this week’s “Palio” horse race (http://www.ilpalio.org/). Air conditions is hard to come by indoors, but the evenings in a t-shirt as the sun fades on the tower in the Piazza del Campo are something to relish. We’ll all be in the Piazza De Campo together on July 2nd to see who will be this year’s winner with the exception of one of our students who has proven her tremendous linguistic capability to earn a spot in the local first aid center as the official English translator for the race.

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Posted on Thursday, June 19th, 2008 by Mike Manchester

As it is, semesters here in Siena seem to pass in the blink of an eye. It’s no surprise that as we near the end of our first of two summer Service-Learning programs that it’s as if I was in Rome merely hours ago picking up our students and explaining as best I could what they would find upon arrival in Siena. So much is done and so much is learned in such a short amount of time.

Currently our Service-Learning students are involved in activities at local kindergartens, a soup kitchen, a restaurant that benefits the mentally disabled, an ambulance center, and a few other places. With their help, our garden is progressing nicely.  We actually produced edible arugula and yesterday I donated a bag full of our very first product! Already our adventure in gardening is turning out to be a success. In other Service-Learning news we had another first in the form of a one day Service-Learning day involving 18 students from various universities in Arizona. Lavinia held a two-hour seminar in the morning, then we took them to the garden (the “Orto de Pecci” www.laproposta.org) that we collaborate with in the city and they cleaned up the grounds.

There are also 4 advanced level Italian students with us right now who are indeed very advanced. We’re all quite impressed with their abilities especially since this is their first time ever in Italy. Roni and I are going to have to keep an eye out for these ones so they don’t end up taking our jobs.

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Summer Rain

Posted on Monday, June 2nd, 2008 by Mike Manchester

Our summer session has begun! We had a few weeks off between spring 2008 and our first summer session. For better or worse we always figure out ways to keep busy during the “down time.”

Our trifecta of Italian superprofessors, Antonella, Fiora, and Marianna held the SIS name high at the AATI/AAIS (The American Association of Teachers of Italian) in Taormina, Sicily. They spoke about our innovative FICCS teaching method and how we’re actually trying to harness the popularity of “facebook” to use it as a tool to further connect our students with Italians in Siena. For those of you who aren’t geographically knowledgeable about the island of Sicily, the town of Taormina lies between Mt. Etna, an ancient Greek amphitheater, and the Mediterannean Sea. While I know they worked very hard on their presentations I also know that they spent some very well-deserved time relaxing. Personally, I was a bit jealous as I was supposed to be there with them. Instead I was in attendance and honored to speak at our colleague and friend Eliza Nash’s wedding. Congratulations Eliza!

Last week our 10 new summer students arrived in Siena to find that myself and Roni running the ship as our fearless leader was at the NAFSA conference in Washington D.C. Despite Lavinia’s abscence, everything went smoothly, and she tells me that the trip to Washington was a positive one that will probably lead to…. more students!

Finally, I’ll mention the fact that is has been unseasonably rainy lately. ‘Why, Mike, would you mention that???’ you are asking yourselves. Well, sometimes the rain can be a bit of a nuisance, that is unless you are a vegetable garden of course! As I mentioned before, and will undoubtedly mention again in the future, we at SIS have a beautiful garden that has given birth to all kinds of plants. I’ve taken on the position of Head Gardener and Marianna has assumed the prestige of Garden President. We’ve been organizing sessions for the students to come help and they’ve been doing a great job. The end goal for many of the vegetables produced will be to end up in the local soup kitchen where many of our students serve. So, while it might be rainy, there always a positive side to things.

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Goodbye, Hello

Posted on Thursday, May 29th, 2008 by Mike Manchester

It’s a beautiful day in Siena.  We’re right in between spring and summer.  The countryside is in full bloom, I’m only wearing a t-shirt, but it’s not too hot yet.  The weather was just as wonderful on Sunday for our final lunch at Campriano (www.campriano.it) with our spring 2008 group.

For me after seven years of working with the program, I always appreciate the final moments with the students.  Each semester poses challenges to both the students and also to the staff.  Personally, I feel like I grow just as much as our students do as each semester I’m reminded that everyone is a unique individual who adapts to new situations in their own way. Thus, there are always new eyes to look through and observe the circumstances of life in Siena.  It’s always hard to say goodbye to people, but if the goodbye is a difficult one, then that means that the time spent was done so well. 

We are all taking a bit of a break as we gear up for our summer students.  I’m most excited about or newest project that is our very own SIS garden that will benefit the local soup kitchen where our students provide service.  All of our summer students will have the opportunity to work there. 

To all who are leaving, I hope your return home is a good one.  To those on their way here, I can’t wait to meet you.

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