Thursday, June 25, 2009

reflections on rome, pt. 1

i know i totally half-assed that last entry and haven't really offered any real updates on my time here in rome so i'm gonna give it an honest go while i have my brain cells about me (more or less).

i can't honestly say that i've fallen in love with rome, not yet anyhow. don't get me wrong, i love travelling! i love feeling immersed in culture, overwhelmed by the unknown and surrounded by natives doing their thing, living their life. i love getting to travel around the world! and though i haven't done a lot of global gallivanting, with just about every other country i've been to (china, brazil, the motherland), i've fallen in love with almost instantly. rome, on the other hand, is proving to be a harder sell.

for one thing, rome is absolutely inundated by tourists and i feel like this city in particular has over-accommodated for its guests. in every other country i've visited, i've been forced to learn the language. though the word 'forced' carries a sort of negative connotation, for me it's a joy! my ears love to be flooded by the beautiful cadences of other languages and i love the challenge of manipulating my american tongue to follow suit. here though, i've only mastered "gratzie", "bon giuorno", "buona sera" and "prego" (which means 'please', not 'spaghetti sauce'). granted, i could've taken more initiative to learn the language before i got here but even my fellow students who studied italian have commented on how they've barely used any of it as just about every vendor and waiter immediately interjects with english. it certainly doesn't help that i'm currently enrolled in an english creative writing program in which i must think in english in order to effectively write in english. mind you, i love that i'm in this program and i appreciate the opportunity to exercise my long neglected and subsequently atrophied creative muscles. but language is a beautiful thing i really feel like this program and our writing would be well-served by some lessons in the native tongue. i think the practice of putting words to an experience, regardless of which dialect those words belong to, always ends up better serving the written art form as a whole. by not taking time to learn the language here, i really feel like we're missing out on something huge.

now i know a huge part of the appeal of rome is the access to such a depth of history. within walking distance of my apartment are the remnants of the roman forum, the infamous coliseum, the vatican... and on and on and on. and though certainly the architecture is breathtaking and it's incredible to imagine life two thousand years ago, what remains today seems tainted. raphael's tomb in the pantheon lit up by fluorescent bulbs, electrical outlets carved into ancient etruscan walls, a public restroom steps away from where caesar's ashes were scattered... it just seems strange. and i know that these modern interjections are meant to highlight and (quite literally) illuminate these incredible sites, i can't seem to get away from the stench of money and the stain of greed in the midst of it all. even the thousands year old etruscan tombs with their intricate carvings haunted me in its vanity: the rich memorializing the rich so that a couple thousand years later more rich people could come and admire it. note: i'm fully aware that i sound like a whiny, spoiled, cynical american sharting all over the incredible opportunity i've been given but i've gotta keep it real, kids. being here makes me feel like i'm being duped into buying into the eurocentrism that's at the heart of the american curriculum and me and all my cultural studies, american ethnic studies, social justice training just can't seem to buy in without pushing back, just a little. and by a little, of course i mean a lot.

with all that said, i'm hoping to let go of my angst (or at least some of it) before this trip is over so that i can really embrace rome for all that it is -- good, bad and ugly. i know that a lot of that depends on my willingness to embrace this experience so i'm working on chipping away at the gigantic chip on my weary shoulder, bit by bit. i know my whining makes it harder to believe what i'm about to say but i really am so grateful that i get to be here and that i get to travel around for the next month and a half. i don't plan on debbie-downering my trip to death and i truly am looking for the silver lining wherever i go. the good news is, even though i haven't yet fallen in love with rome, i am already deeply in love with life. i'm also falling in love with my incredible roommates who have already filled this week (and my heart) with incredible conversation and beautiful company. the other good news is i've still got three weeks left here in rome and that's plenty of time to get over myself and fall in love with this beautiful city. i hope.


la v said...

hey jess! sounds like you're still processing the rome... i agree that it's a hard place to fall in love with- it's such a wild tangle of so many different influences that it's hard to peg what's real and true. the last time i went to rome, it was so hot and polluted that the soles of my rubber flip flops melted as i stood on the pavement in line to see the coloseum, and i had a bad cough, and my phlegm came out black! lovely, i know. but i also had gelato 5 times in one day and cried with emotion as i stared at "la pieta" for 30 minutes, so in the end, i think i did end up loving the city.

Katie said...

j - i usually react to "touristy" cities as you have...I hate feeling like travelling is all about elbowing my way through a huge, smelly crowd, protecting my precious belongings and seeing amazingly poignant places through the lens of my camera. I always think "if only i could have been on the great wall alone and not been accosted by people trying to sell my paraphanailia," and impossible things like that. Sometimes I find I don't appreciate a city until I leave it, and sometimes there are places we just plain don't like and that's okay! One thing I did in Venice because I was a little tired of street vendors and cruiseship millionaires was I got up really early and would walk around the streets before anyone was up and before the shops opened...I made such a huge difference and I love Venice for it!

Enjoy your trip - the goods and the bads! Have you found your favorite flavor of gellato yet?

P.S. When I was in Italia, "prego" meant "you're welcome." Has is changed? :)

jHong said...

i did indeed go to venice and it was EVEN more touristy than rome is! bananas!

also, 'prego' means about a million things including (but not limited to) 'you're welcome'.