Saturday, June 28, 2008

Synagogues and Stone Latrines

It has been almost a year since this picture was taken, but seeing it brings such a smile to my face that it seems like yesterday. Saturday evening and I've officially survived my first week of Italian school. So far it's all just review, but it's so hard to keep everything together in the moment when you're trying to have a conversation. The Romans speak so quickly, especially as soon as you say a phrase in Italian and they assume you can understand. The days are beginning to blur together in a hazy flurry of sightseeing and oppressive heat, but I'll try to remember the choiciest bits for you.

On Wednesday we had our first "class excursion" (one of many activities planned by the school to enhance our knowledge of Italian culture). We met at an un-obtrusive restaurant in the Trastevere district of Rome* called "Spirito di Vino." **Inside, we were taken past the white tablecloths and sparkling flatware, down worn stone steps into the wine cellar. According to the restaurant's owner, the building was actually home to the oldest Synagogue on record. In Roman times, the Jews weren't allowed to build any new synagogues, so old buildings were reclaimed as sites of worship (Naomi probably knows all this- expert on Judaism that she is becoming). The wine cellar was still home to remnants of a mikvah (for any non-Jews who might be reading: a ritual bath) and prayer room, and some lovely examples of Roman architecture. Back upstairs, we were treated to a long discussion (in Italian!) on Roman cuisine, including a mouth watering description of the restaurant's menu, which I'm sure was miles out of my price range, but tempting nonetheless. At the end, the head cook (and wife of the proprietor) asked if anyone was interested in going into the kitchen. Of course, I immediately said "Io!!" and sure enough she led me back into the narrow kitchen, where a pot was bubbling on the stove, filling the room with one of the most intoxicating scents imaginable: freshly made pasta sauce. She also treated me to peeks of homemade chicken liver pate (formed into elegant cylinders with a single cranberry in the center) and Italian creme brulee (more like flan, lacking the traditional crispy burnt sugar top). We chatted a bit (in Italian!) and when I left she suggested I come back to work for her when I learn the language better. I might just take her up on it someday.

Last night I went out with my roommates to meet up with some Italian men they met on a night out in Trastevere. We were treated to a breakneck drive through the streets of Rome, squeezed into the backseat of a rickety Honda, clutching desperately onto anything within reach. We were taken to a very trendy restaurant for an aperetivo.*** The girls' friend turned out to be a sommelier in training, and picked us out a very nice white wine to go with our fantastic Italian pizza (cherry tomato, radicchio, zucchini, gorgonzola... oh my) and was patient with our halting attempts at conversation. We were later joined by two more Italian men and went down to the river for Sangria. The night was nice enough, but I found myself far more interested in the view of Rome I was treated to from Carlo's speeding car as we wove through the nighttime traffic from one end of the city to the other. It's funny how little taste I have for going out these days. At night all I really want to do is mull over the adventures of the day, write, and try to do some Italian reading (I bought "A Little Princess" in Italian and am stumbling through it one heavily underlined page at a time).

We made it home around 1 o'clock, just in time to get a few hours of sleep before waking up for today's planned excursion to Ostia Antica, about 45 minutes away on the beach. Ostia Antica is a fantastically well preserved Roman port town, comprable to Pompeii in its perfection. The site is enormous, we only covered half of it in about three hours. You can walk into houses (apartment buildings with shops below), bath houses with incredible mosaics and pools, a statium, a temple, and on and on and on. Our guide apologized for the overgrown paths, apparently abnormal for the usually well groomed site, but the wildflowers growing on the floors of apartments and along roads only added to the poignant beauty of the ruins. Our guide was fantastically knowledgeable and filled with the sort of daily-life trivia that can bring ancient sites to life more effectively than any documentary. All I wanted to do when I got home was watch the second season of Rome, but I guess that will have to wait until I'm back in the Berk (oh the irony...).

I can't imagine anyone has time to read much more than this, so I'll leave you here and go attempt to understand some Italian television. I miss everyone so much- if there's anything that is lessening the wonder of this city it is the feeling of isolation. Sometimes living surrounded by people you have little in common with is more lonely than being alone. I think it will be good for me to learn to be on my own, to find my own way, but it's hard without anyone to talk to. All the love in Italy is being sent your way.

*Once a seedy, lower-class neighborhood by the banks of the Tiber, Trastevere is now an up-and-coming hipster neighborhood filled with bars, cafes, and restaurants frequented by the young and beautiful of Rome (as well as the decidedly inelegant herds of American tourists). In the summer, the banks of the Tiber are lined with make-shift bars, shops, hookah lounges, and food-stalls and the center island is home to an outdoor film festival projected on a giant screen. Very hip, very touristy, and quite fun on a hot summer night.
**Spirito di Vino is a very cute play on words- it could mean either, the "Spirit of the Vine" or the "Divine Spirit"
***By far my favorite Italian custom. Italians usually eat dinner late, around 8 or 9, but before dinner (7-9), most bars and some restaurants serve an aperetivo, a kind of pre-dinner buffet. All you have to do is buy an alcoholic drink and you can eat as much as you want! Of course, many Italians take advantage of this, treating the aperetivo as a free all-you-can-eat-buffet dinner.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I have arrived in Rome at long last-
The flight wasn't so bad, but I barely slept at all out of nerves and sadness. I sat next to two kind Italian women, who tolerated my jerky attempts at conversation and politely looked away when the sun went down and I began to weep quietly into my complimentary pillow. But the tears did stop, and the sun came up and we touched down bumpily into Leonardo da Vinci Aereoporto. When we landed the first thing i noticed was the red ceramic rooftops, and after that the soft green and gold of the hills that stretch from the airstrip all the way out into the countryside. rome itself is a chaotic blend of packed roadways (lanes are largely irrelevant here, traffic moves in a liquid ebb and flow, constantly threatening to overrun its banks and sweep up cyclists, cafes, and unsuspecting pedestrians in its swell), stunning architecture, and ever-relaxed Italians. As if in contrast to the frenzied mobs of tourists, buzzing from Basilica to Parthanon, the Romans all seem to exude calm contentment from their very pores. They sit in cafes, sipping espresso, outside shops, eyeing potential customers, and on their stoops, just watching the world come to life around them. The slogan of every cafe in Rome is not only "take your time," but "you have all the time in the world."
My apartment is in a district with the loveliest name I've ever heard: Aurelia. My whole address is like a little poem- 41 (quarantuno) Via dei Gozzadini, Aurelia, Roma. (I don't think I can receive any mail here, I think it has to be mailed to the study center- I'll get back to you on that). The place is big, 4 rooms and six girls, and by a stroke of luck I was assigned to a single room (pictures to follow). I haven't had a chance to explore my own neighborhood yet, but I am close to a metro and bus stop as well as various shops and cafes once I work up the courage to cross the street (truly a matter of taking one's life in one's hands). After the ideal Italian dinner- prosciutto, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and cherry tomatoes as sweet as plums followed by chocolate and vanilla/pine nut gelato- I am finally ready to close my eyes. I am worried that the tears will come again once the light goes out, but they can't stay forever and there are wonders here whose brilliance won't let itself be blurred by glassy eyes. I miss you, more to come.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's official. The first of my closest childhood friends is engaged. I called her yesterday to wish her a happy 21st birthday, and she announced glowingly that her boyfriend, now fiance, had come up from LA to surprise her on her birthday and proposed. They're planning a December/January wedding, so she'll have one semester of college as Mrs. Something Else.

It's crazy. It feels like a big marker. Other girls I grew up with have gotten engaged/married, but this is the first of my best friends. But this is one of my best friends. And I think the scariest thing of all is that I'm actually really excited for her. There is no gnawing pit of my stomach wanting to cry out, "No! Don't do it!" I really think she's making the right choice for her and that she will be really happy. It's scary to think that one of my best friends getting married is normal.

I guess I'm in one of those big relationship markers myself, the first live-in boyfriend, but because it's Dave it just doesn't feel that weird or different. Because it's set up as kind of temporary it doesn't stress me out. Living with him works really well.

I've been thinking a lot about Hegel's specific altruism of the family when I think about why I get along so well living with David. I don't stress out with him about certain roommate things the way I have with other roommates, even when said roommates were close friends who I had known for a long period of time. I think even close friends don't always get the specific altruism like family members and romantic partners get. Maybe some people greater than I can afford the energy of this kind of total altruism with everyone they care about, but I've found my self kind of limited in that capacity. It's nice to live with someone I feel totally altruistic towards. It makes cooking and dishes and laundry and sitting around doing nothing a joy.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The coldest winter I ever spent...

...was a summer in San Francisco.

Actually, it's been amazingly beautiful here, up until today. Today it is overcast, with ripples of blue dotted here and there.

The summer is dripping by. Working every day makes the days blend in together. This is the first day I have had the opportunity to lounge in bed past 8 a.m., so I am taking the opportunity to do so. David is by my side, on his matching laptop. We're listening to the birthday mix Tessa made for me and I couldn't be happier. Unless I was in this picture:

All week I have had the craving to write. I should just set myself down in some coffee shop with my pretentious black MacBook and get it over with. John is calling to me. He wants me to write about Goulash.

That is all for now.