September 10th, 2013

The place I call R(h)ome

This Sunday marks my first month in Rome, so I thought it would be nice to reflect on some experiences so far.

Studying abroad in a city such as Rome is a clash between the temporal and the permanent. Different from how it is when we travel to other countries as tourists, studying abroad really helps (and demands) you to delve into the daily life of the country that is hosting you. Touristy sites visited, classes started, italian on its way to becoming my go-to language, I’m starting to fall into conscience that this is not just a “visit,” it’s an actual move. An, although only for a few months, complete change of life.

Today I decided to take a break from English and all things Loyola and walk deeper into the neighborhood. Not the casual walk to the nearby cafe, or the little trip to the supermercato (supermarket in italian). This exploration walk was going to be for real. Instead of taking the usual right at the JFRC’s entrance, which would eventually take you to all the already known places, I decided to take a left and let the streets take me wherever they wanted. After a while I ended up in one of Rome’s main “vias,” Trionfale. I kept walking. The cars and motorcycles speeding on my right, the wind of the fresh evening blowing, making my walk the more pleasant.

Trionfale is quite an interesting road, boarded by trees, residences, and moving up and down the hill of Monte Mario. As the afternoon sun disappeared to give way to the windy, humid night, I reached Via Igea, with it’s genuinely italian cafes (no English whatsoever, mission accomplished!), salumerias (where you buy fine cuts of meet, cheeses and, at least in this case, bread), and farmacias (pharmacies). A few turns and twists into the little streets that cut through Trionfale, I got to a market, tucked away, almost hidden, in a typical mid-twentieth century italian residential area. It was not a fancy market, it was not big. There were no tourists on sight. Nothing that could have betrayed the normality of everyday italian life. Nothing.

As I walked on some of the narrow, curvy streets of the residential areas, I heard someone play the piano from a second-floor apartment (the only one that had the lights on at that time of the evening), I saw a girl laughing at the TV while eating a panino inside her apartment on the basement floor (the basement window was actually quite big). I could even catch an elderly couple seating in their living room couch. It was like being the omniscient observer, the invisible eyes that peak inside the normal lives of normal people as they perform their regular, everyday activities.

This may be kind of cheesy, or poetic, depends on how you see it, but as the piano produced its melody, and the girl laughed, and the couple sat together, at that precise moment, I realized that we are here, not as aliens, not as tourists or to be forever tagged with the “studenti americani” label. We are not even here to just embrace italian culture and life, falling into the stereotypes of liveliness, passion, loudness, and craziness. This study abroad experience is more about letting ourselves be embraced by this hectic country.

What is this culture like? You may ask. Well… it is definitely more profound and “normal” than the usual stereotypes of italian people and cities (although some stereotypes are indeed true). Rome is not the caricature we may be tempted to make of it. It is beyond all the ruins and touristy sites, to be just a city that moves like any other. With its elderly couples, its hungry teenagers and its kids practicing the piano.

The city  is indeed less “orderly” than any city in the US, making this experience even the more exciting. Conversations between people on the street, cars parked on the sidewalks, the eventual couple kissing or fighting or just walking around. The mother with her child (although I’ve seem more dads than moms around here). People walking their dogs up and down the hill…the occasional jogger. The rain that comes out of nowhere and goes the way it came, six minutes later…and of course, me, lost on my way back to the JFRC.

I guess I expected this city to be wonderful, but I don’t think I could have ever imagined that the wonderful I was so eager to find rests precisely in the city’s normality and its everyday rhythm.

Ci vediamo amici, baci a tutti!

Esther

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