Monthly Archives: June 2015

Sprint to the Finish: Last Weeks in Rome

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View walking down from the top of Capri

View walking down from the top of Capri

They say time is money and I have very little of either left. With just over a week remaining in the summer semester, I still have a million things I want to do in Rome. I took a trip last weekend to the beautiful Amalfi Coast, including day trips to Capri, Positano and Pompeii. For three days, I was acting like a tourist. With limited time in each place, I had to do everything I could to make sure I ended up with no regrets or fear of missing out on something. A friend commented, “I kind of wish we did this touristy stuff in Rome… We would have seen everything by now.”

Old school Popemobile, as seen at the Vatican

Old school Popemobile, as seen at the Vatican

This comment really stuck with me. She is right. Sure, I’ve already seen the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican and a plethora of other monuments. But I haven’t even gotten to the Trevi Fountain yet (it’s under construction, give me a break. I don’t want to be disappointed). I haven’t been to Alexanderplatz jazz club or really enjoyed Villa Borghese in its entirety. I haven’t gotten to a laundry list of other amazing spectacles Rome has to offer. With such little time left, every day counts. However, with two papers, a project and a final exam to prepare for, I need to spend a lot of my time on schoolwork.

My advice for future Temple Rome students is to see all of the monuments on your list as quickly as possible. It will be a lot easier at the beginning of the semester when your workload is less and everything is still entirely fresh to you. It is easy to fall into a routine. In fact, I love routine. I love the fact that I am not a tourist every single day. I enjoy going to the local grocery store and living in a quiet residential neighborhood. But at the same time, I do not want to go home with a long list of regrets. If you get to the main sites early on, you still have plenty of time to delve deeper into the culture of the city.

Travelling is expensive. I purposefully stayed in Rome for much of the trip for two reasons: I wanted to really get to know the city, and for the sake of my wallet. I consider myself to be a cheap person. I walk an extra ten minutes every day to the further away, cheaper grocery store so I can save under a euro every time I shop. Even so, I am spending a lot of money. I am happy to validate this with the justification that this may be the last time I ever go to Rome (though I certainly hope not!). If I ever do get out to the Trevi fountain, I’ll try to lob a coin over whatever barrier they have set up so I promise to come back.

Definitely start setting aside money as soon as you decide to study abroad. You will thank yourself later when you can afford to dine out rather than make store brand pasta with store brand tomato sauce for the umpteenth time this week. Thankfully, even store brand here is better than most of what we have in America. I have actually grown to enjoy eating unrefrigerated generic brand eggs every morning.

Less of a tourist than before.

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It’s a thought that comes to mind with ease when you spot loud English speakers on the metro: ugh, tourists. Can’t stand them.

I’ve heard it from others; I’ve thought it myself. Who actually likes tourists? From a young age, I knew how to spot people in Philly who clearly weren’t from Philly: the Ride-The-Duck customers who created a deafening off-key symphony with their quacking whistles, the wanderers in Center City who wanted to know where in the world 14th street was, the constant string of people taking pictures next to the Rocky Statue with their fists raised high.

The presence, however slight, of tourists milling around Rittenhouse square or strolling through Old City (to see the Liberty Bell of course) instilled in me a selfish and pretentious sense of possession. Philadelphia is my home. You don’t appreciate it the way that I do. It was unreasonable of me. They’re just tourists.

Which begs the question, are we study abroad students tourists ourselves? A tourist is defined as someone who travels to a place strictly for pleasure. And studying abroad doesn’t exactly fit that definition. There are many things that we get the opportunity to see that the average tourist wouldn’t—the subtle patterns and routines of daily life in Rome, like where to grocery shop and do laundry and how to get there, and what time things open and close and which restaurants and nightclubs are a little bit too American.

That’s the beauty of spending six weeks in Rome instead of just one or two, the way one would on a vacation. You never know what you may end up learning or seeing with a little extra time.

Like the emergency room, for example.

On Sunday night, after returning from an amazing weekend trip to the Amalfi coast (a beautiful, sun-drenched spot near Naples that contains the colorful island of Capri and the sleepy little town of Sorrento), my friend Rachel convinced me that I needed to see a doctor. My throat had been hurting like crazy during the trip, and it wasn’t getting better.

So, we walked to a nearby hospital, which turned out to be a clinic for eye problems only, and a kind woman at the front desk wrote out an address to a general hospital a mile away.

One taxi ride and three hours later, I had a prescription written for an antibiotic to treat tonsillitis. Pretty bad luck, right?

But I have to admit, sitting in a waiting room and watching patients leisurely speak and befriend each other in Italian was quite an experience. So was hopping from hospital to hospital until we found the right doctor. And looking back, trying to tell an Italian-speaking doctor that my throat felt swollen and I was coughing a lot involved an incredibly comical amount of pointing, hand gestures, and facial expressions.

I’m not telling this story to scare anyone. Obviously, I had no idea that I would end up with swollen tonsils in a foreign country, but this ridiculous, inconvenient, and painful experience definitely taught me a little bit more about how to make it in a foreign country. Listening to friendly advice always helps—if Rachel hadn’t convinced me to go to the hospital, I might have ended up having to get my tonsils taken out. Despite the daunting language barrier, doctors and nurses have a job to do, and that is to keep you safe and healthy. And while emergency rooms in Italy aren’t the quickest-moving things, they provide a funnily friendly atmosphere. Studying abroad is teaching me in different ways to suck it up, deal with a bad situation, and solve it in a calm and rational manner.

Oh, and gelato definitely helps a sore throat.gl

Learning to Love Art

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Art has never been my forte. I look at paintings, notice how well done they are and move on to the next one. Rinse, repeat and I can probably be out of a museum as big as the Louvre in half an hour. The only works of art I have ever been able to discuss in depth are Kanye West’s albums. Let me know when Michelangelo creates something half as good as Kanye’s third verse on his song “Gorgeous.” But seriously, taking art history in Rome has helped my understanding of art and even the world tremendously.

I remember learning about Greek architecture in 6th grade and having to memorize the capitals on top of pillars (doric, ionic and Corinthian). I never remembered the difference because I was just looking at pictures in a textbook or on a projector. After 3 weeks of art history here, I can speak on the influence of classical Greek architecture on Roman architecture. I can’t walk a block in this amazing city without noticing fluted columns, pilaster strips or the Renaissance interpretation of the classical ionic column under an arch. That last sentence would have meant nothing to me a few weeks ago. By the end of this semester I’ll only discuss art with those distinguished enough to own monocles and describe wine as “oaky” or “structured” (what does that mean?).

One of the many fountains of Villa D'Este

One of the many fountains of Villa d’Este

I have seen so many amazing things here, but I have to say my favorite so far is Villa d’Este. Created in 1550, Villa d’Este has these beautiful, elaborate fountains. Somehow, the creators figured out how to use hydraulic engineering to supply water to dozens of fountains. I highly recommend checking out Villa d’Este. We did not have to pay to get in because it was for an educational trip, but it is definitely worth the few euros it normally costs to get in. Around every corner, you’ll find another fountain.

I know it sounds obvious; of course I will gain more from an art history class when I actually can see the works in real life. I knew that going into this trip. But I did not realize what a profound impact it would have. There is an incredibly eerie yet inspiring feeling that comes with viewing a work of art that dates back to 2nd century BCE. I have never really noticed how young America is; George Washington and the founding fathers seem like ancient history to me. But in Rome, there is literally ancient history.

Amphitheater of Sutri, created in the 2nd century BC

Amphitheater of Sutri, created in the 2nd century BCE

While standing above the amphitheater of Sutri on an art class site visit, I was amazed. In the 2nd century BCE, these people had found a way to excavate a mountainside into an amphitheater that could seat hundreds. Even today with our modern technology, I would not know where to begin on a project like that. What I found especially amazing is the foresight that some of the emperors of Rome had. Many of the projects spanned of over a hundred years. Creating something for future generations is a very noble endeavor, and a concept I wish we would focus on more now. Not everything we do needs an instantaneous result. I hear peers express the idea (though thankfully, this is not the majority opinion) that we do not need to worry about the environment because future generations will have to deal with it. Thankfully Romans did not have this shortsighted perspective. I’ll try to match their worldly perspective with one of my own: I’ll give that Michelangelo guy another look.

Food and Italian Culture: A Perfect Combination

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It feels ridiculous to write about living in Rome and not talk about the food, so here goes. I could easily go on and on about how fresh everything is and how many different pizza toppings there are and how you can find the strangest gelato flavors here, but I’d like to look at it from a slightly different perspective.

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Real Italian pizza- eaten with a knife and fork!

In America, restaurants push big portions. It’s not common for a group to stay too long at their table or booth after the meal is over. Takeout and delivery are standard forms for modern dining. And America loves to talk about dieting. Between South Beach and Atkins diets, low-carb and low-fat labels, calorie-counting apps, hundreds of weight loss advertisements that one sees per day, and billions of dollars spent per year on weight loss pursuits, diet culture is rampant in the states. So, in other words, America has quite a complicated relationship with food.

Living in a country where food is handled in an entirely different manner has produced a pretty interesting and amazing form of culture shock. When I come back to Philadelphia in July, not only will I know how to make a really good tiramisu, but I’ll have developed an entirely different take on how to enjoy it. Here’s a few reasons that the Italian diet is a unique and healthy one:

1) Italians take their time eating. During the first week in Rome, a group of us went out to a restaurant and ordered some of the most delicious pizza I’d ever tried. Before eating, though, my roommate pointed out that in Italy, you’re supposed to eat pizza with a fork and knife, not with your hands. Although “takeout” is becoming more popular in Italy, you usually have to tell your barista “da portar via,” or they won’t assume that you’re getting your espresso to go. And if you’re at meal with multiple courses, there’s a pretty big time break between each course. The effect of all this? It takes longer to finish your food. Instead of quickly wolfing something down, you have to make a little bit of time for the meal—and that’s how you can truly enjoy it.

2) Portions are smaller—but definitely filling. Italian restaurants back in the states often produce a misleading image of what a true meal is like in Italy. The whopping servings of spaghetti and meatballs and giant plates of chicken parm are not something you’d find in a restaurant in Rome. Generally, the food here is given in lower quantities, and it’s not as slathered in sauce, cheese, and condiments as it would be in the states. True Italian food comes in sizes that are filling, but won’t leave you feeling like you just ate a Thanksgiving Day meal.

3) It’s about energy, not calories. Maybe it’s because I’ve only had three and a half weeks of Italian class and I can’t quite read that much Italian yet, but I haven’t noticed a single weight loss ad since I’ve been here. While restaurants and grocery stores often accommodate those with food allergies (for example, senza glutine for gluten-free eaters), you usually don’t see “fat free” and “low carb” labels slapped onto containers of food. You can’t even find the word “caloria”—instead, the nutritional facts usually use the word “energia” instead.

The result is pretty great- the Italian culture really celebrates the nourishment that comes from good, fresh food.

Stumbling Upon Excellence

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Wildly enough, I’ve been living in Rome for almost a month. That realization produces a conflicting feeling. On the one hand, I feel accustomed to things, like how to order a cappuccino in Italian without freaking out (“da portar via” is the term you use to say “to go” or “for takeaway”). The street signs, which are often prettily engraved into the sides of buildings, are beginning to look a little more familiar. During rush hour, the metro cars will inevitably feel more overcrowded than a mosh pit, and the Termini train station feels more like a speedy obstacle course than Suburban or 30th Street Station ever will.

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Obelisk near Piazza Spagna

On the other hand, I’ve recognized that there are certain things to which I will never become accustomed, like the fact that there is literally art everywhere you turn. Every corner, every square and plaza, every side street is adorned with some fantastical form of art, whether it is a cluster of colossal statues, an intricate 400 year old fountain, or a 10-story-tall obelisk. In other words, you don’t need to enter a museum in Rome to see some of the most amazing and historically rich artwork in the world—you simply need to walk around. And that will always continue to shock and amaze me.

The fact that it’s been almost a month also instills an ever-so-slight sense of panic. Have I appreciated Rome enough so far? Have I explored enough of it? No doubt, I’ve seen a lot—like the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica on class excursions, or the beautiful Ostia beach and the enchantingly creepy Cripta dei Cappuccini with roommates and friends. But Rome is huge—over 1,200 square kilometers. To put things in perspective, Philadelphia is about 370 square kilometers. The pressing question has remained entrenched in my mind: how does one experience Rome in just the right way?

cemetery

Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome

This question was still in the back of my mind when I took the metro to the southern side of the city to get material for an article assignment for The Temple News. I write about gallery exhibits for the newspaper, and luckily, there are plenty of exhibits in Rome with unlikely connections to Temple University. For example, the artwork of Temple Rome students is currently on display at the Cimiterio Acattolico, or Non-Catholic Cemetery, of Rome. I’d never even heard of the cemetery before, so when I walked in, I was completely floored. The cemetery was filled with palm trees, overflowing vegetation, gorgeous flowers that glowed in the morning sunlight, and a silence that was occasionally punctuated by the chirping of birds. The graves were decorative and diverse: some displayed simple crosses, while others encompassed busts and sculptures or held inscriptions of Arabic and Hebrew text. It was, quite simply, one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen in my life. Maybe my allergies were acting up from all the flowers, but I suddenly realized there were tears running down my face.

So, I still haven’t completely solved the question of “how to experience Rome,” but I will say this: you never know what amazing experience you will stumble upon in this city, and that’s what makes it so precious and incredible.

Dining Out At TreeBar: An Exercise in Patience And Delicious Food

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I am definitely a creature of habit. At home in America, I eat dinner between 6:00-7:00 p.m. every day. If I am at school, I eat dinner between 5:00-5:30 to avoid longer lines at dining halls. Italy has a way of forcing me to reexamine these habits. Although I am free to prepare dinner whenever I want at home, restaurants operate on a different schedule. On Tuesday night this week, some friends and I were headed to TreeBar, a hip restaurant fairly close to my residence.

We left the residence around 7:30, a touch later than our anticipated time. I wanted to get back home in time to type up my art history notes while Michelangelo’s works were still fresh in my mind from the day’s lesson. Italian culture quickly put a stop to that goal.

When we arrived at TreeBar, I was thoroughly impressed. The décor is beautiful and the place is somehow homely and chic at the same time. TreeBar is not really a touristy restaurant; the menu items are all in Italian and the wait staff’s English is limited. In my opinion, that is usually a sign of good food. In this case, I was definitely right.

Most restaurants serve dinner much later than in America. We thought leaving at 7:30 and arriving a little before 8 would be late enough, but that was not the case. We were a bit confused when we were seated at a table clearly marked for a reservation at 8:30. Were we going to have time to order and eat in just over half an hour? The answer was a definitive “no.” Due to a bit of confusion and mild language barrier issues, we didn’t order for two hours. Such is life in Italy. I consider it a welcome change and a great lesson in patience and relaxation.

All of the other patrons chatted calmly, sipping on glasses of wine and enjoying appetizers (given to us for free!) while we looked around for our waitress nervously, wondering if she forgot about us or if we were supposed to leave. Thankfully, one can only wait around anxiously for a limited amount of time so we relaxed and settled into conversation and people watching. Side note: I have never seen so many men with perfectly fitting suits. Remind me to see if tailors are cheaper here.

After we saw other people finally starting to order—again, two hours after we arrived—we ended up flagging down another waitress. She spoke English pretty well (though we did our best to fend for ourselves in Italian) and took our orders promptly.

The food was incredible. The only proof I have of that fact is that I wolfed it down too quickly to take a picture of it. Thankfully, my friends did not have my Pavlovian response to food being placed in front of them, so they took pictures of their meals rather than immediately stuffing their faces.

A chicken and potatoes dish from TreeBar

A chicken and potatoes dish from TreeBar

I highly recommend seeking out TreeBar. However, if you have art history notes to review like I did, do it beforehand.

Ciao for Now

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Ciao ragazzi! Thought you’d gotten rid of me? Well as it turns out, even a month after leaving the eternal city I’ve still got Roma on the brain, so here are some final thoughts:

Having been home for a couple weeks now, I’ve gotten a chance to catch up with friends about their study abroad semesters, and it’s become clear to me that I had one of the most positive experiences of anyone I know. In a lot of ways it’s because Rome was so right for me—it complemented my studies, I loved the food, and my inner city girl was free to explore to her heart’s content. But pastries and metro lines aside, I think it’s hard not to be in awe of the grandeur of Rome. The city has been a (religious and secular) pilgrimage destination for centuries, and the reason behind that far pre-dates the Lizzie McGuire movie. From soccer to opera to ancient ruins, Rome in particular—and Italy in general—has something for pretty much everyone.

The views aren't too shabby either... find this one at Monte Mario park, really close to the residence

The views aren’t too shabby either… find this one at Monte Mario park, a short walk from the residence

Having said that, coming home has been an adjustment. Whenever I approach a store, for example, I start mentally choreographing the charades-like dance that will hopefully convey to a shopkeeper that I need sunscreen. I haven’t eaten pizza or pasta in weeks, because I’m not quite emotionally prepared for what a letdown it’s sure to be. I carry my Italian Harry Potter with me all over New York, trying to display it as prominently as possible, hoping an Italian expat will mistake me for a fellow countryman and start a conversation with me in Italian (I choose to believe that it’s my pale skin and blonde hair that give me away as American, and not my lack of Italian style).

The toughest problem of being home, though, is trying to explain my experiences to friends and family. There’s just no adjective that’s big enough to capture Rome; I’ve described my semester as incredible, magical, perfect, and a million other synonyms for awesome, but it doesn’t seem to do it justice. “I don’t get it, it sounds like you were so happy abroad,” a friend remarked recently. “Are you not cynical anymore? Have you lost your inner New Yorker?” Well, to some extent, I’d like to think so; I was really happy everyday in Rome. Not all day, everyday—acclimating to Rome wasn’t always easy, planning trips could get stressful, and then there was the whole “studying” aspect of “studying abroad”—but at the end of the day, I just couldn’t justify feeling anything less than ridiculously fortunate for the hand life had dealt me. I walked to school most days (partially to offset my doughnut consumption, and partially because the route took me past an incredible bakery) and everyday, as I envied the Italian preteens who were more fashionable than me, and eavesdropped on Italian conversations that became increasingly more intelligible to me, I remembered how lucky I was. That’s generally what I tell people now, when they ask about the trip—I’m the luckiest person I know.

So even though the Trevi fountain was closed for construction, and I never got to live out my Lizzie McGuire fantasy, I can honestly say that this semester was what dreams were made of. Ciao for now Roma, and I’ll see you soon.

Conquering the Language Barrier

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For the first three semesters of college, I took Italian language to prepare for studying abroad. However, last semester I did not take any Italian. Thus, I forgot a larger portion of my vocabulary and grammar than I would like. Some of it has come back since I arrived in Rome and began using Italian on a daily basis again, but I am disappointed in myself for not taking a fourth semester. I feel that I would get even more out of this experience if I had stuck with the language.

If you are reading this and considering coming to Temple Rome, definitely try to pick up some of the language! It is immensely helpful. My own limited knowledge has definitely come in handy in the two weeks I have been here. It seems that Italians prefer people to respect their culture and at least attempt some Italian. Many times, I have started in Italian then slipped into English (or even Spanish on two embarrassing occasions—give me a break, the languages are very similar).

Look out for the distinctive "T" indicating a tabacchi

Look out for the distinctive “T” indicating a tabacchi

Italians are generally accepting of this and often times their English is better than my Italian. The conversations are a mishmash of both languages, but we can get points across with the help of hand gestures that Italians hold so dearly. When I went to purchase a monthly bus pass at a tabacchi (tobacco shops that also serve as a general store and sell bus tickets), the cashier answered my request with a flurry of Italian, none of which I understood. Even when he repeated it slowly, I was having trouble understanding. Eventually I worked out that this tabacchi did not sell monthly passes, but I could head around the corner to another one.

At the second tabacchi, I was told that the monthly metro passes are only sold at the metro ticket office. I’m still not sure if this is true, but I was reluctant to try my luck at a third tabacchi. I arrived at the metro ticket office confident in my Italian abilities after my successful conversation with the second tabacchi cashier. However, when I asked for a monthly pass, I was handed a form that could have been written in Mandarin. Even with constant consultations to an Italian-English dictionary, I could not understand the abbreviations on the form, and when I did understand the questions, I couldn’t answer them. The woman at the office spoke nearly no English. Eventually, we figured it out together and twenty-five extremely stressful minutes later, I had unlimited bus/metro rides for June.

Even with no Italian, it is not that difficult to communicate with people. Many speak English and almost all are willing to work with what you do know. I am extremely grateful that Italians use hand gestures so frequently; not just a stereotypical custom, hand gestures make communicating a lot easier. Thankfully, the language of ordering gelato—the most important part of being in Italy—has no barriers. Hold up the number of fingers for the price of your cup/cone, point to your flavors and you’re on your way to yet another famous monument or amazing restaurant.

Writing on the Walls

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Do Rome and Philadelphia have anything in common?

Initially, the question seems almost laughable; after spending two weeks in Rome, I can still make the argument that Italy feels like a completely different world. That feeling was especially strong walking into Saint Peter’s Basilica, an extravagant edifice with a sprawling length of 186 meters—over twice as long as any American football field. The interior of the church is coated thoroughly in shimmering Baroque mosaics and immense statues, with a domed ceiling caked in intricate portraits and dazzling bronze and gold geometric designs. So many details make the experience absolutely surreal—the natural sunlight that floods through the basilica in soft streams, the Pietà sculpture crafted by a young Michelangelo, the feeling of gazing from the marbled floors to the top of the dome at hundreds of feet of careful artwork.  The current Basilica was completed in 1626 after more than 100 years of construction, but the Old Basilica (which became damaged and was therefore rebuilt) dates back to Constantine’s reign over ancient Rome during the 300s C.E. And that’s something you don’t see every day in Philadelphia. Really, it’s something you don’t see at all.

But there’s one similarity between Rome and Philadelphia, and that is the simple and obviografus fact that they’re both cities. They share undeniably urban characteristics, like the quick-moving metro system with orange and blue routes reminiscent of the Broad Street Line and the El. Another mark of a city is the bold, enigmatic, and sometimes vulgar artwork displayed not within the walls of a museum or gallery, but outside the walls of buildings. Graffiti, murals, and street art, staples of inner-city Philadelphia, are equally if not more prominent in the city of Rome. It looms on either side of the Tiber, shrinking those who jog or bike along the river, and it peeks out behind curtains of flowers in swirling, brightly-colored tags and phrases.

pAOlo

Portrait of Pier Paolo Pasolini

pope

Mural of Pope Francis

Like Rome itself, the art of graffiti stretches back thousands of years. The actual word derives from the singular Italian word, “graffito,” or “a scratch.” Originally, the term was used to describe the preserved etchings in the walls and grounds of Pompeii. Inhabitants decorated the Ancient Roman town with crude images and explicit phrases well before Mount Vesuvius destroyed the town in 79 C.E. A common phrase you can find there is “Felicter Pompeii,” a phrase for wishing the city and its people good fortune. Faded graffiti dating back to the first century can be found in the walls of the Colosseum, although it has since been covered in centuries of markings from travelers around the world.

Walking around Rome today, it’s difficult not to encounter modern graffiti and stunning street art. Several blocks away from the Vatican wall, an eye-catching mural of the Pope displays the phrase “Petrus Romanus,” or “Peter the Roman,” a phrase that refers to the theory that there will be a last pope. Far away, on the other side of the Tiber, a tucked away wall displays a portrait of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a politically controversial film director who was murdered in the 1970s. Mere kilometers away from Rome, on the Mediterranean coast, a house on the beach displays graffiti that speaks in Portuguese instead of Italian, asking for “more love, please.” Whether it’s modern or ancient, and whether it’s in Italy or the states, exploring the meaning and stories behind graffiti is always insightful: it reflects, in a way, the true voice of a city.