Day 1 Orientation
Tuesday was our first day of class, meaning we just went to school and sat through orientation lectures while meeting classmates and attempting to NOT forget everyone’s name the moment after they tell it. We had to stand up and introduce ourselves, saying why we chose Rome..blah blah blah.. Many students are studying art history, visual arts, classics, religion, and the remaining students are studying business or economics\management – something totally practical and lame (just kidding, I promise) – and they want to learn about something else outside of their major. But almost everyone came to eat, drink, and speak Italian. Well, aside from one girl whose sole goal is to find a husband. Buona fortuna, ragazza, and watch out for his Italian mamma!
They served us lunch, catered from an Italian restaurant…it was amazing: a platter with thin strips of prosciutto, salami, and chunks of parmigiano; pastry platters with nuts, pineapple, kiwi, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries; cooked slices of mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, and cauliflower (last one – not my fave); spongy egg and spinach pastries; and a bar stocked with various, popular fruit juices from arancia or orange, to grapefruit, tea, Coke, and acqua (with gas and without).
After school ended some students had meetings with academic advisors, so I walked back to the apartment…alone. While they gave us a map annnnd it is less than 15 minutes away (briskly walking and traffic light-depending), the map listed no side streets..okay, and I’m directionally-challenged anyway – so I got lost. Remember when I said we’re in the perfect location? SO MANY HELPFUL LANDMARKS! Our school is across the bridge from Castel Sant Angelo, A.K.A. The Mausoleum of Hadrian (Yep, this bad boy. Here are other pics for perspective as well as some history behind it…READ. It has been a mausoleum, a fortress, a prison, a papal safeguard, and now the national museum since 139 C.E.). Anyway – I cross that bridge daily, and our apartment is at an angle from the Vatican; this is what I knew and so I decided to head in the direction of the Vatican instead of following the map. For two hours I was lost walking around shopping centers and the touristy area and I loved every single minute of it, the best part was asking Italians for directions. It was almost dangerous how close hand motions came to my face as one barbiere\barber explained in 2.5 seconds, “Continuare nella questa strada, gira a sinistra, e attraversa San Pietro.” …….. So I walked a block and asked a server at Subway. Parlare Inglese, per favore?
Shortly after finding my way back (and stumbling upon San Pietro the first time!), we walked to a school mixer at a dim, sleek restaurant nearby where Italian tappas lay on every counter top. Fried balls of risotto, salami finger sandwiches, those spongy egg and mushroom squares again (not the most popular), pizzetti (Italian bagel bites), Italian pig-in-the-blanket with salami, wine (I had sparkling white), and what I thought was a flaky finger pastry with chocolate inside that ended up being sardines. I’m one of the few that like sardines, but that was a WEIRD surprise. Naturally, I introduced myself to another IES student (whom I judged as good-humored) and told him it was a pastry with chocolate and then watched him eat it. HA. (I’m good at making friends.)
After the mixer, the ISCs led almost all 97 of us to the Pantheon. Oh. My. Gawsh. I’m glad I forgot my camera because I don’t think I could have captured what this rovina antica made me feel. We turned the corner and suddenly there it was. Maybe it was because I didn’t know when to expect it, but this magnificent, ancient structure that I’ve read so much about in history and latin books was like a jack-in-the-box. Although it didn’t move, it POPPED out of the scene because of its contrast with the modern developments around it: torch-lit outdoor ristorante patios, gelato shops, apartments, a central fountain – all are pictures with separate pieces and movement within them. Lights blink on and then off, torches flicker, silverware glints, shutters twitch, water flows – but the Pantheon looms silently in the face of it all like a stone giant, asleep for thousands of years.
And as anyone would do to a sleeping giant, I ran and touched it. And then I ran around on it. And then I sat on it. And after it didn’t wake up, I let it rest and followed my group to the gelato shop in front of the Pantheon and to the right, where I was overwhelmed in a completely different way by the multitude of flavors that curved in a case along the entire wall of the store. Due to location it was expensive, but the half lampone\raspberry, half cioccolato pepperocino on a cono was, as my ISC Sara said, “Good for the heart.”
Day 2 Orientation
The best part of day 2 orientation was a talk given by the author of As the Romans Do, Alan Epstein, a vivacious writer from the northeast with a doctorate in European history who moved his family from California to Rome twenty years ago and lived to write the tale. You’ll have to read the book to learn more about his story (because I didn’t take notes and don’t want to put words in his mouth) but in his inspiring talk, he emphasized some differences between America and Rome, “[In America] there is infinite space and limited time, but in Rome, there is infinite time and limited space.” He then colored his claim with jokes about Italian driving and parking, as well as the observation that Romans are acutely aware of the quantity of space they are using. Yes! It’s so true! The sidewalks are often very crowded, but I’ve noticed that Italians are not hesitant about choosing a pathway around you – there is no questioning, “Um, which way, which way.. Right or left? Right! Oops, we both went the same way, uhh this is weird, I apologize for being an inept pedestrian..” Instead, they choose a path and walk with a purpose (Mom will fit right in). Which brings me to the title\puzzle of this post. Epstein quoted the ancient Romans and advised us to “Hurry Slowly” during our time in Rome. Hmm… hurry..slowly? The Romans don’t seem to hurry or go slow. It’s been a few days and I still haven’t figured out this paradox, so feel free to share your interpretations. Maybe it describes a feeling rather than an action. Perhaps I’ll discover what the ancient Romans meant by the end of the semester.
Afterward, we split into groups for a check-in session about our emotions, culture shock, the effective approaches to studying abroad including avoiding ethnocentrism and such. They gave us tramezzini, light white bread triangle sandwiches with mozzarella\cheese, mushrooms, salami\cheese, or tuna\spinach.
When school ended, my roommates and I roamed around the block in search of a bar to get a snack. We ended up at a small pizzeria with a charming owner from Tunisia who told us his wedding story in a combination of Italian, English, and French. He sold huge, fresh slices of pizza for 1 euro\piece and as soon as we left I regretted not getting any and promised myself I’d go back the next day (I tried, but couldn’t find it. Spooky…or stupid, on my part. We’ll see when I search again on Friday).
My roommates and I relaxed in our apartment until going to the Italian grocery store up the street. Heads up – if you ever get produce in Italy, you must weigh the bag on a scale, enter the food code, and stick the sticker from the scale on the produce bag. MAN I love grocery stores! I love them in America, and now Italy. I like listening to the conversations around me and looking at all the different types of food -a lot more antipasto, pasta, and the smell of fish at the edge of each inhalation (Hey, Mom, they have Fage Greek yogurt in case you don’t like the food here).
Then we embarked on a journey to a hole-in-the-wall pottery studio. By that, I mean it is like everything else here – a small part of some tall building identical to all the other beautiful living spaces in some narrow, unlabeled alley. We took the tourist-y bus 64 most of the way, got lost, and ended up only 10 minutes late to our pottery aperitivo at C.R.E.T.A. Rome, a fantastic studio run by married couple Paolo Porelli and Lori-Ann Touchette, both experts in their fields. If you’re ever in Rome, get in touch with them! I ripped this from their website:
The Italian word for clay seemed perfect to express our commitment to creating an international reference point for ceramics and the arts in the eternal city of Rome. What material better expresses the timelessness of art?…c.r.e.t.a. rome was created to serve as a point of encounter for international exchange between artists, collectors, donors and the public...located in the mid 16th-century Palazzo Delfini in the historical center of Rome, just blocks from the Capitoline Hill on one side and the Pantheon on the other. The area is filled with art galleries, artist ateliers, restaurants and wine bars. We also have a second studio in the countryside near the lake of Bracciano.
The 12ish girls that signed up and went had an amazing time. Lori-Ann is a vivacious and intelligent woman with a contagious laugh, and Paolo is a quieter, smiling artist who made his rounds, checking on everyone and offering design suggestions at times when most people I know would just shut their mouths and silently watch the potential for a beautiful mug die in an amateur’s hands. He instructed boldly but kindly, operating the “sandwich method” – compliment, suggestion, compliment. Their hospitality and happiness warmed the room, and an event that would have taken an hour in the US stretched on for over three relaxing hours of dining, conversation, and painting. Lori-Ann even asked Paolo to take us into the elevator to experience the view from the rooftop terrace (which my camera couldn’t replicate). It was easy to see why St. Ignatius supposedly lived there (though he apparently lived there because it was cheap. Why? It’s HAUNTED!).
I snapped some pictures on the chilly walk back. I don’t know why, but I like the blurry one.