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Walking, Learning, Celebrating

I am sitting at my studio desk and pathetically rant-blogging. The Italian class is next door and I can hear snippets of conversations exchanged. I tell myself that there’s nothing to be upset about, that not taking the course is perhaps a good thing, that I can have more time to blog and do other things I don’t usually have time for. Yet it’s frustrating! I can’t take the class for credit because I’ve already taken an Italian class in Ithaca that covered similar materials, and I can’t audit it either because that’s against undergraduate policy. The Italian professor was super nice during the one class I did attend and I was looking forward to having structured time for Italian practice. Oh well, I am in Italy, and thus theoretically can practice Italian anywhere. I just need to put myself out there and stop being afraid of speaking poorly! On the bright side, Annalisa, Isotta and Eleanora are very kind and offered to practice with me.


Enough lamenting, now I want to highlight some of the moments I cherish from the past few days.

Sunset from the Spanish Steps

Walking

The scale of city blocks in Rome is drastically different than that of New York City. Streets are narrower and in general quieter, and I’ve found long walks to be pleasant. Perhaps that’s because I am so new to this city that I am easily amused, or that I am biased towards low decorative apartments as opposed to high skyscrapers, but I am loving the explorations on foot. On sunny days, it is beautiful to just wander, grabbing a panini, supplì, tiramisù or other snacks that catches the eye.

Supplì is a fried rice ball with tomatoes and mozzarella. Thuan loves them!

Learning

A lot of my courses are site specific and field-trip based, especially my two architectural history courses. I am grateful to learn in palazzos, piazzas, and basilicas while seeing obelisks, fountains and statues, as opposed to looking at slides and hearing about them in a lecture hall. Last Saturday, Prof. Jeffrey Blanchard, who teaches Renaissance and Baroque architectural history, took us on a day tour of Rome. There are seven hills that surround this city, and we started at the Capitoline Hill. We walked from Piazza Mattei, to the Roman Forum, through the Via dei Fori Imperiali and to the Colosseum. Then we boarded a bus and broadly surveyed Circus Maximus, Termini Station, Santa Maria Maggiore, finally exiting around the Appian Way.

Roman Forum
Synagogue distinguished by its square dome.

Via Appia, as it is referred to in Italian, was one of the important routes that entered Republic Rome. As burial was not allowed inside the city walls, there are many prominent tombs along this route. We had a picnic lunch near the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, which is circular, a rare shape for Roman tombs it shares with the Tomb of Augustus. I loved this part of the tour. The whole area was very spacious and I felt close to nature. As we walked around Circus of Maxentius, looking at ancient ruins surrounded by fields of green, I cannot help but imagine how wonderful it would be to have another picnic here when spring arrives.

Jeffrey in Circus of Maxentius.
The bronze gates of St. John Lateran once belonged to the Roman Senate.
Acanthus leaves along the Appian Way. They decorate Corinthian columns.

Later, we visited St. John in Lateran, Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps. To be completely honest, while Jeffrey continued sharing his seemingly-infinite knowledge, I was a bit exhausted by then and retained little. I did, however, leave the tour feeling pleasantly dazzled. I relate to the anecdote shared with us during academic orientation, in which Henry James upon visiting Rome for the first time, proclaimed that he felt like he walked through it all. Then, after living in Rome for extensive periods, realized that he still didn’t know anything at all. I am continuously amazed by the complexity of Roman history, and hopefully by the end of the semester, I can scratch the surface.

View of the Palazzo del Popolo at sunset
Palazzo del Popolo

Celebrating

For Lunar New Year, my friends and I had Sichuan food at Old Chengdu. I was surprised they had a table for 11, considering I made the reservation only a few hours prior. The beauty of dining family style in a big group is that we were able to sample a large portion of the menu. We got a bit of everything: pork ear, wontons, dumplings, spring rolls, dry hot pot, eggplants, string beans and stir-fried cabbage. Sichuan cuisine is infamous for mala, or tingly spicy, so it was entertaining to see my friends enjoy wontons in chili oil and ask for more spicy chicken even though they were downing cups after cups of tea. I also taught them some basic Chinese phrases, and they wooed the restaurant owner, a petite woman dressed in elegant qipao, with endless haokan, haochi and gong xi fa cai (beautiful, delicious, wishing you prosperity and wealth). Sitting with my lovely friends and enjoying food so dear to my heart, what better start to the year of the rabbit can I ask for?

Happy Lunar New Year!


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Fran Mao
Fran Mao
26 ene 2023

What a gorgeous sunset and beautiful ancient ruins in Rome! Looking forward to being there sooner! You will be my seemingly-infinite knowledge tour guide then.

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Desai Wang

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