There No Place Like Home for the Holidays

I know everyone is suffering under the weight of finals and that we’re all packed and about to board planes or whatever it is we need to do to get home for the holidays. I just wanted to take this quick moment to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays. I hope you have a great winter break, a fantastic New Year, and I look forward to seeing my friends on our beloved Hollins Campus when we return in February. Have a wonderful break, everyone! Merry Christmas.

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A Roman Christmas

Boun Natale! Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to the rockin’ women of the Hollins community. It’s the most wonderful time of the year again and that means, if you’re living in Virginia, snow, hot chocolate, and Winter Break. If you’re in Italy, however, that means wind chill, cappuccino, and running around Rome as fast as I can so I can memorize each of its nooks and crannies before a very long plane ride home. I personally am a very big fan of Christmas and, along with my roommates, have tried to carry on my favorite American traditions in our little apartment in the heart of Garbatella. This attempt was met with varied degrees of success. I don’t know how many of you will need this, but, just in case you’re planning on spending a semester abroad in Italy next year, here is a sort survival guide on how to do an American Christmas in Italy.

1. Italy has no Starbucks. None. They actively protest against the corporation because Italians have very specific ideas about what coffee should taste like. They like to drink espresso like college students drink vodka: the hard stuff in shot glasses. This means, no peppermint-flavored chocolate cheesecake, no cinnamon apple cider, and no pumpkin-spiced lattes. Before you go into shock, you should know that this is only the case in Italy. Every other European country has Starbucks. But fear not, if you are still craving holiday flavors, most cafes will have hot chocolate, which you can get with whipped cream. You can also find teas and nutmeg and candy canes at local shopping chains, such as Carrefour.

2. Decorations. There are a couple of ways you can do this. The print shop is always a good idea. Email yourself cut outs of ornaments, candy canes, holly and then decorate the apartment accordingly. You could also find some cheap ornament shops as you go through town. Avoid, as always, tourist areas. They will bleed you dry without you even knowing it. Also, look out for Christmas bazaars and markets. They pop up around Rome and have all sorts of good deals.

 

3. The Christmas tree. This element has a higher degree of difficulty mostly because it usually requires language skills. You can get tiny Christmas trees at any street flower vendor on the corner. The only issue is that they require haggling in Italian. On the upside, they’re super cheap!

4. Oh, Christmas carols, how I miss thee. Spotify is the surest way to cure this in your apartment, but alas, most stores, markets, metro stations, and restaurants don’t play Christmas music. Your phone and earbuds are a pretty easy way to fix that for most situations, but it still doesn’t quite feel the same. They do have Christmas carols here, however. In English and Italian. But they’re sung by people, not by store sound speakers.

5. But don’t worry about missing the christmas atmosphere. Rome prides itself on providing a good show. Everywhere you go, from Garbatella to the historic center, Christmas lights deck the neighborhood. Obviously, we’re not talking Matthew Broderick Deck the Halls level, but still, there’s a pretty impressive display!

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And, if you ever wished as a child that Christmas could last longer, the people in Italy were listening. Since Italians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, the Christmas season begins almost directly after Halloween ends. So two months of Christmas for the price of one!

Paris and Rome

There are 884.7 miles between Paris and Rome. It takes at least three or four hours to get there by plane. And even a month after the Paris attacks, the fear that has infected France has spread  and rooted throughout the Western world like contagion. And the side effects are everywhere—splashed across newspaper stands in black and white, sent out in mass emails from the Consulate, vibrating in text alerts over the phone. And it’s hard not to be a carrier, hard not to pass the disease along when the media is filled with the raised threat levels, arrests, and bomb threats—some even in my own neighborhood.

Italy, however, continues to amaze me; they are immune. Sure, their government does not take the threats against its people lightly, but, just a week after the Paris attacks, the Romans were back to the normal.

There was a bomb threat on the A line metro a few Wednesdays back. The tunnel was closed until officials had identified that it was a false alarm. A few minutes later, the Italians were filing through the station again.

At every monument, metro station, and piazza, the military with its green-gray camouflage and machine guns stands looking particularly serious, but the Romans—they couldn’t be bothered.

IMG_6682.JPG And on Twitter last year, when ISIS tweeted that they had added Rome to its to do list, the Italians tweeted back, warning them about the congestion on all the highways leading to the city. I admire how resilient these people are, how determined they are to remain unaffected by the heresay and confusion that pepper their papers and news channels. They give me strength and courage and remind me that only we can allow ISIS to accomplish its goal. If we let our fear decide how and when we live our lives, then that’s doing ISIS’s job for it. They don’t need to lift another finger, and yet they can spread fear and terror and chaos. And I refuse to give them the satisfaction. If the Italians won’t give in, neither will I.

Va What: Language Lessons in Italy

In this extremely short post, I’d like to discuss the astonishing multitude of uses for the two most magical phrases in the Italian language: va bene and prego.

Let’s start with va bene. Literally translated, the phrase means “it goes well.”

But, if we’re being honest, the Italians use it for a lot more.

For instance, if I were to ask you how you were doing today, you might reply

Va bene! I’m fine.

Or if I was cutting you a slice of pizza, you might say

Va bene! Stop, that’s good.

If you’re asking an elder if they are need help with something: Va bene?

Asking if something makes sense: Va bene?

Telling someone that you’re moving on to a new topic of conversation: Va bene!

Nodding and agreeing to disagree: Va bene.

Seriously, when I go to the grocery store, this might be the only word I use.

Let’s move onto the lovely prego, a word that is entirely dependent on connotation.

For instance, if you were a Vatican guard herding tourists like cattle into the center of the Sistine Chapel, you might drone or, in certain cases, shout: Prego! Move along! Move along!

Or perhaps you’re practicing your manners: Prego! After you!

Or assuring your friends that you went to no trouble at all: Prego! Don’t mention it!

Or moving to let someone exit from a subway car: Prego! Of course, right this way!

Or agreeing that you would like more cheese on your pasta: Prego! Go ahead!

And of course there’s always: Prego! You’re so welcome!

Needless to say, these are both glorious phrases for beginner Italian students like myself. Their meanings change simply by situational context or inflection, and they are quite helpful for everyday life. I’ve heard more than one conversation in my time here that’s mostly consisted of these words, hand gestures, and scattered prepositions. And I hope this brief and somewhat simplified introduction to the Italian language has displayed how versatile and flexible this language can be.

Not Quite a Roman Holiday

The first thing I’ve learned since my arrival in the eternal city is the very definite difference between traveling and arriving. As it turns out, while I enjoy the arriving bit, traveling and I stand on very poor terms.

But how, you may ask, and when did I learn of this very particular distinction?

As with all good stories, it was the hard way. My first adventure in Rome did not take place at a gelato shop by the Trevi Fountain or at the top of the Spanish Steps, but rather at 40,000 feet above sea level. It was as if passing through security at the Miami International Airport suddenly triggered the opening credits of some Hollywood comedy that I was somehow involved in. Oh, and please don’t confuse me with the dazzling Audrey Hepburn-type bombshell protagonists for whom all disasters are cute, expertly-written, and usually include encounters with tall, dark, and gorgeous strangers.

No. Please let me direct your attention to the sidekick in Row G, the unfortunate foil for the hero for whom absolutely nothing goes right. Yep, that character, that’s me, sandwiched between the crying baby and the man in row F, who is unsuccessfully trying to convert his third class economy lawn chair into a first class recliner.

Three plastic meals, two minor layover incidences in Prague, and one stomach virus later, my plane had touched down in Rome, where jet lag, my frequent flyer miles companion, had set in with a vengeance. I had been awake for over twenty-four hours, I was pulling 67 lbs. of luggage, and I was lost in one of Europe’s largest airports. Benvenuto a Roma!

Somehow, after returning to the help desk twice, I managed to locate the lovely members of the Arcadia University staff, who dropped me off in front my apartment in historic Garbatella, a quaint neighborhood filled with painted green shudders, clothes lines, and quite a bit of graffiti. All of my flatmates had arrived earlier that morning, so I dropped my things off and walked to lunch at a small cafe a quarter of a mile from the apartment. My nausea had not abated, and we were traveling in 90-degree weather. One pear juice (which tastes a lot like apple juice), another walk back, and one glorious cold shower later, I was finally starting to feel hungry. That’s when Chiara (one of Arcadia’s Student Life Coordinators, unofficially known as the rockstar of student life) led us to meet the other students.

I’m not going to lie: this was the low point. I was hungry, thirsty, and we had been walking in 90-degree weather for about an hour. I was surrounded by people I didn’t know, unable to order food for myself or even to find toilet paper at the grocery store.

I had been awake for 38 hours and counting.

But I think what bothered me most was my first meeting with the city. This was not the Rome I had envisioned. Where were the monuments? The Colosseum with its crumbling white marble? The Basilicas with their awe-inspiring frescoes and larger than life statues? All I saw were modern streets filled with dirt and trash. Every step was filled with the smell of cigarette smoke and the sound of rumbling graffiti-scrawled trains. There were a couple of interesting buildings, architecturally speaking, and Garbatella had some nice alleyways, but this was not rapture at every corner. This was not Rome, at least, not the way I had imagined it.

It was about this time in our very long walk up a steep hill that I turned both a physical and metaphorical corner. Unbeknownst to our group, we had climbed into the gardens on the top of the Aventine Hill, one of the seven hills that Rome was built on. We walked through a grove of towering orange trees that in and of themselves looked like works of art. And at the end was a stunning panoramic view of all of Rome—The Vatican, the medieval towers, the forum, Piazza Venezia, The Tiber, Isola Tibertina, the Jewish Ghetto—everything.

Shortly after, the staff provided food, which was also a critical step in my mood’s turning point.

But, that big moment on the Aventine Hill was my moment, the one in which I realized that everything would be okay, that the traveling had been hard, but arriving had been worth the wait.

Golden Hour

IMG_1712I promised myself that I wouldn’t publish any Italy’s-so-beautiful nostalgia posts. But seeing as how I can never keep a New Year’s resolution, I don’t know why I thought I could make this one last.

My favorite time to walk in the city is not in the morning or the afternoon but at dusk when I’m making the trek home from class. By myself, I’m free to amble in the golden light and soak in the sounds of the street.

At sunset, Garbatella is idyllic. And the closer I get to home, the more surreal the experience is.
I walk past a four-story flat where a man coaxes long, heartbreakingly gentle notes from the mouth of a brass trumpet. The jazz echoes down from his window, which is bordered by green shutters and a flower box filled with red geraniums.               Further down, in a pine-needle strewn street, I watch an old woman dry her laundry out her fifth story window. She shakes a fist enclosed around a clothespin at an old man in the piazza below, calling out to him, half laughing, half chastising, in fast Italian that I have no hope of understanding. He looks up at her and shouts something in return, dismissing her with a gesture of his hand. Then, he stoops over to collect water from a clean fountain.

As I walk past them and up cobblestone steps, the bells from a nearby church begin their song. I see children running in the garden courtyards connecting the Garbatella apartments. They squeal, playing soccer in their school clothes.
Closer to home, the streets are narrower, and I can here the clank and tinkle of silverware and glass plates as stout Italian women begin preparing dinner for the night. At Bar dei Cesaroni, the red-and-white striped umbrellas are open, and people are chatting and smoking while Italian tourists pose and take snap shots of the semi-famous site. I still get a few odd looks from the Italian natives; somehow, even my stance is a tell, a flashing neon sign indicating my American heritage. But on my street, I’ve lived there long enough for the Italian residents to recognize that my stay is semi-permanent. Behind walls, on corners, and occasionally directly within ear shot, my roommates and I are flatteringly referred to as le americane belle (those beautiful American girls) or somewhat less flatteringly as oh, sono americane (oh, they’re those Americans). We’ve kind of settled into a truce: I smile, they nod, we go our separate ways. As I reach the apartment door, I hear 80’s music wafting from our open window, and I know that dinner’s on. The stone walls and fig trees guard the entrance to the building, and the cast iron doors beckon me inside.

My Attempt at a Brief Introduction

My Attempt at a Brief Introduction

Hi, everyone!
My name is Marisa, and I’m a sophomore here at Hollins University. I was born in Memphis, Tennessee just fifteen minutes away from Graceland, but I’ve lived most of my life in Florida, the land of sunshine, oranges, and blatant sea-themed life metaphors. The sun is hot, the lizards are all too friendly, and—I’d like to say a breeze is always blowing, but any Floridian will tell you that’s simply not true.
I’m an English major who worships C. S. Lewis, compulsively steals landscape descriptions from Middle Earth, and narrates the arrivals of ET’s in her own work on a weekly basis. This semester, however, I have the great honor and privilege of narrating a new adventure, one of my own: my semester abroad in Rome.
I’m sure some of you are wondering what business I, as an English major, have in a city whose main language is Italian. I mean, if I was an art major, you’d think: Sure! How appropriate!
Or if I was history minor, you’d say: Of course, naturally!
But, I’m neither.
So, what am I doing here?

Since I stumbled off the plane and into the Fiumicino airport (more on that in my next post), that same question has been posed to me more times than I can count. Usually, what I try to respond in ridiculously shaky Italian is something like this:
Rome is not A place. It’s THE place. It’s inspired hundreds of generations for thousands of years. It was the capital of the ancient world, revolutionary in its innovations and stunning in its art and architecture. Even today, medieval towers in which monks once whispered vespers stretch tall next to vaulted domes and frescoed ceilings. Cobblestone streets lined with marble statues of Rome’s emperors usher traffic through streets with fascist apartment facades. And in-between national monuments and historical centers sprawls a modern metropolis with what seems like a pasticceria on every corner.
Also, (and this is of monumental importance) there is gelato. Lots of it. And do not be deceived. There is no such thing as bad gelato.
So, really, to quote my favorite Lizzy McGuire movie (I know you’re all thinking about it too), I don’t know if the question is why so much as it is why not.