We have good days and we have bad days. In strange or unfamiliar places, the days can seem especially good or particularly bad. I learned this in India this summer, and I’m sure it will be true for my time in Italy.
Today was a good day. A really good day. Today was the kind of day I’ll think of when I have a rough day to make myself remember that things will get better.
Today was the second day of class. My classes yesterday (Italian 202, Philosophy of Art & Beauty, and Writing for the Media) were fine; we went through all of the usual first-day-of-class syllabus reading and attendance taking. Today, I started off the morning with an on-site class, Ancient Rome and Its Monuments. Two of my roommates are in the class as well, so we stopped for caffé on the way to the building where the professor was meeting us. I could get used to starting the day with a seventy-cent shot of rich, strong espresso.
My Ancient Rome class seems like it will be fun and interesting. The course meets for two hours and 45 minutes every Tuesday, and during class we’ll walk around to museums and to different ancient sites with our professor, a German archaeologist. For the first class meeting, we spent some of the time going over the syllabus in a classroom, but after a break, we went for a walk. The professor led us to Piazza Farnese, through Campo dei Fiori, around Piazza Navona, and dropped us at the Pantheon. We were then free to make our way back to Trastevere for lunch.
One of the boys in the Ancient Rome class is also in my Italian class. We talked as we walked back towards Gianicolo, and I discovered that he is a Boston College student. As we were sharing our disdain for Dublin St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, we came upon the bookstore that our professor had recommended for textbooks. Cody and I ventured inside and purchased the textbooks, but only after we asked about fourteen employees for help locating them.
I came back to Gianicolo for a quick lunch (my peanut butter and honey sandwich on Italian bread was excellent) and scooted out the door to walk to my painting class. Now, Italian drivers are aggressive, but not nearly as aggressive as Indian drivers. Thanks to my experience with terrifying Indian roads, I feel comfortable negotiating the narrow cobblestone streets in Rome and sharing the space with vespas, cars, SUVs, and delivery trucks. Roman crosswalks are fairly organized and well regulated, but every so often I feel the need to follow a clump of Italians at a busy intersection, baby duck style. As I waited on the curb of the trafficky Lungotevere, ready to cross to a bridge, I picked out a man to follow across the street.
My target was an immaculately dressed Italian businessman. I crossed the street successfully, and as I made my way on to the pedestrian bridge, I squeezed around the Duck Man with a quick “mi scusi.” I walked briskly across the bridge, enjoying the sunshine and the view of the city. When I was a few feet ahead of him, Duck Man asked me something. I forget if he asked if I was a student or a visitor or what, but it was in Italian and I understood him, so I responded and started chatting with him.
The light at the end of the bridge was green so we were stuck waiting to cross yet another busy intersection. Duck Man asked how long I had been in Rome, how long I was studying here for, how I liked the city – all normal things to converse about. When I said that it was only my second week in Rome, he commented that my Italian was quite good and that I must be a fast learner. I explained that I had already studied the language for three semesters. And so the conversation went, all in Italian. He was heading in the same direction as me, so we continued to talk. He laughed at how fast I walked, noting that it was a common characteristic of stranieri, and when I commented on the bella giornata, Duck Man agreed, saying that it was a lovely day per fare una passeggiata.
After a few minutes of walking, I was at the street where the art studio is located. I turned on to the small avenue and went to say “Ciao” to Duck Man when he motioned – Aspetta, aspetta! He fumbled in his briefcase for a moment and pulled out a business card. Duck Man, a lawyer, explained that his office is just up the road, so if I have an afternoon free, he would like to take me to lunch sometime. Uhhhh si, ma sono in ritardo per la classe. I skillfully dodged his pranzo invitation, but I stuck out my hand to shake his. He shook my hand – bacino! – and air-kissed right and left. People actually do that here.
(Disclaimer, mostly for my mom: I have no intention of calling Duck Man or having pranzo with him. I was very safe walking with this guy, since we were along the side of one of the busiest, most populated streets in Rome. So don’t worry. I was mostly just super excited that I was able to have a full conversation with an Italian.)
Painting class will be fun, too. I need to find the art shops and purchase all sorts of art supplies, but I think it will be interesting to “enter into the tradition of painters,” as my professor said, while in Rome, home to so many of the greatest paintings in the world. My philosophy class is all about defining “art,” so it should be somewhat useful to put in practice in my own work.
We just went over the syllabus and the materials in painting, so the class did not last the normal two hours and 45 minutes. The professor let us go after about an hour, and I decided to try to find the Anglo American Bookshop so I could purchase the rest of my textbooks. The bookstore was about a 40-minute walk from the art studio, but I was able to reach it by taking Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and Via del Corso, the two main roads (other than the Lungoteveres). I successfully navigated myself down Via del Corso, the big shopping street, found the bookstore, bought my books, and started heading back.
As I walked south down Via del Corso, I noticed a sign for Giolitti, the oldest gelateria in Rome, pointing through Piazza Colonna. I figured I’d celebrate my good navigation skills with an ice cream, so I wandered through the massive open space, looping around the base of the Column of Marcus Aurelius and eventually heading down a side street towards the unmistakable shop. I pushed in and found a spot in line to pay for my piccolo gelato.
Once I had my ricetta in hand, I made my way over to the gelato cases. An older Australian couple stood next to me, poking their fingers up against the glass as they discussed the merits of the different flavors. When they were served, the Australian man completely goofed up the order and mangled the Italian. Luckily, the Giolitti scooper knew English, so he was able to figure out what the tourist wanted. When I ordered una piccola cona di pera e cioccolato, the scooper looked at me gratefully and said (in Italian), “What a relief – finally someone who speaks Italian!” I giggled to myself, thinking, “Did I ever fool him!” He handed me my ice cream cone with a fist-sized dollop of whipped cream on top. Delizioso.
I stopped by a grocery store on my way back to Gianicolo and picked up a few things for dinner. The cashiers at this particular chain, Despar, are so cranky. Italians love exact change and they hate breaking bills. The cashiers at the Despar near Campo dei Fiori have already yelled at me twice for not having exact change, so I thought I might try a different Despar. No luck. Although I had a small bill this time, I didn’t have stickers on the two lemons I wanted to buy.
At Despar, lemons are sold by the kilo, not as individual items. I was supposed to weigh them and put barcode/price tag stickers on the lemons while I was in the produce section. I wasn’t aware of this policy, so I didn’t get my lemons. Right now, I’m having a difficult time imagining what a bad day in Rome would be like, but I’m sure I’ll have one at some point. Life just wouldn’t give me lemons today.