Thursday, May 29, 2008

We've learned to share in Rome . . .

As we we waited to begin our tour of the synagogue and museum in the Jewish Ghetto, a downpour began. The few folks who had umbrellas were kind enough to share. Opportunities for cute photo-ops ensued (evidenced in the image to the right).

Museo-Atelier Canova-Tadolini

We held a meeting of the minds this past week (A.K.A. an instructors' meeting), and Jenny & Mike picked a great spot for it: Museo-Atelier Canova-Tadolini. We walked up Via del Corso, toward the Spanish Steps, and meandered into a cafe/museum on Via Babuino crowded with plaster casts of sculptures large and small. We sat among the sculptures and talked shop, enjoying over-priced (but I have to admit, kinda worth it) cappuccini and spremute. This "museum" was once the studio of sculptor Antonio Canova and then his student Adamo Tadolini. Definitely beats grading speeches on a coffeehouse couch in State College.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Palazzo Pitti

After we wore out our welcome in Siena, we set out for Firenze on Saturday morning. The line to see Michelangelo's David at the Accademia was absurd (and there was no guarantee that we would get in), so we headed south, crossed the Ponte Vecchio, and paid the entry fee for the Pitti Palace. Hillary and I bought the second ticket option (for ten euro, not too bad), which was good for all of the special exhibits as well as the Boboli Gardens that sprawl out behind the palace.

I enjoyed all of the exhibits (really, it's totally worth the ten euro), but I was most pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a fashion exhibit--Galleria del Costume. No photos were allowed, so you'll just have to believe me that it consisted of women's and men's clothing from the past three centuries, as well as two extra special exhibits: one that showcased buttons (they ranged from functional to artsy to blatantly imperialist to markers of status) and another that featured the burial clothing of two of the Medicis (quite the macabre scene--extremely low light, decomposed dress parts, and codpieces--oh my!). There was a disclaimer at the entrance explained that the focus of the exhibit is the concept of "being in fashion." Also included were some broader questions about humans and dress and the historical and situational constraints that interact with our personal choices of what (not) to wear:
"Being fashionable means following the taste of the time and adapting to the latest novelties. But what room does this leave for personal choices in dress? And to what extent do we really want to distinguish ourselves by what we wear? Does the tailormade garment really succeed in expressing our innermost identity? Finally, what role do the dressmaker and the designer play in our choices?"

These questions speak to the rhetoric of fashion broadly, as well as my specific concern with the rhetoric of fashion in Rome. Fashion is a way of communicating meaning, and is thus rhetorical. As much as what we wear is a choice, it is also a product of interacting economies (be they cultural, political, financial, etc.) and relative systems of power.

(In lieu of photos of the exhibit, I've included a peony from Boboli Gardens above.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Turns out we made a great choice for our first weekend excursion. We arrived in Siena Thursday night and spent the day there on Friday. Siena once competed with Florence and other larger Italian towns in terms of economic and military power, but damn that Black Death for seriously diminishing its population and ruining its chances at world domination (Steves 455). No matter, for Siena is a hopping little tourist town today, and it has retained a certain charm that is not as salient in the larger urban centers.

Siena is also a university town, which is perhaps why the local population appeared to be quite young. The shops are cute, the Internet points are numerous, and nearly everyone's demeanor and dress casually indicate her/his hipness. Even the infants in their strollers were dressed to impress and definitely working it.

As far as our "experience of the culture" of Siena goes (a problematic claim no matter how you attempt to explain it away), we climbed the Torre del Mangia (330 feet tall and a splendid view), walked amidst folks socializing in Il Campo (the town's main square) at night, and found a good deal of wine shops full of souvenir-sized bottles of chianti, grappe, and the traditional Tuscan dessert, panforte. We also snapped some photos of the Duomo (pictured above).

It was a bit easier to observe who is a tourist in Siena, considering there is a lot less noise (in the auditory sense and otherwise) than we have to contend with in Rome on a daily basis. I heard a lot of folks speaking German and French. There were also a good number of tourists and Siena natives communicating in English, although English was not the first language of either person involved in the interaction.

Oh, and lest I forget, our hotel was as small and charming as the city itself, right down to the shower over the toilet. If not for the modest shower curtain, there is no differentiating between the space for showering and the space for toiletting (I think that made up word is enough for you to get the picture). I was so pleased with our time in Siena, I was more than happy to shower over the toilet, and I would be more than happy to do it again.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Grading in Rome

We're just getting back from a morning spent at St. Peter's. We got there before the crowds got too large, so the line to get in was nice and short. The sun was out for a bit (the first time in days), but there's a downpour at the moment. Students are wandering in for Thursday Studio--a few are a bit drenched and over the rain. Hopefully, the weather will clear up soon.

I have spent a substantial amount of the past three days grading undergraduate journals, and so blogging has taken a backseat. I have had some time to put up a flickr site, so you can view more of my photos there, my dear readers (it's a bit thin at the moment, there are more that need to be uploaded). Later today, Hillary, Jessica, Mark, and I are taking the train to Siena and will spend some time there and in Florence. We'll be back in Rome Saturday night, and blogging may resume on Sunday. Until then!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Surprise in the Park

As the 95 bus we were riding pulled up beside my "place"--the park in the Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice--we noticed there was a small fair set up with vendors and some shady looking carnival rides (my favorite). I haven't quite figured out what the celebration is about, but I was pleasantly surprised to happen upon it. After dropping heavy school bags off in our apartment, we walked through the park, and I caught a few photos. There were lots of families, babies, and dogs--the fair attracted more folks than might normally be out on a Monday evening. The children appeared to be more interested in the existing playground equipment than the impromptu rides. The assorted vendors' inventories included breads, wines, cheeses, t-shirts, Native American art, pottery, and CDs and DVDs.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Porta Portese

Yesterday, Hillary, Jessica, and I meandered over to the Sunday flea market just across the river in the neighborhood of Trastevere. The Porta Portese market is loud, bustling, and (apparently) a good place to have your pocket picked. Fortunately, we all returned with all of our valuables, and a few extras (for example, a travel alarm clock--something I completely forgot and is definitely a necessity). The deal at this market is to bargain your way down from the vendor's stated price. The most popular advice is to offer half the original amount and walk away, getting the vendor to "bite" and haggle with you. I was hoping for more food stalls, and perhaps some diverse kinds of foods, but alas, there were only the usual panini and pizza vendors. What we did find were lots of small electronics, clothing, bags & luggage, and shoe vendors.

Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice

The nearest piazza to our apartment on Via Ginori in Testaccio is Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice. Compared to the piazzas downtown, which tend to be more open spaces (aside from the Piazza del Collegio Romano near the Sede, which is basically a parking lot) that have the ability to morph into different types places throughout the day, this piazza has a small, permanent park in the middle. I have chosen this park as the place I will observe and comment upon for our Street and Studio course. Much like the piazzas where there might be a market in the morning, socializing by afternoon/evening, and busy restaurants at night, the park in the Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice attracts different populations at different times of day and different days of the week. The movement of patrons between the businesses that surround the park and the park itself also demonstrate the permeability of boundaries between shop entrance, sidewalk, street, and park. Something about the position of the park, away from the bustling city center, makes for a different feel than the larger, more crowded piazzas like Navona or Campo di Fiori.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Scooter/Motorcycle Culture in Rome

It seems like a stereotype from old Hollywood films set in Italy, but the presence of automobiles with only two wheels is pervasive in Rome. Their constant presence is astounding to Americans (U.S.) who are accustomed to the grossly over-sized SUVs that populate highway traffic and even crowded streets in major urban centers. My fascination with this difference is what led me to choose scooter & motorcycle culture in Rome as a second theme to cover in this blog. Scooters & motorcycles are perfect for navigating the narrow streets and alleyways (and sometimes sidewalks) in the city, and it seems there are few restrictions (age, gender, socioeconomic class) on who can and does travel this way.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Must one "walk" Rome?

As I've walked on Rome's cobblestone streets, through its tiny passageways, up and down its innumerable steps, and dodged its speedy scooters and Smart cars, it seems to me that this may not be the most wheelchair accessible city. This may be the wrong assessment, however. In the Musei Capitolini today, I found several elevators and even chair lifts on some of the staircases. However, the elevators are not as wide as Americans (U.S.) might be accustomed to. Not having visited all there is to visit in Rome, I cannot comment on the extent to which touristy and less touristy sites are accessible to everyone. Instead, by the magic of the Internet, I searched for what others have to say on this topic. Below are some links to sites where folks have recounted their experiences, expressed opinions on the matter, and provided tips for making Rome "accessible" in different ways.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Shopping in Rome

View from second floor of La Rinascente.

Fashion is quite obviously tied into consumerism; clothing choice is (potentially) a manner of self-expression as well as a marker of social/socioeconomic class. Although the concept of the department store may present itself as universal (or we might perceive it as such), there are different dynamics in the places where consumption occurs, even within the seemingly homogenous realm of department stores.

Today I visited two department stores in Rome and observed evidence of these differences-UPIM and La Rinascente. UPIM "[offers] moderately priced medium quality clothes and a variety of household goods," whereas La Rinascente "[is] good for ready-to wear clothes . . . household linens, and haberdashery, and [has] well-stocked perfume counters" (Wild 335). The differences in clientele are not easily observable (to be discussed in a future post!), however, the aesthetics and geographies of the two stores reveal quite a lot (also points for further posting). A quick scan of the chains' respective websites demonstrates what I would characterize as their "accessible" versus "sophisticated" atmospheres. Specifically, see the "About Us" section of La Rinascente site and "Discover the New UPIM" on the UPIM site for the ways in which the stores have posited their respective "missions" and who their target customers (audiences) are.

Wild, Fiona ed. Eyewitness Travel: Rome. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2007.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Roman Fashion and Rhetoric

One topic area that I have chosen to reflect upon in this blog is Italian fashion. Fashion as a visual rhetoric is not limited to the "art" pieces that are sent down the runway. Although designer names may enter into my discussion of fashion-specifically, Roman fashion-I intend to focus on clothing as rhetoric for inhabitants of Rome, especially as it relates to their daily lives and constraints, or lack thereof, that it places on fashion choices. In addition, I am interested in how Roman fashion might compare with an American (U.S.) conception of what is fashionable and what functions fashion serves. Below are a couple of links with more information and commentary on historical and contemporary functions of and perspectives on Roman fashion.

My Street and Studio

One of the main objectives of this blog is to reflect on the rhetoric of three different topics related to Rome and Roman life. The topic areas are: a theme (e.g. gelato, scooters, street signs), a place (e.g. a piazza, a museum, a bar/cafe), and a third topic that can be from either of these two categories. As such, I will include postings that are labeled and archived relative to their particular topic area. My specific topics are still to come-stay tuned.

San Pietro in Vincoli

When we found that it would cost us a substantial amount of euros to go into the grounds of the Forum, we improvised and made a trip to a church, San Pietro in Vincoli. The connection between the two sites is St. Peter himself. The church houses the chains that shackled St. Peter while he was held in the Mamertine Prison, which we had visited not fifteen minutes earlier. Michelangelo's Tomb of Pope Julius II is also housed in the San Pietro in Vincoli and is what the church is best known for (Wild 170).

Wild, Fiona ed. Eyewitness Travel: Rome. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2007.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Already hard at work

Students fought the jet lag today and got into the first full day of class. A discussion of our first text, The Marble Faun, and a viewing of Rome, Open City and The Battle of San Pietro forced us all to face our brief semester head-on. Nothing like a little Italian neorealism and U.S. propaganda to perk up your day! On the break between classes, people scattered for lunch, and some folks took set out on a quick excursion to find Hilda's tower (pictured above, from The Marble Faun).

Tomorrow, the Forum!

Monday, May 12, 2008

It begins...

Undergraduate students arrive, and the Rhetoric of Rome education abroad program begins today!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Countdown to Rome

Welcome to my travel blog! I leave for Italy tomorrow along with the three other grad assistants for the Rhetoric of Rome program-then the interesting posts will begin (they should, anyway)! Until then, it's back to packing and preparing. Ciao for the moment.