Almost a Little Bit Proud

Hello avid readers!

On Tuesday of this past week (the 27th) I visited the Doria Pamphili Gallery with my Baroque Art class; I was proud of myself because I managed to get there and back to school without having to consult my map a single time. I'm becoming pretty good at navigating the metro/bus system here. And tomorrow (Sunday the 1st) I finally get to start using my new monthly pass, so I can take the bus as much as I want! The gallery was interesting because it's a private collection only recently opened to the public--about 10 years ago--and is still organized and looks like a private villa with art covering the walls from mid-wall to the ceiling, frescoed ceilings, and a late-Baroque gallery based on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. To the Pamphili family belonged Pope Innocent X, of which there are several busts by Bernini and a portrait by Velazquez.

Thursday my Late Antique/Early Byzantine class went to see the imperial buildings of the late Antique emperors Diocletian, Maxentius, and Constantine. We walked around the area that was originally the Baths of Diocletian, now only partially preserved as the Piazza Repubblica, several churches, and the Baths museum; walked all the way downtown to the Forum to see several monuments erected by Diocletian, and the Curia building that he restored; and then walked over to see the Basilica of Maxentius (commonly referred to as the Basilica of Constantine because he completed it) and the famous Arch of Constantine. Professor Gadeyne requires a lot of walking, and I could only barely keep up because of my ankle, but he told us in his characteristic way that he was "almost a little bit proud" of us for covering all the sites without complaining. And when he noticed me limping he even slowed down a bit, but said I should get better or he'd have to chop my ankle off. I finally got an Ace-type bandage for it, so I should be ok now.

Yesterday, Friday, Sara and I went on a day-trip organized by the school to see some sites along the Via Cassia. We visited a pretty well-preserved Roman amphitheater (see above) near the town of Sutri; the amphitheater was carved out of a large outcropping of tufa, volcanic rock, making it actually a sculpture rather than a building. In the town square they were filming scenes for the musical "Nine," which, oddly enough, we had seen them filming in the Piazza del Popolo during the wall walk tour! We will have to go see this movie when it comes out. After Sutri we went to the town of Caprarola, once controlled by the Farnese family of Pope Paul III. There we saw the Palazzo Farnese (not to be confused with the one in Rome that's now the French Embassy) with lots of interesting frescoes. After lunch we went further to the town of Viterbo, originally a medieval town where the popes would escape to during unrest in Rome.

photos from Caprarola

photos from Viterbo

Finally, on Friday night we and two friends went out to dinner, the first time we've been out instead of cooking for ourselves! It was tasty but the bill reminded us why we're cooking in the first place--it's much cheaper to cook!

Food and culture notes: The best dessert to get in Rome is crostate, a kind of jam tart that's like a pie but with a crust that's closer to a cookie and much more delicious. You can get them in the vending machines at school and of course in bakeries, but they're good even from the vending machine! You can also get good hot chocolate and cappuchino from the vending machines. One of the most expensive food items here is peanut butter, which has to be imported from the US. We finally indulged ourselves and bought a jar today. Of course, Nutella is everywhere, and that's a good substitute for me, but a lot of the other students here miss peanut butter. I personally miss barbeque sauce a lot, as well as salsa and fried chicken. Today we're planning to make lasagne, which is harder to make here than one would expect; the grocery store doesn't sell lasagne noodles dried, apparently, and it's hard to get large enough quantities of ricotta and mozzarella to make it since everything is sold in such small amounts. We'll find out if it's just too hard to make! We also had to buy an appropriate pan because our kitchen didn't have one.

One thing I do really like here is the number of different juices available: pear juice seems to be really popular, as well as blood orange and apricot. We get a couple different kinds whenever we go to the store. Eventually I'll post pictures of the different kinds of ingredients we have here to cook with! Today I finally got a wooden spoon, which is apparently mandatory for cooking sauces and noodles; I'll find out soon if it's really that much better than the metal spoons I've been using so far. I also like the hot chocolate here from the bars, since it's much thicker than the kind served at home, and the cornetti, Italian croissants, filled with cream are just delicious.

Coming up: We're hoping to go to Tunisia for spring break! One of the professors at school is organizing it, and it sounds really amazing. More on that to come. Also, we made a reservation to go to Milan in March, where we're going to a Verdi opera at La Scala, thanks to Sara's perseverance in ordering tickets. We're also hoping to go to Venice and Sicily on overnight weekend trips, and Pisa, Tivoli, and Florence on day trips by train, all TBD. Tonight, lasagne, and tomorrow we're going to the Vatican to walk around. Beate noi (lucky us)!


A Walk Around the Walls of Rome

Every weekend here in Rome is a long weekend, because we only have class Monday thru Thursday. So after our tour of La Sapienza on Friday, on Saturday we went to see the Baths of Diocletian museum and the Crypta Balbi museum. We also saw the church that's built into part of the baths and that was having a weird exhibit on Galileo. At the baths is an extremely large and extremely boring museum of epigraphy (sorry to all you classics majors), essentially a museum full of pieces of marble with stuff written on them in Latin. After we suffered through that and glanced vaguely at the wing about early Roman/Etruscan daily life, we found the part of the museum where you actually get to go into a room of the baths. It was awesome! The room was labeled Aula X, and it was originally one small room of the immense complex, and is now the only part open to the public (or at least open that day). See the picture.

The Crypta Balbi museum had a small section on daily life in Rome through the ages, with currency, pots and earthenware, and other small artefacts--fairly interesting. The Crypta Balbi itself is not a crypt but an open courtyard that was attached to the Theater of Balbus, built in Republican times. The theater is gone but some of the crypta is preserved in the underground parts of this museum, former Renaissance palace, church, etc. One particularly interesting model showed all the buildings that had been built on the site standing at the same time. At any rate, we managed to get to visit the preserved part of the crypta itself; it wasn't too impressive, actually, just the remains of some latrines and aqueducts and rocks, and the worst part was the guide who spoke only Italian. She talked incessantly during the walk around the underground part, and Sara and I only understood a fraction of what she said. It was also cold and damp. Oh well! That's archaeology, I guess. Below: the church of S. Maria dei Angeli e dei Martiri, built into the Baths of Diocletian; the baths; and the Crypta Balbi.

Sunday the 25th we and over 100 other Temple Rome students met at St. John's in Lateran for the traditional Wall Walk led by my professor, Jan Gadeyne. We follow the Aurelian walls all the way around the city, following the papal walls at one point near the Janiculum hill, where we had lunch. The walk takes 8 hours and is about 13 miles long. Unfortunately, I think I stressed my ankle too much on the way and now I'm hobbling around on it, but I did get to see all of Rome in one day! Pretty amazing. Professor Gadeyne is really funny and interesting so I'm glad I went; it was also interesting to see the neighborhoods outside the walls, where most Romans live today. Below: a preserved section of wall in the neighborhood of San Lorenzo; and the Appian Gate (the Porta Appia, marking where the Appian Way enters Rome).

Now it's Monday and back to classes. Time for interesting facts about Rome: They show YouTube videos on the subway... You know that one with the slinky cat that slinkies its way down the stairs? And the "stalker cat" one where the cat moves only when the camera isn't on it? Yes, both of those show on a continuous loop with car commericals and anti-racism ads on the metro. They also play really bad American pop music in the metro tunnels (the underground hallways between the stairs where you enter and the station itself): songs like Spice Girls and Shania Twain. Also: pizza with anchovies is really good. I pointed to some pizza today and the woman gave me a second look and told me it had fish on it (pesce), I said ok, and it turned out to have anchovies on it. Pretty good! Also: making woodcuts is hard work. Mine turned out ok for my printmaking class; I'll find out tomorrow what the instructor thinks.


Jan. 21-23

Friday, Jan. 23rd

On Wednesday the 21st I had one new class: Late Antique/Early Byzantine Art and Architecture with Professor Jan Gadeyne. I really enjoyed it--I think this will be my favorite class. My advisor at Duke recommended him, and I can see why now! He has a very entertaining lecture style and a great accent (he's Belgian). I also bought my textbooks.

Thursday morning with Professor Gadeyne we went to two museums: the Palazzo Massimo and the Palazzo Altemps. We met up first at the Piazza Repubblica, pictured below. In the museums we looked at classical Roman sculpture and some Late Antique sarcophagi to see the difference between them, and how Late Antique art grew out of changing social/political conditions in the late Roman world; this will be the theme of the class.

Today, Friday, we went grocery shopping and did laundry (we don't have classes on Friday) and this afternoon visited La Sapienza, the main campus of the University of Rome. The University of Rome has 250,000 students (!), however, only about 40% of each class of incoming students actually graduates with a degree. The theoretical track is 3 years of undergraduate plus 2 years of master's degree-level courses (primo grado and secondo grado), but most students take much longer, sometimes 10 years or more to finish their secondo grado. The current university buildings were constructed under Mussolini and definitely look like it. The statue is of La Sapienza, apparently a Greek goddess of wisdom/knowledge.

Tonight we experimented with cooking: I made pan-fried chicken, honey-glazed carrots, and rosemary-garlic potatoes in the oven. Then we made a chocolate cake from a box. The dinner came out great, although I managed to burn the one oven pan we have. The cake we had to make in the same pan, which was far too large for it, causing us to burn the top of the cake. It was also kind of dry. But everyone who came in our room said it smelled delicious, and it tasted pretty good for kinda-burnt-cake-in-a-big-roasting-pan. Hurrah! Cooking here in milligrams and Celsius and gas-burning stoves has been very challenging, but entertaining!


Todi, Titignano, & First Week of Class

January 20, 2009, 11:06pm

On Sunday, the entire school (there are about 200 of us) traveled by bus to the medieval hill town of Todi, and from there to the estate of Titignano. This is apparently a traditional trip for the Temple Rome program. Todi is located in Umbria, a region with rolling hills and farmland. The town was surrounded by a medieval wall and is up on the top of a hill; we had to take a lift to get up to it. The town was very quiet on this Sunday morning; we got a cappuccino and a cornetto con crema (an Italian version of the croissant with cream filling) then walked around the town for a couple hours. The views of the countryside from the town were very nice, and the little squares and churches were very pretty.

After leaving Todi we got back on the bus and went to Titignano, a former noble estate that's now an agriturismo, a working farm estate with the mansion converted into a bed and breakfast. There we had a traditional Italian "wedding feast," a multi-course meal that started with crostini (toasted bread with various toppings) and foccaccio; next various cold cuts of meat, like salami and prosciutto; then risotto with asparagus and pasta with wild boar sauce; then meat with broccoli rabe and very salty salad; and finally tiramisu and espresso. Most of the food I didn't really like that much, unfortunately, but it was fun to get to try everything. After lunch, which lasted until nearly 4pm, we got back on the bus and headed back to Rome.

Today and yesterday were my first days of classes! Monday and today was Baroque Art in Rome -- it should be good because Rome is the home of Baroque. We'll be studying all the major squares of Rome and artists like Caravaggio and Bernini. Today in the morning we went to the Vatican Museums and saw the Sistine Chapel, paintings by Caravaggio, Guercino, Raphael, and others, and some ancient sculptures that influenced the Baroque. This afternoon I had Italian 2, which seems like it will be a perfect continuation of my Italian 1 class, and then Printmaking, which I think will be a lot of fun. The professor, Mario, is Italian and really funny. We'll be covering all the major printmaking processes: woodblock, intaglio (drypoint engraving, etching, and aquatint), screenprinting, and lithography.

One more new class tomorrow!



Saturday, January 17, 2009, 4pm
It’s Saturday, and everything is finally starting to come together. I’ve figured out the metro stops, found the grocery stores, and this morning experienced the outdoor market. The market is crazy—hundreds of little old ladies pushing you aside to get to the produce. The market closes at 2pm and isn’t open on Sundays, so when we got there at 12:30, most of the best produce was already gone. By 1:00, when we had had time to look around and decide what we wanted to get, most of everything was gone! We only managed to get onions and some cashews, then had to go to the regular grocery store for the rest of what we wanted. Below is a photo of our school in the Villa Caproni:

Fortunately, all the Italians I’ve interacted with have been very helpful and patient with me. At the grocery store, someone helped me find the right button on the scale so I could print the sticker for my broccoli… the lady selling nuts had to explain that they were 1.5 euro per 100 grams (un etto), not per kilo, as we assumed… etc. I’m still intimidated by stores and ordering things there, because my Italian isn’t good enough for me to understand everything they say, but not bad enough that I’m forced to point, so I’m not sure what to do! But in time it’ll be fine.

On Thursday morning was a walking orientation: we walked with a graduate student down Via del Corso toward the center of town, passing the Piazza del Popolo, the Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon. After lunch we wandered around town, saw the Ara Pacis Museum designed by Richard Meier, the Mausoleum of Augustus, and the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna). In the evening we went to a cooking demonstration at the school with the professor of printmaking, who’s going to be my professor! His pasta sauce was really delicious. Afterwards we made spaghetti with pesto.

Yesterday (Friday) we had most of the day free, so we went to the Villa Borghese park (not to the museum itself) and walked around; the park is very nice, with a pond for rowboats, lots of little museums, and monuments, including an enormous one of King Umberto I. We found really good pizza near Via Vittorio Veneto. Then we climbed up to the overlook over Piazza del Popolo to take pictures, then back down, then walked down Via Cola Rienzo to find the department store there and saw the Piazza Cavour. In the evening we went to a talk about Italian culture.

Today (Saturday) after shopping in the afternoon we tried making our own pasta sauce, but we forgot to get the herbs we needed so it was a little bland. But we’re learning! After dinner we took the metro downtown to see the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), which is lit up at night and looks really nice. I hope you enjoy my pictures!


First Day

Roma, Italia, 23:36 CET

Hello from Italy!
Last night I finally arrived at the apartment after spending two hours at the airport trying to file a claim for my luggage, which didn't follow me when my flight got moved up by an hour out of Dulles. Fortunately, it arrived tonight around 10pm, so I only had to go one day without it.

Our apartment here at the Residence Medaglie d'Oro is quite nice, with two bedrooms, one bath, a sitting room with a day bed and adjoining tiny kitchen area. It came furnished with plates and cutlery and a few pots. Our greatest excitement of the evening was trying to cook dinner on the gas-burning stove: none of the four of us had ever lit a stove like this before! We had to ask the porter to come up and show us how. The weather here has been overcast and a little rainy, but not too cold; almost exactly like weather at Duke usually is in the winter. Maybe a little warmer here than at Duke. But the scenery is obviously very different! On the shuttle here from the airport, we passed il Colosseo (the Colosseum) and le terme di Caracalla (the baths of Caracalla); the Borghese gardens; and il piazza Reppublica. Everything brings back memories of the last time I was in Italy, but also seems different, since my memory doesn't usually record things perfectly.

This morning Sara arrived after having to spend the night in Dulles, so the four of us are all here! My other two roommates are from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Sam (Samantha) and Jackie (Jaclyn). They agree with us about trying to cook every night for dinner, so we're going to rotate cooking & washing dishes during the week. Tonight Jackie cooked pasta with vegetables, and Sara & I bought some bread to have with oil and vinegar. We'll experiment with fancier things soon, I'm sure, but for now that was hard enough to make in the tiny kitchen area we have!

This afternoon Sara and I went to Temple Rome, located in the Villa Caproni, for orientation; we took the metro, and by metro it's neither too far nor too hard to find. We got our keys to the school gate and our internet passwords, and met a couple nice people. The staff seems very nice, as well. Orientation continues this week, and then next week classes begin! More to come on that later!

The internet here at the Residence seems to work pretty well for me, so I can definitely receive e-mails, but I haven't yet figured out a good way to make calls. I've bought time from Skype for calling home, since it's amazingly cheap (2 eurocents/minute), but the quality isn't very good so I might try something else. I'll e-mail out my Italian cell number when I get one.

Reminder to family: Please send any mail to the Temple address; do NOT send packages are these are usually fined by Italian customs.

En Route

Heathrow Airport, London, UK

Wednesday, January 13, 5:37 EDT (Sarasota), 10:37 GMT (London), 11:37 CET (Italy)

No matter how many times you “cross the pond,” the experience is different. Perhaps one day I’ll manage to sleep on a flight, but this time followed what seems to be my routine: watching a movie then closing my eyes and pretending to sleep while actually just thinking. This flight I started out with three seats to myself, but then a man from the front of the plane came and took one, so that I couldn’t fall asleep across three seats as I’d hoped. Oh well! I watched “Eagle Eye” during dinner—I don’t recommend it—and then “Flight of the Conchords” in the “morning.” At least the flight was quiet and uneventful, and less cold than I’d anticipated.

Please excuse the following generalization. The British: efficient until their machines break down. I arrived in Dulles at a quarter to nine, ran to where I hoped my gate was (it wasn’t on any of the monitors because the monitors only showed United flights and I was transferring to British Airways), found two people at the counter and told them I needed a boarding pass and was flying through to Rome. I was informed briefly that my flight was two hours delayed and they were putting me on the flight leaving right then at 9:15—an hour ahead of my scheduled flight. I was handed two boarding passes and shepherded to the plane; thirty seconds later, they closed the boarding door. I was somewhat shocked and amazed at this display of efficiency, and grateful that they found a way to let me leave so as not to miss my connection.

At Heathrow, I saw the darker side of British efficiency. After deplaning and riding the shuttle bus to the terminal, I followed signs to a new feature: passport and boarding pass control and screening—for those going to connecting flights. Last summer I was able to walk easily from one gate to the next; now you have to go through extra security. And, apparently, the elevator from this floor to the one above where the gates are was broken, so there was an extremely long line… that led to another long line above to pass through the security itself. Ugh. At least I was arriving an hour ahead of schedule thanks to my earlier flight, so I didn’t have to worry about missing my connection.

Now I’m sitting here in Heathrow bemoaning the lack of free wi-fi by typing this, my first post! My roommate, Sara, is probably somewhere in central Europe trying to get to Rome… her plane to Dulles was delayed (de-icing) so she missed her flight to London, and now, instead of arriving at 7:30am, is going to get there around 7pm. Alas. But in five hours time I should be in Rome, and then it’s only a half-hour or 45 minute shuttle ride to my new apartment! I hope our third roommate is there. I’m excited!


Cellular Odyssey

It's only six days until my departure, and I'm suddenly faced with all the preparations that I should have been completing throughout break! Today I worked on finding cell phone service while in Italy. It appears that TIM has the most reliable service in the country, so I considered buying a TIM Italian SIM card, only to discover through complicated testing that my current cell phone is locked so I can't use it with a different carrier. From here it gets more interesting: I can either a) try to get AT&T to unlock it for me, which by all online accounts is something they try to make as frustrating as possible; or b) buy a new unlocked cell phone starting at $99 for a quad band phone; or c) pay a sketchy online company anywhere from $3 to $69 to unlock my cell phone remotely.

I think I'm going to wait until I get to Italy to get a phone... and hope for the best!

This means that you should get in touch with me via Skype, if at all possible! Skype is a great free program with voice and video chat via the computer. My computer has a built-in webcam so I can video chat with everyone! If you need my Skype username, send me an e-mail. If you need to download the program, visit this website: http://www.skype.com/. I'll send out an e-mail to everyone once I have an Italian phone number that you can call. For emergencies, you can call my American cell phone, which will get reception in Italy but costs me $1.29/min for calls!

If anyone has suggestions about cell plans or buying phones in Europe, please let me know! Now I just have to figure out what I'm forgetting to do...