Venice Blog

When in Venice…umm…ride in boats?

IMG_8628If any of you know me, i have a recent fascination with boat, water and nautical accessories. Thank goodness the fashion gods have indulged my fancy and given me number striped boatneck shirts, pants with anchor buttons and flowy boat dresses, and of course uber cute sperrys. What does this have to do with venice and my experiences here? Well, every day, in order to get to all of the action after class, i get to ride a boat. Specifically, vaparettos, the Venecian water buses that run relatively efficiently and frequently, even for italy. This is because i, as well as most of the other student in the program live in dorm on San Servolo, where Venice International University (VIU) is located. There are defeniately some pros (riding a boat every day being the biggest pro) and cons to living on the island, but for the most part it really is great.

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Living on the Island:

Pros:
The major upside of living on the island, is that i am living on an island and i get to tell people that. Also Since VIU is located on this island it is a VERY short walk to class in the morning and there is a cafe for breakfast or a snack between classes, which is nice. There is a cafeteria that i have not tried but i hear it is nice and you can get a full breakfast for 5 Euro. I personally like my croissant and cappuccino in the morning, but maybe one day i will get up a little extra early and indulge in what the cafeteria has to offer.

Also the dorms are relatively nice. They are clean, wired for internet and come with “air conditioning”(which i still do not believe, but the breeze when the windows are open does us well enough). They came with towels and linens and are cleaned every day by cleaning ladies (which is nice to have a clean floor when i come back from class, but they keep moving the garbage can and we can need find it).

Being away form the tourists is great too. I do not have to wade through mobs of people to get ‘home.’ I just have to deal with them in San Marco, get on the Vaparetto, enjoy a 10 minute boat ride, hop off and walk to my dorm.

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Cons:
There is no refrigerator. There is really no way to store food in our dorms. So for someone like me who like a lot of fruit and vegetables and cheese, i am pretty much out of luck. I really just want to chill a bottle of water so i can drink it later. A bunch of students and i would like to be able to purchase some fruit or cold cuts just to cut down on the cost of eating out every meal. Even the cheap sandwhiches at the cafe are starting to add up and it has only been a week.

We are away from the action. While this is not a big deal because Venice seems to close early, if us students want to go out we have to keep in mind that Vaparettos back to San Servolo stop at around 2am and they only come every hour before that. So if we ever get stuck out, we will be knocking on the student’s door who is living on the main part of venice. :) Also there used to be a Vaparetto to the Lido(an island with cars….crazy), but it no longer runs from San Servolo. I still have made the trip to the beach on the Lido, but it takes a lot longer than it used to because you now have to go in to San Marco, and then out to the Lido. The beach is still completely worth the journey.

So, overall, living on this island…not too shabby.

Week one

Week one was busy and week two promises to be the same.  On Wednesday of the first week, we visited several court houses with Giovanni Minelli, a Venetian lawyer.  We spoke with judges, prosecutors and clerks.  The design of the courtrooms demonstrated the difference between the Italian civil law system and the American system.  There are no jury boxes because juries don’t exist.  A quasi-jury system is used in serious criminal cases.  In those cases only, four lay judges sit with two professional judges to hear and decide the cases.  These four lay judges would be comparable to our jurors, but unlike in our system they decide the case with the judges not separately from them.  All other cases are decided by judges, who hear the evidence and determine the facts and apply the law.  Another interesting aspect of the Italian legal system is that all cases, no matter how small, can be appealed as a matter of right to the Supreme Court of Italy.  This explains, of course, the notoriously slow Italian legal system.  Giovanni told us of an eviction case in Venetian courts that lasted 11 years!

Next week we go to an Italian law office to speak with a lawyer who does commercial work and litigation.  We also finally get our boat trip to Murano, Burano and Torcello, which was postponed from the first week due to the unavailability of tickets and later weather issues.

Ciao Venice….arrivederci old boring US life.

Week One:

I have been in Italy since last week.  A couple of friends and I traveled to Italy a week early in order to see some major cities in Italy prior to starting classes so that on the weekends we could have more freedom to pick places we wanted to go without having to feel overwhelmed with everything we wanted to do while here in Europe.

Venice is such a cool city – it is an island and in order to get around the city, you take vaperratos (boats) to different stops.  The system is similar to NYC’s subway system except that instead of being underground, it is on the water.  There are several lines of boats that take you to different parts/neighborhoods in the city.  My friends and I are quickly becoming familiar with the lines we need to get to the neighborhoods we particularly like spending time.

The food here is beyond delicious.  It’s a good thing we walk so much (besides the boats, you must walk everywhere in Venice…there are no cars!) because I am definitely enjoying the pasta, pizza, gelato and of course olive oil on everything!  The wine isn’t so bad either J.  There is a supermarket (supermarkedo) that sells “boxed wine” for 59cents, which even after the conversion is CHEAP, and it is better than the $10 – $15 bottles of wine I buy back in the states.

Classes (oh yes the reason I am here) are pretty interesting so far.  I am taking Comparative Corporate Law taught by Justice Holland (of the Supreme Court of Delaware) and Comparative Civil Litigation taught by Michael Goldberg (from Widener University, DE).  Corporate law is so well organized in America (thanks to DE) and it is interesting to gain a deeper understanding of how the legal system works with the corporate system and discuss how other countries are starting to adapt our system.  Civil litigation is equally interesting in terms of learning how different the American and English (Common Law) system is from the rest of the world (Civil Law).  In class we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each system which sparks good conversation about the two different legal systems that have pros and cons.

This weekend a few of us are heading down to Sorrento, Italy to take advantage of the beaches and immerse ourselves in some Italian culture and history with a pit stop at Pompeii to see people that were literally buried alive when Mt. Vesuvius spewed massive amounts of ash down on the unexpecting town.  Our train leaves at 3am from Venice….here’s to hoping our travels go smoothly and we get a quiet car to sleep J

Talk to ya next week.

Pre Adventure Adventure

PRAHA!

PRAHA!

With this being my last real opportunity to study abroad and be a carefree student amongst another city full of culture and beauty I decided to extend my little romp in Europe with a pre academic adventure adventure. I talked a fellow student in the program whom I was traveling with to stop in Prague, Czech Republic before we headed off to Venice. There are numerous reasons I wanted to go to this magical city besides it being beautiful and chock full of history. I studied in Brno, Czech Republic and while I was there I instantly fell in love with the whole country and with every little town (all which included a castle or two) and especially Prague. So being familiar with the city, culture and the food I knew that this two day adventure would be not only completely worth it for me, but for my fellow traveler as well.

Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock

Our Lady of Tyn from atop the tower in Old Town Square

Our Lady of Tyn from atop the tower in Old Town Square

We stayed in Lesser Town right on the other side (the castle side) of the Charles Bridge from Old Town. We had a great hotel, in an amazing location and it was completely affordable. After the longest layover in Heathrow and an exhausting day we arrived in Prague at 11pm, and after settling in I HAD to go to Old Town Square and visit my favorite church, Our Lady Before Tyn. Without a map and only memories to guide me, I walked across the Charles Bridge and meandered toward the sound of street music and smell of beer. I wandered around the square, still busy with people, and soaked up as much of Prague as I could. I started walking back and somehow ended up in Josev, the Jewish town. I asked some kind Czech man where the Charles Bridge was and he pointed me in the correct direction. When I heard the rush of the Vltava, I thought I was a block over from the Charles Bridge, however, I was all the way down by the opera house. Oops. I knew exactly where I was and how to get back, but a 15-minute quick walk to Old Town Square turned into an hour and a half of meandering alone through one of my favorite cities. The rest of the time I brought a map with me.

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Picture 1 of 10,000 of me on the Charles Bridge with the Castle in the background

The next morning my fellow traveler (Emily) and I went on one of the bus tours around Prague rather than a walking tour because of the slight rain. I felt it was the best way to show her Prague and remind me of what everything was. We saw everything, Old Town, New Town, Josev, the Castle, St. Vitus, the Vlatava, all shielded from the drizzly rain in the comfort of a tour bus. I recommend Martin Tours if you are ever in Prague. They pick you up in multiple place, including Old Town Square and are cheap and very good tours. The rest of the day we wandered and shopped and wandered and shopped. I showed her things I remembered made up stories for things I did not. The next day I went alone on the tour of Jewish town in Prague. It is the only remaining in tact pre-WWII Jewish sector because Prague was not bombed in the war. It was amazing. I got walk through Jewish town (Josev) and see where Franz Kafka was born, the synagogues that are now museums, the holocaust memorial and, most amazing, the Jewish cemetery (which was closed last time I was in Prague). Me being a history nerd this was a more than worth while tour. I also had the most wonderful conversation with the tour guide about the works of Arnost Lustig and Karl Capek, both Jewish Czech writers. She was surprised an American knew their works pretty well, but I had studied them as well as many other writers, directors, artists, etc when I studied in Brno. It was so nice to talk to someone who knew the authors well and how funny and amazing their works are. It makes me want to put down my law books and pick up Dita Saxova again. Maybe after classes are finished.

Goulash and Knedley

Goulash and Knedley

Being well aquainted with Czech cuisine, and being completely in love with it, I made sure I ate almost all things Czech. I had meat on a stick, sausage, becherovka, random Czech street foods and the creme dela creme, goulash and knedley (goulash and Czech dumplings). While I have made goulash since being in the Czech Republic four years ago, it’s just never the same. It must be made with love or something because I was in heaven when I tasted those doughy bread dumplings soaked in delicious stew like broth and with chunks of the most tender beef tips ever.  I am pretty sure I could eat that all day every day, as long as I had some amazing Czech beer to wash it down (which I had plenty of during the trip).

Besides the history and food Prague was amazing as I had remembered it and I fall in love with it more and more each time. The people are amazing and so sweet and even though it rained a little it did not put a damper on the city as everyone was still walking around in merriment. My only disappointment was when I attempted to speak the 5 words of Czech I know, I would get answered in English. I know it is a touristy city and all of the shop-keepers speak English but when I say ‘Dobre den’ (good day) I did not want to hear ‘hello, how are you?’ back. I guess I will just have to go back to the smaller Czech towns, like Brno (second biggest city, but not a ton of English speakers or tourism) to practice my inability to speak Czech.

Now off to the actual adventure, a month in Venice!

We survived Day One!

After an orientation to the program and Venice (and most importantly getting internet log-ins for all students and faculty) and an introductory session on international and comparative law , we ventured into Venice proper.  First stop – the Rialto ACTV booth to get IMOB cards.  These cards reduce the cost of a trip on the vaporetto (water buses) from 6.50 Euros to about 1.10 euros!  Of course, as with everything in Venice, the cards cost money but overall the cards will save us all a lot of money.  We then ventured over the Rialto Bridge, over the Grand Canal, for lunch.  By now it was after 2 pm and many restaurants had stopped serving!  This was not good news for 13 very hungry Americans.  Fortunately our liaison, Jo Ann Titmarsh, knew a restaurant near her home where we could get a very tasty pizza. So after indulging in pizza, vino, water (lots) and Diet Coke for Professor Goldberg, we were refreshed and headed off to the phone store.  After doing a bit of shopping at little Italian stores for a few necessities left at home (i.e. a hair dryer), we finally went back over the Accademia Bridge and headed home. Anyone familiar with Venice will figure out that we hiked a far amount of the heart of Venice today.  But everyone (or most everyone) got what they needed and a nice introduction to the heart of Venice.  I am now exhausted but feeling very much back in Venice.

Pre-Program Travel

A houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam

A houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam

Like many program participants, I’ve tacked on a trip to another part of Europe to my time in Venice.  This year, I’m spending six days in Amsterdam.  The glory of Europe is all of the places you can go within a few hours plane ride from any major city.  Amsterdam is all I expected, charming and vibrant.  We quickly learned the most dangerous thing about Amsterdam has nothing to do with the famed Red Light District (which I have NOT visited — yet) or the infamous coffeehouses (skipping those altogether).  It is the thousands of aggressive bicyclists!  Cars and trams I’m used to looking out for but bikes, not so much.  If they were only on the bike paths and followed the traffic signs, I could deal.  But from what I can tell, bicyclists go when cars have green lights, when the bike paths have green and when the pedestrians have green.  Twice today we saw bikes almost get clobbered by cars when the bikes ignored the traffic signals and ran through intersections.  They make a walk in Amsterdam very lively!

Preparations

The colorful houses of Burano, Venice

The colorful houses of Burano, Venice

Airline tickets purchased – check!  Books ordered and course materials posted – check!  Syllabi drafted – check!  Weekend trips to Malta and Croatia arranged – check!  To do list completed – not quite, but soon.  Soon the fun begins.  I leave on Thursday, June 16 for a week in Amsterdam before the Venice program starts.  That’ll be an adventure since I’ve never been to the Netherlands.  The keys to enjoying travel to another country are flexibility and a sense of adventure.  If I wanted everyone to speak English and act like an American, I could stay home and save a lot of money!  I always assume we’ll get lost more than once, order some food that is not to our liking at some point, and otherwise stumble around.  The most important thing is to never, ever act like an ugly American.  In fact, I’ve found that most American tourists are pretty considerate and patient and other than our complete lack of knowledge of other languages and cultures, we’re pretty good to have around.   So in less than a week, I’m off to Europe and I can’t wait!

Intermezzo

And so we’ve come to the end of the first summer session, the halfway point in our sojourn here in Venice.  It is a time for reflection on the two weeks which have passed, time for reflection on new experiences, for many of us new perspectives as well, and celebration of new-found friendships.  It is also the time for the intrusion of reality into our somewhat idyllic daily routines.

For a few of us reality means returning to the US; for a few more of us reality means saying goodbye (for now at least) to new friends and acquaintances; for all of us it means the harsh reality of exams… we are all here to learn after all, and for good or bad some of that knowledge is being imparted in the classroom.  In International Sales, Professor Meadows has drilled us on the Uniform Commercial Code, as well as the various international conventions governing international sales; namely the Convention on the International Sale of Goods (CISG), The Inter-American Convention, The Hague Convention and The Rome Convention.  Professor Goldberg meanwhile, has done his best to delineate the major points of departure between Civil law and Common law jurisdictions (while also underscoring their similarities), in our brief two-week survey of Comparative Civil Litigation in the respective systems.

Of course much of our ‘education’ is also taking place outside the classroom as well.  For a select few of us the break represents an opportunity to broaden our horizons even further by travelling to neighboring countries.  The fall of internal barriers to trade and travel within Europe is a boon to not only to EU citizens, but also for Americans (for whom visas are not required) and holders of Schengen visas.  While not centrally located, Venice still proves to be a convenient jumping off point for other parts of Europe.  With Marco Polo International a mere 20-minute ride from the city, and Treviso Airport 45 minutes away, much of Europe is decidedly within reach.

Croatia and other parts of Eastern Europe are just a ferry ride across the Adriatic; London is about two hours by air, Munich three, Paris also three and Barcelona about an hour and a half.  Other parts of Italy of course are also within easy reach; Verona and Padua for instance are about an hour each away, while Florence is a three-hour train ride away and Rome six.  In short there is a wealth of travel opportunities suitably flexible for the unpredictability of student budgets.

Sam and I debated between Paris (his preference) and Barcelona… and fortunately I’ve prevailed on him to give Barcelona a try, selling him on the unique history and culture of Catalonia and my familiarity with Spanish, which at least promises less communication issues than we’ve encountered here in Venice.  That travel to Barcelona happens to be significantly cheaper than travel to Paris also mitigates heavily in favor of the former, and so it is with great excitement that we begin planning our trip to the City of Counts.

-Nigel

“La Legge e’ Uguale Per Tutti”

La Legge

Today, Thursday June 25th we got a tour of the Venetian courts courtesy a local Avvocato Giovanni Minelli, who proved to be quite the resource with both his knowledge of and familiarity within the local bar.  The tour began with a visit of the Corte d’Assize, Venice’s criminal court of first instance, the equivalent of an American trial court.  The first thing that struck me about the court was the complete lack of pomp and circumstance reflected in the actual edifice itself.  In fact, I had been past the building a couple times and hadn’t even noticed its presence among the nearby gift shops and sundry tourist traps which populated the Rialto neighborhood.  The only thing which gave away its presence was the bronze plaque signifying its purpose as the seat of the tribunal.

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Given Venice’s wonderful architectural tradition one would have been forgiven for expecting something with a bit more of an aesthetic flair, to put it mildly. Truth be told however, the only thing architecturally interesting within the perimeter was the wonderful clock tower pictured below, with its subtle nod to the medieval past reflected in the clock face.

Clock

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Continuing in the architectural vein, we then got a look at highly stylized, if spatially efficient courtroom, designed by one of Venice’s leading modern architects.  The most interesting feature of the room to me was the riveted, paneled walls, which gave the room the look of a sleek, modernist sound room rather than the proletarian tribunal that it was.  Overall the room was hardly a departure from anything that we may see in U.S. courtrooms, except that it was executed perhaps with a bit more of an architectural flair.  Comparing the effort that was put into the design of the room relative to the other courtrooms however, and it’s no small wonder that the locals seemed so taken by it.

The next courtroom we visited down on the first floor of the building was more representative of the Venetian courtrooms we saw, stark, unadorned walls in keeping with the unglamorous task of the bureaucrats who occupied it.  Affixed in large letters about the tribunal however were the words “La Legge e’ Uguale per Tutti“, which roughly translates to “Everyone is Equal in the Eyes of the Law”.  My attempt to photograph the inscription probably could have ended a lot worse than it actually did, lol.  Before you go “well, duh!”, I wasn’t being quite the obnoxious, clueless tourist that you think.  I was actually standing outside the courtroom at the time, in the vestibule actually, trying surreptitiously to focus on just the words high up on the walls without capturing any of the actual happenings within the room.  Still, I was met by a rather firm-looking functionary who quite irritatedly ushered me away, saying “Vai! Vai!” or something to that effect, lol.

Next stop were the offices of one of the local prosecutors… the anteroom to which was simply stunning.

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In fact there were many things stunning about that stop on the tour, from the beautiful frescoes on the ceiling and walls of the anteroom pictured above, to the restoration being done to wonderfully aged ceilings inside… to the boxes of files “stored” literally, all over the place.  We even saw a few boxes sunning themselves outside on the balcony.  Thank God for small mercies the fact that it didn’t rain that day, although it would have been fun to see their contingency plans in effect.

Next stop was the Corte d’Appello, on the banks of the Grand Canal.  Again I must stress how friendly and accommodating the Venetian people were (my near minor international incident aside, lol).  Granted that the proceedings we observed were open to the public, but the judges were very accommodating of our sizeable group, including the fact that some of us forgot that we were supposed to “dress appropriately” for the occasion.  At the end of witnessing one bankruptcy proceeding our host, Giovanni explained our presence to the tribunal who then acknowledged us with very kind words (in Italian of course), and later on a local prosecutor prevailed on our behalf in getting the judges to allow us into another tiny courtroom as they first heard, then later announced their decision (after deliberations) in a criminal case.  In the mean time we were able to go downstairs and take some photographs on the courthouse steps along the banks of the Grand Canal.  There too we were able to see local law enforcement in action as a couple of us stragglers were ushered away from the water’s edge as one defendant was brought (by boat, of course) literally to the courthouse doors and then up some secret elevators.

We were given a mini tour of the building, which at one time was the private home of one of Venice’s great families, replete with private stairways for the house staff so that when they went about their chores they wouldn’t have to be seen by the family.  Weird, but interesting all the same.  One of the courthouse staff was very kind to escort us to an upper room, and then to the attic,  which also doubled as, surprise… storage space for files… where we were treated to spectacular vistas of the city.

Rialto Birdseye

Unsolicited and unexpected, this turned out to be the highlight of the tour for many of us.

We concluded our tour of the Venetian courts by retiring for lunch at Osterria Al Assessini, one of the favorite local lawyer hangouts, near the City’s municipal center close to the Rialto.

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There we were treated to gnocchi in tomato sauce and ravioli with ricotta and spinach.  The first course was followed by a second course of roast beef and grilled vegetables… no seafood, but otherwise a perfect way to cap off what was a very enjoyable and insightful look at the non-tourist side of Venice.

-Nigel

Giovanni…he’s a good boy.

 

 

Timon

So after Friday night the entertainment bar was set pretty high… we’d have to come pretty darn good to top that night we thought.  And so with that in mind it was decided we’d visit the city-run Casino in Cannaregio’s Campo San Marcuolo neighborhood.  It turns out the Casino workers had other plans, as they quite inconveniently decided to go on strike… the nerve, what no one told them we were coming?  So at this point we were waiting for Debbie and Rachael to arrive, both of them having to catch the vaporetto up from Debbie’s apartment near campus.  Sam, Dana and Ryan had already eaten, but Georgine and I were pretty famished and so we decided that food would be the next order of business.

Georgine’s feet were hurting so Ryan decided that he would take us both to this one restaurant he knew, where we would wait while he went back (with Sam and Dana) to get Debbie and Rachael when they get off the vaporetto.  As we navigated the twisting passageway that passed for a street I happened to notice the deposit left behind by one of Venice’s canine corps.  I also noticed footsteps behind us and turned to see this pretty signorina following not too far behind.  Georgine and I made a quick right towards the restaurant while signorina continued straight… and wouldn’t you know it, stepped right into the pile of post-digested Scooby snacks. 

I really didn’t have any time to warn her… honestly.  Not that she would have necessarily understood me either, as my lack of Italian would have left me inarticulately gesturing at the ground in front of her. She turned and stared at the spot with a “what the hell??” look on her face, as the dread… and recognition soon set in.  I quickly averted my eyes so as to spare her any further embarrassment, and the last I heard as she disappeared around the bend was the unmistakable sound of leather scraping against concrete, as I imagined her swearing at the gods under her pretty breath.  For what it’s worth though, it was one of life’s great leveling moments… sometimes even the pretty girls step in doggie poop.

We soon abandoned our efforts on dog poop alley, as the two restaurants there were closing the kitchens at 10:30 and here it was already 10:15 with Debbie and Rachael still cruising the canals.  We ran into Arben, the Albanian émigré friend of Dana and Ryan, who worked at a nearby restaurant.  After hearing our plight he phoned his friends at the restaurant and got them to hold the kitchen open for the seven of us as we hurried over.  Our path took us from the Calle del Forno, right on the Fondamenta degli Ormesini, and before long we arrived at Arben’s restaurant, Timon.  The staff there were very friendly and soon set up a table for us along the canal.  Georgine had the eggplant parmesan and Debbie had the artichoke lasagna, while Rachael and I had the meat lasagna.  The food at Timon’s was terrific, the inside of my lasagna had a consistency almost reminiscent of tiramisu, that’s how much it felt like it melted in your mouth, and the same for Debbie’s artichoke variety which I had tasted, even though she confessed that it was too rich for her.

Arben soon joined back up with us and we proceeded to just hang out and shoot the breeze while we digested our meals.  Before long Arben had us downing shots of Grappa, a colorless, fermented, something or the other that was made from grapes, but which was four times as potent as regular wine.  I swear it smelled like jet fuel… but I was curious enough that I decided to be game and play along.  If as it’s said, that liquor puts hair on a man’s chest, then Grappo put an entire weave on my chest. After I swallowed, the flaming liquid seemed to pause at the base of my throat, long enough for me to savor the flavor, before going down. 

Grappa 

Interestingly enough the aftertaste wasn’t bad, a definite sweet-ish grape flavor.  Arben looked at me in part anticipation and part concern.  ”I’m fine,” I assured him, as I struggled to suck oxygen into my lungs.  Ryan was pretty lit from the grappa, and Debbie was getting high just the words coming out of his mouth… and there were a LOT of words.  Ryan took us everywhere from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire to 20 Questions with Georgine… before he perfected the thousand-yard stare that is, brought on by the potent potables consumed during the course of the night. 

We finished dinner, took a shortcut through Venice’s historic Jewish neighborhood, past the Campo del Ghetto, and the Museo ebraico and Sinagoghe.  We crossed the Ponte delle Guglie turned down the Fondamenta de Venier and settled on the Ponte Tre Archi, where we chilled… literally, in the 60-degree Fahrenheit air.  Before long we were joined by two of Arben’s friends who were passing through, Matteo and Giovanni… the latter of whom absconded into the night with one of two American co-eds he’d met earlier.  Upon the other expressing concern for her absent friend, she was apparently told not to worry that she was in good hands, ”Giovanni, he’s a good boy”.

-Nigel