Friday, December 31, 2010


Throughout the fall I've been playing with the Collegium Musicum Almae Matris, which is the orchestra of the University of Bologna. I tried out back in October when I had about a month of Italian under my belt. I was able to find a trombone out here for a suspiciously cheap price, so I went ahead, bought it and began rehearsing a solo piece for my audition. The audition went well, and before I knew it, I was a card-holding member of the Collegium! My old Italian director Giancarlo Aquilanti would be so proud.

The piece we worked on most this fall was Requiem by Luigi Cherubini. This movement (Dies Irae) was my favorite:

Last Saturday, we performed Requiem and two other pieces, a Christmas tune and some choir song that didn't need the trombones to play. A ton of my fellow students came out to hear the concert which was really cool for me and the other SAIS student in the orchestra, Aurelien.

The concert's venue was in a spacious hall in the city that was kind of echo-y but had an magnificent and grand atmosphere. The opportunity to play music with Italians has really change up my normal routine of classes and studying and I've really appreciated it. Hopefully it'll continue to be awesome in 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Joyeux Noël de France

Because of this year's prolific adventuring (especially the weddings), I couldn't afford to fly home for Christmas. So, for the first time in my life, I spent the holidays away from my family.

Don't despair, however! My friend Camille invited some of my housemates and myself to her family's summer home in the south of France. Now that doesn't sound like reason for despair, does it?

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As I had never before been to France, Camille wanted to make sure that our trip was very French in all ways. Part of that included plenty of French music, including Henri Salvador, who is awesome:

Henri Salvador - Mademoiselle

Camille's house turned out to be a three-story country mansion situated amid low, rolling grapevine-covered hills. We really made the most of our time there, relaxing by the fire, drinking wine and eating really smelly cheeses.

For Christmas Eve, we prepared an epic French dinner. Our menu:

I was in charge of apéritif, which included dijon deviled eggs and sauteéd mushrooms. We also had fresh oysters from the local village market.

For our first course we had foie gras, followed by kebabs with scallops, shrimp and grilled peppers.

Third course was broiled salmon. Delicious. Our fourth course was a roast that the French butcher had wrapped in lard. Double-delicious.

We paired each course with a different type of wine. This all-sounds over-the-top (it kind of was) and expensive, but by preparing it ourselves, the dinner was surprisingly and unexpectedly affordable.

The next morning, we exchanged gifts. I got a large French sausage and a bar of chocolate from my housemate David!

We spent the rest of our time at Camille's sitting by the fire reading or playing cards (except for one ill-fated run in which Michael and I got lost trying to navigate the cold windy French countryside).

It was a beautiful and relaxing trip, I'm very glad for the memories and most of all it was very French. However, it was missing the thing that makes Christmas feel Chistmas-y for me, my family, and I would have loved to spend it with them. My palate may have been in France for Christmas with these ruffians, but my heart was in San Diego.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Freddo Ferrara

Last night I went on an adventure with some of my Italian friends from the orchestra. We drove to Ferrara, a city 45 minutes north of Bologna to go to a party we (they) had been invited to. I got to meet some awesome Ferraresi and everyone seemed to be much more excited that I was from California than that I was from the United States.

As an aside, Ferrara was really cold. I haven't been that cold in a long time.

After the party, we ended up going to this building with giant wooden doors. Once the doors opened, a pure wall of sound hit me. Inside there was courtyard with tons of people with giant tambourines and guitars singing and yelling at the top of their lungs. People were dancing these crazy dances. It was amazing. One of the guys with us picked up an accordion and started playing along. Apparently people knew all the words because they were singing traditional folk songs.

On the way home, the two Italians driving us stuck in a Fabrizio De Andre CD... as far as I can tell, he was the Bob Dylan of Italy. They new all the words and the ride home was super fun as they sang every world of every song all the way back to Bologna.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Broffano Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but don't be sad for me... despite being away from my family I still had a chance to celebrate with overwhelming amounts of turkey, gravy, stuffing, pasta (of course) and plenty of delicious wine!

Italian Thanksgiving by the numbers:

14 - Number of kilograms our turkey weighed

32 - Our turkey's weight in pounds

2 - Number of Italian butchers' mouths that dropped when they confirmed that this was what we wanted

14 - Euro cost of the turkey thermometer

20 - Number of family and friends invited over to Thanksgiving dinner at Toffano house

4 - Proud parents present at dinner

5 - Days after Thanksgiving that I ate leftovers

1 - Family I missed this year

Stuffing Our Faces

One of the best parts of Bologna is the ridiculous food here. Last week two of my buddies' girlfriends came into town (for Thanksgiving-type stuff) and we all decided to celebrate by showing off some of Bologna's food. We went to Osteria Broccandoiso, which is just a hop skip and a jump from our house. There weren't really menus - we just ordered Anti-Pasti (appetizers), Primi (pasta-type dishes) and Dulce (dessert). We passed on Secondi (which was a good choice), but not on Vino (which was also a good choice).

They came by with delicious anti-pasti: salads, quesadilla-y things, corn-y things, etc.

Then they came by with what I thought was primi.

Turns out it was just more anti-pasti. Then they came by with actual primi, which continued for about an hour of ridiculousness. More and more plates just piled up on the table.

Full of food and wine, we felt ready to pay the check, when they came by with dulce! How can you say no to 15 different delicious dessert platters?

Afterwards, we had some digestivos - grappa and limocello, which do a great job of settling a stomach full of Italian food. Over dessert we listened as the Germans I was sitting across from described how incredibly obsessed Germans are with David Hasselhoff, and why it's weird that Americans aren't.

This is a great place.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Shave November

I've never really let my facial hair grow out, mostly because I don't have much and because it starts to look silly after about a week or so.

However, this November I decided to embrace the little hairs that sprout from my chin, partially out of peer pressure, partly in support of Prostate cancer research, but mostly out of curiosity. After 30 days of growth, this is what I looked like - I don't think I'll do this again any time soon because it's kind of itchy and i think it looks silly, but maybe when I'm old.
As a side note, I got second place in our school's end of November facial hair contest, mostly for my inhuman abilities to only grow hair in a goatee around my mouth and nowhere else.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cena Italiana (con un po di spangnolo)

Last night was one of the most interesting, challenging and fun nights I've had in Bologna. As you know, I go to a school where all of my classes are in English and live with 5 other Americans. I really appreciate both of these facts, but it doesn't really help with whatever Italian immersion I thought I might be experiencing.

Luckily for me, I joined the University of Bologna Orchestra (more on that later), where I've had the opportunity to speak a lot more Italian, mostly because I don't have any other choice. I've gone for drinks with some of the other members a few times and was recently invited to a dinner at the house of one of the violin players, Laura.

I was kind of worried that I wouldn't be much fun at the dinner, considering my limited Italian, but everything ended up being awesome. I understood the vast majority of the conversations and was able to contribute and be a part of everything instead of being the quiet English-speaker in the corner.

After delicious food, some great local wine and long talks in Italian as well as Spanish (there are a few South Americans in the orchestra), I bid my new Italian friends goodbye to catch the Big Game and a birthday party for one of my fellow SAIS students. Being able to operate in an environment with no English for 3-4 hours is really exciting - I hope to do it again!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Oh Wow, I'm a Student

You may wonder - what does Bryan do with his days in Italy? Does he eat lasagna and travel all the time?

The reason I'm here is because I'm an international relations masters student. I've always been very interested in international affairs and taking classes that are all relevant to my interests is amazing. My courses this semester:

Political Analysis and Strategy in United Nations Intervention
This is my favorite class this semester. It's taught by Richard Wilcox, an outgoing, thoughtful and experienced technocrat at the UN World Food Programme. The guy has spent some serious field time in the Balkans and Iraq doing some very impressive stuff. The point of the class is to give us tools to do political analysis and I've been learning a lot. The reading for the class is also fascinating. The syllabus is 25 pages and intense, but it really gives you a great idea of the awesomeness that this class is.

Strategy and Policy
My concentration is Strategic Studies and this is the core class for the concentration. This is the kind of class you would take a war college. We're learning Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and Mahan. Very cool to get an idea of how war actually works.

International Trade Theory
Everyone at SAIS also has to (gets to) specialize in International Economics as well, and I decided to get a lot of mine in early. International Trade Theory covers the microeconomic principles behind the international system of trade and how it creates economic winners and losers.

International Monetary Theory
An extension of macroeconomic theory, this class has mostly been focusing on the ebbs and flow of goods, services and assets and how they control exchange rates and interest rates. It's cooler than it sounds, I promise. It might actually be the most interesting econ class I've ever taken.

Theories of International Relations
Another requirement for my Strategic Studies concentration, Theories of IR covers all the main theories on the international system, from Realism to Liberalism to Constructivism. I took a very similar class as an undergrad at Stanford, so I'm just auditing this class to study for a waiver exam. This is one is a little more laid back for me. The professor is an avowed structural realist and managed to get Kenneth Waltz in to talk to all of us at the beginning of the year!

I'm taking a Spanish class, with the goal of being more conversational in the language by the end of the year. We're focusing on pretty intense grammatical stuff (the difference between hubo vivido and habria vivido) as well as lots of speaking. I'm hoping to pull in an internship this summer that immerses me in Spanish, or at least forces me to use the language often.

Most days I am either reading, studying or working on group projects for these classes. The life of a student and I love it!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wedding #7

Save the best for last, or at least that's what we used to say in third grade. After an exciting year full of weddings of family and friends, I ended my 2010 wedding run with the marriage of my best friend Duncan.

I had met Amanda, Duncan's girlfriend, for the first time while I was still living in Oakland in 2009 or 2008. When Duncan called me to tell me he was getting married to her, I was ecstatic. She's a cool girl. When I figured out I was going to Italy for school, I resolved that nothing would stop me from going to my best friend's wedding, so I bought a plane ticket from Italy to San Francisco months and months before the wedding. I had to, I was the best man!

After a month of pre-term classes in Bologna, it was time for the big crazy weekend. I woke up at 4am on Friday to catch a taxi to the airport. Unfortunately for me, there were no taxis at the taxi stand downtown, precisely because it was 5 in the morning. I had begun to get worried that I'd miss my flight when I passed by a woman standing in front of her house with two duffel bags. I asked her in my surprisingly coherent Italian whether she was going to the airport, to which she answered that she was and that she had reserved a taxi ahead of time. She offered to give me a ride and I got to the airport with minutes to spare (things always seem to work out for me).

After a long flight in which I made friends with a dude who works for a luxury yacht for a living (vacation for work!) I landed in San Francsico International Airport around 1:30pm. My American phone no longer worked, so I had to get out my computer an text message people using Goog Voice. I met up with Duncan's little brother Andrew and we were picked up from the Airport by two of my high school friends, Megan and Dustin.

We had exactly enough time for me to go pick up my tuxedo and take a shower before the limo arrived and the bachelor party began. The bachelor party (which I planned, thank you very much) was amazing, but if you want stories, you'll have to ask me in person. Suffice to say that Duncan's college buddies are really awesome.

On Saturday I did a few errands and before I knew it, we had the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. The dinner was located at a restaurant at the end of Market Street appropriately called One Market and it was delicious.

Duncan and I woke up early on Sunday and spent the morning of his Big Day wandering the streets of SF and reminiscing about old times and talking about life in general. I met my parents (who had flown up from San Diego for the wedding and had managed to go to a Padres-Giants game as well) and my sister for lunch at Pizza Orgasmica, an old lunch spot from my tech PR days. Duncan and all the groomsmen then got into our tuxes and headed to the wedding. We tooks some pictures in our cool shades and basked in the unnatural San Francisco sunshine.

Amanda and the bridesmaids were a tad bit late, and by the time they got in, the clouds had rolled in and the temperature had dropped. However, the ceremony was beautiful and you could tell that the warmth between those two couldn't be quenched by any amount of biting cold wind. As the sun went down, the lights of San Francisco went on for a perfect backdrop to their wedding. After the ceremony, we went inside and PARTIED! A lot of the music was kind of latin themed, which I thought was really cool, because people of all ages stayed on the dance floor the whole night.

I packed up my stuff (including some extra supplies for Europe) the next morning and got back on the plane, arriving in time for my second official day of classes, some serious jet-lag and a huge smile on my face because I knew that love had won the day.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The morning after our adventures at Oktoberfest, Klaas, Alyssa, Leah and I decided to take a leisurely drive back through Austria to experience the alps that we had missed while driving through Saturday night.

As Germany melted into Austria, we saw numerous churches perched upon inaccessable hills and quaint little towns huddle at the bases of beatuiful and majestic mountains. Enchanted, we took off on a random exit and drove until we saw a cool bridge. After some photos on the bridge and a fun game of pooh sticks, we played with some calves on the other side of the river. Klaas and I assured the girls that they were just pet calves, but I'm pretty sure that was not the case.

Getting hungry, we set ourselves upon finding a place ot eat in a nearby town. It was Sunday and everything to be deserted, but it could also be that it was a winter resort town. We finally found what had to be the only restaurant/tavern in the town and entered with growling stomachs. The tavern had a very clean and familiar aura, with old people sipping on beers and chatting. We took a table outside in the sunshine with an amazing view of the steep mountain walls that surrounded the valley.

I was set on getting weinersnitzel, but everybody else ended up getting the same because we couldn't read anything else on the menu and didn't want to risk getting stuck with the warm white sausage in a bowl of luke-warm water. The language barrier caused a tiny bit of a problem, but after a lot of laughing and pointing, we ended up with one of the biggest dishes I've ever eaten.

After lunch, we bid farewll to Austria, but someday I want to return to that little town in the valley that I can't pronounce and spend the afternoon in that tavern again.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oktoberfest 2

We arrived at the Oktoberfest grounds just as they were clearing the last of the previous night's festivities, mess and trash away. The carnival grounds, complete with roller coasters, rides and games were ready to open for another day of Bavarian revelry.

Klaas, Leah, Alyssa and I chose a tent almost immediately. We had a good feeling about Schottenhammel and got in line. Immediately behind us in line was a group of guys, around 17 - 18 years of age. We introduced ourselves to them and discovered that they were a Bavarian hockey team bent on picking up girls at Wiesn. I showed the loudest of them (his name was Ferdinand, I believe) my songbook and soon we were singing German songs while the rest of the sleepy, cold people in line looked on. After about an hour, the doors open and we were able to secure a table in between the hockey players and a table of Italians.

After sitting at the table for a few minutes, servers began to come by with all the things we could possibly want: sweet pickles, different types of sausage, pretzels, and of course 1 liter mugs of Paulaner beer. Our chatting and joking with each other and our neighboring tables was periodically interrupted by cheering as someone in the huge tent would stand up on their table and raise their arms above their head. We would all then stand up and cheer as some macho German would down a whole liter of beer (we would boo when they failed). After a very successful morning, we bid our new friends goodbye and decided to ride a carnival ride before checking into our hotel.

Upon arrival at our hotel, the all-night drive and sleepy warm feeling of beer and sausage caught up to us and we napped for a few hours. We awoke in the early evening refreshed and ready for round 2.

Our return to Oktoberfest around dusk was exciting and we decided to try a new tent, this time the Ochsenbraterei tent. I can barely describe the sight I saw when I entered the Ochsenbraterei tent. The morning was fun, but this was what every stereotype and Oktoberfest dream was about. Imagine walking into a tent full of thousands of people, every single one standing on their table, arm-in-arm, singing along to a polka band and raising their glasses to the ceiling. The feeling of extreme mirth was overwhelming. The four of us easily found a table, ordered beers and chicken, and made friends with an inebriated Norwegian family at the table next to us. As the night when on, the lines between our tables blurred and I ended up arm-in-arm with an old Norwegian man (who spoke no English) and Klaas, singing "Hey Jude" at the top of my lungs.

Hey Jude? Wasn't this Germany? Turns out this polka band played joyous Oktoberfest versions of American and international hits in addition to tons of German songs that I didn't know but sang loudly anyway. We stood on our tables and sang and laughed for hours.

Most of my Sunday at Wiesn defies photographic or written description, but after such an amazing day, I definitely plan on going back, and you should join me.