One day, my dear roommate and I were walking to our favorite grocery store in Trastavere and I recall hearing a small group of locals chatting at their table outside a small bistro. I realized that for a moment I had been walking mechanically along the street without really looking up, and where upon my first week in Rome I might have marveled at the foreign tongues at the table, this time I walked by without giving it second thought. On further thought, I began to feel disappointed in myself that I had let this happen–how could I not still marvel? Why was I not taking in every cobble stone, every street corner, every smug, disappointing graffiti tag on the old buildings? But then I felt something I remember having felt in London: I was comfortable. I was at home in this brand new place I spent only a handful of weeks in.
This gets me thinking about why that is. Why would I, a person who had never before been outside her home country, feel connected, comforted, at home, in a place she had never been? (In two cities at that. ) I think it’s because if anything, beyond the art and the literature and the architecture and the history, this trip taught me to never forget that we are all at home on this planet–and I am forever indebted to London and Rome for reminding me of that.
On our final class meeting in Trastavere, our professor asked that we write out any frustrations we had while in Rome. We were asked to focus on how we had been feeling, how we might have felt small in the city, or big in the city, or even frightened. Thinking back on my experience, I can easily reflect on what my organic feelings were while I was in the city because I am now removed from it (sadly). What I wrote about in class remains relatively unchanged: I enjoyed feeling small in Rome because it was a constant reminder of the importance that surrounded me. Because of this, I was able to focus more on the experience I was going to be left with, though there were many times that the city proved too big for me, and I got lost in the moment. I felt most frustrated in the large crowds that often plagued the city. In that absolute mass of people I began to feel too large for my space. I think that is something I did not prepare myself for. Of course, that is something that can be said for any large city, and when I think back on the large crowds, I remember our trips to Cambridge, Bath, Frascati, and am thankful for those smaller trips.
I keep bringing myself back to Robert Hughes. Every expectation I had for Rome was very similar to what Hughes sets his readers up for in his Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History. I have enjoyed rereading the prologue to this book because I get to relive the excitement I felt only a few months ago when I was preparing for the trip abroad. The idea of Rome (which might be to say, what the city “is” ) can be found right in the opening pages of Rome. What I found most inviting about the city before having visited was mostly what Hughes spoke about: I was drawn by the food, the architecture, the color. One of my favorite passages in which Hughes addresses color is found in this very prologue:
First, the color, which was not like the color of other cities I had been in. Not concrete color, not cold glass color, not the color of overburned brick or harshly pigmented paint. Rather, the worn organic colors of limestone, the ruddy gray of tufa, the warm discoloration of once-white marble and the speckled, rich surface of the marble known as pavonazzo, dappled with white spots and inclusions like the fat in a slice of mortadella (5).
Color is absolutely essential to the overall experience, because color is in everything. “…the worn organic colors” are everywhere, in the food, in the buildings, in the people. What I most enjoy about this passage is the truth to it. Before my visit, I appreciated the passage for what it could be. Now, having visited Rome, I appreciate the passage for its accuracy.
I couldn’t possibly choose one meal to reflect on. My roommate and I spent most of our free nights eating in, because we had such a lovely time walking to the market together and preparing our meals at home. Not only did this save us money,but it helped us see different sides of Trastavere; we dealt with people in a very common environment. At a restaurant, the waitstaff is trained to be polite and inviting, but in the grocery store one is surrounded by families, single people, clerks, etc. who are all doing the same thing; moving forward. Granted, there were times we had grocery store clerks who did not appreciate our slim knowledge on the Italian language (and I certainly understand that well) but I have to admit I appreciated getting to experience something that felt more authentic. Long live markets!
We did venture off and go to a few restaurants, how could we not? One of my favorite things to eat was the pizza because it was so unlike what I am used to in the states. Oh, and of course there was gelato. So much gelato.
My dad celebrated a birthday while I was in Rome, and my roommate had the brilliant idea of calling him to sing “Happy Birthday”! We bought the most dreamlike tiramisu I have ever had, and we called him via FaceTime. It was one of the best memories I have of our time in Trastavere:
Finally, another noteworthy meal would have to be one that our lovely hostesses prepared for us in their apartment. For that I say, grazie!
Bernini’s fountain in Piazza Navona was high on my list of places to visit after reading Hughe’s Rome.
Above is Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or, Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed in 1651. The base is made up of river gods surrounding an ancient obelisk that shoots up through the center. It’s a shame I didn’t catch a good photo of this in the daylight…and I wish I could have captured the whole obelisk–it’s a remarkable fountain.
Aside from trying our hand at sketching in the Borghese Gallery, many of us went searching for our favorite Caravaggio paintings to see in person. Because I am not familiar with art, this class really introduced me to some of the greatest artists the world has ever produced, and Caravaggio quickly became a favorite among the group.
After seeing many haunting, rich paintings by numerous artists in the gallery, I came across St. Jerome, who stopped me immediately after first glance:
Carvaggio is known for his dramatic use of lighting in his paintings, typically with a dark background in order to bring out the richer colors and light of the foreground. I think this piece is a wonderful example of his technique–the color and textures are incredibly thick, almost tangible. This was truly a treat.
I’m not an artist. I’ve never claimed to be an artist, but it was still great fun sitting down and sketching a piece of art at the Borghese Gallery.
I felt a part of something in an attempt to recreate what was once undoubtedly a masterpiece. Because I cannot draw, I hunted around the gallery for a simple structure to try and sketch, and so I found my man. Or at least, he was a man…I ventured out onto the balcony where the gallery keeps many broken sculptures, and I decided that sketching a statue with no limbs would be easiest. And thus, I attempted to pay homage to a nameless, faceless (legless, armless…) being:
Perhaps one of my favorite memories of our trip to Rome was our tour of the Forum. One of the most shocking experiences for me was approaching the site at which Julius Caesar’s body was burned, and we each huddled in by groups of two or three to view it. We returned just outside the forum a week later to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and it’s fair to say that any future rereading of the play will never be the same for me.
After a hot, slow, packed, self-guided tour through the Vatican Museum, we finally arrived at St. Peter’s square before entering the Vatican Church. It has everything one might expect in a Roman Catholic church–it was grand, rich with golds and reds, there was plenty of natural light that bled through the domed ceiling. What was really unexpected, however, was Bernini’s altar:
St. Peter’s Baldachin
Of course my photo skills are lacking (a tragic realization I made and revisited many times on this trip) but nevertheless, here is a partial view of St. Peter’s Baldachin. Many of us were surprised, having seen and become very familiar with many of Bernini’s famous sculptures, at the grandiose nature of the altar. However, it seems very fitting for the aesthetics of the church, and it was a wonderful visual experience nonetheless.
As part of an assignment before entering the Museo Nazionale we were each asked to do research on a sculpture featured in the museum. I chose to research the Boxer of Quirinal because I knew nothing of the statue, and because anything boxing related reminds me of my father. I later learned after arriving in Rome that my father has always wanted to see this statue so I was more than happy to do this for him. After I researched The Boxer, he became increasingly intriguing to me and it wasn’t long before I was counting down the days of our trip until I got to see him for myself.
This Hellenistic statue dates back to 330 BC, which is terribly mind blowing as it is—but what makes him more inspiring is the detail; though it is said by scholars that this boxer was probably not crafted after a real man due to his idealized features, one gets the sense upon seeing him that he is someone. He’s beautifully bronze, equipped with cauliflower ears, scarred flesh, a mouth agape which could suggest missing teeth, and still wears his cestus hand wraps. (insert photo) I can say that he is just as grand as I had made him to be in my mind, which hardly ever happens. Too often things fall short— the Boxer did not.