A City–Eternal?

‘I have breathed the air of a thousand Romans.’ -Unknown

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I spent last weekend in Rome for my birthday, and I realized a few things:

1. I did well in choosing Florence over Rome for my study abroad location. Rome is a bit too big for me, especially if I want to get to know the area well. Everything was bigger in Rome: not only the sheer size of the buildings, statues, churches, and piazzas, but even the very bricks from which they were made.

Mass in St. Peter’s on Sunday morning was mostly spent gaping at the ceilings so far above, and gazing at the biggest bronze statue in the world behind me, and smiling at the Koine Greek words around the top of the nave. The pipe organ played, and the monks chanted in Latin, and we worshipped God together in many tongues.rome1

Rome even astonishes in numbers: there are over 600 churches in the city, and over 2000 fountains. 1400 of the latter were present in the ancient days, and most are still in working condition. I love walking up to the stone faces on the side of buildings and taking a deep drink of the cool water, still brought in by ancient aqueducts.

2. I can officially travel on my own–a real confidence builder. I was wandering through this foreign city alone when I thought to myself, No one knows where I am. I had no roommate, no host mom making supper for me, I didn’t have to text anyone about my whereabouts. It was the most alone I have ever been, and not only did I survive–I thrived.rome2

Sunday afternoon was the height of my ‘lonely’ travels: I asked the hotel manager where the closest beach was, stole a towel from the room, and headed out to Ostia, an hour south of Rome proper. I took two different metro lines and a half-hour train ride with a bunch of wild, screaming Italian children who were going to the amusement park there, then paid a fortune for a an hour’s use of a lounge chair.

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I didn’t realize you had to pay to go to the beach in Europe. The Montanan in me thought, Isn’t nature supposed to be free? But I saw enough old men in speedos to last me a lifetime, so I guess I’m picky about freedom…because that shouldn’t be allowed.

Anyway, the beach was a nice change. I realized I hadn’t seen the ocean (except from an aircraft) since I went to the beaches of Normandy in northern France in 2011. I’ve always considered myself a mountain girl, but there is something fascinating about endless water.

3. No earthly thing is eternal. The ruins, especially in places such as the Area Sacra, sang softly of sadness: still and lifeless, they tell a story–a story of death. The Colosseum was still an impressive structure, but it, too, will pass.

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The forum has always been one of my favorite places in Rome. Unlike many of the other ancient structures, the forum is a picture of everyday life in ancient times. Small signs point out ‘the house of Caesar Augustus’ and other similar locations. There were gardens, still tended, and small fountains in courtyards.

I took off my shoes and allowed the dust to cover my feet and ankles. I thought of the days when Romans must have passed through these houses, kicking up the same dust.post 3.7

I wondered if they ever thought that their lives, then so well fortified by power and made secure by the sheer size of Rome, would someday become a city-wide museum. Did they consider their legacy?

What will I leave behind?

Dust?

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I Failed Italy?

“Travelling opens the mind.” -Blue Is the Warmest Color

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I was on the public bus one morning while going to school and a woman yelled, ‘Mamma Mia!’ when the bus stopped suddenly and another woman fell on top of her. I smiled. I didn’t know Italians actually said that.

Itali5.1ans really do talk with their hands, too. We even learned important hand gestures in class one day. Thanks to this helpful and informative picture my friend Maddy sent me, I learned how to communicate clearly. I laughed out loud whenever my host mom Cristina made this same face and gesture.

And Italians really eat pasta with every meal, but here they do it ‘backwards’: pasta is the appetizer, and the salad is the main course.

Also the mafia still actively exists.

That was news to me.

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My host mom, Cristina, and I sat down for a talk before I left Italy.

‘I guess I failed at this semester,’ I said. ‘I’m not Italian.’

When I first arrived in Florence and began to observe the lives around me, I said to myself: ‘If, by the time I leave in December, I don’t nap in a park on warm afternoons, I don’t eat tomatoes with every meal, and walking face-first into someone still makes me cringe, then I will have failed Everyday Life in Tuscany 101.’

There were two ways to mix with the Florentine crowd: act like a local or act like a tourist. Either way you blend in with half of the population. I did both, depending on my mood, but trying to be local as often as possible. I had Italians ask me for directions on a few occasions, so that counted toward big bonus points I think. The tourist population died down by the end of October, then picked up again in early December as Christmas season began to roll around and the blissfully magical Christmas markets rolled out in Piazza Santa Croce.

5.2I waited until that break in tourism to climb the duomo and the bell tower. I stood for a long time at the top, memorizing my beloved and now-familiar city as much as possible. I was able to pick out many of the places I had frequented and explored.

I also saw the city stretching away to the northwest, beyond the Santa Maria Novella train station and the canal that runs from Piazza Liberta to Cascine Park, the area I had sadly left unexplored. I saw thousands of buildings, and treetops scattered here and there like weeds poking up between towers of windows and arches, showing where the numerous city parks were located.

5.8With only two days left in the semester, I finally ventured in that direction. I sat in a park just beyond the extent of my previous wanderings. I looked back towards the city center, the Oltrarno, Gavinana, Bagno a Ripoli, Fiesole, and all of the city which lay between these areas.

‘I need to come back,’ I said to myself. ‘I haven’t seen it all yet.’

Not being able to do everything I wanted to was perhaps the most difficult realization I had to deal with before leaving Italy.

And yet, exploring never ceases. If I’ve been in Florence four months and haven’t ‘seen it all,’ what of the tens of thousands of other cities in the world?

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So. The semester is over. Did I fail?

Well, I’m not Italian, and I never will be. If that was my goal, then yes, I flunked study abroad.

But I did nap in a park, and I eat tomatoes all the time now. Slathered in pure olive oil when possible.

Some Americans complain about our country and wish we were more like someone else’s country. I found just as many Italians who wished their country was different as well. And I have found Americans who aren’t fans of Italy and vice versa.

5.3The truth is, whether or not I would like to be Italian, or whether or not I tried to be Italian, I am American. I was born on American soil. I was raised with a certain perspective, with certain freedoms and rights, and with a certain political system. Had I been born somewhere else, I only hope I would still have the opportunity to explore other parts of the earth as I am now.

For the moment, I’m glad to be back on American soil. Today I walked around barefoot all day, I heard a sermon in English, I opened the curtains in my bedroom and the living room, I drove my truck. It’s not better, it’s just what I’m used to. This is America to me. This is where my roots find suitable soil.

That certainly doesn’t mean my travelling days are over. In fact, I have had multiple opportunities open up for the next seven months, so I have decided to keep this blog open in case anyone is curious what the Jarvite Gypsy is going to be up to, Lord willing.

Travelling is broadening perspective, learning empathy and grasping the humanity of mortal life.

Perhaps I didn’t fail too hard.

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My Space Shrank When My World Grew

In Florence, Italy, the typical American ‘personal-space bubble’ shrinks to the approximate size of your bathing suit.

When a bus is packed full, no one falls over until that one man gets off and leaves a gap. Then you can be sure that at least three people will fall into that hole before the next stop.

If you make eye contact with the driver before you step into the street, you forfeit your right-of-way. He now knows you are aware of his moving vehicle.post 1.2

This is my fifth trip to Europe, but by studying abroad this time around, I hope to see Italian culture from backstage. I will be living in Florence for three and a half months, and doing so with a host family–two advantages I have never experienced before.

Tonight marks the end of my first week in Italy, although I just began class yesterday. I felt quite at home within three days: my host mom, Cristina, has played a huge role in making sure of that. (However, I recently found out that she will be cleaning my room and doing my laundry this semester, so that takes away from the at-home feeling somewhat–in a good way, I think!)

At first I was a tourist. I visited Florence for three days six and a half years ago, and I was surprised at how much I remembered–but I was still a tourist.

The following morning, I found myself ‘annoyed’ with the throngs of tourists. ‘I must be adjusting already,’ I thought. ‘This is what the locals must feel like everyday.’

But when I awoke the third morning, I knew that was not true. By this point I did not see the tourists as a problem; they were simply a part of the natural background of daily life here.post 1.3

I am only taking 12 credits this semester. I’m used to taking almost twice that many most semesters, so this semester should be a breeze. I did that on purpose; I want to spend as much time exploring Florence (and elsewhere!) as possible. I’ve already found a couple study spots around the city that I’m going to keep tucked away in the back of my mind.

Today’s spot was outside the old Tribunale on the wide benches across the street. Yesterday I sat outside the Lorenzo chapel, and today as yesterday I seemed to go unnoticed by most tourists walking by, allowing me time to write, study and observe. That’s what I do.