By Ally Anderson
So, it turns out that Italy is a little more topsy turvy than first anticipated! Sure, we were given the books to read up on their culture versus ours, and talked plenty pre-trip about the potential difficulties we might face abroad, but it seems that no amount of training beforehand can ever truly prepare you for culture shock.
Seeing as I’ve already traveled to several different countries before this, I honestly believed that Italy would be, “no big deal,” upon arrival. Beppe Severgnini, in his book La Bella Figura, describes Italy as a sort of stage, wherein every Italian believes they are the lead role. Personally, I find this to be a bit of an overstatement, but it does have a bit of truth to it—Italians simply love to dramatize even the smallest of incidents or situations.
Before we even walked through the door, I could tell that Anita, our teacher, was already feeling a little worn out. She greeted all of us with a big grin and plenty of welcome, and then with a wistful sigh, informed us that they had actually just finished cleaning our apartment for us, since it was a disaster when they arrived to check it out.
Moments later, after we had all selected our rooms (I’m rooming with miss Lian Dziura, who’s along the lines of splendid! Our room is a giggle fest comprised of good cooking, incense, and British film watching), we were quick to find out that our apartment is without WiFi (thus the long stretch of time it’s taken us to post anything on the blog!). Even though it’s almost over three weeks later (many, many phone calls, personal exchanges, head scratching and puzzled expressions later, too) our house is STILL without WiFi. However, we’re making due pretty well on two ethernet cords that we’ve learned to share. Who would’ve thunk life would be so difficult without checking your Facebook whenever the fancy struck you?
The first week proceeded by us in a quick flurry of colors, a myriad number of smells (lots of cigar smoke and lemons…), many buildings that were far too impressive for their own good, and a lot of different characters passing us by speaking a language we can barely comprehend.
We kept close to each other, but walked forward with feet firm on the ground and determination written on our faces (along with mild confusion, but I think we covered ourselves pretty well). While the locals here aren’t the most friendly looking people at first glance, since smiling here is something for people of the lower caste (happy people?), they’re pretty quick to recognize you as a local by the second or third trip into their store, and attitudes toward you as a clumsy English speaking tourist change pretty fast. Their vigorous hand movements in conjunction with speech closely resembling Spanish with a dash more of elegance makes comprehending them a little easier on you once you get used to it. In general, getting to be addressed to as, “bella,” when someone wants my attention isn’t too shabby a change, either.
By the second week, I’m pretty sure we all felt like veterans. Sure, our sense of direction and self was still a little shaky, but all in all we had made our first trips to the market just below our apartment for delicious sundrys, been harassed by a couple of the more forward street vendors, and braved a trip on the metro. We had also done more than enough of our fair share of walking, considering, A) we’re art students, and, B) we’re not earning P.E. credit for our time here. And let’s not even get into the initial ’bout of jetlag we contended with.
Rome is just too filled with history, art, and glorious architecture. It seems almost unfair that one country could hold so many indelible treasures from our world’s history, and even more unfair that Rome itself can claim the majority of it for itself. “In this church, three Carravagio’s. In the one around the corner, ten Bernini sculptures. And over here, we have a facade designed by Michelangelo.” I’m sure we must have looked like wide-eyed fish out of water as we walked through the city, eyes nearly popping out of our heads while we marveled at whatever came around the next corner, and mouths gaping all the while.
It seems like Rome hasn’t bothered to look over a single portion of the city in its grand architectural scheme to exude beauty and elegance. Most of the buildings are baroque (very theatric and embellished), with stout or blocky medieval buildings randomly sprinkled here or there in nearly perfect condition. People here live in buildings nearly five hundred to eight hundred years old and think nothing of it. Even the most humble of doorways sports an impressive lock system and some sort of distinct embellishment to it. When it comes to “neighborhood integrity,” as they put it in the real estate market, Rome has got it.
So, along with plenty of site-seeing (art history, on site!), cooking, open-air markets, and sampling of the local culinary establishments (culture), as well as sketching, painting, collecting and collaging (art/studio, of course!) we’ve had our hands plenty full. We have culture and language classes for Italian at a locale institute (the Lorenzo de’Medici Scuola) two to three times a week, and spend all of our remaining free time walking and sketching around the city.
It’s strange to think that the Colosseum and Pantheon are just down the street from us, and that the Vatican City itself is a mere forty-five minute tram and bus ride away. It’s crossed all of our minds, I’m sure, that this sort of good fortune and wealth of beauty and history is probably wasted on a good majority of the Italians who’ve grown up and been around it all their lives. Even now, I can feel myself more easily shrugging off “less impressive” churches that seem to riddle every nook and cranny around here. I hope that even though our stay is both long and short, that we will maintain our sense of wide-eyed wonder and enjoy Italy to the very fullest potential it holds for us.
Next week/weekend we’ll be in Florence and the suburban area of Assisi. I’m extremely excited to see how it compares to Rome as a city, and to see the place where Michelangelo and Giuliano Sangallo grew up! It should be something marvelous to behold! Until next time, ciao, bellas!
<3 Ally Anderson
PS. Once upon a time I was a journalist/editor/layout artist for our high school’s newspaper… Lian thought it would be something worth mentioning, so as not to psych everyone out.
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