Ciao! So here is my FICTIONALIZED travel log: the directions for our final project were to imagine our first Roman walk as a class and include a reflection of some sort on the past semester. Remember, Lettori, this is not what our actual walk will be like, but a walk that I imagined. The path is real but that doesn’t mean we will necessarily follow it once in Rome.
Note: References to “Paolo” are from an inside joke our class had, so don’t worry. You’re not missing anything. Also, 12 days!
Let me know what you think. Ci vediamo!
With sleepy eyes and slightly wrinkled clothing, Reading Rome (now Writing Rome) set out to conquer the city. Or at least, to get our first dose of culture shock. Stepping off the St. John’s campus on Via Marcantonio Colonna, our fearless leaders Dan and Jackie both tried to take the lead, which led to their first international “discussion with raised voices.”
“I think we should go to the Castel Sant’Angelo first,” offered Dan.
Jackie shook her head. “Let’s just take them to the Piazza Cavour and then split up before dinner.”
With a resounding ‘yea!’ we chose our fate – our group continued down the Via Marcantonio towards the Tiber. The midday heat was getting slightly unbearable, so our pace was slow and steady, taking full advantage of the shady sidewalks. I gripped my camera tightly, preparing for each and every photo opportunity. I was not going to miss anything.
Walking around the city, our group proves to be a massive and intimidating force. It was no surprise hearing people murmur something about “studenti” (students) or “turisti” (tourists). I keep an ear out, trying to grow accustomed to the fast paced and uniquely Roman accent. Truthfully, I am nervously anticipating the first encounter where I have to use my Italian and a list of vocabulary and conjugations has been running through my head since we got on the plane.
However, that list froze the second we got to the Piazza Cola di Rienzo, where the beeping and shouting from passing cars stopped us in our tracks. Motorini, bicycles and Citroen cars zipped by, weaving around slower buses and pedestrians. Men and women passed by on the cross street, wearing what I can only presume was the latest fashion. I was shocked (and probably cringed without realizing) at the height of the stilettos that lightly tapped on the concrete.
Rather than be distracted by the shoes, Dan seemed to be figuring out the logistics of getting 24 people across the non-stop traffic. We found a crosswalk and waited patiently for the light to turn red, but I use the term ‘patiently’ loosely. It actually felt like an eternity before we could cross and most of us were raring to go. While making the trek across the street, a guy on a motorino whistled at us, making the girls giddy. We all shouted ‘Paolo’ and laughed loudly, forgetting how much we didn’t want to look like tourists. Va bene!
On our left and right were tons of commercial buildings – supermarkets, spas, and banks – with Italian writing in the windows. While this made me feel a little at home, a lot of the students laughed at their attempts of pronunciations. We all laughed at bad impressions of Italian accents and the almost impossible street names, like Giuseppe Giachino Bello. Some turn to me and ask me to repeat the name one, two, three times until they get that the ‘ch’ makes a ‘k’ sound. In the moment, I congratulate myself on studying Italian instead of Mandarin or German in high school.
We pass a lot of cafés as well, some of which I make note of for later free time. I don’t really like coffee and espresso makes me really jittery, but I think I can put up with it for two weeks. I want the full Roman experience, even if it has some touristy accents thrown in (like ogling at guys riding by on scooters and eating gelato 3+ times a day). I think about all the things I can fill my free time with as we continue walking down Via Marcantonio and come upon the expansive Piazza Cavour. Buses fly past, some dropping off and accepting passengers, other beeping at brave locals running across the wide street.
Having reached our destination, Jackie and Dan set us free, but not before arguing about what time we should meet for dinner. The final verdict: give yourself time to prep, girls especially. This is a nice event, a welcome dinner that should set the tone for the rest of the trip. I’m pretty sure this information goes in one ear and out the other for most students, but I write down the meeting time and settle on returning half an hour early with my group. We decide to get our first gelato before dinner (as well as one after), so we head towards the Tiber, figuring it will prove as a fruitful first destination.
Passing the immense Palazzo di Giustizia, down the Via Triboniano and coming upon the Ponte Umberto, the amount of pedestrian traffic increases exponentially. I didn’t think it was possible, after walking down the crowded street from St. John’s, but sidewalk bordering the Tiber is thick with people and alluring street vendors. I immediately calculate my budget and allot myself a few Euros to spend on trinkets. I’m always a sucker for street vendors. I shake my head and laugh at myself as I walk toward some jeweler. What can I say; I’m a sucker for stuff handcrafted with love.
We grab some gelato (I get my old favorite from senior year: limoncello e fragile – lemon and strawberry) and the first taste brings back this huge rush of nostalgia. The girls in my group want to keep walking along the Tiber but I tell them I’m going to grab a seat on the Ponte to people watch. We agree to meet at my bench in 25 minutes to return to the university. I sit myself down to grab some sun, quickly catching the drips of gelato cascading down my cone.
When I’m almost done with my dessert, I sit ‘sola e pensosa’ (alone and pensive) channeling the great Petrarch. The past semester proved to be one of the most stressful for a variety of reasons and I have this incredulous feeling as I look around. If there were a point in my life where I started believing in the power of positive thinking, it would be now. I threw so many coins into the Trevi fountain my senior year that my teachers joked I was buying every homeless Roman a meal. I always knew I would travel after high school, but I never knew where. Then this travel seminar presented itself at the end of freshman year and I knew it was meant to be.
I shifted over on the bench as a group of Italian girls sat down and started chattering at high speed. Trying to appear innocent, I turned my head slightly towards them and eavesdropped. My heart quickened as I realized that I could understand them. And not just some of what they were laughing about, but all of it.
If this brief experience on the Ponte is a preview of what this trip is going to be like, words cannot capture my excitement. I leaned back on the bench and let the nostalgia back in. I have no doubt that earlier this year I would’ve been a lot less confident in my speaking abilities. It’s almost like this past semester was hand crafted to prepare me for this trip. Taking a 300 level Italian course totally improved my speaking skills and my independent study on Italian literature was pretty much made to go hand in hand with Reading Rome. While I learned a decent amount of info about Rome before I first visited, it was nothing compared to everything I learned this semester. Reading Rome opened a door into the Classical world that has totally changed the way I look at Rome. It’s no longer just a city, but a historical Jenga tower – without most of the blocks, Rome would not be the magnificent place it is today. My high school self was uninterested in the history of the city, but I feel like I made up for that by “adopting” the Basilica of Constantine, a site that I totally breezed by when I visited in 2009. In some ways, I’m still that girl interested in seeing the modern sights but now I have an added interest in the ancient world that serves as the foundation for the city that millions love today.
“Gia. Gia! Hello?” My group has returned from shopping or strolling or whatever they did. I see some have acquired rings or necklaces, each beautiful in its own foreign way. I pop up, content with my time in the sun and we head back to the university, talking loudly in English and laughing at the “Paolos” that follow us with their eyes. We are young, we have worked hard and we’re in a city that is fulfilling all of our expectations. A lot of good food, a little magic, and maybe even some romance – we’re simply adding our chapter to a story that has been in the works since the 8th century BC.