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 ‚ÄĒ 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.

‚ÄúI sometimes fancy,” said Hilda, on whose susceptibility the scene always made a strong impression, “that Rome‚ÄĒmere Rome‚ÄĒwill crowd everything else out of my heart.‚Ä̬†‚ÄēNathaniel 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 ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äďnatural or manmade‚ÄĒI 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‚ÄĒyum! 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‚ÄĒwhose websites said they were open‚ÄĒonly 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 Batll√≥.¬†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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