Back home

So it’s been a little over a week that I’ve been back home in Portland and there really isn’t anything like home, is there? You can sleep in your own bed, take a long hot shower, speak English, cross the street with ease and pay with a debit card without worrying about racking up a whole bunch of fees.

But I miss my little apartment in Trastevere, the sounds of life happening right outside my window with a cool breeze coming in. I miss the walking, tons of walking each day in the hot weather. I miss the fountains and all the free water available for your enjoyment. I miss all my MU friends and the group dinners. And the art, the Italians… oh, Rome. But enough sadness, Rome will always be there, it’s up to me to visit it again!

I haven’t been very good about posting pictures on here, so I’m going to start right now! First up, pictures of food, mmm. And yes, I ate lots of gelato, I do not lie.

Airplane Dinner, not too shabby.

Airplane Dinner, not too shabby.

Airplane breakfast.

Airplane breakfast.

Swiss likes to treat it's passengers well.

Swiss likes to treat it’s passengers well.

First dinner at Trattoria Moderna. From the top: pork with a cream sauce, caprese salad and bread, salmon citrus salad, proscuitto with melon and cheese shavings.

First dinner at Trattoria Moderna. From the top: pork with a cream sauce, caprese salad and bread, salmon citrus salad, proscuitto with melon and cheese shavings.

Oodles of noodles!

Oodles of noodles!

Ah, my first gelato, the start of a love affair with the frosty treat.

Ah, my first gelato, the start of a love affair with the frosty treat.

Doner Kebab dinner really does fill you up on the cheap.

Doner Kebab dinner really does fill you up on the cheap.

Gelato!

Gelato!

Cheese man.

Cheese man.

Cheese!

Cheese!

Something's cooking!

Something’s cooking!

Homemade pasta dinner.

Homemade pasta dinner.

Panini

Panini

You guessed it, gelato!

You guessed it, gelato!

Galak, I've had them from Ecuador so I was excited to see them in Rome. It's white chocolate.

Galak, I’ve had them from Ecuador so I was excited to see them in Rome. It’s white chocolate.

My first cappuccino

My first cappuccino

Pizza!

Pizza!

Gelato!

Gelato!

Me... and gelato :)

Me… and gelato :)

This is a yummy pastry my professor bought us as a classroom snack.

This is a yummy pastry my professor bought us as a classroom snack.

Wine, grapes and cheese, it's a party!

Wine, grapes and cheese, it’s a party!

Homemade Caprese Salad that would knock your socks off.

Homemade Caprese Salad that would knock your socks off.

Funky tomatoes.

Funky tomatoes.

The dinner spread!

The dinner spread!

So good.

So good.

Well, hello gelato, get in my tummy!

Well, hello gelato, get in my tummy!

Gelato, but this time at the beach!

Gelato, but this time at the beach!

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I look tired, but not too tired to go for some gelato.

I look tired, but not too tired to go for some gelato.

Wine wine and more wine.

Wine wine and more wine.

Salute!

Salute!

Pizza

Pizza

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Nutella toasts.

Nutella toasts.

Olive tapenade toasts

Olive tapenade toasts

Cheese on a toothpick.

Cheese on a toothpick.

Salami and bread

Salami and bread

Truffles galore

Truffles galore

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I didn't try this places gelato, but they had tons of flavors.

I didn’t try this places gelato, but they had tons of flavors.

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Bread sticks that were hollow!

Bread sticks that were hollow!

Tiramisu, my love!

Tiramisu, my love!

Caffe freddo, gave me a caffeine boost for sure.

Caffe freddo, gave me a caffeine boost for sure.

Quiche twins

Quiche twins

Gotta get some veggies, you know.

Gotta get some veggies, you know.

Nonna cake

Nonna cake

Salad, ravioli and roast chicken

Salad, ravioli and roast chicken

Random Spongebob cake sighting

Random Spongebob cake sighting

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Hams just like to hang out

Hams just like to hang out

I heard a group of French people ooing over all the fromage

I heard a group of French people ooing over all the fromage

Last dinner at Trattoria Moderna.

Last dinner at Trattoria Moderna.

Mushrooms and prosciutto

Mushrooms and prosciutto

Risotto

Risotto

A glorious end to it all, dessert plate.

A glorious end to it all, dessert plate.

Look up!

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In Rome I found that if you don’t look up, you might miss something wonderful. Every detail to make the city as beautiful as they could was taken into account my the Romans. There were many street corners which had little to big paintings, such as the one pictured above, quietly decorating Rome, there for those that pay attention. Angels were placed at the base of the painting, graceful creatures in the amidst of the traffic of cars and scooters, smoke from cigarettes, the chitter-chatter of pedestrians and the street sweepers. Now, why can’t all cities be as lovely as Rome?

Eye to the Heavens

IMG_7277When I was reading Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr, he describes the oculus of the Pantheon and how it sucks your vision upwards, to the high ceiling dome as soon as you walk in. He describes his desire to see snowflakes fall through the oculus, drifting down in the pool of light that comes in. Of course, there was no snow in September when I found myself living in Rome but visiting the Pantheon, especially after reading Doerr’s book, was one of the things that I had to do.

Prior to visiting, I had read up a bit on this ancient church which was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus and rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian around 126 AD. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. To think that this was built without any assistance of modern technology is astounding, perfection was key to the success of its construction and of its lasting existence. Even with all the reading, nothing can prepare you for your first visit to the Pantheon. Doerr was right, as soon as I walked in I took in the crowd of people straight ahead of me, faces turned upwards, the murmuring of people speaking was slightly loud, then my eyes rose as if of their own accord, seeking the source of clear light streaming in from the sky. There it was, the eye to the heavens. I imagine how magical it would be if snow started falling, floating down towards my outstretched hand, melting on contact with my warm palm. I can see why Doerr would have wanted to see it. I hear a tour guide tell visitors that in all his time in Rome, the Pantheon hasn’t flooded with rain coming in from the oculus. After a while (due to my neck hurting a bit from being craned back), I look down and all around me. I see people chatting, snapping pictures and find that I feel sad. This is a church, I think, not some tourist spectacle, which puts me in an odd situation. While I am a tourist in a way, I’m also a student, here to study art, architecture and literature, so I feel that I have reason to be here. But then who am I to judge? People could be there for numerous reasons and the best part is that they are all there to admire the feat of work done by the ancient Romans and there is no one to deny them that privilege. The eye to the heavens will continue to be admired from people from all over the world today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow.

Goethe’s Thoughts on Rome

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Good ol’ German writer Goethe, in the late 1700s, was visiting enchanting Rome. He kept a journal which my class and I had an opportunity to read. Some of his journal entries are so relevant today as they were when he first wrote them.

Here is one of his entries, dated November 10, 1786:

I am living here now with a feeling of clarity and calm that I have not had for a long time. My practice of seeing and taking all things just as they are, my constancy in keeping a clear eye, and my complete rejection of all pretensions are proving very useful again, and make me quietly very happy. Every day a new remarkable object, every day some new great, extraordinary pictures, and a totality that is past imagining, however long one might think and dream.

My time in Rome has been relatively short, although, it feels at times as if I have been in the city much longer. Time has lost meaning. I do feel a sense that I am calmer, I feel this when I entered a church in Viterbo. It was simply decorated yet beautiful, it was welcoming and open, inviting me in warmly. Being in Rome has also given me many opportunities to view art and admire it which is not typically a part of my day. I am no expert on how to view art but I have gained a clearer sense on gauging what art calls to me, and to be able to appreciate the mastery of technique used by the artist. I am very happy. I feel I have a new understanding on life, which is meant to be experienced to the fullest with friends and family, it’s not meant to be rushed, muted and lonely. I have come to understand that if you follow your passions good can come from it. Many of the guides we had over the course of our two weeks in Rome had come to the Eternal City not expecting to stay but found their passion in art, in writing, in the city itself, which could only be satisfied and happy by living there. Everyday can be exciting and new. My picture total at the end of my trip is at or above 2,000. I, like Goethe, wish for two things, 1: that I may come back someday not to distant (of course!) and 2: in the words of Goethe, “I look forward to the beneficial effect this will have on my whole life.”

Keats Shelley Memorial

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Writing is not easy, no matter what anyone has to say. Writing, good quality writing, is an art that takes practice, time and dedication. Before coming to Rome I had started a blog in March of this year and had been posting on it on a daily basis. I’d post creative pieces, pictures, drawings or recipes. Being in Rome for the first time with only two weeks to experience all that you possibly can can be difficult for any writer, simply finding the time when I wasn’t out and about exploring or when I wasn’t super tired was a challenge all it’s own. There was always some beckoning me to go out and see,hear,  touch, smell and taste.

Last Thursday, our class went to the Keats Shelley Memorial which is the apartment that both men lived in when they spent time in Rome. I had never read much of Keats or Shelley’s work prior to the assigned reading for class. Having been in their Roman home and after having learned about their history from a very passionate guide at the memorial, I’d like to read more of their work.

When I went back to read some of the poems again I found that I could really relate my experience of not being able to get much creative writing done while traveling in Keat’s “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be”. Keat’s writes: “When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain.” When I read those lines I feel Keats and I share those feelings and turned them into beautiful poetry. Not only do I fear that I will never write enough (or write good enough for any to be published) but I fear that I can’t put to words all the rich experiences and lovely moments stored away in my “teeming brain.” I fear that my words won’t do justice to what I felt and saw in the moment. For example, on my last Sunday in Rome I went to St. Peter’s for mass. It was very crowded in the church, all the seats were filled and I stood in the back with what seemed like a hundred other people, pushing and trying to get the best view of the altar. Shameless men and women took pictures of the mass, although every one of us is told no pictures or videos when we headed in. A group of school kids whisper and giggle amongst themselves. A man’s headed rolls to the side as he dozes off. All these distractions were making it hard for the mass to feel holy at all, it felt like a tourist trap. Still, I felt lucky to be able to attend mass in one of the most famous and beautiful churches in the world. Sadly, the pope was not in town and would not be able to bless the crowd for his window high above the square. He was in Buenos Aires (or maybe it was Argentina) visiting. I stood by an elderly woman that was speaking Spanish, so I was able to understand what she was saying about “el papa”. The pope prayed and the people around me prayed right along with him, all our faces upturned at the screen. It was a moment that filled me with such warmth and happiness. As he was giving the crowd his blessing, a white bird swirled around in circles right above the screen. The woman beside me cried in awe, saying “Ay, miro eso! Diocito lindito! Miro eso, nuestro Dios!” She took the white bird to be a sign of God, looking down at us from the heavens. It was so beautiful and I felt blessed to be there at that moment, right beside that woman that I probably won’t ever see again in my life. I feel that nothing I write can fully express what it felt like to be there, nothing like experiencing art or a moment will do, but what can writer do besides keep on writing, shedding away fears that we may cease to be before we’ve said all that we want to say?

Rome, my city

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The wall I’m on is cold to the touch and radiating into my body which is tired but somehow still able to get up in the morning and walk several miles a day. I am not alone, I’ve walked up the Janiculum with a friend that has been a good friend over the course of our travels. There are two other men further down the wall with a camera set up facing east and waiting for it too. I have never actually gotten up just to see the sunrise, Rome will be my first. I we get to the top early and sit on the cold wall. There are clouds in the distant sky.

I read “Rome, Open City” out loud to pass the time and realize that there was no more perfect moment to read this poem than at sunrise, a dedication to this wonderful city as it begins its day which will run into night.
“…churches caked in dust, vermilion, orcher, sienna, and bordeaux,/ broad stains of cinnamon.”

Churches that I see faintly gaining dimension and coming into their own colors and shapes as the sky lightens and the clouds turn pink/ orange at the edges.

“Brown city ceaselessly repeating; “mi dispiace.”

As I have repeating many times as I bump into people here and there as I make my way through the crowded sidewalks.

“Brown city, growing on hills.”

Hills that I have climbed in sweat and haste, rewarded at the top with views worthy of staring.

“Impatient glances in cafes, someone yells, a small heap of coins/ lies on the table.”

The sounds of the restaurant below my apartment, the clinking of silverware, the yelling from the piazza, I don’t leave coins on the table.

“The roar of cars and scooter, hubbub of events.”

At this early morning hour, the hubbub is subdued, street sweepers are out, cleaning the evidence of last night’s good time.

“City, full of statues; only the fountains sing.”

In the far off distance I can see the Vittorio Emanuel building, stark white, with the statues high on it’s rooftop. No loud voices mute out the music of water.

I finish the poem and look out at the city, a plane crosses the sky, taking travelers where they want to go or where they must go. The sun is peeking out from behind the clouds and I put on my sunglasses so I can stare at the beauty of the day’s birth, It rises so quickly and sends its rays out to warm the cobblestones and touch my face. I eat my breakfast, facing the east, watching the sun, glad to have this experience before I must say Ciao!

If I were a Roman…

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… what would I think? This may seem like an odd thing to wonder about but I do. For the time that I have lived here I have come to think of myself less and less like a tourist but more as an honorary citizen of Rome. Today on my way to mass at St. Peter’s, a young woman stopped me and asked me in Italian “Parla Inglese?” and I said “Si!” She had mistaken me for an Italian! This really made me feel at home. I get annoyed now at the huge tourist groups that crowd museums, sidewalks, piazzas and even bathrooms. How annoying it must be for the real Romans that live here year round and have to maneuver around the thousands of people that want to visit their city and take millions and millions of photographs to post on Facebook. What do they think of tourists? Do they have a love/hate relationship with them? Yes, they may be gawking, slow and completely hopeless in terms of getting a sense of direction in this city but they also do provide lots of euro to help support the economy.

What do Romans think in relation to their ancient history? In the United States we don’t have nearly as much history as Rome does, but we still have many cultural, historical spots in the country and there are re-enactments of the Civil War to entertain the tourists. But the truth is that once you’re out of school, unless you are a history buff, most of the facts learned is lost somewhere in the maze of your brain. How is it for Romans?

Lucretius wrote: “For human beings to believe we are/ composed of the very selfsame motes,/ arranged exactly in the selfsame ways/ as once we were, our long ago, our now/ being identical.”

As human beings, we are basically the same as we were in the time of the ancient Romans. We still love and we still hurt. While we may not be “arranged exactly in the selfsame ways” because we live with many technological comforts (some necessary and some not), among other differences, we don’t all live with ruins in the middle of our city like the Romans do. A typical Roman might drive by the Colosseum or the Circus Maximus on their way to work. I pass by strip malls, gas stations and fast food restaurants on my way to work. Their “long ago” is part of their “now”. What I think is that much of the awe and massiveness is lost on the Romans after a while and it all becomes part of their daily background, just as I as an American don’t think about our history as a country on a daily basis.

 

È ora di andare a dormire!

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Every night before I go to sleep, I get a small moment of dread: will I be able to go to sleep?

This dread stems from a night I had of terrible sleeplessness, tossing and turning and frustration. There comes a point in any trip that you have to slow down and let your body take a little break, rest and sleep. One night last week I was particularly good about getting to bed earlier than I had been (this is an exciting city, after all). The sound of the dinner rush outside our window was quite loud and lively but I’d fallen asleep to it every night for almost a week and I was getting partly used to it.

Side note: one thing that I didn’t realize about Rome is that this is a city that never sleeps. Never. There is always groups of people, big or small, traipsing around the streets at all hours of the day. During the day you get your usually tourists walking to and fro, pulling out maps to locate themselves and figure out where they are going, you have your Italians going about their daily lives, you have kids with backpacks heading to school and street sweepers cleaning up bottles and rubbish from the night before. At night, you get the gelato-eaters walking about with a high and mighty cone, you get the drinking crowd heading to fountain steps to enjoy their drink, you get the street performers and late night diners. There are vendors and middle eastern-looking men at all hours trying to get you to buy some useless trinket or roses, even getting so aggressive as to grab your arm to convince you that you really do need a rose to make your night better.

So, I am tossing and turning, realizing that I wasn’t even the least bit sleepy. The first time I checked my phone for the time with was already past midnight. Take deep breaths, I think. Deep breath in and deep exhale out. No good. The church bells ringing every 15 minutes, reminding me of time’s passing and my complete inability to sleep is getting irritating. Really, who’s bright idea was it to ring the bells at all hours of the day? Sheesh, man. At who knows what hour of the night (because I don’t feel like checking my phone again), I hear a man speaking loudly right below my bedroom window and soon he is joined my 3 other equally loud male companions. I’d like to lean out my window and yell at them, “There are people trying to sleep, you know! Basta!” Basta means “enough”, yay for learning new Italian words!

But yelling would do no good and I don’t think that would be a good idea anyway. I try to relax, even if I don’t fall asleep, I’m still laying down and resting, right? I should be good for the miles of walking that await my feet for the next day, surely. I hear an woman speaking English talking but I can’t make out the words, I’m trying to shut out all noises and find the hole to Sleep Wonderland, I know it has to be around here somewhere.

I get up to go to the bathroom and drink some water. I go back to bed and lay on my back. Then I turn to my left side. Then my stomach. Then my right side. Without my knowing, I fall asleep sometimes after I hear 3 clear bell rings announcing to the word that it is the third hour of the day. My alarm clock blares, rousing me out of my newly acquired sleep at 6:30, only 3 short hours of Sleep Wonderland tonight! Only 3 hours to power up my day. But that’s what you get when you are in Rome, a city that enjoys life at any hour of the day.

Impariamo italiano

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At 4:30 yesterday, I woke up and didn’t go back to sleep. We had a day trip planned to Viterbo which is 2 hour train ride from Rome. At 5;30, I got up and by 6;30 we were by Santa Maria in Trastevere, ready to get to the train station. At 7:48, we got on the train.

Our guide, Anna, was a lovely woman, incredibly knowledgeable about Viterbo, passionate about citizens of the city to learn about their history and so desirous of making the day a fun, learning experience which it completely was. Viterbo is beautiful, each little tucked away street is picturesque, flowers spilling out of flower boxes, vines hanging off arches and the sun peeking through the clouds to warm us up.

The moment to say goodbye to Anna was sad, she was very fun to be around and she wished us a good rest of our trip and lives, wishing us “buona fortuna”.

By this time of the day I was so tired but I was determined to fight my body’s desire to sleep. If I fell asleep on the train at 7:39 pm, I would likely have difficulty falling asleep at home.

What to do, what to do?

Luckily, I brought my little Italian lifestyle magazine (courtesy of Conad markets) and my friend and I passed it back and forth, slowly reading about potatoes and Sicily in broken and halting Italian, but in Italian nonetheless. I want so badly to be able to speak the beautiful language, to be able to pick up the conversations around me and engage in conversation myself.

After a while, we put down the magazine to take a reading break. We must sound so weird talking about potatoes on a train, we thought. Italians must be thinking about how odd we Americans are. I couldn’t help but laugh to think about how we sound to them. But learn I will and then I’ll be speaking like a pro!

Peace with the Self

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I haven’t worn in a bathing suit in a very, very, very long time. I didn’t even own a bathing suit until very recently. I had been debating whether or not I even wanted to bring it with me to Italy.

Here’s a list of my excuse for not bringing it to Rome:

1. I won’t have any opportunities to wear it

2. I don’t like to get wet

3. The water will be cold

4. I don’t know how to swim

5. I hate my body

6. It’ll just take up space in my luggage

All these thoughts went through my chaotic mind at one point or another before saying what the who, I’ll just stick in my luggage. When I weighed my luggage and found it to be 5 pounds overweight I took it out, semi-relieved to not have to take it with me and semi-disappointed that I was using that as an excuse. At the last moment something in me said “just take it already, you know you want to!” And I tucked it into my backpack.

After a week, it didn’t seem like I would come to wear it after all. Then Saturday came rolling along and it was a free day. All plans to go to Pompeii were gone with the wind. We were all so tired. This is no vacation, it’s long days, going to class, reading the homework whenever we can, walking around, exploring, going to museum but it’s been amazing and wonderful. But staying in the apartment seemed like a waste of a perfectly good Saturday in Italy. I’m not one to sleep in and take naps and do nothing, especially not with Italy beckoning.

So, a friend and I went to Sperlonga on a train ride and then a bus ride, only about 1 1/2 hours from Rome, to see the Mediterranean. Beautiful, blue and definitely a welcoming sight. I had my bathing suit on already underneath my dress but the dread was already rising from within.

“I will be judged,” I thought. “I don’t have a perfect figure and all the Italian women will,” I worried.

But I have to face my fear, living in fear is not living at all. Off with my dress and there I was in my bathing suit for all to see. Yet, nothing happened. No one stared. No bathing suit police came to whisk me off the beach. I fit in, just like everyone else. Women and men of all shapes, sizes and ages swam and roamed the beach, some were really tan and some were not tan at all. Happy to get away from the city for a day, I felt great, the water was refreshing, the sun warm on my tanning skin, the salt from the sea crystallizing under my gaze as I lay on the beach.

“I deserve this,” I thought. “I need to be kinder to myself and own the body I”m in, just like all these other people are.”

I am who I am, and for a few more days I am a young woman, studying in Rome, and loving life and facing some fears.