Before I left Florence, my advisor, Ambra - who was a pretty cool, hip, young advisor - said she was excited for me to go to Roma and live, "the capital life."
I'll admit, I was a little afraid at the time that big-city life just meant noise, pickpockets, and swarms of tourists.
As it turns out, it does in fact mean all of those things - but it also means a whirlwind of experiences everyday, a never-ending list of places to see, people to meet, and history to learn. Life in Roma lives you, as some say, and I feel as though I blinked and the past few weeks in Roma flew by.
In Roma we were graced with an absolutely incredible history class, with a fascinating and fun teacher who took us on little field trips all throughout the city, explaining each piece of history and why exactly we MUST find it interesting and culturally significant. We went to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine, several medieval churches, a few early-Christian churches, the Vatican Museums, and Castel Sant'Angelo, which was originally the tomb of the emperor Hadrian. As our teacher, Tiziana, constantly reminds us, it's crucial to learn about these events and places and people that contributed to the culmination of Western culture as we know it today. To understand the way in which westerners perceive the world, it's important to know our history and the reasons we think and speak and act the way we do.
Some of the art I've encountered here is so striking that it seems to shock you despite the gap of the passage of centuries. One great example is the School of Athens in the Rooms of Raphael at the Vatican Museums. I can't explain the feeling of walking into that room and seeing the massive fresco of a concept that we covered in LEAD 101 again and again - the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, the dichotomy between the human and the divine.
I've been lucky to have taken two weekend trips while in Roma, both of which allowed me more fascinating glimpses into life in other regions. One weekend we went to Napoli and Pompeii. Now Napoli - she's a massive, sprawling, filthy, shouting, emphatic, colorful, beautiful mess of a gorgeous city. Life is just a little more REAL in Napoli, and yet couldn't possibly be real at all. We walked down alleys in Napoli that were so dark and terrifying we went around the bend and laughed as we walked through them, too scared for anything else. Of course, we had the famous pizza at the same pizzeria where they filled Eat, Pray, Love, where a signed photograph of Julia Roberts hung on the wall. We went to a world-class archeological museum and saw the colorful citizens of the city take their evening passaggiata, and for one fleeting day we got our taste of that crazy, emotional, passionate, furious, easy-going life.
Our next weekend trip was to Sorrento, home of lemon groves and one of the most beautiful Mediterranean coastlines in the world. Don't stop twice to think; just go. We arrived in Sorrento and immediately grabbed gelato; the man in the shop noticed my budding Italian language skills and told me to please, sit down a moment and practice conversation with him outside. I was nearly floored - how kind, to want to help me practice! - but we had to run to catch a bus to the Amalfi Coast. Which was well worth it, because the entire bus ride balanced precariously along the edge of a cliff and looked something like this:
The next day, we went to the island of Capri, which is a famous vacation destination for everyone from Roman emperors to movie stars. You may wonder why, based on the wretched nature of my oh-so-unsightly pictures, right? When you go to Capri, the Blue Grotto is an overpriced must-see. A gorgeous boat ride around the island takes you to the grotto, and swarthy oarsmen haul you into little rowboats to lay down and squeeze into a cave. But the cave, lit from underneath by the sun, is the most beautiful blue refuge you've been inside - and if you're lucky, your boatsmen will do his best rendition of O Sole Mio. No, really. And you must also take the bus to Anacapri and ride the chairlift to the top of the island. I don't think I've experienced a more tranquil and peaceful three hours of my life than the ride up, the time spent looking out, and the ride down from that beautiful mountain.
The other night, our advisor Roberto took us walking in Trastevere, a hip little neighborhood in the south of Roma, and at the end of the evening we found ourselves sitting on the steps of a fountain in the middle of a piazza, laughing and talking and just enjoying each other's company, and I thought that maybe THIS was Roma more than any of the ancient history can "explain you," because this is what truly makes la vita bella - it's the people you come to know. Still, I write to my friend and teacher from Tuscania, and whether it's someone like that with whom I want to communicate for the rest of my life, or whether it's someone in a shop who I know for a few moments, these are the people that comprise my bella esperienza.