Rome – Dinner with Italian Friends

I have now reached the end of my time in Italy for the summer! At the end of my trip I spent a couple more days in Rome in anticipation of my flight from Fiumicino back to my home state of Nevada. While there, I was able to show my family some of my favorite places in the city including the Villa Borghese (a large public park just north of the city’s historic center) and the Galleria Borghese, which is a beautiful collection of art featuring works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Michelangelo da Caravaggio, and Antonio Canova, among several others. The museum also features an astonishing collection of ancient art, especially from Imperial Rome. My favorite work in the gallery was certainly Bernini’s sculpture, Apollo e Dafne. Executed between 1622 and 1625, the sculpture depicts the exact moment that Daphne begins to transform into a tree during her flight from Apollo, according to the ancient story. The sculpture is stunningly detailed, full of suspension and motion. In addition, the sculpture shows Daphne’s fingertips just as they are beginning to sprout tree branches, a detail which I found to be particularly thoughtful and creative.

Another highlight during my final day in Rome was the San Luigi dei Francesi church and a famous Caravaggio painting in its interior, Vocazione di san Matteo (The Calling of St. Matthew). This painting was of particular interest for me because I had the opportunity to study it as a part of my Foundations of Theology class during my freshman year at Notre Dame. Most obviously, the way Caravaggio was able to capture light and shadow in the painting are extraordinary. Further, the painting is replete with symbols and iconographically significant details, the most interesting of which is the hand of Christ as he calls out to Matthew. His hand is in exactly the same form as the hand of Adam on the ceiling of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, though in this painting, the hand is an exact mirror image of Adam’s hand, intended to be emblematic of the Incarnation. The Vocazione di san Matteo is absolutely one of my favorite paintings, and seeing it in person was an incredible opportunity.

The night before my flight home, I was able to have dinner with my family as well as our longtime friends who are native Italians and residents of Rome. My dad became friends with Dr. Patrizia Mancini when she was an exchange student at the University of Minnesota about 25 years ago, and since then, my dad has kept in contact with her. Earlier in the summer during my internship in Rome, I spent time with Patrizia, her husband Angelo, and their daughter Costanza. Over the course of the dinner, I spoke with the Mancini’s (almost exclusively in Italian), and I had the opportunity to discuss a variety of subjects with them, including their opinions of America. All three members of the family generally had positive impressions of America and are particularly impressed by the United States’ economic power, as well as American popular culture including music and movies. However, at the same time, all three of the Mancini’s were honest with me when they expressed their negative opinions with regard to American political discourse, which they find to be generally crass and mostly disrespectful. They resent that Italian politics are becoming more populist in line with political trends in America.

Costanza’s opinion of America as a young person was distinct from her parents’. Costanza is entering her final year of high school in Rome and, along with many of her friends, it is one of her goals to either attend a university in the United States or eventually work in the United States. America is generally perceived by Italians (especially younger Italians) to be a place of significant economic opportunity, where Italy can sometimes be perceived as somewhat corrupt and less conducive to economic mobility. Overall, my conversation with these Italian friends was enlightening, and it served to confirm many of the ideas that I had previously heard about in Italian classes at Notre Dame or in the Italian media.

Bernini’s Apollo e Dafne in the Galleria Borghese in Rome, Italy

Caravaggio’s Vocazione di san Matteo in the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, Italy

Dinner in Rome with my family and Patrizia, Angelo, and Costanza Mancini