Sweet Caroline

Neither a Kennedy nor a Princess of Monaco

Rome: Magic and Mayhem

The same stop I use for work is the same to get to the Trevi Fountain!

Somehow I think I always seem to be writing about Italy – with good reason: this is now the second summer in a row I’ve found myself here. This time, I’m working at the US Embassy in Rome. (I was so blown away about getting this job, I wrote another blog about it!) I speak Italian fluently, and I’m passionate about Italian culture and politics. You’d be surprised how similar our own president is to former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, for example, or to former-comedian-turned-political-party-founder Beppe Grillo. I think that Italian politics shouldn’t be ignored in favor of those of the U.K., France, or Germany; they have as many implications for Europe, the EU, and Western democracies as the rest of these nations. Italy is an important place to me.

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Me at the Coliseum! Myself and the Embassy marched in the Rome Pride Parade

And speaking of the president, I met him. That’s right, he spent about a week and a half on his first overseas trip in late May, visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican City to meet with religious leaders and discuss the war on terror. He also visited Taormina, Sicily for the G7 summit and Brussels for NATO talks. Well, during his 24 hours in Rome, President Trump managed to visit the Italian Ambassador’s residence (even though the ambassador position is still vacant…) in the ~very posh~ northern side of the city, and Embassy employees and their families were invited to a meet and greet. The President made a very gracious speech and did some hand shaking – my hand!!

There's the president. The gentleman behind him is Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni
There’s the president. The gentleman behind him is Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni

Safe to say my summer started off as a dream. Quickly, though, I started picking up the ropes of Rome that you must if you’re to actually live there. It’s actually quite a difficult city to get around if you don’t have a car – public transport is… iffy and nothing is really really that easy to walk to. I live by the Vatican City – literally three blocks from St. Peter’s Square. I work, however, near the Trevi Fountain on Via Veneto – a 40 minute walk away. Thus I take the Metro to work every day – the A Line towards Anagnina. My total trip takes about half an hour, with about 15 minutes of walking. The Metro, I will say, is fine. Not good or great, but fine. Twice now I’ve been standing on the platform only to hear an announcement saying “Public Ordinance, stations Ottaviano through Repubblica are out of service at this time.” AKA the stations I need to get from my apartment to pretty much any main site in the city center. On the other hand, it’s not bad either – it’s never stopped running like this when I needed to get to work, and is otherwise a speedy way to go about my business. Rather, the times it has stopped have been when I wanted to go into the city center for an Embassy happy hour, and other time when I wanted to get to the train station on a Saturday morning. Sometimes, it’s a little chaotic in the city, a bit of mayhem to start your day.

The same stop I use for work is the same to get to the Trevi Fountain!
The same stop I use for work is the same to get to the Trevi Fountain!

Another thing about Rome – it’s a dirty city. Seriously. When you’re a tourist, it’s easy to overlook all the garbage on the street, but it’s really there. A lot of Romans themselves say this is the worst thing about the city; they wish the local government would do something about the garbage that litters most curbs. Italians are also a pretty inefficient group. I hang my clothes out to dry on my roof, and once while my clothes were still up there, the a key got stuck inside the lock! So four of my eight work outfits were stuck on the roof for about a week…. the door to the roof didn’t even get property fixed, but the lock just got broken off and now we fasten the door closed with some wire. It’s not perfect, but I really can’t complain about the view from the roof.

From the roof of my apartment at night - St. Peter's Basilica. No zoom on this pic
From the roof of my apartment at night – St. Peter’s Basilica. No zoom on this pic

In the five weeks – exactly five weeks today – that I have been in Rome, I’ve been frustrated a lot. And yet, this city has a special quality that can’t be compared to any other place in the world. Some places can be compared to others; Turin, a wonderful city in northern Italy I visited in early June, is sometimes called the Paris of Italy for its French-looking style.

The Mole Antoniella in Turin - a weird-looking spot that houses the AMAZING National Museum of Cinema. For more cool Italian spots, peep my travel Instagram.
The Mole Antoniella in Turin – a weird-looking spot that houses the AMAZING National Museum of Cinema. For more cool Italian spots, peep my travel Instagram.

Rome, however, is its own being. No other city can really contain such unimaginable treasures from Catholicism, the Renaissance, and the Ancient World, and hold all of the incredible history that it does. Even though I’ve broken through a bit of this magic – I would much rather be a proper American expat in Rome than an actual Roman – Rome is one of the most amazing cities in the entire world, and I am so grateful to be here for another six weeks.

  rome GIF

 

Being Selfish

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It is 7pm on Friday July 29, and I am finished with my Italian classes for this summer. Time is so funny that way. At the beginning of the summer, when I arrived on June 4th, I couldn’t possibly imagine living in this incredible country, traveling to some of the most incredible (and oldest!) cities in the world, and almost finishing all of my Italian language learning (one more level to go until it’s official) in these two months. I’ve met people from countries I’ve only imagined, from all corners of the world, and all interests and backgrounds.

A few of the ladies from class! L-R, Marta from Portugal, me from the USA, Mouira from Algeria, and Lucy from Scotland.

Beyond just learning and using Italian every day, I was privileged enough to be able to travel every weekend, mostly alone. Solo travel can be a little nerve-wracking; at first, I was so insecure about eating alone at every meal, only buying one ticket to all of the sights. Would I have to explain myself to everyone I met? Would people think I got stood up on a date?

Selfie from my first solo weekend in Rome

With some practice, it’s an incredibly freeing experience. You become very introspective and selfish. But a good selfish, a well-deserved selfish. If I’m being honest, this whole summer was about me being selfish. I got to do what wanted to do. I got to eat where I liked, I got to stay at the museums for hours, scoping out every inch of the place. I know almost no one who would indulge me in visiting the ethnographic part of the Vatican Museums because no one else cares about that section except me! I know this because I was one of maybe 5 people in that part, when the Sistine Chapel was completely full.

What up, Hera? From the Vatican Museums in Rome

Take Pompeii, for example. I met a really nice recent college graduate from Belgium in line for tickets, and we chatted while we waited in line. He was perfectly nice and everything, but I had my own plans for the day (a Rick Steves podcast tour of the place) and wasn’t really interested in hanging out with him while I walked around the city because I wanted to focus on my first time in Pompeii and learning everything I could. I missed weekend trips and hanging out with my classmates because I was not going to miss visiting my grandfather’s childhood home in Istria or taking my Cinque Terre tour. This summer, one of the most important things I learned was, because this is my first real time in Italy, a country in which I still have so much to see, I can and should value my interests first.

At the church in which my grandfather received his sacraments, Labin, Istria

And I’m so happy I did. Maybe I came off as a little standoffish, but I’m just so happy with all of the things that I did and saw. In total, I visited eleven cities thus far, and still have one more to go. I went to places I’d only read about and seen in pictures, and I tried new things I thought I would never even attempt. Like my visit to Cinque Terre: I went on a hike! A real, 90 minute long hike that I would like never to do again! But doing that hike allowed me to see those views that you only get in postcards. I went it alone, but I’m actually pretty happy about that because then no one had to wait while I took frequent rests up while dragging myself up and down this mountainside. Then there were also the little things. I’ve never seen a movie in the theater by myself before, and while I was in Naples, I saw the new Star Trek. It was dubbed in Italian, so it was basically like I was studying for my final exam. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Before I got soaked with sweat on my hike, Vernazza, Cinque Terre

I even navigated disaster all by myself. While I was in Naples, someone got ahold of my debit card number, and I had to close my account with my bank. All of this while I was at Pompeii. Yes, I spent an hour on the phone with Bank of America in the middle of the most well preserved ancient Roman city. At least I had shade? And then, to top it all off, when I went to Western Union to get my money wire from my parents, I didn’t bring my passport! I had to go all the way back to my Airbnb and then all the way back to the train station to get my money I needed to, you know, buy dinner. Despite all that in Naples, it really is a magical city. There’s music everywhere, and even if it’s for the tourists’ benefits, it really does add to the joy.

The forum at Pompeii

How do I conclude describing this summer? It’s been the most incredible two months of my life, and actually, it’s not finished yet! Tomorrow, my family arrives in Siena and together we’ll go to Florence and Venice (the latter to which I haven’t yet been!). So I’m not quite done, but my solo part is. I really do value these two months I spent largely flying solo. I learned so much about myself and my values. I think I really became an adult over these two months, traveling, learning, speaking Italian, and living in the most amazing country in the world.