The view from VIU: Red solo cups, bad campaign ads and Venice bars

Wow, it’s been an absolute whirlwind and a great time at orientation since I arrived in Venice a few days ago. I was supposed to have two roommates, but only one has come so far.

One roommate, Kevin, is from BC and came a day after me. I never met him before Venice, and he’s a pretty cool guy. The other guy is from China, but at this point Kevin and I don’t think he’s going to show up. So that’s good because we have a room meant for three people that is only going to be used by two.

This past Monday was the first day of orientation. In the morning, we got to meet pretty much everyone who is part of the program. That afternoon we sat through over two hours of course presentations by the professors. A lot of this was monotonous and boring, but it served its purpose because I submitted a request to switch into a better class for me. Back when course registration opened, I was in Washington DC with the BC Band for the Inaugural Parade, so I had to have my mom register me initially.

Both Monday and Tuesday night we all went to this bar called Orange Venezia in Campo Santa Margherita, a plaza that has a decent amount of nightlife. Drinks here are more money than in America thanks to the terrible conversion rate, but this particular bar takes our meal vouchers from the university, which is very appealing for us college students.

Getting there is a bit of a trek, as we have to cross the Realto Bridge (the famous one when you think of Venice) and then go through the narrow alleyways. It was cool though to see a tent in the piazza for "Partito Democratico", a center-left political party (which would be far left by American standards). I glanced over and saw a couple of people up front holding microphones and talking to about the 20 or so people in the tent. Here is one of their ads, which is probably one of the worst of all time. I always thought some American campaign ads were bizarre, but this one is something else.

Today at lunch I was talking to Elena, a woman who works at VIU and was giving us tours of the Venice libraries around. She told us that Mario Monti, who is currently the prime minister, was actually never elected by the Italian people. He was appointed by the President in the wake of the debt crisis and after Burlusconi resigned after a sex scandal in 2011.

Monti is a technocrat, which basically means that the scientific method is applied to govern rather than the will of the people. Think if an economist, a scientist, or an engineer were to become President in the United States by a Congressional appointment rather than being democratically elected. This style of government comes across as rather cold and faceless, and is essentially an oligarchy.

Monti has not exactly endeared himself to the Italian people, as he has presided over strict austerity measures and made disparaging remarks about the unemployment problem among Italian youth. However, Monti stepped down December 2012 so that he can secure a mandate from the people in the upcoming election, a mandate that he will most likely not receive.

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Mario Monti. Photo Courtesy of newspage.it

Probably one of the funniest moments so far was on Tuesday night, before we headed out to the bar. All of us were sitting around a table at the cafe on campus, and I was talking with two German girls. One of them was curious as to why American college students like to drink out of red solo cups and asked whether there were different colors besides red.

I pointed out that it’s more of college culture than taste or anything else, and that solo cups come in blue and yellow as well, but that they are not as popular. The German girl then asked me about my Long Island/Brooklynese accent, which of course was different from the other Americans present. I told her that it was the “red solo cup” of the American accents, much to the laughter and amusement of both her and the rest of the Americans.

I’ve been asking a lot of the foreign students about the politics in their home countries, and what they think of President Obama and America in general. Generally speaking, they seem very liberal and thought of Romney as a joke. Some of them have been to America, and enjoyed both the people and the time there.

It was funny swapping stories about how our media portrays and stereotypes their countries, and vice versa with us. There are several Israeli students here, and they all despise Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. This is because there are many theories in Israel about how to deal with the Palestine question, and Netanyahu, although on the far right, has been able to gather just enough support to gain control of the government.

MIDEAST ISRAEL POLITICS

Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo Courtesy of maxblumenthal.com.

The Germans here like their Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and I can’t say I blame them. Under Merkel, Germany has pretty much become the most powerful and dominant state in Europe, with a strong economy and the ability to bail out countries like Greece.

On Wednesday night we all were planning on taking a short bus ride to the nearby college town of Padua, but it was raining and disgusting out, so that trip will have to wait. Instead, two friends from BC and I went to a pub called the Irish Shark near San Marco (here in Venice, American and Irish pubs are where the locals hang out) to watch the soccer game between AC Milan and Barcelona. I do not know anything about soccer whatsoever, but it was a good atmosphere, even if the drinks were a tad pricy (6 euros for a Guinness!)

So orientation week is for the most part winding down, and I’m ready to finally start classes on Monday.

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