Monthly Archives: November 2012

At the Foot of Confucius

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Classes are over!  I am not going to pretend I am too sad about not having anymore work to do (besides study for my finals), but I am going to miss my sociology class.  Even though it met at such an awkward time (6:20 to 7:50 PM), it was the one class that gave me the best introduction and subsequent tools for analysis of Rome.  Professor Smith lectured on urban studies and always pointed us towards the right text to read.  Furthermore, the project I took on for the class led me to the so-called “Chinatown” of Rome around the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.  Even though I grew up in the United States, I still have a strong connection to my Chinese heritage and so the idea of exploring the Vittorio Emanuele neighborhood definitely intrigued me.  However, to be perfectly honest, my findings were a little disappointing.

Front of the Nymphaeum Alexandri (Trophies of Marius) at the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II

Front of the Nymphaeum Alexandri (Trophies of Marius) at the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II

Although more diverse than any other part of Rome, the diversity of the Vittorio Emanuele neighborhood exists on solely an artificial level.   During the day, Bangladeshi citizens roam the sidewalks and piazza alongside Italians, while East Orientals man the small businesses that line the streets.  Chinese, Indian, Turkish, and Japanese restaurants occupy a prominent place in the neighborhood, and many vendors advertise in both Italian and Mandarin.  The market a block away from the piazza which sells Asian vegetables that I have not been able to find anywhere else in Rome, as well as traditional rice noodles, soy sauce, jasmine rice, and other Asian cooking ingredients.  Furthermore, the market also sells fabrics of an obviously Indian origin.  Among all the shopping activity, I also noticed that most meat and fish sellers were Italian, while fruits and vegetable stall owners were Bangladeshi.  Yet, this stratification does not stop the wide range of shoppers—Italian and otherwise—from bargaining for the lowest price, paying no heed to the color of the owner’s skin.  Furthermore, the Università degli studi di Roma La Sapienza’s Department of Oriental Studies was housed inside the market complex!  Their courtyard even featured a statue of Chinese philosopher Confucius, and advertised language classes for Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean!  I was so impressed by the large number of students in the courtyard and hallways; I had no idea Oriental Studies was such a popular area of inquiry for Italian students.

Fruit and vegetable market stand at the Vittorio Emanuele Mercato

Fruit and vegetable market stand at the Vittorio Emanuele Mercato

Despite evidence of all this diversity though and the evidence of enthusiasm for Asian cultures, the names on the call buttons of apartment buildings were all Italian.  Thus, at the end of the day, all the people that give this neighborhood its diverse flavor leave for their homes located elsewhere.  This migration suggests that the apartments in the Vittorio Emanuele area are too expensive for immigrants to afford or that non-Italian people suffer from some sort of disadvantage in the social housing lottery.  Furthermore, I noticed that the area only has one shop, located on the edge of the neighborhood, for Asian household items (woks, chopsticks, rice cookers, bamboo mats, etc.), again emphasizing the superficiality of the Vittorio Emanuele quarter.  In the end though, nothing is perfect, and I do appreciate the area for what it is.  It was a breath of fresh air from the rest of Rome and if anyone is ever looking to taste a non-Italian cuisine, I would recommend hopping on the metro (line a) and getting off at the Vittorio Emanuele station!

Paris is a Magical Place.

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Bonjour!

For Thanksgiving break the whole gang (including Zach!) set off for Paris! I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Paris. It always seemed like such a cliche city to me. Everyone is obsessed with the Eiffel Tower and what not. Plus I heard that French people are super rude and the subway is crazy complicated. And for some reason I always had this preconception that French culture was snooty and uptight… I officially eat my words. I feel blasphemous admitting this but… Paris is now my FAVORITE city in the world. I love Rome with all my heart… but there is just something about Paris I could never explain. You just have to SEE it.

For some reason I didn’t believe the Eiffel Tower actually existed in real life… like the Loch Ness Monster or Sasquatch.

Getting to Paris, however, was much less magical. Remember how I said that anything involving Zach and I getting up early usually fails? Guess who decided to wait to pack for Paris until the morning we left… yep, THIS GIRL. I got a very pleasant wake up call from Cecily at 6:23 AM, we were supposed to leave for the airport at 6:30 AM… and I was in my pajamas. PANIC! After some serious scrambling Zach and I came running down the stairs 17 minutes late… not too bad right? We made it to our flight in plenty of time!

Zach and I stayed in an adorable hotel in the St. Germaine region of Paris, and our friends stayed in a hostel 20 minutes north of us in the Montmartre region a.k.a the red light district. We all loved where we stayed for different reasons. Zach and I loved the Hotel Lindburgh, I would highly recommend it. The staff was so incredibly nice, especially Manuela. The rooms were adorable and we were a 20 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. It was a perfect location surrounded by adorable restaurants and lots of window shopping. On the other hand, where my room mates stayed was definitely more exciting! The streets in Montmartre are home to the famous Moulin Rouge and miles of crazy sex shops and bars.

So cool to see this real life!

On our first night in Paris we made a bee line for the most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower! But more importantly, Zach and I had a life altering moment on our way there… we had our first french baguette. We just strolled down the street hand in hand passing back and forth a foot long baguette and taking bites. It was wonderful! Fully satisfied with yummy french carbs we were ready to take on the tower!

Imagine this walk with a giant hunk of bread.

Beautiful ladies in the most beautiful city! (Jaleh, Amanda, Danielle, Cecily)

We clearly found the most handsome guys to come with us. (Kenny, James, Zach)

We waited in line and took the elevator to the top! You do have the option of walking to the top… but it’s windy and unpleasant. Just take the elevator. Things I was not expecting on my way up the eiffel tower: a bar. Yep… I guess some people probably need a drink to handle the heights. But I would not want to be drunk on top of the Eiffel Tower, I want to always remember this view!

Imagine angels singing.

Happy happy girl right there!

Not only did we get to watch the sun set on the way up the tower, but while we were on the top it lit up! It was such a dream come true! Also, every hour after 5 PM the tower literally twinkles for 3 minutes. This became our mission for the night: to get a picture of the sparkly Eiffel Tower. Because the window of opportunity was so narrow it took us a few days and a few attempts but it was totally worth it! After missing our first chance to get a sparkly picture we headed out to find out first Parisian dinner/ our Thanksgiving meal since we were all missing Thanksgiving with our families for this.

French onion soup, creme brulee, and good friends. The best un- American way to celebrate and American holiday!

Our second day in Paris was action packed! And for once Zach and I actually got up early and got to the Louvre at 8:30 AM! Funny story… The Louvre doesn’t open until 9AM. Oh the irony. We could have used the extra sleep too because the Louvre is MONSTROUS!

World’s most over rated painting.

ART OVERLOAD

Another piece of advice for Paris: wear comfortable shoes. I know I’ve said this in the past, and I really should have taken my own advice. I was dying! We walked SOOOOOO many miles! After the Louvre we walked to Notre Dame with a few pit stops on the way.

We happened to stumble on the one place I really wanted to find but couldn’t remember the name, it’s Sennelier! It the paint shop where so many famous painters like Van Gogh once bought their paints. I nerded out so hard with James we looked like a couple 13 year olds at a Twilight premiere… over paint. I bought a cute little hand made sketch book 🙂

Yay new friends!

Then we stumbled upon what I can only described as Love Bridge. I looked it up and I can’t find an official name for this place (I didn’t really look that hard) but in true Parisian style, it’s magical. The entire length of this bridge is COVERED in any kind of lock imaginable with the names of couples who pledged their eternal love by throwing the key in the Seine. I even saw a few fuzzy handcuffs! I was speechless when we saw this, I just couldn’t believe that every single one of these locks represented a story. Zach and I didn’t put a lock on the bridge, we just never found time. But we have the ORIGINAL love lock bridge (ponte Vecchio) In Rome so maybe I’ll stop by there!

Then we finally made it to Notre Dame!

It was beautiful! Not as big as I’d imagined, but the stained glass windows are stunning. And it’s free! Which is always a win to a broke college student!

That night we decided to eat where the gang was staying in Montmartre. It was so exciting to see all the flashing lights, sex shops, and bars! And we found the most adorable little place for dinner with some real authentic French food. It was a nice break from pizza, pasta, and panini.

On our last full day in Paris we started off with what is now one of my favorite museums of all time! The Impressionist Museum. Musee D’Orsay. It was amazing! There were rooms and rooms of really big names like Van Gogh, Renoir, Cassat and lots that I hadn’t known but was happy to learn! Zach is not much of an artsy fellow but he said he definitely likes Van Gogh 🙂 I think he was in an especially good mood that day because we stopped at 2 bakeries on the walk there… We have no shame. I had the best muffin of my life!

After the museum we trekked up the Champs Elysees (a main street) to the Arch di Triomph which was MUCH farther than it looked. But for the most part I didn’t mind the walk. All along the Seine river there were book and antique venders set up selling everything under the sun. I felt like I was walking in a dream, Paris is everything I ever loved all in one city, and I was so incredibly jealous of every Parisian I passed. It was so beautiful. Eventually we came upon a giant Christmas market!

Clearly, Paris goes hard on Christmas. It was miles of this, and we loved it!

And we saw the Arch!

And that was it, we had reached our last night in Paris. Zach and I wanted to have a romantic night of just us, so we said good bye to the group and walked back through the Christmas market to go find somewhere to eat. But then we realized we kept stopping every couple of minutes to try some Bratwursts, waffles, onion soup, hot wine, and hot chocolate… This date night fit us much better than what he had planned. We made a night of drinking hot wine, checking out hand made ceramics and ornaments, and just enjoying eachother’s company and being thankful for where we were, who we were with, and how we got there.

It was really hard to say good bye to Zach the next morning, but it was also oddly comforting. I know I’ll be home in 2 weeks and he’ll be there at the gate to pick me up with a big smile and a bigger hug. We made it.

P.S- We DID finally get our sparkly Eiffel Tower picture!

I know I’ll be back to Paris some day.

But for now all there is in my foreseeable are finals.

Wish us all luck!

Lot of love,

Jen

Lots of Reasons to Give Thanks … in Paris!

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Missing Thanksgiving in the United States was a major con attached to my decision to study abroad in the fall semester as opposed to in the spring.  I didn’t realize that Temple would give us off on Thursday and that many of the students would use the four day weekend to travel.  My friends and I took advantage of the extra day off by going to Paris.

Paris is undeniably a beautiful city.  We arrived on Thursday afternoon and the first thing we did was go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  Miles and miles of beautiful lights and buildings stretched out in front of us and that experience set the stage for the next two days.  That night, we had a Thanksgiving feast of onion soup, baguettes, and crème brulee at a restaurant not far from a sparkling Eiffel Tower.

I honestly feel like I have seen Paris in two and a half days.  We were able to visit all of the major sites in a small window of time, including the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Parisian Pantheon, the Moulin Rouge, the Musée d’Orsay, Versailles, Picasso’s paint shop, and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  Versailles was the highlight of my weekend.  The palace was so opulent and ornate and so unlike anywhere I have ever been.  I would love to go back in the summer one day to see the gardens in full bloom.  Versailles is only a half hour train ride from Paris and I would recommend making the trip to anyone who is in the vicinity.  It was truly gorgeous.  Strolling down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées was also a very cool experience because Paris’ main street was completely decorated for Christmas.  There were lights, food, and shopping and being around so much holiday cheer right after Thanksgiving got me in the Christmas spirit the same way turkey and Black Friday do in the United States.

In the past couple of months, I’ve been to Prague, Brussels, London, and Paris (in addition to a handful of Italian cities) and can sincerely say that there really is no place like Rome.  I have loved coming back to Rome after every weekend adventure in stunning cities and am so happy that this is the city I chose to live and study in this semester.  I am completely enamored with Italian culture, the people, the food, the beautiful places and don’t regret a minute of the time I’ve spent in the Eternal City.  I’m charmed by the things that may annoy other people: the Italian aversion to working in the afternoons or evenings, the impossibly crowded metros, daily meals of pasta and pizza, and technology that is ten years behind the rest of the westernized world.  Being in Rome has felt like being in a movie or a dream to me.  Studying abroad is what you make it and if you allow yourself to be immersed in these cultural idiosyncrasies, then they become a positive thing rather than a source of stress.  Adaptability, an open mind, and a willingness to go with the flow really are necessary to making the best out of a study abroad experience and traveling Europe (even in a “logical” city like Paris).

In one weekend, I saw the Mona Lisa, was at the top of the Eiffel Tower, walked the same floors as Marie Antoinette, adored Monet’s paintings, and was able to see what the world’s love affair with Paris was all about.  Going to Paris with friends was the perfect way to spend Thanksgiving in Europe, but I am very much looking forward to making the most of these final two weeks in Rome.

Lights on the Seine

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Place des Vosges, one of the my favorite squares in Paris

After 3 months away from home, I was beyond excited to see my family.  As much as I have loved my time abroad, there is simply no greater feeling than being completely at ease with the people who know you best.  Thus, instead of going home or having them come to Rome, we decided to spend Thanksgiving in Paris!  None of us had ever been before and since my little sister had gotten a 4 on the AP French Language exam, the city of lights seemed like a perfect choice.

Upon arrival, we hailed a taxi to take us to our hotel.  The driver being Chinese, my parents immediately struck up a conversation on where the best Chinese restaurants were in Paris.  I could not help but laugh at how while this may happen in Paris, Rome is a completely different story.  From my experiences in Rome, there is almost no diversity.  Everyone is Italian except for the Bangladeshi vendors selling fruits, chestnuts, and roses.  Even in the “Chinatown” of Rome (aka Piazza Vittorio Emanuele) where all the Chinese, Japanese, and Indian restaurants are located, people of those respective ethnicity do not live in the Vittorio Emanuele area.  Instead, the residences are populated my Italians.  Having analyzed the area many times for my sociology class with Professor Smith, I can confidently state that the area is a superficial Chinatown.  There are no Asian grocery stores or pastry shops; simply row after row of cheap clothing imported from China—things that only non-Asian people would buy.  Back to Paris though….

Eiffel Tower from the Seine River

Because it was all of our first times in Paris, we did all the touristy things:  Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, boat tour down the Seine, Versailles, Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomph…and the list goes on.  One of the best experiences though was skipping the Musee d’Orsay and going to the Musee de l’Orangerie instead.  The Musee de l’Orangerie is smaller and less crowded, and houses Monet’s water lilies.  Since my parents are not art-lovers like my sister and me, I felt that going to the Musee d’Orsay would be too overwhelming for them.  They loved the water lilies and liked that the museum was just the right size where one could see everything in one visit and give each artwork the attention it deserves.

Even though I had studied French in high school, I found it difficult to recall during Thanksgiving weekend.  Not only has it been three years since I have looked at French, but with learning Italian now, I found myself meshing the two Romance languages together.  While in Paris, I would automatically respond with “si,” instead of “oui,” cross the street despite traffic light signals, ignore the lines at pastry shops and cut in front of everyone…it was not so much of an American culture clash, but an Italian one!  I was shocked to have adopted so many Roman habits in such a short time.  Alas, at the end of the weekend, I had regained a lot of my French, which even helped me to remember my Italian as well!  There are so many similarities and differences between the two languages.  Many words look the same, but are pronounced differently.  In my opinion, Italian is much easier to learn than French, just because the French pronounce everything weird—leaving off letters and contradicting words, c’est difficile!

Alright… Plan C.

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Ciao!

So, in my last few blogs I have mentioned that I was awaiting a very special guest….Well, he made it!

Zachary is here!

For those of you who are just meeting Zach, he is my boyfriend who swore up and down there was no way he would be able to visit me this semester. And I totally understood, it’s a BIG deal to come all the way to Europe… But of course that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to bother him about it 🙂 While I was in Athens over fall break Cecily told me to try one more time so I asked,

Jen: “So, are you sureeeee you can’t come visit?”

Zach: “I am 95% sure I can’t.”

Jen: “So there’s a 5% chance!!?!?!”

And what do you know, within a week we went from 5% to 50% to 100% sure that Zach was coming over for fall break! So, the preparations began, he got a passport and a ticket, and I booked tickets and hotels for Rome and Paris. Like any girl, I convinced myself that I needed to super plan out every detail of his visit so everything would be perfect! So, of course, I was setting myself up for disaster on that one. The month flew by and before I knew it is was the night before he got here! And I had to leave for the airport to pick him up at 6:30 AM… What?! I did some homework, washed every dish in the apartment, curled my hair, watched 12 episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” and before I knew it, it was 6 AM, I hadn’t slept at all and I needed to leave! AHHH!!!

Funny Story, Rome’s Termini Train Station is SUPER sketchy before 7 AM. It was almost empty except for me and seemingly every creepy homeless person I’ve ever met. I walked up to the ticket machines to get a train ticket and at least 4 men tried to push me out of the way to push the buttons for me so they could then tell me I owed them money for doing so. Uh no thank you! After weaving through a sea of creepers and a short train ride I was at the airport!… 30 minutes early. Can you tell I was anxious? I made it to the arrival gate and began pacing back and forth because my heart was beating so fast. I’m very positive I was making everyone around me SUPER uncomfortable. In airports everyone is supposed to remain calm and composed, meanwhile THIS GIRL is busy pacing back and forth, staring at the ground, talking to myself, and pretty much panting… I was nervous! I haven’t seen Zach in 3 months! And then he was there! And all was well with the world 🙂

WELL! Now that everyone knows who Zach is and how neurotic I am, I can get to the good stuff about traveling and food and things. As soon as we got him all settled in we were off to see the city! How do you condense Rome into 4 days? I’ve been here for weeks and I still haven’t seen everything! So I took him to the big sites that I will always remember. So on Sunday we saw the Villa Borghese, the Spanish Steps, and one of my favorite places in Rome, Giocomelli’s 🙂

Giocomelli’s Is what my roomies and I refer to as “our place” in Rome. We go there for dinner more often than not because it’s off the beaten path, adorable, and totally authentic Italian. Zach and I annihilated some pizza and carbanara! Monday was supposed to be our big travel day! This is where my neurotic planning failed… We had planned a short train trip out to the Italian,rural, hill town of Orvieto so Zach could see a different part of Italy. We got to the train station super early (people are much less creepy when you walk around Termini with a big guy), got our train tickets, and sat down at what we thought was the right lane. But I had a feeling we were wrong… and of course we were. One minute after our train left we figured out it was on some obscure track, out of sight, 100 yards  away from where we were… After a few minutes of freaking out we moved on the plan B, the Colisseum! It was only a few stops away! So we trekked over there, at this point it was 3:45 Monday afternoon… Apparently starting in November the Coliseum closes at 3:30.

Fantastic.

Alright…. Plan C! Zach and I took in the Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, and Piazza Navona! But of course I got us a little lost between each monument but that’s part of the fun right?

After that hectic of a day, we decided to just keep it simple on Tuesday. Since I still had real people responsibilities, I went to school then Zach and I headed back to the Coliseum for attempt #2. We made it through the Roman Forum, which was pretty miserable, muddy, and rainy, and finally made it to the end; the Coliseum… guess what. It was 3:30… so it was CLOSED. Oh. My. Gosh. This was now a mission. We HAD to get Zach inside the Coliseum. But the next day was Wednesday, Zach’s last day in Rome and we had already planned to go to the Vatican and Orvieto. So we decided we’d get up early and cram everything in. However, Tuesday night something big happened. Zach had his FIRST gelato craving! I was so proud 🙂 So at 1 AM we walked to old bridge.

Anyone who knows me and Zach knows that the “let’s just get up early plan” NEVER EVER works. I’m not sure how many times we’re going to fail at this before we just stop trying. So we didn’t get going until hours after we were supposed to. But we did, in fact, cram everything into one day. We climbed all the way to the top of the Vatican:

We ACTUALLY made it inside the Coliseum! I would have taken a picture but we literally ran through it in 7 minutes… I was regretting my gelato. Then we ran to Termini, found the RIGHT train and made it to Orvieto!

It was totally gorgeous and only 45 minutes away from Rome! Definitely not the most exciting  place though. It’s a very calm walk. Which, after this week, Zach and I really needed.

Thursday morning the gang all left for Paris, Zach and I were so tired after our action packed day on Wednesday we decided to just get up early and pack… We all know how that works out. But that’s another blog!

Ciao!

Jen

Away on Business

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Trips are built into many of the classes at Temple Rome.  I’ve spent the past two weekends in Brussels and London with my Business in the European Union and International Business classes, respectively.   I have friends who have been to Milan, Florence, and Sicily as part of their course requirements.  Isn’t this what studying abroad is all about?

There are currently 4 business classes offered at Temple’s campus in Rome: International Marketing, International Business, Business in the European Union, and International Trade.  Professor Mahanty teaches International Marketing and Professor Patania teaches the other three classes and is the professor we traveled to Brussels and London with these past couple of weekends.

Our schedules in Brussels and London were set up similarly.  We left Rome in the late afternoon/early evening on Thursday, arrived at our destinations by Thursday night, and spent Friday attending meetings.  By 5:00 on Friday, the business part of our trips was over and we were free to do as we pleased until we had to meet the class to go to the airport on Sunday.

The Business in the European Union class went to Belgium because Brussels is where the European Union is headquartered.  The class met with representatives from the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and NATO.  The speakers were able to give our lectures real world relevance and reaffirm what Professor Patania had taught us in class about the workings of the European Union.  All of the meetings were incredibly pertinent not only to what we’ve been learning in the course, but also to current events (especially following the reelection of Barack Obama).  The European Union is one of the chief attractions in Brussels and it was really cool to be able to spend a day getting a firsthand look at what the EU is all about.

As I mentioned, we were done with our meetings by 5:00 on Friday and were free to do as we pleased from that point on.  On Saturday morning, Professor Patania offered the class the option of meeting him to take a walking tour to see the major sights in Brussels.  The majority of the class visited the main tourist attractions together on Saturday morning and split up to shop, eat, nap, and sightsee some more that afternoon.  At night, we regrouped to go out to dinner and experienced the nightlife in Brussels as a class.

The International Business trip to London was similar to the Brussels trip, but there are only 9 students in International Business this semester so it was even more intimate.  We visited ING, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Bloomberg, and the US Embassy in London on Friday.  Just like in Brussels, we were given the chance to apply what we had learned in class this semester in diverse business settings.  We all got a taste for how international business works in different companies and on political and corporate levels.  After we finished with the meetings, we took off to see as much of London as possible in a little over twenty four hours.  A lot of us were able to get a lot done in a little amount of time.  Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Buckingham Palace, the European Parliament, the London Eye, and Big Ben were sights that most of us had seen by Sunday.

I would recommend taking a class with an excursion to anyone studying abroad.  Free time is usually built into the itinerary and the “learning” part of the Business in the European Union and International Business trips was actually very interesting because of its relevance to the course material.  Of course, there is the added benefit of being able to see new cities like Brussels and London with your classmates.

That Ferrari Red

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Professor Smith’s sociology class listening to the tour guide at the Museo Ferrari

As part of the sociology class with Professor Smith, I had a class excursion this weekend to the Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, and Marche regions of Italy.  For a bit of geography, Rome is not only the capital of Italy, but also the capital of the region in which it is located:  Lazio.  Umbria, landlocked by Lazio and Marche, is known for its agricultural products, such as wine and olive oil.  Northward, Emilia-Romagna is home to the city of Bologna in which the oldest university in Europe is located.  Furthermore, Modena, famous for its balsamic vinegar, is also located in this region.  Marche lies on the eastern coast of Italy and is known for its industrial products, the most notable of which is paper.  We went to many cities and although I felt like I was on one of those extremely touristy tour buses, I enjoyed seeing the countryside.  The terrain from Umbria to Emilia-Romagna to Marche is so different even though the lands are so close!

Departing Friday morning from Rome, we had a whirlwind of visits from the wine museum in Umbria to the walking tour of Modena to the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese museum in Emilia-Romagna to the Ferrari museum in Maranello to the discos of Riccione to the paper museum in Fabriano and finally back to Rome.  The best visits by far were the Ferrari and paper museums.

The Ferrari Museum in Maranello was built because of pressure from society.  Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the company, never enjoyed looking backwards; he was always looking forward to next year’s model and sold every single car—never keeping any for nostalgia.  For this reason, the Ferrari Museum showcases cars that are on loan by their owners from around the world.  Thus, the museum is always changing!

This car, the Ferrari 330 GTC Speciale, was made in 1967 for the Princess of Belgium and one of the royal family’s close friends. As such, there are only two Ferraris of this kind in the world.

Enzo Ferrari started his company by building racing cars.  He only expanded into the commercial world when he needed funding for the races.  As such, Enzo’s primary focus has always been the racing world.  The first Ferraris were yellow (to represent Enzo’s city of birth, Modena), but beginning in the 1920s, racing associations required each car to be painted a certain color to represent its country of origin—Italy received the “Rosso Corso” red, which has become the signature Ferrari color.  Another interesting fact I learned is that although many people praise Ferrari cars for their elegant appearance, Enzo did not design the bodies of these vehicles at all.  In fact, the Pininfarina design company, which consults for other car companies such as Maserati, Rolls-Royce, Cadillac, Jaguar, Volvo, Alfa Romeo, Honda, Fiat, Peugeot and Lancia, created (and still does) almost all Ferrari bodies.  Thus, while Pininfarina is concerned solely with the exterior, Ferrari concentrates on the interior.  At first, I was a little disappointed that these iconic cars are not the work of one man and one company, but when I considered other Italian companies, such as the furniture store Cassina and lighting store Artemide, the act of hiring a design consultant and producing their work seems to be a trend.  For example, industrial designer Achilles Castiglioni designed numerous household items that are for sale by Cassina, while fashion designer Issey Miyake designed a line of lamps for Artemide.  These past collaborations have resurfaced in full force; especially evident are the collections between Swedish retail company H&M and various fashion designers—Stella McCartney, Lanvin, Versace, Marni, just to name a few.  It seems everyone is copying the Italians!

After the museum visit, a few students had the opportunity to drive a Ferrari.  Unfortunately, I forgot my license in Rome so I was not able to, but that only means I will have to come back to Italy!

I did not get to drive a Ferrari, but I sat inside a green Lamborghini!

Uncommon Merit

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Picture of Via dei Condotti, the “5th Ave” of Rome

While at Temple Rome, I have had a reprieve from my normal engineering schedule at Duke, and it has been wonderful!  I am following the news more, exploring ideas that have taken a backseat to labs and formulas, and enjoying la dolce vita!  Two passions of mine have always been architecture and fashion, and since I am in Italy, what better time than now to examine the most famous fashion houses in the world?  Walking down Via dei Condotti (equal to the 5th Ave of New York City), one is accosted by an enormous amount of luxury—from the thousand dollar Prada purses to the equally costly MaxMara coats.  And yet, I have found that this world is also a haven for artists attempting to express their thoughts on a far-reaching level.  Wandering around Rome, I am beginning to realize how blurry the line between architecture, fashion, and art has become.  For instance, Italian fashion house, Prada sought to elevate its status by calling upon the help of renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in designing runway, exhibition, and retail spaces.  Most notably, Miuccia Prada asked Koolhaas to make her stores “more interesting;” thereby resulting in the company’s Soho (New York City) location.  Apparently though, the Soho epicenter, Prada’s way of expanding into a new, younger market, is a huge failure.  The progressive architecture overwhelms customers and elevates Prada’s products to such a lofty height that revenue is far behind that of Prada’s 5th Ave location.  In this case, the fusion of fashion and architecture did not reap such fortunate results.  When I window shop along Via dei Condotti, I see how architects and fashion houses are undertaking increasing collaborations in order to offer products of higher artistic merit to society.  Yet, I am finding that the parasitic relationship between these two disciplines and their lack of vernacular or societal contributions has ignited much criticism.  Going back to my time in Venice at the Biennale, director David Chipperfield’s words echo in my mind. With the theme of “Common Ground,” the London-based designer urged architects to address the 99% of the rest of the world that impressive “one-off projects” like opera houses, theatres, and museums fail to serve.  Furthermore, Crimson Architectural Historians organized an exhibit entitled, “The Banality of Good: New Towns, Architects, Money, Politics,” in which the group cited specific examples of problems that have arisen ever since architects have begun disappearing from the master planning phase of facilities and housing for the greater good; instead favoring the comfort and celebrity status that come along with aesthetic consultancy and the design of commercial icons.  Taking into consideration the economic downturn of first the United States and then the European Union, more and more people are forced to survive on less and less.  Furthermore, the increasing political and socioeconomic upheaval in Africa and the Middle East has inspired sympathy and awareness for the 99% in all nations.  With these trends, I think it seems unlikely that society will care about the next architectural or cultural wonder of the world.

Sign for the Biennale’s theme, “Common Ground,” in Venice, Italy. Coined by David Chipperfield.

Questioning the rationalism of placing artistry above human life and the benefits of elevating fashion to the point of alienation, society will free architects, willingly or not, from commercial ventures in the hopes that they concentrate their talents in making a meaningful contribution to the physical world.  Just my two cents, but we will soon see what the future has in store!  (no pun intended)

Yes Mom, I Finally Made It To The Vatican.

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Ciao!

So, you can tell by the title, but my Mom has been very excited about me being in such close proximity to the Vatican. Can you tell my family is Irish Catholic? My mom seriously texts me a few times a week, “When are you going to the Vatican?!” or “You should get married at the Vatican!… Just kidding. Not til You’re 30.” I was beginning to feel like a bad daughter considering I’ve been living here for two months and still haven’t made it. SO! Andriana Shannon, Cecily, and I finally went to the Vatican on Tuesday. Oh, what did you do on Tuesday? Eh, nothing just went to the Vatican no big deal.

See Mom? This is Michelangelo’s Pieta in real life!

On Tuesday The girls and I were only able to see St. Peter’s Basilica because for some reason the museums and the Sistine Chapel were closed… for just that day… right before we got there. How convenient. But it was still completely breathtaking! Andriana just couldn’t stop asking,”…How? How did they make this!?” It really is that overwhelming.

But my FAVORITE part of Tuesday was climbing the cupola to the top of the dome of the Basilica which is one of the highest points in the city! And when I say “climb” I mean we took the elevator 3 floors… and then climbed. If you ever get there, jut pay the extra 2 euro and take the elevator, you STILL have another 421 steps after that. I was not joking when I said Italy LOVES its stairs. And these were not just any stairs. They were the tightest, curviest, most awkwardly sweaty stairs ever.

… yes. And these girls are tiny.

But so totally worth it.

See Mom, I really went!

This view is honestly the BEST I’ve seen in Rome. The memory will permanently remain in the back of my head. All the girls and I could say when we got to the top was “…Wow. I love Rome.”

Still in awe from Tuesday, I headed back to the Vatican on Friday! This time with Jaleh, Cecily, and Kenny to FINALLY see the Sistine Chapel and the Museums… I would almost recommend doing the Basilica and the Museums on two separate days because the Basilica is sweaty and the Museums are MONSTROUS. Seriously, this is one hell of a museum.

This is how you feel the whole time.

Um by the way, that spiral? Yea those are so NOT steps. They were like this weird hybrid of a ramp/slide/ridiculously gradual stairs. They seemed incredibly dangerous. BUT, I digressed, Girls Day (plus Kenny)!

Another annoying thing about this museum, it takes you an hour and a half just to get to the Sistine Chapel. I’ll admit, I am an annoying person to do museums with. If it’s an art museum I take a painstaking amount of time reading all of the labels and studying every brush stroke and color choice and writing down notes of pieces and ideas to remember. And if it’s any other kind of museum I run right through it with very little regard for all of the antiquity. To be perfectly honest, museums kind of give me claustrophobia. They’re always these giant labyrinths of things….THINGS EVERYWHERE. And the Vatican Museums have ALL OF THE THINGS. So you see all of these things whose relevance to the Vatican or Catholicism are questionable and then BAM.

NOTE: Photography is strictly forbidden in the Sistine Chapel… best sneaky pic ever!

Oh hey there, cover of every art history book I’ve ever had. Nice to see you in real life! It was smaller than I had imagined, and being an art student, I was so frustrated because I really just wanted to get close and examine the paintings. It’s kind of hard to see all the way down on Earth. After picking my jaw up off the floor and snapping a few more sneaky pictures, we headed out. Oh yea there’s also another HOUR of museum after the Sistine Chapel… What?

So yes Mom, I went to the Vatican. And it was a process but completely worth it! And I got you lots of cool souvenirs!

It’s currently 4:00 AM in Italy and I’m still awake, I can’t sleep because my very special guest get’s here in 3 1/2 hours!!!!!

It’s going to be a long night!

Jen

Domes of Concrete and Pixels

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Joy, me, and Ann on top of the Campanile in St. Mark’s Square

After travelling to the “Venice of the North” (Amsterdam), I thought it only appropriate to go to the real version as well.  From my sociology class with Professor Smith, I was prepared for the “Disney-fication” of the city.  In class, we had read an excerpt from University of Sussex Geography Professor Russell King’s book, Italy, in which he discusses how Venice is a city struggling to survive.  Not only does the city have to deal with the physical deterioration of sinking infrastructure, rising sea levels, and water and air pollution, but also the demographic decay of population loss.  Private organizations from around the world have donated money to restore Venice, but the multitude of political parties in Venice’s town council has prevented any effective measures.  Recently, real progress has been made and technical solutions for Venice have now almost all been solved; however, there still remains the problem of a declining population.  King asserts that Venice is in danger of becoming a type of “Disneyland,” a place where tourists come for a couple days to admire.  Furthermore, although tourism helps Venice’s economy, it is not enough to account for high rent and house prices.  During my weekend stay, I could see how prominent this phenomenon was.  The only people walking around the city during the day are tourists, and at night, when most other cities have some sort of nightlife to offer, Venice is completely silent.  The narrow alleys, cobbled streets, and dilapidated buildings, which seemed so charming in daylight, took on an eerie ambiance as fluorescent lamps bathed them in a blue-green glow.  Despite all this though, Venice is still worth the visit.  No other city in the world is built on water.   It is an engineering masterpiece.

Joy and I at Italy’s Pavilion for the Biennale

After my friends and I had finished the typical tourist sites (Doge’s Palace, the Basilica, Campanile, Bridge of Sighs, etc.), we went to the Biennale Architettura, which is the most important architectural exhibition in the world and takes place every two years.  English architect David Chipperfield curated this year’s Biennale and chose the theme of “Common Ground,” inviting countries and architects to share ideas that transcend their “individual positions of difference” into a shared goal of goodness.  Out of the all the shows presented by countries, my favorite was Russia (sorry USA and Italy).  The exhibit showcases the Strolkovo Innovation Center, a new development that aims to concentrate intellectual capital around five clusters.  Upon entering, you are given a tablet, and walk around the pavilion scanning QR codes to learn about Strolkovo.  There is no sense of the actual project within the exhibit.  No physical models, drawings, or renderings.  Everything is digital and the only physical presence in the pavilion is one of light and space—two intangible characteristics that architects are constantly striving to manipulate.  My visit to the Biennale was heightened by the fact that my companions, like me, are design fanatics.

Me scanning a QR code at the Russian Pavilion.

The next morning, my friend, Ann, had to catch her noon flight back to Barcelona…except the tide was so high, there was about a foot of water flooding the streets!  She was forced to wear black trash bags as boots as she walked to the waterbus stop.  As unfortunate as the circumstances were, I had a good laugh.

Ann prepares to take on the flood!