Spark of Creativity
Journal Entry 2
Roman Forum- This is definitely my favorite place we’ve visited so far. We went… two weekends ago? We bought a ticket to the Colosseum, which gives you 48 hour access to the Colosseum and Roman Forum/Palatine Museum, so we spent Friday poking around the Colosseum and Saturday exploring the Forum and Palatine Hill. I seem to have inherited my Dad’s affinity for reading EVERY SINGLE plaque in a museum or at a historical site, so I’m sure that got annoying for my friends; eventually I just resorted to taking photos of the plaques and signs, for later reference… I mean, if you’re going to take the time to walk around and look at things and take pictures, you might as well know what you’re looking at! It was just incredible to me how ancient everything was. In many ways I could imagine my PLS education coming to life before my eyes: there was the spot where Ceasar was stabbed, there the temple of the Vestal Virgins, there the ruins of an ancient palace… It was incredible. The amount of history there is unbelievable. In a way it is also tragic, because so much of it has been lost to time and decay. But what remains hints at such splendor… Definitely my favorite visit so far.
St. Peter’s Basilica- This was last weekend’s trip. The basilica was gorgeous, but the adventure kind of ended up flopping because of poor timing/misunderstanding on our part. We got to the basilica very early, about 8:00 a.m., and went through security and into the basilica (after seeing our first Swiss guards in their awesome outfits!). The first thing I was blown away by was the MASSIVE size of the building. Incredibly high ceilings (ornately decorated), vast arches, sweeping side chapels, larger-than-life statues, and longer than two football fields; I was completely in awe of the architectural and artistic feat that St. Peter’s embodied. Immediately to the right upon entering was one of my favorite artworks, Michelangelo’s Pieta, sadly far away and behind glass… Which I’ll admit was rather disappointing. Walking farther, it was honestly a stimulation overload and I simply was unable to take everything in. It will take several trips back (which I definitely intend to make) to fully appreciate and photograph everything there. As we explored the basilica more, a passing man of the collar stopped, smiled, and asked if we were American. Guilty as charged, we said yes and he introduced himself as Deacon Paul, from St. Paul, Minnesota, studying at St. Paul Seminary. He was visiting the Vatican with his seminary, and had been on several tours of the basilica, so he offered to let us know a few things about the space. Incredibly helpful and informative, he told us about artistic details of the chapel and a bit of the architectural history surrounding the building. Apparently the rows of statues lining the main body of the church (one row elevated significantly above the other) are different sizes, with the higher row being approximately 20% larger than the lower statues so that they appear optically the same size despite the different perspectives. That was incredibly cool. He pointed out the tomb of John Paul II, along with specific statues of popes around the basilica. He also told us that all the “paintings” on the walls are actually beautiful mosaic reconstructions of the original paintings that hung in the space, which now hang in the Vatican Museums. Ah, that returns us to the initial purpose of our journey. We originally planned on going to the museums that day (the last Sunday of every month is free admission), so after finishing our conversation with the incredibly amiable Deacon Paul, whose ordination is apparently scheduled for May 31st, we decided to find where these museums might be. We soon discovered that they were not actually IN the Vatican, but rather about a kilometer away. No big deal, right? We can walk. So we struck out in that direction, and very quickly encountered an obscenely long line. My friend Alexa went to see exactly how long the wait was, and when she didn’t come back after ten minutes we began to wonder if we had missed her. However, she returned shortly thereafter and informed us that the line stretched basically the entire kilometer, winding around several blocks. Since we live here, we decided our day would best be spent doing anything but waiting in line for hours, so we left to return another day. As a side note: I apparently look very French. I have had several Italians ask me if I was, and one of the men trying to sell tours approached my friends and I and said “Bonjour.” I’m not exactly sure what gives that impression, but I suppose it’s good that I don’t stand out as obnoxiously American. I digress…
Getting to be in an ND promo video (I think)- Responding to the odd request of the ND/JCU liaison, I volunteered myself to walk the 45 minutes to the Colosseum to “take pictures” in and around the new Notre Dame building in Rome. My friend Alexa and I were the only two to show up, and we were introduced to the Notre Dame photographer Matt Cashore (whose photos we sometimes use inScholastic, the student magazine I work for). He brought us to a few locations and filmed/photographed us walking and reading a book together, and then (to our surprise) wanted to ask us a few interview questions. I wish I had done my hair nicer… Who knew? He took us on a tour of the new facility, and then brought us to the rooftop terrace where he asked us things like “What has studying in Rome added to your Notre Dame education?” and “What has been your favorite Rome experience thus far?” and “What do you think of the new building?” As a testament to PLS’s awesome ability to create at least reasonably eloquent speakers, I was actually pretty proud of my (sincere) responses involving how Rome is such a crossroads–of cultures, of languages, of people–and how in Rome I’m really able to see my education come to life. I talked about how much I loved the Forum, and how the new building seems like a little piece of Home, even all the way in Rome. Apparently I “killed it,” so I think I might end up getting to cross “be in an ND promo video” off my ND Bucket List. Definitely a highlight. :)
Shopping- Okay, this one is kind of cheating since we didn’t go anywhere incredibly “Roman,” but part of Roman culture is the twice-yearly Saldi, where many goods are anywhere between 50-70% off. The rest of the year there aren’t really sales. So, we did what any smart shoppers would do (obviously) and went shopping! I found a few cute things on sale to supplement my wardrobe, and we had a ton of fun wandering through the shopping district of Rome. All in all a good experience, and we can congratulate ourselves on “saving” so much money.
Classes- I suppose since I’m technically here to study, I should throw in an honorable mention for classes. I’m taking Figure Drawing, Italian 202, Italian High Renaissance Art, Mystics, Saints, & Sinners, and Digital Photography, so it’s a very “fine arts” experience this semester. While the art history is fascinating and engaging, and the Italian is rather challenging (two students seem to be fluent already…), the other classes are rather… slow. Enjoyable, but definitely slow. In some ways it’s very nice to have a break from the hectic school life, but it’s been so rainy that I haven’t been able to fully enjoy exploring in my downtime. The classes are good, though, and the professors very kind and knowledgeable, and I hope to learn quite a bit in my time here. I’m especially excited for my art history because we’ll have a trip to Florence to see the artworks, and I can also begin research on my thesis for the research paper we have to write in the course. It should be a fun semester.
I really love Rome. I’m amazed at how quickly I’m becoming comfortable here, not even just walking around (I laugh when I think about how tense I was the first week; all I have to do is be smart and I can avoid trouble), but even how comfortable I’m becoming with just wandering. I’m okay with getting a bit lost, because as long as I’m heading in generally the right direction I’ll find the way. Once I go somewhere, it’s much easier for me to remember it here than it ever is in the States. I think it’s because I’m such a visual person, and there are so many visual markers here in Rome. The buildings have character, or unique graffitti, or there’s a ruin or statue or fountain that I recognize. The street winds a certain way, or there’s a gelateria I’ve been to. It’s really nice. It makes the city seem small. :)
The things they say about Rome are true; things really do shut down or simply don’t open because of rain, a 30 minute walk is no longer a big deal to get somewhere, I am incredibly apologetic when I don’t have exact change (curse ATMs for giving out 50s!), and they are incredibly well put together almost all the time. They walk into oncoming traffic on busy roads totally nonplussed. They catcall in the most polite ways (at least what I can understand), calling out “bella” and other such things. In many ways, Rome has really boosted my confidence–I feel comfortable walking around a big city, I’m now comfortable at the grocery store even though I don’t fully speak the language, I’m becoming a pretty decent cook, and many more things that just make me realize that I can be a pretty cool person and do things I never thought I could. I’m getting better at understanding Italian, for sure, and I definitely eavesdrop on every conversation to see if I can understand. I went to Mass in Italian (after accidentally going to a Byzantine Mass the week before), and I could follow along pretty well. Yesterday at Mass there was a Baptism of baby Beatrice. True to form, I see more babies and children at Catholic Mass than anywhere else in Rome…
Overall, Rome has been such an amazing experience, and I can’t believe I’ve only been here a month. I’ll start travelling outside the city soon, so even more adventures can begin. Probably what I’m most thankful for so far is a REALLY solid group of friends that I’ve made here. They are so incredibly kind and supportive and weird in all the ways that I am. They have truly helped me come alive here. I was a bit worried before I came that I wouldn’t have any close friends, or that I would have very different interests or definitions of fun than everyone here, but my closest group of friends and even the rest of my roommates have been great for being really positive and supportive and okay with just staying in and playing cards or watching a movie or building a blanket nest. I am so thankful for the joy I am finding here.
Spoilers/things to watch for in the coming weeks:
Tomorrow, Scavi tour into the excavation sites and tombs. Spooky
Friday: Naples. Birthplace of pizza, anyone?
Next Week: Dublin!!! SO EXCITED!!!
Weekend After: Vienna/Salzburg. The hills are alive with the sound of music!!!
Weekend After That: Florence! Home of the Renaissance!
Later this semester: Papal Audiences with PAPA FRANCIS!!! :D
After that, who knows! There’s so much adventure in store. I’ll try and be better about updating. Thanks for reading, if you’ve made it this far! Have a wonderful day!