Monthly Archives: May 2012

Rome as a Classroom

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View from Villa D’Este

 

Rome’s immense historical and cultural richness make it an ideal city for bustling tourists.  It is extremely common to pass large groups of people who are eager to see the sights following a tour group leader. Tour guides often brandish flags above their heads as they walk in order to be easily identifiable among the masses.  The beauty of Rome is impressionable in its own right, but gains a new depth once paired with facts and stories.  My first two weeks (which have flown by all too quickly) have brought the pleasant surprise that some of the best tour guides in Rome may just be Temple’s very own faculty.  There is no time spent watching the seconds tick in a lecture hall, as the classroom instead becomes the streets of Rome.  Though waking up early to get on site for classes is not necessarily my favorite part of the day, a shot of espresso and a croissant soon allow me to appreciate the sites that it is unlikely I would have discovered on my own.

I have really enjoyed how my classes, Rome Sketchbook and Photography, have allowed me to document my experiences in Rome thus far. Whether gesture drawing statues or focusing on piazzas through a lens, both classes have required me to slow down and truly take in everything I have the opportunity to see.   One of the first classes of Rome Sketchbook, the syllabus listed that we would be copying the works of masters. In order to do this, we were not copying from books or websites, but were actually able to see the originals of the works we were learning to reproduce.  I attempted to draw Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, a work I studied in my art history class at main campus a few years prior.  I have also really enjoyed gesture drawing at the Borghese Gardens.  I enjoy the urban life of Rome greatly, but am especially fond of the gorgeous parks that have a slower rhythm to them.  In Photography, we practice shooting in different light settings at the church Santa Maria del Popolo. We then moved on to street photography, made more interesting by the busy marketplace by Campo de Fiore and the painted street performers at Piazza Navona. We are learning about art and culture simultaneously and it has been very rewarding. It is very interesting to share work and see what classmates are being drawn to as they explore the city.  I feel it enables us to the see our surroundings in ways we might have ignored otherwise.  Copying works has also given me an even deeper respect for the masters and their approaches.

I have also been introduced to art culture I may not have encountered otherwise in extra class trips.  This week, we went to an American art Academy and Rhode Island School of Design’s galleries. It was wonderful to interact with artists and art lovers.  Today, my friend and I were especially drawn to a journal at the RISD exhibit and sought out the artist.  She recommended a popular gathering place for artists and showed us her street art. Without Temple’s faculty, such networking would not have been possible and it is refreshing to have instructors who are passionate and eager to share their connections.

First Impressions

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Photo: Students enjoying an authentic, multiple-course meal in the beautiful Titignano castle after the Todi excursion

Considering my semester in Rome is my second senior semester at Temple University, I did not imagine I would have the opportunity to feel like a freshman again.   Arriving in Rome, however, I regressed to not knowing anyone and initiating conversations by asking names, hometowns, and majors.  Many students were running from apartment to apartment, eager to meet the classmates with whom they’ll be spending the next six weeks.  It is especially refreshing that everyone here is in the same boat and knows that friendliness is an important trait for adjusting to a new environment.  Shortly after arriving, students were scrambling around with new friends to find pizzerias, gelaterias, or the market.  What a relief it was to learn how accessible everything is from our residence!  Carrefour, the local supermarket, is only a few blocks away and it seemed to be temporarily taken over by Temple students the first day as we filled our carts with ripe produce, freshly baked bread, and other delicacies.   Should any of our needs be out of walking distance, we are also conveniently close to the Cipro Metro stop.

Whereas students may have been accustomed to dashing across the streets of Temple’s Main Philadelphia campus as they so please, it is important to be alert as a pedestrian in Rome.  Drivers seem to be on a mission and are unlikely to stop even at a crosswalk unless you establish eye contact with them in order to assert that do indeed intend to cross the street. It was noticeable almost immediately, however, that the smart cars just may be the most quickly paced aspect of Italian culture.  Whereas the cars and mopeds zoom through the hectic streets speedily, I found my strolls through the Italian streets to be extremely relaxing.  Even in a jetlagged state, it was pleasant to venture from the welcoming pizza party (a delicious occasion) to the Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain.  It did not seem at all a chore to walk back the residence after these destinations.  Perhaps I am only claiming this because I have the most supportive and comfortable walking sandals I have ever owned, but the overwhelmingly beautiful surroundings more than offset the distance we walk daily.

Still more leisurely than my strolls have been my Italian dining experiences.  Even though my picky vegetarian and limited dairy ways have excluded me from many of the local favorites, the dining atmospheres are rejuvenating enough!  The other night, a new friend and I enjoyed a six course meal at a restaurant we were told is a favorite for locals.  Despite not speaking Italian and the owners not speaking English, we were able to navigate smoothly through the three hour meal of blue cheese and spinach pizza, meats, fried pineapple and mashed potatoes, pasta, tiramisu… the list goes on!  This meal was a great practice round for the multiple course meal all of the students in the program enjoyed at the beautiful Titignano castle on the Todi excursion the next day.  It was a day of fine dining, breathtaking scenery, and good company for all and as Dean Strommen toasted to the next six weeks, I was truly struck by the reality of the astounding journey on which I have embarked.

Nuances of Roma

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Following on the smell of honeysuckles, there are many other details of the city that are slowly coming into focus. Once the fear of being a recognizable American fades (let’s face it, once you speak people know anyway. They’re either nice or mean, either way you will most likely never see them again unless it’s somewhere you frequent) I felt a lot more comfortable just walking and thinking about where I am. Anywhere you go, you will most likely smell pizza, bread, some spaghetti, or other Italian specialties. This is one of the biggest differences from home. In Philadelphia especially, there is such a huge range of food specialties to choose from. In Italy, there’s a wide range of pretty similar stuff. I’m sure that I’ll unearth some more variety while I’m here, but thus far I’ve been finding the Italian cooking. It’s funny that even though this food is delicious, I still find myself craving a pulled pork sandwich. I’m sure I could find one here, but I feel like I don’t really want to waste a meal on something I’ll be eating again soon enough (although, we did stop for some Burger King fries and a drink two days ago. I know..I know…)

One of the best decisions that I’ve made so far since we’ve gotten here is to walk with no destination in mind. We started at the residence and moved to Vatican City, from there, I’m still trying to figure out where we went. We discovered some nice little back streets that led up to a beautiful tree covered area where we saw the sun go down behind the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was nice because there weren’t many people around. It seemed to be a lot more of a true Italian section of the city. I like going to places like this, even though I feel like an outsider looking in. It’s nice to observe a different culture in their daily lives.

There are other pieces that keep popping up. Sometimes we’ll just be walking and I catch a colorful mess on the ground. There are some areas in the cobblestone where there’s left over confetti that’s stayed from the last celebration. I like to imagine what it was for and I see people in the streets throwing confetti on each other as their laughing and hugging. It’s funny how ripped up colored paper is such a happy thing.

We kept walking and it got darker and darker. Eventually we made our way down to the river and it was beautiful. The lights on the bridges lit up and reflected in the water. It was really amazing. From the side of the river, we could still see sections of the crumbling ruins, churches, and domes. There again, were not many people down there, though a surprisingly bigger amount of rats. I guess this could also count as observing things in their natural habitats. We did a lot of observing that night. The rats seemed to not really notice we were there.

Once we came to the end of our little journey, we had to find our way back. By this point it was late..and I was hungry. But I’d made a promise to myself to not spend anymore money that day. We started heading back and the brightly lit food trucks were like bug lamps. You can’t help but be drawn to them..until you realize that they’re most likely tourist traps and your spending 10 euro on a bag of chips and a drink. On the way back we found a park and sat in it for a little bit talking about the walk we’d taken. It was definitely a walk worth taking.

Bonjourno, Roma.

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Upon first impression, Rome shocked me. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. When we landed, I imagined it somewhat similarly to how it was, but when we entered the city area of Rome on the way to the residence, it was not how I expected. The cars were different. Much different than what I’m used to at home. It’s funny seeing tiny little cars swarming like bees instead of the big jacked up pickup trucks with their John Deere stickers on. Yes, the cars are much different than home. But the buildings and the shops and restaurants that we were passing were not what I expected. They looked so modern, so ordinary, so Philly. I felt like I could be driving through the Italian equivalent to China town. When we got to the residence, it was also not as I pictured. I feel like being prepared by others for Rome leaves images of colorful clothing lines on old, crumbling, beautiful buildings squished together on cobblestone streets. No. This is not Residence Medaglie d’Oro. The building looks like it was made around the Late 60’s or 70’s and the art inside the rooms supports that theory. When we got here we got our room keys and made our way to our rooms. I don’t really know what I was expecting for a room. I feel like I didn’t really have any ideas of what that would look like but I really like our apartment. There are two bedrooms with two beds in each and a wrap around balcony attached to one. Our bathroom is cute, not too big but not too small, and it has very calming lighting. The bathtub is the best part in my opinion. A little funny side note here…all of the bathrooms that I’ve been in in this building so far have bidets. Which are little toilet looking things that are intended to wash the bottom after using the toilet. Not so common back at home. Anyway. Our apartment is inviting and it gave me a sense of belonging after our small journey from the airport to the residence.

 

 

After a little break from the plane (it was now about 10 in Rome and 4 in the US) we decided to venture out and get food. I believe this was where I started to crumble. Walking down the streets, I felt like I hadn’t left the US. Everything seemed so similar, except for the fact that I could understand nothing. It’s funny how quickly I felt home sick. I didn’t expect it at all, but I think since everything seemed the same to me except for the language, I was disappointed and felt a little dumb.

 

This same feeling continued for a while..then we visited the Pantheon. I feel like that was one of those moments where everything seems to stop. It was like walking up on a dinosaur and just watching it. You can sense the age when you’re near the Pantheon. That’s when I started to understand Rome a little bit more. Rome seems to me more to be a city of mixed ages. There are many different sections and it’s a complicated place. I want to learn more about it and really understand it by the time I leave. This may or may not happen, but I’ll try. One thing that I find comforting about the city is a few smells that repeat. I smell honeysuckle almost everywhere I walk and I know that I can look up and see vines of it covering walls and fences. I think they’re part of my favorite thing about Rome right now.