Monthly Archives: November 2011

Musings on the Metro

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My previous post on public transportation made it perfectly clear that Rome’s subway system is far from flawless.  During the course of the semester, however, I’ve adopted its imperfections and established an endearing repertoire with the transportation system I use most here.

For one, I feel like a local on the metro.  I don’t need to stop and look at the signs to know what direction to go; I can feel it.  The ticket machines gracing the station entrances are useless to me; one swipe of my tessare mensile will do.  Why yes, I do have a need for a monthly pass.

I know my route like I know the cheese section at the local grocery store (perfectly).  This has turned out to be great for my germophobic tendencies.  On the trip from school to home, I can enter the subway last and lean against the door.  The two intermediate stops open on the other side, and the door against which I’m leaning doesn’t again open until the exact moment at which I need to exit.  As long as I get a stable initial footing, I can endure the whole ride without touching any pole or surface.  On the opposing journey, from home to school, I can replicate the situation exactly as long as I cross over to the other side of the car upon entrance.  Call it neurosis, but I call it experience.

I wear my stop as a badge of honor.  “Usciti la prossima?” an elderly Italian woman or slicked teen in too-tight jeans will ask me.  “No, I am not getting off at Ottaviano or Colosseo with the rest of the tourists,” I will smugly think to myself.  “My stop is Cipro, and only real Italians (and American study abroad students) have a use for this station.”

Riding the subway everyday is like taking a course in the people of Rome.  I vacillate between listening to music and eavesdropping on the bits of conversation I am able to translate.  I like to think tuning into my iPod makes me seem totally unenthused by the system that unnerves many, although doing such prevents me from fully appreciating the people around me.  It’s a precarious balance that I endeavor to manage everyday.

Each morning, upon my descent into the underbelly of Rome, at the Cipro station that I claim as mine, I catch a glimpse of St. Peter’s off in the distance and the seemingly tiny ball resting on top of the cupola that actually weighs two tons.  Especially now, as my time in Rome is quickly waning, I take this as a daily reminder of the wonder and inimitability of the Eternal city.  It’s true that I would never advise replicating this only-adequate system, but I’m starting to realize I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Firenze (Florence) with my High Ren. Class

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I went to Florence for my High Renaissance class, with Professor Paolo Carloni.  The course fee for the class paid for the train and hotel.

Going to a city with an art history class is excellent.  Our professor is able to get us into museums or sites for free or reduced price.  We saw huge museums like the Uffizi, and small churches with mannerist paintings.  We saw famous monuments like Michelangelo’s David, and smaller known works many people don’t think to see.  It was particularly inspiring to me as an art student.  It was perfect to go with a class, because we saw so much art that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.  I have friends who went to Florence by themselves, and they didn’t see nearly as much art as we did.  When I go somewhere, I’m interested in the visuals in the streets and the art.  So I enjoy being in my art history classes, and being able to experience other cities with the class.

The museums didn’t allow anyone to take pictures inside, and some places don’t allow drawing inside either.  Small sketches in my notebook had to suffice when I wanted to capture the paintings by Botticelli or the sculptures in the Medici Chapel.  My friend Portia and I stayed in the museum later than our class to make sure we got our money’s worth of art.

My High Renaissance professor is an excellent professor.  He doesn’t just tell the fact about what could be on the test.  He elaborates with history and stories.  He brings not only the High Renaissance to life, but also the local Italian history and politics from all time periods.  I always enjoy listening to what he has to say.  It’s great to have professors who get students into the material, and having professors who have the local Italian perspective is even more awesome.  My favorite professors are my professors who are native Romans.

Florence is a smaller city than Rome.  I enjoyed it because it was a very walkable city with beautiful art.  There were many American students who study there because many universities have programs in Florence.  Because of this, the central part of the city was set up basically solely for tourists and American students.  It is nearly impossible to find authentic genuine local food in the central part of the city.  Like any part of Italy, the best food is found in smaller, out-of-the-way locations.

For dinner the first day there, our professor walked us to a restaurant outside of the main city where he had taken previous classes.  The food was amazing.  I got a dish with seafood and pasta because I wanted to try octopus.  Octopus is sold in the markets and grocery stores here, either fresh or sometimes frozen.  I was told that octopus tastes really good, so I wanted to try some.   It was so tasty!  apparently it doesn’t require very fancy cooking.  It can just be boiled in water with salt.  It didn’t taste gross in the slightest bit.  It was savory and wasn’t even a gross texture.  I do like Calamari though, so maybe if you can’t get over the tentacles, octopus is not for you.

These are two of my friends and various other people sitting on the steps of the Duomo in Florence.

A New Appreciation for Art

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A man painting in the Prado

I’ve always loved art, but being in Rome and Europe has really solidified this feeling.  Many people on this program are fine art majors, and a myriad of art classes are offered at Temple Rome, including painting, drawing, photography and sculpture.  One class that many students take, called Sketchbook, is for seasoned artists and beginners alike.  Once a week, the class goes somewhere in Rome and sketches the surroundings.  I wasn’t able to take this class, but it seems like a really interesting way to become familiar with Rome.

I do take two art history classes here, which is definitely contributing to my heightened enjoyment for art.  Having a seasoned professor explain art to you is so much more valuable than blind appreciation.  Once a week, in each of my classes, we go on site visits to see the art we are talking about.  Of course, this alone is such a rare opportunity, and I believe it would make the most stubborn art critic rethink their feelings.

Part of our Temple Rome campus is an art gallery, and art openings and shows occur often here.  Sometimes it is student work, and sometimes it features a local artist.  This is a great way for students to show off their art and for other students, like me, to appreciate what my peers are capable of achieving.

Through my travels this semester, I have visited many museums.  For me, going to a museum is a tranquil and enjoyable experience, but knowing what you are seeing makes the visit infinitely more fulfilling.  Some of my favorite museums from this semester have been the Prado in Madrid, the Tate Modern in London, and, of course, the Borghese Gallery in Rome.  I’m looking forward to returning to Philadelphia and having a new-found appreciation for its museums.  I can’t wait to spend a blustery winter afternoon in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

I’ve realized that being here has really shown me the value of art.  The medium is such an interesting way to look at the past.  And yet, so much art is still salient and contemporary today.  This past week, I registered for classes for next semester for my school, and in a bold move, I decided to sign up for Drawing I.  This decision is definitely a product of my semester here in Rome, and I think this class will add yet another layer to my appreciation for art.

Andiamo a Pranzo

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Lunch options are all close to both school and the Piazza del Popolo, seen above

In Rome, lunch is my favorite meal of the day.  There are tons of options for food in the blocks surrounding school.  Pizza, sandwiches, cafeteria-style eateries, and even falafel are some of the walkable options.  I have two favorites.

Most days, I go to the alimentari.  This is like a deli, where you can order sandwiches, but there’s also fruit, drinks, and snacks, so it’s like a little grocery store.  It can get really busy during lunch hour, as many students from the Italian architecture school nearby like the spot as well.  And if you aren’t already with friends, you’re bound to see someone you know there.  All the people that work there are really friendly.  The very first day I went in, the guy in charge said, “Today in English, but tomorrow in Italian.”  And he’s definitely kept his word.  I always have a chance to practice my Italian at the alimentari.  And just this past week, because of my continued allegiance to the store, the man that always takes my order introduced himself to me.  I guess he felt that making a sandwich for me everyday necessitated a more intimate relationship.  This is perhaps a bit embarrassing because of the frequency with which I visit, but I considered it a personal triumph nonetheless.

My other favorite lunch spot is Alice Pizza, a popular chain in Rome with one outpost conveniently located directly adjacent to the alimentari.  There are many pizza places with the same concept as Alice – that is they have huge squares pizzas with different toppings, and you tell them (or point, often in my case) which ones you want and how much.  Then, they cut the desired size and charge you according to the weight.  Despite the number of places near school that run the same type of operation, I think Alice surpasses them all in taste by a landslide.  My absolute favorite kind is the mushroom, or funghi, pizza; I think I’ve even had a few dreams about it.  This place can also get really crowded around 1pm.  It took me a few weeks to realize that you’re supposed to grab a number outside before you come in, and I looked pretty dumb for the first month until I realized how the process worked.  You can eat in the tiny hallway of a restaurant, or they can wrap it up for you to take away, which I prefer.

In theory, I want to explore the other lunch options available to me, but I can’t seem to pull myself away from these two offerings.  Lunch is so easy and delicious and I look forward to the meal every weekday.  The best part is that all the options are pretty cheap.  My signature sandwich (prosciutto crudo e formaggio) costs 2.20 euro and pizza isn’t usually more than 3 euros.  I’ll definitely miss lunch like this when I’m back in the states!

What to See at St. Peter’s

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Last Friday I took a good part of my day and dedicated it to visiting Saint Peter’s. If you couldn’t tell from some of my previous posts, Saint Peter’s has quickly become my favorite spot in Rome. Shockingly, this was my first time actually going inside the basilica! I wanted to do this visit right, so I looked up a good amount of information before I went to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

The walk from the residence to the square is a mere 15 minutes, a huge plus. I headed out around eleven, grabbed a cappuccino and made my way into Saint Peter’s square (actually, an oblong circle). I couldn’t have asked for a better day to visit- 75 degrees and sunny.. in NOVEMBER! I admired the famous square designed by Bernini and made my way to the long security line. Once past the check, there are two options on what to see. You can make your way directly into the basilica or wait in another line to climb Michelangelo’s famous dome. I chose to go up inside the dome first. The line can be a deterring factor, I waited a good hour and half, but it is completely worth it. For five euro, I got a ticket that allowed me to climb the 490 steps to the very top. On the climb to the top, you can stop halfway and look down into the basilica from the base of the dome. I had no idea that I was going to get the chance to be on the inside of the dome like that, it was an awesome surprise! I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen the inside yet to first climb the dome and be able to look down into the basilica.

View from inside the dome

After looking down into the basilica, there was still another 200 or so steps to climb to reach the top. You literally have to scale the dome, climbing up narrow staircases. Once at the top, the tiny doors open up to an incredible view. The dome is the highest in Rome, and allows you to see the entire city.

View from the top of Michelangelo's dome

After coming back down from the top, I made my way into the basilica. To the right is Michelangelo’s famous Pieta sculpture, which in my opinion is the greatest piece by the artist. It sits behind bullet proof glass and is usually the most crowded spot in the church. The church itself is a masterpiece, the high vaulted ceilings create an echo of muffled voices and the light that is cast from the windows is breathtaking. The basilica is filled with many side chapels that hold daily masses and are decorated with Raphael’s, Bernini’s and just about any other master you can think of. The main focal point inside the basilica is the bronze canopy the marks the remains of Saint Peter. Created by Bernini, this canopy stands taller than some buildings in Rome today.

The main altar of St. Peter's

Bernini's bronze canopy

The canopy acts as a frame for the window behind it, also created by Bernini. This window has the image of a dove on it, is surrounded by golden angels and lets in the most beautiful sunlight. Below the window is an important sculpture in honor of Saint Peter which shows how important and centralized he is to the Catholic Church. I spent about an hour just walking through the church, and could have easily spent the whole day there. If I would have had the time, I would have loved to take a guided tour of the ancient necropolis that lies under St. Peter’s. This is the underground cemetery that holds remains of saints, popes and other important figures to the church. I was fortunate enough to visit St. Peter’s again, just yesterday, for a class site visit for my Baroque class. I had a lot of things explained to me about things I was unsure of when I visited by myself and of course just loved getting marvel at this gorgeous building once more.

Getting Around Rome

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Rome is a challenge.  Whereas other European cities have fully functioning  metro (subway) systems, we have two measly lines that intersect only once at Termini Station.  Our situation is made fortunate since the residence and the school are both on the A line, and are only a few stops apart.  Unfortunately, the A line closes at 9:30 every night except for Saturday.   A third line is in perpetual construction, but progress is continually halted because of the discovery of ruins.  One great thing about the Rome transportation system is that one ride is one euro, and the monthly pass is only 30 euros and gives you access to the metro, buses, and trams.  I get my 30 euros worth times over during the course of a month.

It does make sense to me that Rome would have as precarious a transportation system as is present.  Rome has been in constant motion, and people have lived here for ages.  Where other cities have had time to grow, expand, and plan around new technologies, Rome has always been inhabited.  I find it so interesting to see modern apartment buildings built into the ancient Aurelian Wall.  When everything is old, some things have to change with the times, and such is true in Rome.  A consequence to this charm, however, is the transportation system.

I prefer the metro, but in Rome, you have to learn to like the bus and tram.  There are so many lines, and the system is easy to use once you figure out the relevant routes.  For instance while there is no metro line from our residence to the hip area of Trastevere, there is a convenient bus that will take you right there.  After midnight, the normal buses stop running and you have to catch a night bus.  Although these sometimes work, when going out, it’s normal to end the night with a cab.  Split between several people, this usually costs a few euros a person.

This system, albeit not ideal, is more than tolerable.  Then, you experience the sciopero, and you begin to change your mind.  A sciopero, or strike, is more than a usual occurrence. It’s probably happened once a month during this semester.  Sometimes they’re announced and sometimes they’re more spontaneous.  They might include a strike of just buses, just metros, just trains, or maybe all three.  They could last a whole day, or you might luck out and be able to use public transport for some hours of the day.  And strangely, whenever there is a strike, you can see a few buses picking up their routes.

Getting around here can be frustrating, but this is part of life in Rome.  Whereas my friends in London and Barcelona have a much easier system, I have a certain sense of pride in adopting and overcoming such a challenging system.

Life in the Studio

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As every art student knows, one of the challenges of art school is balancing your art-making with activities like eating, sleeping, and being outside the studio.  Life at Temple Rome has the same issues, but with the added component of being in Rome.  I feel obligated to make the most of my time here, but there are so many ways to do that.  It’s difficult to balance the different ways of making the most of my time here: from making artwork and growing that way, to spending time exploring the city.

The school building here at Temple Rome does not operate like Tyler does back in Philly.  In Philly, students can be in the building 24/7 .  People frequently pull all-nighters in the studio.  Here in Rome, the building closes at midnight, and closes at 10 pm on the weekends.  Students have to be outside of the building by then.  There is no 24 hour tech center or library until 2 am.  This means that students often can’t work on their art homework late at night and into the morning.

Another difficult thing to balance is food.  Luckily, there are ways of making food in the studio (though it is discouraged, there are hot plates that work well for heating up some pasta or cooking vegetables if you bring your own pot).  Stores near campus sell lunch items like sandwiches and pizza.  If students live in The Residence, which is a 30 min walk away from school, it’s too difficult to travel back and forth unless you have a lot of time between classes.  So most people pack food in Tupperware, purchase some pizza, or boil something for meals.

You would think that with the studio closing early, students would get more sleep.  However, sleep is another difficult thing to balance here in Rome.  There is so much happening all the time.  There is also so many things to do, see, and experience.  I can speak from experience; it’s difficult to get enough sleep here.  I always have another bit of writing, talking, or exploring that I could be doing. 

This brings me to the photos included in this post.  These are my friends Kyle, Christina, and Charlene resting in the studio.  Charlene and I carry our travel alarms with us.  That way, we know what time it is and can take short naps.  The studio floor is the place to take a nap.  Kyle constructed a fort out of paintings to sleep in, and used a piece of canvas for a blanket.  Some students sleep regularly in the studio.  We’ve talked about how wonderful it would be to have a couch in the studio, but so far the studio floor has been acting as a mattress very well.  When you are tired, the floor feels heavenly.

Of course, we don’t spend all our time napping in the studio.  The naps are required because we spend so much time doing other things.  Life is so active here.  A day feels like a week; so many things happen to a person in one day here.  You can see why a quick nap would really help out.

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Pope and Pancakes

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On Wednesday, my friend Julianna provided tickets for eleven of us to attend an “Audience with the Pope”. He does these audiences every Wednesday. The tickets can be gotten through any parish. From the sound of it, it sounded like maybe 300 people would be in a room, and the Pope would speak at a podium about a topic (this week’s was about the upcoming Peace conference in Assisi). It turned out to be very different.

Firstly, it seemed like there were 20,000 people there. Everyone was in St. Peter’s Square, waiting in lines (which in Italy are not lines, they are masses of people pushing each other in a large clump). Because of the light rain, the Pope was not going to speak outside where he normally does, he was going to speak inside an auditorium. Unfortunately, the auditorium doesn’t fit as many people are the usual outdoor seating. After a few minutes of waiting in the mass, the auditorium was full and we didn’t make it inside. The Pope was going to speak a little bit in the Basilica so that the people who didn’t get inside the auditorium could see him there even for just a moment. We joined the masses in the “line” to get inside the basilica, which must first go through the security line of metal detectors and X-ray machines. This bottleneck really slowed things down. I managed to get to the Basilica with enough time to see the Pope for a minute from across the Basilica. He then left to go to the auditorium.

I was amazed at the number of people there from all over the world. All sorts of people of all ages. The country with the most people there by far was Germany. Pope Benedict is very popular with the Germans. When we were waiting, announcers on the loudspeakers listed the countries where pilgrims were coming from in the native language, and then listed the parishes or organizations that were attending the Audience. The list of pilgrims from Germany was the largest by far.

Large television screens displayed live streaming footage from inside the auditorium to the people outside in the Square. I liked the music best of all.

Afterwards, my friends Abe and Allison and me made “Post-Pope-Pancakes”. They had chocolate shavings in them, and way more butter and sugar than your average pancake. We also made a cinnamon syrup to go with them, and listened to Disco music as we ate them. It was excellent.

Living at the residence, Temple University students are a stone’s throw away from the Vatican.  Regardless of your personal beliefs, I highly suggest going to the Vatican on a Wednesday morning to see the crowds gathered for the Audience, and to maybe get to see the Audience from outside in the Square.  You don’t need a ticket to be in the Square, and with some good weather it’s possible you could see the event live right before you.  I had to miss class to attend the event, but my professor said she was totally fine with me missing class for one day to be able to go to the Audience.  After fall break, I feel more compelled to see as many unique things that I can only see here before I have to go back home.