Rome, Travel

The Healing Powers Of Rome: An Exercise In Purposeful Living

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Me standing in an ancient bar at Ostia Antica. Inscription: “Fortunatus says: Since you are thirsty, drink wine from the crater.”

The day before I left for Rome, I made several frenzied phone calls and errands, all to do with my health. Doctors, health insurance, pharmacies, more doctors, my boyfriend to calm my overwrought nerves, my best friend to try to reassure me that I would actually enjoy my abroad experience, more doctors, a different pharmacy…and so it went. After about two months of unknown ailments, eight different prescriptions, a stomach infection and a tonsil the size of a golf ball, followed by tonsil surgery that left me exhausted and frustrated, I was determined to be fully stocked for my current medical situation as well as preemptively medicated for every possible condition that could arise in my four months in Rome. I was certain that I would end up with some strange incurable ailment in a hospital with doctors who I couldn’t communicate with and were probably uncivilized and definitely incompetent. Physically, mentally, emotionally…I was a bit of a wreck.

I always remember in the first couple of days after our arrival, my friend (joking in the most PLS-y of ways) telling me, “Don’t worry, ancient people came to Rome for healing all the time. It’ll work for you too.” My knee-jerk response was a sort of self-righteous dismissal, thinking You have no idea what these last few months have been like. And yet, after the first couple of days…it happened. I didn’t end up using a single one of those prescriptions. In fact, I rarely took so much as an Advil. All of the ailments I had been dealing with cleared up, as did a few I didn’t even know I had.

Call it whatever you want, but Rome healed me. In more ways than one.

At that point in my small laundry list of medical woes (one of which, appropriately, was directly caused by overmedication), getting through a semester healthy may as well have been coming to the temple of Aesculapius as a leper and miraculously walking away clean. That temple, by the way, was conveniently located a mere ten-minute walk from my apartment, on Tiber Island. Coincidence? No chance. A modern hospital now resides in its place, full of I’m sure, civilized, multilingual, and (fairly) competent doctors. I wouldn’t know — I didn’t need them.

But Rome also healed me in a deeper way, one that I didn’t quite grasp the full impact of until I returned home.

“I sometimes fancy,” said Hilda, on whose susceptibility the scene always made a strong impression, “that Rome—mere Rome—will crowd everything else out of my heart.” ―Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance

Trying to imagine a semester with no extra jobs, no internship, no writing, no editing, and for the love of Jupiter, class only three days a week, had been unthinkable to me. What am I going to do with all that time? Despite living in a city with an unlimited possibility for exploration and discovery, I was convinced I would be bored, antsy, frustrated by my own non-productivity. More incorrect, I could not have been.

Living in Rome was a four-month long exercise in slowing down the usually frantic processes of my own mind, and throughly and actively experiencing the present. With virtually no responsibility (sorry JCU, it’s the truth), rather than anxious I felt liberated. As someone who genuinely enjoys the mental yoga of having seven activities on my plate at once, that fact in itself was a revelation.

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Rome: A Retrospective

Rome, to me, was a city with a profound lack of immediate gratification. You want soccer tickets? Too bad, every tabaccheria is closed. Milk for your cereal? Sorry, the store owners are taking a nap. Taking a bus to class? Great, because it’s promptly thirty minutes late. And no one else even seems to notice. Need your permesso di soggiorno? Cool, it’ll come after you leave. Trying to check Twitter? Try again in six hours when you get your hands on WiFi. Your check? What the hell do you need that for?

Sometimes, I really did just want the damn check. After three hours or so, it tends to get to that point. But really, what did I need it for? Where was I going? Answers: Nothing. Nowhere. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the constant itch I felt to go somewhere else was habit, but not necessity. I could just sit here. I could just be here.

Aptly described by my high school math teacher in a newspaper article as, “she always seemed about 90 percent with me in class, and 10 percent thinking about what was next,” this lesson could not have come to someone who needed it more. Romans walk a solid third of the speed of New Yorkers and eat a solid six or seven times slower (let’s call the coffee drinking and driving inexplicable aberrations). For the most part, though, the speed felt glacial. And for the most part, I was grateful to be taken in by it.

Since my triumphant return to America (I literally chanted “USA! USA!” in the airport when anything efficient happened), I’m already getting more than a little bit nostalgic for the slow, deliberate ways of the Romans and their way of making every moment feel deeply and purposefully lived-in. I honestly believe that not having access to our phones much of the time played a huge role in that. Not only in the feel of purposeful and active living, but in the twenty-some of us getting to know each other as well as we did.

Unfortunately, almost as soon as I returned, so did the compulsive need to check my texts, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…the list goes on. And spending the last week and a half working exclusively online and in large part on Twitter, my brain functioning has once again come to mirror my frantic clicking from one article to another. I already have a predisposition for that mental pace — media only expedites the process. Placing 100 percent of my focus on one subject has once again become a rarity.

In Rome? Wasn’t a problem. I would allow myself to focus on one single thing for long periods of time (yes, even a single painting for the hour it took Tegs to describe it), and that ability was both calming and comforting. Try as I might to duplicate that level of mental clarity, I know I will only be able to get so far. There will always be something special about how I felt, thought, lived, for those four months. And for that Rome, I thank you.

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Food, Photos, Travel

That’s So Gaudi: BARCELONA

instagramMight as well kick it off with the crowning moment of my trip to Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia. The only possible way I can describe it is to try to convey how profoundly I can’t. The single most impressive thing–natural or manmade—I have ever seen, La Sagrada Familia makes you sit back and ponder how incapable you are of comprehending it, let alone describing it. It was truly one of those moments that puts you face to face with the limitations of language. Pure and simple, it can’t be done.

Gaudi’s masterwork, La Sagrada Familia was begun in 1882…and it is not close to completion. Gaudi devoted the last 43 years of his life to the gargantuan undertaking. And by gargantuan I mean: after those 43 years less than a quarter of it was finished.

The pictures don’t come close, but they’re all I’ve got. If you find yourself thinking they’re cool, just remember how pitifully insufficient they are. I will absolutely return when it’s closer to completion, or (hope against all hopes) completed.

On to the second most important element of our weekend in Barcelona: the food. I still don’t know if I’m emotionally prepared to put it at the top, but it was absolutely in the top three food weekends of these four months (which are, frightening, coming to an end in just four days). The food was so good that I would be genuinely upset if I forgot any of it. So I wrote it all down, naturally. Highlights:

La Boqueria Market: Just being there was a highlight of the trip in itself. La Boqueria, the history of which dates back to SONY DSC1217, was a chaotic conglomeration of juice, so-fresh-they’re-still-moving fish, olives, chocolate, cheese, and some rather grotesque seemingly barely dead animals. And in the midst of it all, I was gifted with two personal food bests. First, the best oyster of my life. Chris and I had the brilliant notion to buy an oyster and eat it on the spot. They were enormous, took the girl a solid five minutes just to break open, and with a little bit of lemon and vinegar….MAN were they worth it. As Chris said, the only way you can describe the taste of oysters is that they taste like the sea, but not in a gross way. And these were unbelievable. I thought it was gonna be good, and then it was so much better. Second, the single best olive of my life. Green olives (possibly Seville but I’m not positive) in a mix with spicy red peppers, but they had this incredible smoky flavor that immediately made all other olives pale in comparison. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t craved them several times since…

20130419_145640In El Born, probably my favorite neighborhood in the city, Lily and Let’s Go took us for a hipsterific lunch with wine bottle menus. Sea bass ceviche with avocado—yum! For dinner, we broke a four-in-a-row Mexican food losing streak (i.e. From Rome to Barcelona, we went to four Mexican restaurants—whose websites said they were open—only to find them closed). But never doubt four college kids with a craving for Mexican food. Los Chiles saved us, with mountains of guacamole and gringas (chicken pineapple tacos). 

In between all the eating, we saw some stuff. And by some, I mean a lot. With the luxury of two full weeks to plan out the weekend, I took full advantage, making an itinerary (with the help of Rick) that as been lauded as the best damn four-day trip itinerary Europe has ever seen. Cosi, we did Barcelona right. Touring through Eixample gave us the Block of Discord, and most importantly, Casa Batlló. A house designed entirely by the man himself (that’s Gaudi, catch on) in 1904, it too deserves its own mini gallery.

Day 2 was Barri Gotic, La Boqueria, the rest of the Ramblas, and the cherry: Parc Guell. More Gaudi. Sorry not sorry. Honestly, by this point in the semester I had been so overloaded with Renaissance and Baroque, I didn’t think I could look at another fresco of the Annunciation or classicizing facade. Then Barcelona stepped in with its Modernism, Art Noveau, and other modern art terms that I don’t quite understand, and it was such a breath of fresh air. The city was like nothing I had ever seen, and that did not go unappreciated. Such is why we couldn’t possibly have gotten sick of Gaudi that weekend. As you can see.

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Parc Guell, inexplicably pronounced “parkway,” was intended to be a complex of outrageous mansions. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to live there, but somehow it didn’t quite catch on. So now it’s just a sweet park you can run around and take pictures in. This is the mosaic-ed “el drac,” who greets you at the park’s entrance. And this is what drac gets to look out at every day.

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Our last day in Barcelona began with churros and chocolate and ended with one of the best meals of my young life. In the middle was the beach, which was great, but…food. Lunch was insane, with bombas from La Bombetta, along with patatas bravas and octopus that was so mindblowingly tender I don’t know how it could’ve been octopus. And then dinner. Rick Steves won again by pointing us toward the den of flavor that was Tapas 24. Here comes the list:

  • That Spanish tomato toast
  • Cava sangria
  • Iberico ham, cheese, and truffle sandwich
  • Foie gras burger
  • More bombas
  • Paella with mushrooms and ham and other delicious things
  • Lamb skewers
  • Rabbit ribs

My mouth actually just started watering. Barcelona, you were unique, delicious, and at times, truly remarkable, and I am so glad we got to meet this semester.

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Design

“Didactic Illustrations” Obviously

Today’s graphic design project: Create a set of illustrations that explains, senza parole, how to accomplish a certain task. First, I got the very serious and difficult task of applying contact lenses (Some people struggle okay? I got you Shelb.)

Screen shot 2013-04-22 at 7.33.45 PMMajor hint: Do not use your nails. Obvious to many, not so to some. Next, with only a short bit left in class, I drew “How to open a wine bottle.” So I thought, “Okay, how do I open wine bottles?” And this is what I came up with.

Screen shot 2013-04-22 at 4.13.22 PMThank you, my kind and patient friends.

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Photos, Rome

Black And Whites From A Weekend In Roma

This weekend after things between London and I got pretty hot and heavy (And then you come in. With your hot. And your heavy.), I spent the weekend rekindling the flame with my first love, Rome. I checked several Rome to-dos off my list, including the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine, the Ara Pacis, the Mouth of Truth, Piazza Navona’s unexpectedly awesome Chiesa Sant’Agnese in Agone, and Chiesa di San Luigi in Francesi with its three Caravaggio’s. As the weather was positively glorious, we spent much time wandering through some of our favorite increasingly tourist-filled places – Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, Fontana di Trevi, the Jewish Ghetto, and of course, our hood, Trastevere – and discovering several new must-eats, Pizzeria di Buffetto and Gelateria del Teatro among the tops. And so, I emerge with some photographs I don’t despise, a profound rarity for me. Behold.

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Photos, Quotes, Travel

But Suddenly, A New Contender Has Emerged… London.

“The best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination, is, that, in such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

SONY DSCFor those who understand the title’s reference: 1. this is probably why we are friends, and 2. I am speaking not of the biggest idiot in the room, but of my favorite city. Rome, I mean no disrespect. We’ve become quite close over the past few months, I love you, you’re the first European city I ever traveled to, your art and history are unparalleled and you feed me wonderfully. Hell, our communication has even gotten better these days. You’ll always have a special place in my heart. But my God you’re dirty, you never do things when you say you’re going to, and frankly, you creep me out sometimes. But London…I belong in London. Look at me: how much sense does this picture make? I’ll tell you: all the sense in the world. A year or two is about the maximum Rome and I could go before we really started grate on each other’s nerves. London and I could be happy together for a lifetime.

This past weekend was my favorite weekend of this semester of incredible weekends (besides Eric weekend, but that’s his fault not London’s.) London is unequivocally my favorite city I’ve visited, and the one I want to return to first. I had no choice but to treat the four days I spent there as if I would have, at some point, a significant amount of time to explore it. There’s just, like Paris, too much to see in four days. Except unlike Paris and like New York City, this fact left me feeling invigorated rather than rushed and ultimately unfulfilled. Why such a strong love for a city that Italians look down on, a city without the culture of incredible cuisine I’ve been accustomed to, a city which, when I scrolled through quotes about London, had more bad than good? You could blame it on the weather (I froze in Paris), except you can’t, because it was cold. Really cold. And cloudy except on Sunday. I mean, it’s London. I will give some credence to the explanation that hearing people speaking English all around me was one of the most unexpectedly wonderful feelings. I immediately felt more comfortable, more at home, thrilled to be able to eavesdrop on strangers once again. Besides, I love the English language and I don’t care who knows it.

“The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane.” Stephen Fry

All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the beauty of the British accent. Little kids shouting things like, “Everyone’s running!” “Uncle Joe are we going to Trafalgar?” and “Cheers!” brought me infinite joy. I’ll also attribute some of my love of London on the children running around everywhere. I don’t know why, but for some reason there seemed to be exponentially more kids running around in London than in Paris and Rome combined. Am I crazy? Maybe, but that’s certainly what it felt like. And it was wonderful.

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The Thames. Let’s talk about it by way of comparison. I had drawing class today underneath Tiber Island, right up close with the Tiber herself. Our professor very helpfully informed us that the best way to depict water is not with wiggly lines, but with reflections. Unfortunately, there are no reflections in the Tiber. The thing is a cesspool. The Thames looked like you could go for a swim in it. In the heart of Rome, the Tiber is about 300 feet across. The Thames? 700. It was magnificent.

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 3.48.08 PMI know London isn’t exactly known as the food capital of the world, but I could not have been happier with what I ate in London this weekend. Starting with chamomile tea, clotted creme, and the most amazing scones I have ever eaten. Are we not the most adorable little wannabe Brits you’ve ever seen? But actually my first meal was Mexican—fajitas at Las Iguanas. And it was a magical Mexican food reunion for all of us. The next day (just before the feast pictured here), we ate sushi, and it too, was magical. Saturday we went classic pub food with cod and chips and beef pie. But that night, Lily and I stumbled upon Dehesa, a Spanish/Italian tapas place that was so delicious that I’m about to recount exactly what we had word-for-word from the menu: “1. Grilled & Marinated Lamb Leg with Spiced Squashes, Cavolo Nero, Brown Butter and Capers, 2. Cornish Crab and Prawn Croquetas with Crustacean Aioli Confit, 3. Something solely referred to as Classic Tortilla, which was basically a frittata with cheese and potatoes and onions, and 4, the holy grail, Old Spot Pork Belly with Rosemary Scented Cannellini Beans.” It all got a little bit out of control, particularly that hunk of crispy pork belly. (Eric it reminded me so much of Longmann & Eagle! Anyone else: Go to Longmann & Eagle.)

Unfortunately I have no pictures to illustrate this, but THEATER. Next best thing to New York, and we took full advantage. Lily and I were so enamored with A Chorus Line on Friday night…that we went to Mamma Mia on Saturday afternoon. We had to sprint back to our hostel and get ready in less than an hour, and it was so worth it. Highlight and the worst part of A Chorus Line was Paul’s speech, which left me crying throughout the entire (fairly upbeat) second half of the show—a reminder that fiction has the sometimes frightening power to bring me to my knees at any moment. Mamma Mia however—apart from “Slipping Through My Fingers,” was as jubilantly ridiculous as expected, and left us giggling and drunk on life before Booze Cruise.

Mom, I neglected to reveal the name of said Notre Dame study abroad boat party when we spoke….but alas, the truth comes out. Booze Cruise. In any case, it was a fantastic time. Danced for three straight hours, so that’s never bad.

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The caption I’d like to use here would not be appropriate for print.

Let’s be cultured again shall we? British Museum. We were feeling so much animosity after being in Athens and watching the poor Acropolis Museum’s video about the Brits blowing up their temple and then stealing all its parts. Acropolis Museum video: “Elgin jacked our marbles, and we want them back. Stat.” British Museum SONY DSCvideo: “The parts were acquired by Lord Elgin and generously given to this glorious museum.” Something along those lines anyway. But truly, seeing them displayed there got to me a little more than a little bit. Also the Rosetta Stone was just hanging out there, and Katie Buck knows hieroglyphs…jealous? 

On Sunday, after waking up bright-eyed bushy-tailed and feeling like I could conquer the world (it’s funny because it’s not true), we made our way to Buckingham Palace, where I was more enamored with taking pictures of adorable children than the royals. But it was still cool. Then, for the absolute perfect ending to the weekend, we went straight Winning London up in this joint. (We had watched it four days prior in preparation for our voyage.) Sadly, I do not mean we made out in an air duct, though that would make all my childhood dreams come true. Instead…

“Do you want to see my favorite spot in the whole of London?”

SONY DSCAdmittedly, I don’t think I’ve spent enough time in London to affirm young Lord Browning’s sentiments, but the Peter Pan statue was a definite high of the trip. The entirety of Hyde Park was gorgeous in fact—it was a beautiful day, seemingly the first in awhile judging from the Spring-ish excitement in the air. We meandered along “Long River,” took a look at Kensington, watched little kids play with swans, and sat down near Peter Pan you know, to think. Hey, if it came out of Jesse Spencer’s mouth I believe it.

Just as I was in the midst of falling in love with a wobbling toddler in a sweater with elbow pads, an older gentleman (I don’t think you’re allowed to call a British male just “man.”) walked up to the statue pushing his very elderly mother in a wheelchair. He said, “I thought you might want to get out and look at the animals,” which to be honest, I had not even noticed were covering the base of the statue. He helped her up the stairs counting, 1, 2… at a staggeringly slow pace, and proceeded to walk her around the statue of the boy who didn’t want to grow up, pointing out each animal in succession. The only next logical step in that moment was to pretend to be taking pictures of Lily so I could photograph them. I had no choice. It was worth it.

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It was just one of those serendipitous moments that I had the pleasure to witness, to pretend I was a part of for just a few minutes. And call it me magnifying something that was really no more than a coincidence (it’s what I do), but that right there was the moment that solidified my love affair with London. It was already pretty rock solid, but that put it over the edge. And I didn’t even know what would happen next. The mother-son pair made their way over to the river (this litte statue sits right next to it by the way), and looked out at the birds perched all the way across. My original infatuation, elbowpad toddler, did the same. With his mom. And alas: my favorite picture I’ve taken in Europe.

“Slipping through my fingers all the time…”


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Oh London, I’ve fallen so hard. In the throws of Booze Cruise myself and another of your admirers had a bit of a gush session, during which she described you as “self-assured.” Just now, another friend (with a personal bias, but he has a point) called you “arrogant.” My thought is that both are true, and for me, that only adds to your appeal. We’re a match made in heaven, and I promise I’ll be back.

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