The last week! I’ve had a wonderful time here in Italy. I can definitely say that I learned a plethora of grammatical rules and tenses in Rome with ItaliaIdea. I am so very grateful to the donors who were generous enough to give me this opportunity, and I will undoubtedly be back in Italy, if not Rome.
This past week, there was the national holiday Ferragosto on Tuesday. Ferragosto was originally a pagan holiday, but because Catholicism is the national religion of Italy, it has been transformed to celebrate the Assumption of Mary. That day, the whole of Rome seemed void of Italians. This is because most Italians leave the city to flock to the beaches and have lunch or dinner and party with their friends and family. Since I didn’t have class, however, Huda and I had an American breakfast at a bar called Meccanismo in Trastevere and then right after, we went to the Borghese Gardens. We got refreshments and sat in the park and talked, watching Italians and tourists alike pass the holiday out in nature.
Later that evening, we met one of Huda’s friends, Jurgita, at the Spanish steps. Coming from Lithuania, she had just finished an internship in Florence and was living in Rome. She had just returned to Rome from a vacation at home and it was her birthday, so we celebrated by getting gelato and then sitting on the spanish steps to talk.
Friday, my last day, I ended up having lunch with Huda before class and we went to this Sicilian bakery we knew near Via Arenula. Later that night, we had our last dinner tonight at a well-known restaurant, Nonna Betta, in the Jewish Quarter.
This week started out very interesting. After the adventure I’d had the past weekend in Nemi, I had a relatively relaxing week.
Sunday, I went to a contemporary art museum. Each first Sunday of the month, museums offer free admission. My appreciation of contemporary art started during the winter of 2015 when I went to a museum in Vienna. Since then, I have been fascinated in the narratives and mediums in which contemporary art manifests itself.
Since August is the month of vacation for Italians, our instructor left on vacation and we have a substitute. Monday in class, we talked about racism, the European immigrant crisis as it pertains to Italy, and political correctness, or the lack thereof in Italy. It was a really refreshing conversation to have with an Italian, and our teacher, Martina, was very interested to hear what we had to say on the subject. Martina had just returned to Italy in May from a Fulbright fellowship in the U.S. and expressed to us the large influence that the U.S. plays on Italy. We read an article about a Senegalese musician in Italy, McTalibe. He was going into a radio interview, and the interviewers wanted to play an innocent prank on him. They knew he had a large family with lots of siblings, and they were planning to call a vacation apartment rental for him that they knew would be too small for his family. The joke was that they would ask the landlord if there was room for his 27 brothers. Once they called the landlord, however, and she found out that he was a Senegalese immigrant, the apartment was suddenly unavailable. One of his Italian radio counterparts called the same woman to ask about the availability of the space, and she told him it was at his disposal.
Following that, we talked about the large number of northern African and middle eastern refugees who have had to flee their homes to come live in Europe. One of my classmates is partially Italian and has relatives who live in northern Italy. Upon visiting them, he told us that his cousin expressed hate for refugees. Her idea was that they would just come into the country and take welfare, but didn’t contribute to the economy or community in any way: they don’t spend money, they don’t work, and they don’t speak italian. This, to me, is such a narrow-minded view of people. If there were a way fro these people to stay in their countries, they wouldn’t leave the places they call home. Additionally, the process in order to obtain visas and resident documents is something that has to be taken into consideration. Not only is there a negative view of immigrants (and foreigners in general) in Italy, but there are many inappropriate terms and slang used to describe them. One thing I have noticed in Italy over the time spent here is the lack of political correctness. The United States has it’s own (and larger) issues when it comes to racism, but one thing that activists and anyone sensitive to the racial divide are sensitive to is the language we use to talk about one another. Here, I think it is more accepted to use inappropriate and targeted language because, to those Italians, its a joke. They are “playing.” Despite the issues that these terms and attitudes breed, I can’t help but see it as “racism lite.” I don’t want to seem like I am discrediting the gravity of the immigrant crisis and I certainly don’t condone or agree with the ideas, but in light of recent events in the United States, I can’t help but dread my return. After I read this article, I was deeply upset and disappointed at the lack of reaction that I witnessed from the nation.
On a brighter note, today, I was went to the historic Porta Portese market. The largest and oldest market in Rome, the Porta Portese market is famous to locals and tourists alike. There are a variety of items from clothing and shoes to antiques and even antique alcohol. I ended up buying earrings for my mom and sister and a rug for my apartment!
This week marked the midpoint of my SLA, and I have to say I have the same feeling of dread about leaving Rome as I did last year at this time.
Besides beginning the second half of the semester, not much went on during the week. I did, however, make it to Nemi on Saturday! Getting there and and back from Rome was pure hell. I had taken the train from Rome’s central train station to Albano Laziale, the place where I should have changed busses last weekend. Upon arriving in Albano, I was greeted with closed shops and restaurants due to the month of vacation that Italians take in August, the feria d’agosto. I walked around the city for about 15 minutes and finally found an open bar to ask about the regional bus. When I entered, there were three men inside. I asked the barista where I could catch the bus, and then followed his directions to the bus stop outside. After about 5 minutes of waiting, someone drove up and waved to me to go into the car. I shook my head and he drove away. Five minutes later, he returned and asked if I was the girl from the bar trying to get to Nemi. I responded that I was, and he told me he was heading in that direction, so he would take me there.
Skeptical as I was, no busses had been passing and the whole town seemed dead, so I got in. I ended up meeting Paolo, who was heading nearby Nemi to pick up a set of keys from his wife. He reassured me that I shouldn’t be skeptical, and that it was an off-day for the busses, so who knew if it would even pass. He dropped me off about 10 minutes later in Nemi. Once I got out and saw the cute, strawberry decked town, I shook of the stress of getting there and decided to walk around. The town, situated on a hill overlooking small Lake Nemi, was very local. I stopped first in a bar to have a lemon cake with fragoline, the sacred fruit that had driven me there in the first place. I sat outside and ate my cake in front of an unforgettable view of the lake.
Having previously researched some of the town attractions, I set out to find the remains of an ancient temple. After exiting the town gate, I found a panorama. I walked five minutes down and found a hiking trail. Using trusty google maps, I descended into the trail. Thirty or so minutes later, without a water bottle and facing the stifling heat, I felt so dehydrated. I was minutes away from the temple, and decided I should go anyway because there would probably be a concession stand there. I found a gate with an inscription of the Temple of Diana, and walked through. At the end of the drive, I found what seemed to look like a park shelter. Outside, there was a woman playing with a dog, and when I came back out, she asked me what was wrong. I explained to her that I was looking for the temple remains. She informed me that I was on private property–the temple was in the other direction–and that it was actually closed. Disappointed and thirsty, I thanked her and turned back toward the hiking trail that would take me back to the town center.
Uphill was worse, and the angle of the sun made it impossible for me to get back up without taking multiple breaks. By the time I reached the center and the drinking fountain in the piazza, I felt sick. I took a long drink of water and sat down at the bench. After sitting there for about 20 minutes, I decided I should figure out a way to get back into Rome. I opened up a taxi app that I had and requested a taxi for the next half hour. After rehydrating and learning that the taxis could only be requested to leave from Rome when the drivers didn’t show up, I decided I needed to find a way to get back to Albano Laziale to get a train back to Rome.
Google maps had a pretty clear walking route. After I bought a bottle of water and two containers of fragoline, I began the two hour walk back to Albano. In the end, I made it back to Albano and was able to catch a train back to Rome a half hour later (ironically, on the walk back, three regional busses passed by me when I wasn’t at a bus stop). Thankful to be home, I marveled at how strange the day had been and concluded that the universe really hadn’t wanted me to get to Nemi, and since I had arrived (against the universe’s wishes), it wasn’t going to be an easy trip. In the end, I can say that I got some nice photos and a lesson. If it’s too difficult to arrive, better to choose another destination! My fragoline ended up being smashed up by the time I reached my apartment, so I just made jam with them.
This week was filled with plenty of adventure, including a second exam!
Monday, I walked around my neighborhood. San Lorenzo is pretty particular. Just outside the Aurelian walls and east of Termini, it is known for being a bit duro, or hard: the streets and buildings look rough with graffiti everywhere and beer bottles in the piazze. This neighborhood, however, is one of the more lively quarters, especially since it hosts many of Rome’s #1 university buildings. Because La Sapienza is so nearby, there are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area catered to suit poor college student bank accounts. It is also located near the Esquilino neighborhood, the hub of stranieri, or foreigners, in Rome. For this, there are many options in terms of Asian markets to shop for groceries.
Then on Tuesday following class, I walked with some of my classmates down Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine. Following that, we walked into Monti, one of the more hip neighborhoods in Rome, to grab lunch at a fast food pasta place called Pasta Imperiale (yes, they exist and they’re fabulous) and then a gelato afterwards at a well known gelateria in Monti called Fatamorgana. That evening, I had prepared a non-Italian dinner for myself. The day before, I had marinated a piece of salmon. Then I sliced it to eat with rice, cucumber, seaweed, and egg. Later that evening, I had planned to meet again with Flora, my Italian friend. As I waited for her, I sat on Via dei Fori Imperiali. There was a group playing live music and many people enjoying the unnaturally cool evening. It was so pleasant to sit within the ancient city in a contemporary context. We finally met up and then went together to a bar just near Colle Oppio. Hidden behind what seemed like ruined walls was an Indian themed bar with accents of Middle Eastern and Saharan African accents. There we watched a fire dancer perform and a live band playing themed music.
Wednesday after class, I had lunch with Huda and then we went on a mission to find a good panna cotta, which literally translates to cooked cream. We walked from Esquilino, where we’d eaten, to San Giovanni in a bar/pasticceria called Pompi. There, we found the custard dessert with the options of different toppings. I ordered frutti di bosco, or forest fruit topping.
After deciding that Saturday I had wanted to go to Nemi, a small borgo famous for its fragoline, I didn’t end up making it. I took the intercity bus from the station intending to make a change in Genzano. The only problem was the bus only stops if you request, and it’s almost impossible to know where the stops are. After missing my point of change, I ended up arriving an hour outside of my destination. It was around 2:00 in the afternoon, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and I wasn’t going to make it in time to catch lunch in Nemi. I found the train station, but a bus ticket back to Rome, and got back within an hour and a half. Luckily, the tickets had only cost about 2,00 euro each so it was a cheap mistake to make.
Sunday, however, was by far the highlight of my week. Huda and I had made plans to go to one of the beaches near Rome. Since I had been to Sperlonga the year before, and many Italians rate it amongst the best near Rome, we headed there for our seaside adventure. We arrived at the train station and took a bus from the station to the city. Once we arrived, we each had a crema caffe’, essentially a coffee frosty, to cool us down from the heat. As we walked the main via, we started to go down to each beach to see if we could rent an ombrellone and two lettini. The way Italian beaches work is this: restaurants and bars will own a plot of land which usually includes a strip of waterfront. This way, they can make money from renting umbrellas and beds to beachgoers. The first beach we asked was al completo, or full. We walked on to the next, also full. We checked each bar and restaurant: tutti al completo. We decided to backtrack to ask the restaurants we had passed earlier, and thankfully, someone had cancelled their reservation, leaving exactly one ombrellone and two lettini for Huda and I.
One of my classmates, Tegan, was traveling around Europe with her friend, and it happened that they passed by Rome for a few days. Tuesday afternoon following class, a few of my classmates and I met her and her friend, Audrey, for lunch at a mom and pop restaurant near Piazza Navona. We ate a typical Roman pasta, carbonara, and then went to Tazza D’Oro, a famous caffe’, after lunch. There we each ordered granita caffe’. Granite are very famous all over Italy (specifically in Sicily), and are essentially fresh slushies. They can be ordered in flavors like limone, mandorle, and caffe’. Ours were made with a layer of fresh whipped cream, or panna, the coffee flavored ice chips, and then another topping of whipped cream.
Wednesday I had my first midterm exam. It was over parts of grammar that I hadn’t studied before, so I was quite nervous when I was going in. However, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. Following the exam, I had lunch with one of the other ItaliaIdea students at restaurant near Sant’Andrea della Valle, very close to the hotel we used to stay in when I studied with the School of Architecture.
Thursday I got to eat at a pizzeria I had heard many good things about but had never gotten around to trying out. Pizzeria Baffetto, near Piazza Navona, had always had a line outside of it whenever I passed by. When we were seated, we ordered a half litre of white wine and our pizze. It didn’t live up to all the hype I’d heard about it, but it was certainly a nice lunch treat. Following lunch, we hit Via del Corso to check out i saldi, or sales. In Italy, there are approximately two times a year when major sales happen. There’s one that occurs through July/August, and one that occurs in February/March. Ironically, we all just bought underwear.
Friday, one of my classmates took us to her shawarma place. Huda, born in Syria but living in Qatar, had not eaten meat since she arrived to respect her faith. However, she found a little shop that served halal meat, and so she took us to the restaurant to get shawarma for lunch. I’d never had it before, but it was a flavorful treat for us all. Since the restaurant owner noticed that she kept coming back and bringing more friends with her, he gave us complimentary dessert: Syrian baklava! After lunch, I decided to treat myself with a pedicure. At this spa, Wellness Aquarium, there a tanks filled with garra rufa fish, who feast on the dead skin cells of feet. When I put my feet in, they flocked to my legs and began munching. It tickled, and I struggled not to laugh out loud. However, when I pulled my feet out at the end of the half hour, they were baby smooth!
So I’m finally back in Rome, and I’m ecstatic. Not only does it feel like a homecoming, but I’m more confident than I’ve ever been in my conversational Italian abilities. Before I arrived here, I had taken part in a program with VoluntarItaly where I served as an English TA for a summer camp called GREST. There I was working with elementary school kids from 8:00a to 5:00p, so it’s been great to have time to myself these days.
On the first day of class, I had to run to catch the bus. While I was running, all I could think is, “First class back in Rome and I’m already running for transport. Typical.” Once I arrived at ItaliaIdea, I was told to go into classroom 6. Unknowingly, they had placed me in the beginner classroom. I thought to myself, “Okay, I can just stick it out the first week and maybe I’ll learn something new.” We started out by learning how to introduce ourselves, and I knew that if I was going to learn anything in the class, it would probably be at the end of the six weeks. I needed to switch out. Shortly after the mid class break, I asked the teacher to be switched to the proper level. I later found out that the man who had my correct placement had been out sick the day I arrived. I later met my proper classmates, most of which come from the U.S. and one from Barcelona.
Later Monday night, we went to Rec 23, a local bar that hosts a ‘language exchange’ every Monday night. At this exchange, Italians come to the bar to meet foreigners and practice another language that they are studying, whether it be English, Spanish, etc. I had gone before when I was abroad last year, and ended up making friends with some of the students of Universita’ Roma Tre. During the summer, the language exchange moves out by the Tiber River in a sort of festival called TeverEstate. It was nice to go with classmates and see new Italian faces. During the rest of the week, I got to know my classmates better and we all had lunch together in a park near Largo Argentina after my second class. My first in-class exam will be next Tuesday over conjunctions and direct and indirect pronouns. Wish me luck!
Park View from Tuesday’s Lunch
In addition to the SLA, I’ve been working on an application for the Fulbright Fellowship Program. It has been a bit weird doing the application abroad with remote advisor meetings. It feels strange to me that I’m working on this application to go abroad while I am abroad, but I’ve been sure to balance my time so I can work on the application and have meetings but still complete my assignments and engage the city.
Another pleasant highlight of the week was meeting an old friend, Flora, to go out on Friday night. I had met her and three other Italian students at the Rec 23 Language exchange last year. The others were back home in Calabria for the summer, however. We went to a bar called Black Market in Monti, a very chic neighborhood just east of the Colosseum. Tonight (Saturday), I am meeting one of my classmates and his visiting college friend for karaoke!
I am a fourth-year student in the School of Architecture double-majoring in Italian. Born in Tema, Ghana, I moved with my family to the U.S. shortly before my fourth birthday. As an architecture student, I spent a year abroad studying and falling in love not only with Italian architecture, but also with Italian language and culture. However, as the program was not meant to be immersive, I sought to have a more comprehensive and deliberate Italian education.
The Summer Language Abroad is important to me because it will be another opportunity to learn more about the Italian way of life and to integrate myself into their society. It will be another important way to prepare myself for moving there following graduation.
I hope this opportunity will allow me to improve my reading and grammatical language skills. I also hope it can help me to open myself up to being more outgoing in a setting where I may not know anyone. I hope it will give me the confidence in my abilities so that I feel able to strike up conversation with strangers.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer are to deepen my advanced reading comprehension, broaden my vocabulary, increase my spoken fluency, strengthen my grammatical skills, and have an overall greater sense of cultural awareness. My Italian fluency depends largely on my exposure to the language, and an immersive experience will greatly increase my fluency. In addition to on-campus courses, I want to utilize summer months through the SLA Grant to continue exposing myself to Italian both formally and informally.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience is to fully engage in the coursework that ItaliaIdea has to offer as well as extracurricular opportunities. Additionally, I’d like to make some friend who only speak Italian, that way I am forced to speak it with them!