Playing Catch-Up

At this point, I’m roughly in time with what has been going on with my life. Unfortunately, this also means that I have neglected quite a few amazing days and outings. So this post is a sloppy attempt to make up for my oversight.

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It’s been quite impossible to keep on track of all the stories I want to tell simply because they keep us ever so busy here at the Centro. I also realize that I’ve never given an explanation of my class time.

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My week usually begins with an early breakfast followed by a lecture and a half-day trip. These trips run from 8:30 or 9 to lunchtime:1. After lunch I’ll have a Latin class where we discuss the ridiculously, heart-stoppingly amazing Thyestes. Seriously, if you have not read Seneca’s Thyestes and you are interested in a good time for all involved, get on that. Tuesday is for full-day excursions. These are always really cool because we get to see so much, but also really intense because they shove so much material into one day and the day lasts from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m..

On our first week, we covered Etruscan sites. Below are pictures from my favorite moments through the day:

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Cerveteri is the contemporary name for the ancient site of Caere. We got to go into the ancient necropolis where you can see many massive tumuli. Here I am totally respecting the sanctity of a funeral bier with a friend.

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Yet another picture of Cerveteri (I was obsessed with this place), the Tomb of the Reliefs! This tomb was quite a bit later than the others and it stood out for its crazy detailed carvings of everyday items. It’s important to know that these tumuli were not built, but rather carved out of the bedrock in the ground! So all the architectural details are merely aesthetic.

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Although Etruscan temples were composed of wattle and daub type materials and thus little is left, we saw the IMMENSE podium of the so-called ara della regina. In this picture, I’m standing in one tiny, little corner of the podium.

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On our second Tuesday trip, we explored sites in the Alban hill region like Lavinium (which was a real place!)

We spent a lot of time with a 7th century tomb that later ancients knew as the tomb of Aeneas and a nearby site of thirteen altars. Our guide would not stop talking about tufo.

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Another high point in the day was the museum at Nemi which used to house the two pleasure boats (I think we all know what that means) of Caligula that Mussolini drained the lake to recover. At the Centro we roll call using the emperors to make sure everyone is on site. Aw, I know, we’re so cute. My emperor is the gratifyingly demented Caligula. So I had a bit of a freak out in this museum. I’d like to think I was overcome by Caligula’s demeanor:

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In these wonderfully flattering photos I am enthused both by the size of a nail and by a lead pipe which was stamped with Caligula’s name in the genitive (this is the possessive case-so the pipe says hey I’m Caligula’s!).

We ended this Tuesday with a bit of a ramble up to the sanctuary of Diana, a truly breathtaking site.

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This whole region was just desperately beautiful actually.

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Although the area would have been quite metropolitan in its hey-day, I love its current look, as if Diana, goddess of the wilds, took back her sanctuary with her own flair.

These are just a few of the remarkable things we’ve seen on these Tuesday trips. We spend the day running about and are, needless to say, tremendously ready for dinner on those nights. And I don’t know whether its actually that much better than the already marvelous food they serve us or whether we’re just that much more eager, but it always seems like Tuesdays are the best for food!

This brings us to Wednesdays. These are generally calm and easy days to give us time to recover. I have a lecture in the morning, my internship for three hours, and another lecture. Thursday is a duplicate of Monday.

Fridays are dedicated to art history site trips. We’ve gone on four thus far and I always enjoy them immensely. Unlike all my other outings for my Ancient City course, which comprise of all 35 people, only 14 people are in Art History so the crowds are much more manageable and you can easily get up close and personal with the art. 

But I think I’ll talk about all the marvelous things we’ve seen in another post because this is getting much too long! Ciao!

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A Young English Poet and My Venerative Adoration

To describe this morning, I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word than fair. Today was our first optional Saturday outing. I have many places, many pictures that I should probably post about first, but instead I’m indulging my fancy and skipping straight to hero worship time! After all, nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced.

We started our day out with-the part that excited most of us Classics majors-a chance to see the interior of the Tomb of Cestius. 

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While this was pretty exciting, it wasn’t what made me wake up this morning with a smile on my face and glee bubbling up inside me. No, my rapture was caused by a trip to a well-known site near the tomb: the so-called Protestant Cemetery.

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The cemetery is a thing of beauty; yes, it’s perfectly lovely in its own right with its winding paths and dappled sunlit breezes, but I was there to find a particular grave.

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This grave is unusual in that it bears no name as per request. However, due to the fame of the occupant, people flock to the site regardless. At first when I had made my way to that side of the cemetery, frantically searching for the grave marker, I couldn’t find it because a group was in the way. Soon though, they parted and I had good reason to be content.

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(AH!)

Here we see it-the grave of John Keats my favorite poet ever! It’s situated in a quiet corner of the cemetery by the wall. Flowers grow around it. Before his death, Keats remarked to Severn that he liked the place because of the violets growing at will over the field. Violets were his favorite and he said he could feel them growing over him already. Today, cats often take up residence among the violets. This strikes me as something he would appreciate.

Get ready for some pictures of me looking overcome:

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 I have so much of you in my heart.

Touch has a memory.

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I may also have bestowed a bit of a kiss to the stone (by which I vowed an endless bliss). I brought with me my copy of his works and a little note to be slipped among the flowers. 

When we had reconvened, our professor in charge’s wife read “Ode to a Grecian Urn” aloud.  Although not my favorite, it felt quite fitting in the moment surrounded by twenty or so Classics majors.

I had really been looking forward to visiting the grave and paying homage to the man who is truly my favorite poet. I adore his passion and imagination alongside his thoughtfulness. He celebrates the truth, beauty, and immortality of poetry. Through his words in both his poems and his letters, he comes off as one of the most precious intellectuals out there. And who can stop themselves from melting whenever he discusses love?

His writing career spanned five years of his life. His three most popular odes (Nightingale, Grecian Urn, and Melancholy) were all written in the same month! I can only imagine what he would have come up with if he had lived past his 25th year: Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.

On that note, I’m not sure I could pack any more references in here without it getting too creepy.  Never fear, I’ll have another chance when I visit the museum at the foot of the Spanish steps;)

Internship!

So I have some really great news:

A lot of ICCS students are able to intern at the American Academy in Rome with their collection of ancient artifacts.  Because it was mainly a teaching collection, many of the objects are without proper labels or accompanying research.  Therefore they’ve begun a program where they’ll take ten students at a time and teach them how to work with collections. I was pretty bummed out a couple weeks ago because I was not one of the lucky ones drawn at random, but then someone decided to drop so I got the internship!

Today, after our morning lecture, the ten of us made our way over to the Academy. As it was my first time there, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but was very excited.  And I was right to be! The woman, Valentina, who runs our program and the collection is one of the nicest people I’ve met yet in Italy. She was so considerate and helpful.

We spend our time choosing (in my case) and examining our objects. The way the program works is that the student gets to pick an item or a couple related items which have not yet been cataloged extensively.  We create an entry for it (which is published under our names) and use it in a research project of some capacity.

For example, my object is a glass Roman perfume bottle [yesssss, I chose something pretty] so I could focus on how the object would be used in a household, the manufacture of the product, trade routes, perfume itself etc.

Here’s a similar example (although I have to say that I think mine is even prettier!): 

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I am so very excited for this opportunity! It’s strange to think that I get to claim this as an internship when I’m not running to get coffee, but instead handling history. Today I held something that lasted so many centuries despite its fragility.  I held something that a Roman used in her daily routine, something that was created by ancient craftsmen! Ahh, so exciting!

San Pietro in Montorio, the Tempietto, and the Villa Farnesina

These three main sights formed the game plan for our first set of sight visits. And if it seems like a lot to get done in 3 ½ hours then you’d certainly be right!  A lot of people were on the fence about which classes to take, but I simply can’t see after having seen these sights how any of them decided to drop the course!

We could easily have devoted the entire day to any of the three sites.  With this in mind, I was very impressed with our professor on the trip. He was able to give interesting information in a way that made it easy to listen to him, view the work, and take notes all at the same time.

Here’s the outer façade of the Basilica della San Pietro in Montorio. I won’t go into that much detail to bore everyone, but I thought it was pretty sweet. If I had just gone to look I would have thought: simple, bright, that’s nice and moved on. But with all the background information and the detailed looks we gave the structure, I actually became really impressed with the church (which is funny because I didn’t think I was that into Early Ren.).

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Inside we focused on this nice by Sebastiano which showed ridiculously good proportions/ use of light.  If you opened the church door, the sun shining through would create the shadows that he had included in the work.  Shivers!  This guy also made up his own technique using oils on top of plaster that no one else could ever figure out. What a bad ass.

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In the courtyard of the church is what is called the Tempietto (Little Temple), but our professor made a compelling case on why it should instead be called a Matyrium in honor of Saint Peter’s martyrdom.  The columns were actual ancient ones which were mad hard to find in matching sets when Bramante built it in the very early 16th century.  Apparently, Bramante may have been inspired to create a Roman version of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  He wouldn’t have seen the original, but the Dome of the Rock was often misidentified on ‘maps’  as the H.S.. So a mosque probably inspired the design of a Christian martyrium-I like that.

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Thirdly, we walked to the Villa Farnesina.  The excessively wealthy banker (seriously, he basically bought his way into the pope adopting him into his family because he had the most money of anyone, anywhere) Chigi commissioned Peruzzi to create the country villa pretty much contemporary with the Tempietto’s inception (around 1505ish? It’s hard to date).  Although it’s now in the middle of the city, back in the day Trastevere used to be in the wilds outside of Rome.  Pope Julius II made a road way out there and asked his friends to buy up the surrounding property. Chigi was like sure, I could use some otium in my life.

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Chigi, clever businessman that he was, hired competing artists in order to get them to really make the best products possible. Sebastiano and Raphael’s mutual hatred led to this stunning fresco which depicts Galatea rushing away from the Cyclops Polyphemus.  I won’t geek out about it, but I just have to mention her gaze.  Many people claim that she’s supposedly looked back at Polyphemus, but that does not make any sense when you actually look at her. Instead, she’s looking above at an Eros in the clouds.  Chigi had the scene painted when he believed himself about to be married.  The gaze between Galatea and the eros is supposed to speak of divine love-the joining of two souls-as opposed to the carnal love going on around him.  Awwww. This shows Raphael trying to show off as an artist, not just as artisan (as painters had been viewed throughout history pretty much til then).

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The ceiling of this room (the garden loggia) was covered with myths from the constellations in the night sky on the night at the time Chigi was born. I particularly liked the main piece:

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This Friday our class is going to the Vatican! More then!

OBELISK

They started our “real work” last week with basically a huge scavenger hunt.  Cause we live real hard lives at the Centro. They split us up into groups of three and assigned us each an obelisk to find in the city.  My group was on it really intently in the beginning. We came out of the classroom with maps open and feet on our way to the nearest bus stop.  We got to our obelisk in pretty good time if I do say so myself (at 9:25, not to brag;).  We took the bus to the colosseum and then walked to our piazza.  We turned the corner and wow! It was a lot larger than I had imagined.  It turns out that it is actually the tallest obelisk in existence (not just in Rome!), the oldest in Rome, and the latest to be brought into Rome.  We turned the corner just as the sun was perfectly rising behind it which made for a pretty majestic picture. Especially when considering that obelisks were considered to be symbolic embodiments of the rays of sun.

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The statue has four main inscriptions running around the base detailing how the obelisk got to its current location. 

It started out in the temple of Karnak in Thebes in the temple of Amun-Ra.  Literary sources told us that Augustus considered appropriating the obelisk in another of his shows of subjugation over Egypt, but that he ultimately considered its placement in the Sun temple to be too sacred.  He didn’t want to mess with that, or perhaps he considered the ridiculous cost that would be involved in transporting the massive stone to Rome.

Constantine the Great had no such qualms about removing the obelisk. The inscription around the base implies that it was the emperor’s wish to take away the obelisk from the pagan Egyptians who were using it for impious deeds, but I’m not too sure about that considering that Constantine may have been a sympathizer at this point, but he was still officially a pagan himself.  In any case, he wanted it to trick out the “New Rome” (Constantinople) he had founded with some sweet digs.  He thus moved the obelisk from Thebes to Alexandria with the intent of moving it to Constantinople eventually.

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However, too bad for him, he died and never got around to moving it from Alexandria.

His son, Constantius II [Funny story- there was Constatius I whose son was Constantine I (the Great) who had Constans I, Constantius II, and Constantine II.  Somebody’s got an ego.] moved the obelisk from Alexandria to Rome. To do so he had to build this super intense ship with three hundred oars.  It was such a big deal that they mention it in the inscription. They rowed across the sea and up the Tiber to the Circus Maximus in 357 C.E..

The Circus Maximus itself was a giant metaphor for the universe with the temples to the sun and moon on either side and the repetitive circuits of the charioteers around the track.  The obelisk stood in the middle of the spina and was, yet again, a metaphor for the sun.  There is remained through the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century.  It stayed in pieces under the muck until it was excavated and moved to the Piazza Giovanni Laterano in the sixteenth century.

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The statue of Marcus Aurelius was moved from this location to make room for what it is now appropriate to call the Lateran Obelisk.  It has all this pope and Borghese family symbolism going on.

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So we were all really into our obelisk, one of us had some history with hieroglyphs and was trying to make them out, and we were also just really impressed with the size.  No one else was really stopping and we were joking like why aren’t they into this??

Then we turned the corner and realized that it was the back of the Lateran church that we had been looking at in the piazza…

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Damn, am I right?

Also nearby was this really cool gilded mosaic thing which I couldn’t find an explanation for online: use your imaginations.

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Here are a few pictures of my group around Rome after we had found our obelisk and started our long odyssey homeward (seriously it took many buses, metros, trams, hours,  and unhelpful Italians).

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Walking tour, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, and Basilica di San Clemente

After living in Rome for three days with no direction, the professors finally came together and oriented us!  The day ran as all similar orientation days go, except we were walking around Rome so we didn’t care much that it was basically the same spiel.  After the morning meeting we went on neighborhood walk around Trastevere with our main advisers.  It was around two hours and very pleasant, we got to walk through areas of the park that I hadn’t explored yet along with the practical tips like where is cheapest to buy fruit and when the markets close.

I found out that the park which we’ve been enjoying is actually the largest park in Rome!  Here’s an inscription put up from when Paul V repaired this aqueduct which was put in by Trajan.  In the first line, Paul tags on the superlative “Optimus” onto his title as Pontifex Maximus (basically stating that he’s the best ever pope) which we all thought was pretty entertaining.

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That second picture is of the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola built between 1585-8.  The first time I saw it was on my second night in Rome when we went out, but we seem to have walked past it a million times already.  And every single time be it day or night the smooth waters tempt me and I just want to jump in! (Un)Fortunately, there always seems to be a military Jeep parked nearby like the guards just know. [Edit: Apparently people jumping in was such an issue that they issued a military edict in 1707 specifically to stop that!]

Anyway, this is another example of work commissioned under Paul V. The fountain was supposed to be in celebration of his repairs on the Aqueduct Traiana that I mentioned earlier.  It marks the end of the Acqua Paola.  Before it reached this far, the poor residents of the Janiculum Hill would have to get their drinking water from the Tiber (believe me, you don’t want to go there).  To raise money he imposed a tax on wine which made the people pretty angry.  Which, I mean wine is good, but I’m sure the Tiber was just that much grosser back in the day so I don’t think they had their priorities straight.  Here you can see the numerous renderings of the Borghese crest-eagles on top of dragons supported by angels!

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 (I don’t know why the first image is all drowned out and the second is all blue and yay…strange)

This is the view from just beyond the fountain (even better at night):

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That evening we went out on a group excursion.  We all went to the Basilica di San Clemente which was ridiculously amazing.  It has three distinct layers of buildings within the same site all open at once.

The lowest open layer was a utilitarian building which they assume was a mint for coins because textual sources say there was one in the area during that period (1st century CE) and because there’s an actual stream running under the building!  Next door was built a multilevel domus (house).  In the domus there is a speleum for the cult of Mithras which still includes the altar!!! (We couldn’t take pictures so these are all from wikipedia). (That tiny white figurine creeping over the altar is a statue of Saint Peter found in the speleum and unrelated to Mithras).

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Sometime in the fourth century after the Act of Tolerance, the lower level was filled in and the second story converted into the church.  Inside this church is an interesting mix of pagan and Christian themes.

Image In the right hand of the picture, you can see a spinning slab.  On one side is an older Roman inscription and the other side was reused as a Christian burial stone. The first side was all neatly done and the second scrawled on there.

In the eleventh century, the current church was erected and it wasn’t until quite recently that these excavations were carried out.

The top level of the church is simply fantastic.

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THE FLOOR.

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And of course we just casually waited for our bus right next to the Colosseum. No big deal. This is my life right now.

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First Adventures

My first full day in Rome was full of amazing adventures. 

I awoke to the sun gently spilling through our shutters. I had no idea what time it was, but I could hear people shouting and automobiles speeding-so my only clue that it was daytime was the sunlight.  When I looked at my watch I realized that I had slept well over twelve hours. I was nervous that the group of people with whom I had agreed to wander had already left. Luckily, their sleep deficits were apparently just as bad as mine and they had just gotten up as well. So off we went!

Crossing the Tiber felt immense. It’s so strange to think that such a mighty civilization grew out of that tawny water.  There were market tents set up all along the riverbanks under the bridge.  It must look breathtaking at night.

We wanted to get to the Pantheon or the Forum, but we hadn’t exactly planned out how to get there.  Me being me, I hung back and let the others figure out the map situation and followed where they led.  Because we didn’t know where we were going we ended up stumbling upon so many beautiful things. Isn’t that just the best way?  We would round a corner and oh look, it’s the Horologium Augusti.

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Round another corner and here’s the Column of Marcus Aurelius (not to be confused with Trajan’s column…like we did for a second…what are we majoring in again?).

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Eventually we started actually looking for the Pantheon, which was basically following all these cliché alleyways and directing ourselves with a compass to find the right path.  And find it we did!

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Ahhh! It’s just so beautiful and wonderful!

Walking around the interior of the Pantheon again was one of those experiences where you’ve been walking and sweating under the baking Italian sun for hours amid all the noise of the city and suddenly you find yourself in this really quiet moment.  I doubt that entering a church in Italy will ever lose its effect on me.

For lunch we treated ourselves to traditional Italian fare at one of the restaurants overlooking the Pantheon.  The waiter was kind enough to get a picture of us all.

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After the Pantheon, we moseyed on over to the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.  I was mostly attracted to the Fountain because it gave me a chance to wash my hands after lunch.  My impression of its beauty only really came after my using it to clean my hands.  This is shamefully awkward because the fountain is by Bernini. I know, right?

 

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That night after going back to the Centro we ate dinner in the park and went out on the town for the night.  Trastevere in the dark is so lovely! There were people bustling everywhere, gathered around the fountain in front of the Basilica de Santa Maria in Trastevere.

It was one of those moments where you actually can comprehend that you’re in Rome.  

Friends, family, et alia: I’m in Italia!

Right now I’m sitting in the walled garden that is part of our building. We share it with the convent next -door.  There is a gurgling fountain, olive trees, pomegranates, lemons, etc.: all the basics for an adorable Italian oasis.

It still hasn’t sunk in that I’m in Rome. Or that I’ll continue to be in Rome for longer than a couple days this time.  Every so often there are moments when it really hits you and yet it all seems like I’m living inside a dream.

Getting off the plane was like walking into another world. I was freezing on our flight even though I was wearing jeans, a sweater, scarf, and winter boots. Then we exited the plane to palm trees and  what felt like 85 degree weather.

The strange occurrences continued when the customs worker berated me for coming to study history (she snorted and called me “typical”) instead of science or Italian (“ridiculous”). 

I was traveling with two other girls who happened to book the same flight. After going to baggage claim we were really surprised when one of us was accosted by this Italian man who wanted to know who we were and from where we were traveling. We were all skeeved out for a moment until she realized that the man was Massimo, the brother of her dad’s friend.  Previously she had been to dinner at her father’s friend’s house and had been assured her that “Massimo will take care of you,” but after hearing nothing else about it she assumed we were on our own.  So instead of taking a taxi, we were driven squished into a Fiat-of course- with all our luggage. He was the nicest man and a wonderful introduction to modern Romans!

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My room is pleasant enough.  Of course it’s small, but I was expecting much worse.  Especially because our building is located in a trendy area of Rome called Trastevere (which literally means across the Tiber).  We have a beautiful window which overlooks our terrace and walled garden.  It’s one of those fancy Italian ones with working shutters.

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Since I just got here this morning (5 a.m. East Coast Time), I have not had the chance to explore much yet. For dinner I wandered the area around our building with some other girls in the program.  I hadn’t really eaten since the day before so the gelato and pizza we picked up was a delicious reprieve!  So good that it was definitely worth the shame of pointing at what I wanted with only a “per favore” and a “grazie” at my extremely limited disposal.

I’ve been talking with some of the lovely people in my program and I think we are going to explore Rome tomorrow.

Ciao!