Tag Archives: Niamh Murphy

Museum Madness

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about art in Rome. But there was a definite focus on modern and street art. It was the very first thing I noticed as our shuttle was driving us to our new home for the semester, and it continues to be something I pay attention to every day.

However, I did feel like my last blog leaned a little too heavy on the street art. I mentioned museums, but I’m also pretty sure that mention was to say that they could, occasionally, be pretty boring.

I don’t think that was very fair to museums.

Truly, I love them. One of my favorite ways to spend a day, whether in Philly or in New York, is at a museum. The PMA, the Penn, the Met, the MoMA. Name it, I’ve been to it, and loved it.

And I’ve been doing the same here. Either in class or on my own, I try to go to at least one a week. This past week, I’ve seen the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere, an entire sixteenth century villa decked out in murals and frescoes of ancient myths;

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The ceiling in one of the rooms at Villa Farnesina, depicting all of the gods at Cupid and Psyche’s wedding.

the Accademia di San Luca, a Roman academy dedicated to “elevating” the work of its artists;

and the Acropolis Museum in Athens (after, of course, the Acropolis itself).

The week before, it was the Palazzo Breschi, to see some incredible works by Artemesia Gentilleschi. Before that- the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. And the Edward Hopper exhibit at the Vittoriano. Even before that, the Palazzo Massimo museum to examine statues of ancient Greek gods and learn what attributes define which gods. 

I’ve definitely been in museum heaven.

Though, sometimes it feels like its too much. Art can get really overwhelming, at least to someone like me who has been invested in it for so long. Each museum has hundreds, if not thousands of pieces. Thousands of hours of work; millions of brushstrokes, sketch marks, carefully sculpted shapes. To be surrounded by that much work is so incredible, it’s almost impossible to accurately feel it. And when you can’t feel it, you start to get…tired. One minute you’re in awe of the incredible Renaissance art in front of you, the next you’re wondering how much a panino from that place you passed earlier would be, and if you have enough time to grab one before your next class.

It’s been a bit frustrating to deal with, to say the least. I am (or, was) an artist! This is my forte! Why am I bored looking at these incredible paintings?

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Very bored to finally be seeing a Botticelli in person

Well I think I’ve figured it out- Museum Madness (Note: this is not real and I completely made it up about twenty minutes ago. But hear me out). It’s kind of the same way a kid goes nuts on Halloween and eats all their candy only to puke it all up later. You visit somewhere that, like Rome, is rich in art and history and are completely overcome with the need to see all of it. So you do- you see the Vatican and the ruins and the museums and the paintings and next thing you know you’re confusing Michelangelo and Raphael (sacrilegious, I know). It’s an over-saturation of art. Because let’s be real, there’s only so many paintings you can stare at before your feet start wondering if you could at least sit if you insist on doing this every other day.

Some people in Rome, myself included, have definitely gone overboard on the museums. (Some have had similar phenomena happen with Italian wine….or pasta). I’m getting excited for warmer weather, when botanical gardens and lush parks will become a more reasonable way to spend an afternoon.

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The Borghese Gardens- too cold now, but will be perfect come spring

Because while I love a good museum day, I need some alternatives. Otherwise….madness.

Rome: La Citta d’Arte

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I was two things in high school: an artist, and a procrastinator. 

Those two did not mix. You can pull an analysis paper out of nowhere at 11pm the night before it’s due, but you can’t really do the same to a painting. Not a good painting, at least.

Needless to say, my art grade could have been a little better mid-way through the semester. My art teacher was getting a little annoyed at my constant late or unfinished homework, and I was looking to get back in her good graces. Then- an opportunity. She was being bothered by a representative from a local university to get students to enter a logo design contest for the town’s Italian Cultural Society. I figured hey- I like logos, I’m learning Italian. I can enter this contest, and get some sort of credit for it.

So I entered, but didn’t win. I did, however, get the chance to go see a lecture at the university by a pretty famous type designer: Louise Fili. I’ve you haven’t heard of her, I guarantee she’s designed the packaging of something you’ve bought. Give it a look.

But her lecture inspired me. The passionate way she spoke about Italy, about how it influenced all her work and how Italian type was her favorite was incredible. It got me thinking about me coming to Italy, and the art and type I would see. 

So far, I’ve seen a lot. What I love the most about Rome is that there’s art everywhere. It’s not just in the museums. It’s in metro stations, on the side of trains, on buildings and facades.

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Lots of trains here are covered in spray paint- I love it.

There’s art in graffiti, in the logos, in the old buildings that are now cinemas or apartments. I think a lot of people, when they think of art, think of stuffy museums where it’s overwhelmingly quiet yet still somehow to full of other people to enjoy. (Not a total dig at museums- I love them and could spend days in a museum. But dear god, do they get boring sometimes). But nobody really goes straight to the accessible art, the street art. Maybe because it’s not locked away it doesn’t feel as if it has value. But I don’t think it makes it any less art. Some of the stuff I’ve seen has been incredible, from the message to the detail. And it’s not something you’d ever see, or even want to see, in a museum.

What I like about this street art in Rome is that Rome is a city that could easily let all of it’s art be from antiquity. Rome has enough statues and Renaissance paintings to keep every museum stocked for decades. Rome has the Vatican Museums, the Galleria Borghese, the Ara Pacis, every single church in the city….it goes on.

Yet they don’t. Modern art is flourishing, in so many museums. There’s the MAXXI, the Chiostro del Bramante, MACRO. You can see work by world-famous modern artists (me and a friend were able to see this stunning Yayoi Kusama installation All the Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkins at the Chiostro del Bramante), or work by lesser known, local artists. Even Temple itself has a gallery, showcasing local art.

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The pumpkin room- you only get 20 seconds inside, but it was still beautiful

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The reason we visited the Chiostro del Bramante- a little bit of Philly in Rome!

And I can’t forget the type. Following in the steps of Louise Fili herself, I’ve been photographing every cool sign and logo I see, and it’s been awesome. The colors, the font, is all so beautiful and Italian looking. I don’t know how else to describe it other than that. I can’t wait to take this pictures home and apply them to my schoolwork in advertising and branding. 

I think this is my favorite thing so far about Rome- how it’s a city that is both ancient and very, very modern, and you can tell that just from the art. From the way that there’s buildings here that are evidently old just covered in graffiti. I’m sure some would call it vandalism, but I just see it as a younger generation of Romans making this city theirs.

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The Only Reason I Get Out of Bed in the Morning (I Have To)

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Ah, my arch nemesis. Mornings.

It’s 8:30am, and I’m half asleep on a bus rolling through the Italian countryside. Despite not having slept much the night before (thanks, jet-lag), my brain is screaming at me: “Open your eyes! There are beautiful mountains and sunrises and views to see! You’re going to miss it and regret it forever!”

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Okay, maybe my brain was onto something. Those mountains were stunning.

To which my eyes reply “No.” and stay shut until 10am, when we finally arrive in the beautiful medieval village of Todi and my friend shakes me awake.

The trip to Todi was the grand finale to Temple Rome’s orientation week- a day trip up to Umbria to explore Todi, followed by Titignano. It was not to be missed. Yet at 6:30am, when my alarm went off, I considered doing just that for a concerning length of time.

Look, I like to travel, but I also like to sleep. A lot. And I know- deep, deep down- that if I didn’t have something explicitly planned every day, I would do exactly that. All day. I know, I know, I’m in Rome! There’s so much to do!

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The view from the top of the “Wedding Cake” in Piazza Venezia, featuring the Colosseum and the Foro di Cesare. So much to see!

Well, that’s where the absolute genius invention of the “class excursion” comes into play. It’s exactly what it says on the tin: an excursion to somewhere that is not the room class is usually held in, that is part of the class. They can be large weekend trips, like the trip my roommate will be taking to Berlin for her art history course, or small, hour-long trips to nearby museums and monuments. And the best part of all: they’re pre-planned. So all I have to do is get myself to the designated meeting point (with my cell phone this time), and everything is good to go. It’s all the fun, sightseeing-and-picture-taking parts of travelling, without the tedious scheduling, booking, and paying parts.

So far, my favorite class for excursions has been my Rome Sketchbook class. We’ve visited local churches, the Colosseum, and the gorgeous town of Tuscania. And we get to just sit, absorb the beauty of it all, and draw.

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The view from the park in Tuscania

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My (attempted) drawing of said landscape from class

It’s one thing I do like about my classes (aside from the fact that only one is very early). They’re really integrating our surroundings to the lessons. For Sketchbook, we get to apply the techniques we’re learning to drawings of Rome- perspective in churches, contour on statues and paintings. It’s a really immersive way to learn about Roman art, as you have to pay attention to every detail if you’re drawing it.

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Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli- home of Michaelangelo’s Moses, pictured here. Also note, the reclined figure at the top- that’s a pope, in a very Etruscan pose. The Etruscans believed in eating in that position, and their meals could take hours.

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Another drawing from class, this time a close up of two of the statues from this wall- specifically our reclining pope friend up top there

In my theatre class, we aren’t just learning about Italian theatre, we’re going to plays- I’ve already seen one, and I haven’t been here three weeks! It was an amazing performance of Filumena Marturano at Teatro Quirino (right next to the Trevi Fountain, which was still packed even at 11:30 at night. Oh, Rome…)

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A quick little selfie of yours truly in the Teatro Quirino sign, after seeing Filumena Marturano. The play uses dialect from Naples, making it even harder to follow

I think it’s a really fantastic way to learn, by getting out and into my new home for the next four months. It also gives me really interesting perspectives I wouldn’t have gotten from audio tours or brochures. Being able to have class on location (I’m getting flashbacks to warm days in high school, where at least one student always asked “Can we have class outside today?”) also makes up for that fact that, well, I actually have to go to class while I’m here. This isn’t a vacation, it’s school as well.

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This is what an excursion looks like- we’re not just hanging out and taking pictures, it’s work too!

But most importantly, I like that it forces me to get out there. One of the things I wanted to accomplish while in Rome is to become more adventurous. I am a textbook introvert, and nothing sounds better to me than a quiet night in. I want to explore, but sometimes I need a little push. Or a big push. Or someone to say “We’re going out!” and to drag me out of my room and into the world. So these excursions are both making sure I’m doing something here, but also showing me really unique parts of Italy I wouldn’t have even thought to see if I had been left to my own devices- like Todi.

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The village of Todi in Umbria- all of the streets look like this. I couldn’t believe some people actually live here, it seems so picturesque

Our day in Umbria ended with the largest meal I have ever had in my life. It was several courses, and hours, long, filled with food I had never tried (I’m looking at you, wild boar ragu) and people I hadn’t met yet. It was a great evening, and I was glad I hadn’t let my cranky, tired self stay in bed that morning.

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So super cranky to be out of bed, being forced to see nice things and eat good food. So terrible.

Now, it’s a matter of continuing to go out. This coming week consists of two museum trips, and a weekend away from Rome, so I’d say I’m doing pretty well so far. But we’ll see…. Until next week! Ciao!

An (American) Idiot Abroad

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It’s certainly no secret that Americans aren’t viewed too highly in other countries. And with the current state of our politics, well, it isn’t so hard to understand why.

However, it has been hard to deal with how that stereotype affects me.

 

Being from New York, I have a certain attitude towards tourists, and that attitude is usually something along the lines of “Ugh, get out of the way.” Even in Philadelphia, somewhere I’m still relatively new to, the swarms of people surrounding the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall during the warmer months of the school year have been a bother, not people I want to be like. Anywhere I go, I bring that attitude towards the typical “tourist” with me. I prefer to live like a local, to look like I know where I’m going and what I’m doing.

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Me, trying my absolute hardest to fit in and not stand out at all.

But here in Rome, it’s so much harder to blend in. The sights are so beautiful, I don’t know how even someone who has lived in Rome their whole life can just walk right by. I feel like I stop every five minutes to photograph a sign, a monument, or a building. I can’t not do it.

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Italian signs and typography are so unique and beautiful, I stop every time.

I also don’t speak very fluent Italian, and the fact that it takes me several minutes to form a full sentence is a pretty big indicator I’m not from around here. Not to mention the matching American accent that always gives me away. I can hardly get past a sheepish grin and a “Ciao!” before the person I’m speaking to lights up and laughs with an “Ah…..American!” and then switches to English.

It’s been a bit of a struggle, as I’m not used to the immediate give-away that I’m not a local. I’m also not used the feeling of shame I get when someone has to try to speak to me in English, instead of me trying Italian. It should be the other way around! I shouldn’t be going into a country expecting them to speak my language, instead of me trying theirs. It’s also hard to deal with the fact that in Italian, I can only speak like a child. I know simple sentences- I am this, I want that, I think this, etc. I can ask directions, but I can’t understand the answers. It’s frustrating to think that people could see me as stupid here, when I know that I can be smart in English. It does make me think, though, of all the people back in America who don’t speak English, but don’t have the luxury of Americans being able to understand their language. It’s making me try harder, because I don’t want to be seen as someone who’s not trying. I don’t want to contribute further to that American stereotype.

Another thing that comes up a lot for me as an American here is our politics. In the small, once Etruscan town of Tuscania, an elderly man in a bakery tried to talk to me about Trump and Obama on the day of Trump’s inauguration (No surprise here, I really couldn’t understand anything else he was saying). 

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“Hotel al Gallo” – it’s hard to seem like a local when I’m stopping all the time to photograph streets like these

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Tuscania is beautiful! Being such a small town, people here speak much less English. More chances to practice!

It sometimes feels that even in another country, it’s impossible to escape what’s going on back home. It’s not an entirely bad thing, though, as this past weekend I got to meet up with a bunch of other Americans, expats, and just general human rights advocates at the Women’s March sister march here in Rome. It was a powerful feeling, being surrounded by other people who, despite differences in race, gender, religion, and citizenship, all felt the same about human rights and equality.

I think it just goes to show that people are not that different after all, if all around the world people were holding similar marches to show support for women and women’s rights. That even in different cultures and in different languages, we all stand for the same beliefs. And that makes me feel that, language barrier aside, I’ll be able to make a place for myself here.