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The Pope, calcio, Pompeii and good ol’ Rick Steves

The Pope, calcio, Pompeii and good ol’ Rick Steves

This past week has been packed with amazing experiences.

Tuesday was pretty tame, but I familiarized myself with the neighborhood and found a local café where I wrote a short story – something I’d like to get back into doing – while drinking a caffe latte. Later that night, I joined a floor event and watched American Sniper in Rinaldo’s Café.

Classes were cancelled on Wednesday, but I woke up at 3:30 in the morning to get in line for the Papal Audience at St. Peter’s Basilica. By the time the security gates opened at 7:30, I couldn’t feel my extremities thanks to the cold and incessant rain. Our group had also been edged further back in the “line,” which became more and more like a blob as Italians and nuns pushed their way toward the gate. The nuns don’t hesitate to use elbows, either. We ran to the Pope Pall VI Hall where the audience would be held and snatched up some good seats toward the front. Before the Pope entered the room, each country in attendance was recognized. It was remarkable to hear how many places were represented, how many people traveled so far for a pilgrimage of faith. When Papa Francesco finally entered the room, he walked slowly down the center aisle, greeting everyone and shaking hands. With people climbing over each other to reach out to him, it looked oddly similar to a One Direction concert. Almost everyone was standing on a chair just to catch a glimpse. But with smiles everywhere, some people crying with joy, and children jumping up and down trying to see over the crowd, it also reminded me of the scene in The Polar Express where the elves form pyramids and do backflips when Santa appears.

The audience was only about an hour long. Each passage of scripture and Pope Francis’s remarks were translated about eight times into different languages. I thought I had understood most of what was being said, specifically about the difficulties of fatherhood. However, I later read an article that said the Pope had made some controversial commentary about physically disciplining children, which I completely missed. My absentmindedness definitely serves as a testament to how limited your mental capacity is after getting only two hours of sleep. If I could do it all over again I’d get the extra sleep and push to the front of the gate, in true Italian fashion. Still, I’m in awe that I had the opportunity to attend such a significant event. When I woke up from a nap later that afternoon, I thought for a moment it had all been a dream.

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The best picture I could capture of Pope Francis. The chaos is evident.

Also on Wednesday, I had my first calcio (soccer) match! I’d been super nervous about playing since I had never played soccer before, aside from once or twice in high school gym class. During dinner on Wednesday, the SLAs hosted a Welcoming Ceremony before the games started. Pedro asked us to stand and place our hands over our hearts for the Calcio National Anthem, and all of a sudden “Fireball” by Pitbull began blasting through the speakers. We also watched a video compilation of the greatest inspirational speeches of all time, which always pumps me up. After taking the calcio oath of good sportsmanship, my nerves had calmed and I was ready to play.

I watched the first round of teams play for a while before finally my team, Celeste (Light Blue), was up to bat.

I figured the best way to play was to give it my best shot and pretend like I knew what I was doing. I assumed what I considered a “power stance,” knees bent, shoulders back, and played the defensive position as best I could. Once, the ball hit me square in the thigh, which blocked it from the goal. It was very empowering to have helped my team by simply standing in the right place at the right time, but I gladly took the praise as Pedro shouted from the sideline, “You’re killin’ it Angie!” Even the teammates who are extremely talented at soccer were patient and supportive of those of us who lack skill and experience.

My goal for the next half was to strike the ball instead of just being struck by the ball. I managed to complete a pass at one point! It was haphazard, but I definitely was starting to get the hang of it. Celeste defeated team Arancia 6-0! All the teams went out for pizza and beer afterwards, upholding calcio tradition.

Thursday night involved a gelato crawl with my floor. I finally went to Giolitti. It was even more amazing than I expected, and conveniently right around the corner from the Pantheon! On Friday, my Art in Rome class met at St. Peter’s Basilica. We learned about the significance of the massive statues of saints, the baroque artwork by Bernini, and saw a Raphael painting. After class, a friend and I went down into the catacombs where numerous former Popes are entombed.

Saturday morning I left for Pompei (the modern city) to see the ruins of Pompeii (the ancient city). We navigated our way through the train station pretty easily, but things got a little hairy on the last leg of our trip (note the European joke), when we had to catch a bus. All of a sudden a lady started speaking to my friend and me in rapid-fire Italian. I desperately uttered, “Parlo inglese,” but quickly noted that many Italians could not care less whether or not they’re understood. They just keep talking and talking. The woman told us through various gestures and a few comprehensible phrases to get on the same bus as her, and so that’s basically how we made it to Pompeii.

It’s too bad we didn’t look up directions to the hostel before we got there. We wandered for a couple hours trying to find it, but did stop for some delicious pizza and calzone on the way. We engaged in “Defensive Eating,” not knowing when our next meal would be; I consumed an entire pizza capricciosa. No ragrets.

Pizza capricciosa
Pizza capricciosa

Long story short, we did not see much of the Pompeii ruins on Day 1. Instead, we got very familiar with the quaint little town of Pompei and had some lovely conversations with the locals (in Italian!).

On Sunday, however, we got up bright and early having slept well in our very accommodating hostel. We Defensive- Ate the free breakfast provided (Cornetti, yogurt, and some sort of tiramisu thing) and set out for the ruins. We saw the main entrance that Pompeiians used, the Forum, the Temple of Jupiter, the House of the Faun, and stumbled upon an old brothel. A comical Rick Steves audio-tour guided us through the experience. What was incredible about Pompeii was the size of the area preserved by the volcanic ash from Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD. The streets were just as they had been when the city was thriving – before Vesuvius “ruined everyone’s plans,” as Rick Steves put it. Seeing the castes of the victims was a sobering experience. One was frozen in a face down position; another with their hands covering their face. I kept thinking of how those last moments played out for the people who had either been too sick or too stubborn to leave.

For the next part of our trip, we took a minibus to the cause of the destruction itself. What’s amazing is that Mt. Vesuvius is still an active volcano, and so many people still live in the area. Our minibus driver, Pasquale, took us partway up the mountain and said, in broken English, “I stop here. Road: ice. Go two kilometers to top.” So we started hiking. Sure enough, 40 minutes later, we reached the furthest point possible (it was too snowy to reach the crater). From there, we had a superb panorama of Capris, Sorrento, and all of Naples. And now I can say I’ve climbed an active volcano!

On top of Mt. Vesuvius!
I made it to the top of Mt. Vesuvius!

Finally, Pasquale drove us to Herculaneum, a small, extremely wealthy city that had been engulfed in lava the day after Vesuvius’ first eruption. It stretches stories below the modern city, basically settled in a giant pit. The lava preserved everything so well that many roofs, wooden doors, and walls remain almost entirely intact. Many of the buildings are mansions of sorts with fascinating art and gorgeous mosaic floors. It was easy to imagine the marketplace bustling with activity and people enjoying their lavish lifestyles. My impression was put into perspective when, just before we left, I glanced down and saw dozens of skeletons piled on top of each other, beyond the arches of cellar-like structures that faced away from Vesuvius.

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The ruins and victims in Herculaneum

At the train station in Naples, we had time to spare before our departure so we walked around outside the station to get a feel for the city. I’ve been warned that it’s sketchy, and it’s true. My friend and I didn’t necessarily fear for our lives, but as she puts it, “The male gaze was strong.” It was certainly disconcerting. We decided that Naples is probably a lovely city when you get a mile past the train station, but we weren’t going to see for ourselves.

I’m deeply sorry for this absurdly long post. If you’re still reading this, thanks for making it through!

Buonasera, miei amici!

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