Sunday, May 31, 2009

Perugia and a Railway Education

I spent this Friday into Saturday in Perugia, a lovely little hill town with gorgeous views and lots of those little picturesque archways and cobblestone streets that one expects to find in Italy.

I made my way back to Rome yesterday, due to the fact that I was feeling a little under the weather and in need of some Benadryl and a little time to sleep off the ickiness in my own bed (tiny and cot-like though it may be). My route home was a touch annoying (I did a lot of waiting around in train stations yesterday), but as I waited out the train to Termini in Terontola, I noticed a plaque on the wall devoted to a one Gino Bartali. What I could decipher from the Italian text on the plaque was that this guy was a cyclist, and an accomplished one at that. I wondered what kind of cycling legacy earns someone train station plaques, and while nosing around for some info on 'Gino the Pious,' I realized that not only is my Italian icons-of-sport history a little shaky, so too am I un-savvy regarding contemporary cycling. In all of our football fervor, we've been ignorant to the Giro d'Italia, which has been in progress since we arrived in Rome. The race ended today(!); Russian Denis Menchov is the winner.

Top left: Kids playing football in Perugia.
Bottom right: Gino
being not-so-pious. Image found here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Caught Red-Handed (Snouted?)

Una and I have taken to sleeping with the doors open - that is, there are doors in our room that open onto a very small terrace, and because we've been on the verge of heatstroke lately, we do whatever it takes to encourage even the tiniest breeze as we settle in to catch some ZZZs each night (what, you thought there would be AC?). The problem with the open door (and it probably wouldn't matter much if we closed the stinkin' thing either) is that all of the sounds of the streets below and apartments beside us drift in without regard for our beauty sleep.

I've been trying to sleep with earplugs in and sometimes my iPod on, but there is one noise that breaks through seemingly any barrier I attempt to put up. That noise comes from this little guy or grrrl:

Can't you just see the guilt in his/her eyes? His/her posture? He/she was fully aware that I was snapping this photo of the booming bark in action, and so the he/she turned away in shame!

This dalmation lives across the street and below us (hence the bad angle on the photo), and the owner seems to leave it outside throughout most of the day. This isn't necessarily bad dog-owning practice in Rome - plenty of animals are more of the "outside" than "inside" variety. We've taken to calling the pup 'Vega Due,' after the ill-fated animale domestico in Tim Parks' Italian Neighbors.* The clear difference between our Vega and the original - this dog will continue to bark all day long, long after we've departed Rome.

*Parks, Tim. Italian Neighbors. New York: Grove Press, 1992.

This Week in Film . . .

Lo sceicco bianco - Fellini's debut as a solo director. Although a "logical" narrative can be culled from film overall, there is much in it that is whimsical, nonsensical, and reliant upon spectacle, making it hard to make sense of in the midst of our neorealist undertakings. One thing that I think is clear, is that Lo sceicco bianco is fraught with questions about feminine identity and agency, and although the protagonist, Wanda, takes her fair share of missteps, it is her husband, Ivan, and the object of her desire, the White Sheik, who inhabit buffoonish roles, perhaps to the ends (arguably progressive within the historical context) that Virginia Pichietti describes:

"Because it problematizes femininity, Lo sceicco bianco stands as an insightful reflection of the dilemma that women faced in the gendered performances advocated by 1950s popular culture. At the same time, it cleverly unravels this performance to expose the contradictions on which it is built. While Wanda is not a protofeminist character, her movement between roles subtly reveals the wilful interpretation of the self's position in social intercourse. Unfortunately, within the conventional, institutional universe of Fellini's film, her vision must ultimately be confined to the role that guarantees a moral euphoric ending for her to participate as a functioning member."

The ending, considered by Pichietti to be 'confining' and 'conventional' for the main female character, is often the one that our small audience of CAS in Rome finds the most comforting, as it is the closest we'll get in our film class to a happy Hollywood ending. Hmmm . . .

*Picchietti, Virginia. "When in Rome Do as the Romans Do?: Fellini's Problematization of Femininity (The White Sheik)." In Federico Fellini: Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Frank Burke and Marguerite R. Waller, 92-106. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002.

Image of Fellini found here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Calcio: Senza Alcol Edition

Playing host to major football matches in Europe, Asia, and well, anywhere outside of the U.S., can be an anxiety inducing affair. There has been a noticeable influx of fans into the city of Rome this week, and with more soccer fans, there has historically been an increased chance of violent conflicts. Ever since the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985, hosting cities' officials have taken precautions, like increasing police presence, in the hope that the site and its reputation remain in tact - no culture/football capital wants to be the place where more people lost their lives over hooliganism than Heysel.

As a means to deterring conflicts in Rome for the Champions' League final tonight, a ban on alcohol sales has been in effect since last night (Tuesday) and is supposed to remain in effect until early tomorrow morning (Thursday). Una and I were unaware of the ban until our students mentioned it in class this morning, but we were doubtful of its effectiveness, considering we had ordered wine at dinner last night and sat amidst plenty of folks at lunch today who partook in a fair share of beer to wash down midday pizzas.

We'll see how the ban continues to be enforced/ignored as we head out to watch the match in a bit. One rule that I wish they had put into place rather than the ban: all Man U fans must keep their shirts on in public throughout their stay in Rome, no matter how hot it gets. Think of all of the trauma that could have been prevented.

Image of Heysel Stadium from Channel4.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Inside" Sunday/At Home with Il Duce

Alright, I admit it. I slept in today. In spite of the non-stop barking from our neighbor's dalmatian through the wee hours, I was whooped enough to stay in bed nearly until 11am. However, I was still able to make a day of it once I peeled off my sleeping mask (it's necessary sometimes, and I only have one because they gave it to me on Air France last year; no judging, please). I thought something relatively close to home and indoors would be the best choice on this HOT Sunday, so I decided on a visit to the Museo Nazionale del Palazzo di Venezia, just around the corner from our classrooms off Piazza Collegio Romano.Seeking a respite from the heat in Rome's museums can turn into an expensive strategy, so I don't think I'll be resorting to it all that frequently. Palazzo Venezia was actually worth it, but that's mainly due to the fact that the current temporary exhibit is La Mente di Leonardo, and all critical perspectives aside, it was pretty cool. The permanent exhibit includes wooden sculptures, which is interesting considering the overwhelming amounts of stone and marble pieces that we usually encounter in the museums, piazzas, and churches here.

One last note on Palazzo Venezia - Mussolini often stood on one of its balconies that faces the piazza of the same name (a large, busy traffic circle/roundabout) and delivered speeches to the massive crowds below. Check out this entry from Dr. Benson's Senses of Rhetoric blog, where he posted an illustrative video of Il Duce and the aforementioned crowds in Piazza Venezia.

Image found here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Weekend In/Around Rome

Although the weekends are often a time for residents of Rome to get the heck out, I was unconcerned with planning a trip out of town this weekend. Turns out, that wasn't such a bad move, as there is plenty I've yet to see, do, and stumble upon in the Eternal City.

Una, Matt, and I took an hour's train ride out of town to Nettuno for a beach day on Friday. If one can manage a trip to one of the beaches near Rome on a weekday, it is to her great advantage. There were only a sprinkling of beachgoers when we arrived (as opposed to the packed Saturdays and Sundays on the coast), which made for a quiet afternoon, and also meant we didn't have to navigate too many bronzed Romans in speedos - a difficult thing for many U.S. Americans to get used to. We didn't make it to the World War II cemetery at Nettuno, but it's on the 'to do' list for a potential future visit.

Today, I did some walking on the Aventine hill after strolling through the Protestant Cemetery in Testaccio with Una and Matt. On this trip to the Protestant cemetery, I was most taken with the different varieties of flowers scattered among the graves, and so it seemed to make sense to make it a day of cemeteries and flowers and visit the rose gardens (Roseto Comunale) on the Aventine, as well (the Roseto used to be the Jewish cemetery in Rome). In spite of the pre-summer heat, the roses were still in bloom and looking quite beautiful. I had to stop taking photos thanks to low battery, but I think you get the picture . . .

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Euro 2008 was a highlight of our stay in Rome last year, in spite of Azzurri's loss to Spain in the quarterfinals. Women's Euro 2009 is being held in Finland this year, but we don't have a TV, and it won't get underway until August, anyway. However, next week's Champions League final is in Rome - Barcelona v. Manchester United. I'm fairly certain one does not come by tickets for the final easily, so my hope is that we can squeeze in at one of Rome's Irish-themed pubs and watch the match over a pint. For those of you less interested in football and more interested in prettyboy footballers, come to the match for Ronaldo, but stay for the soccer.

Image taken from this site.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More Fun with Neorealism

We're moving right along in our Italian film course, and this week's offering was Ladri di Biciclette. De Sica's 1948 film tends to still ring a bell in U.S. popular culture contexts, but the title is frequently mistranslated as The Bicycle Thief, committing a perpetual injustice to the film and its audiences (once you've watched it, I'm willing to bet you'll feel the same way).

As I continue to think about female figures in Italian neorealist film, I am reminded that the women in this film are seemingly minor characters but clearly integral to the progress(?) of the story. Maria Ricci figures most prominently, making the significant decision to give up her dowry (sheets, for goodness sake) for her husband to get his bicycle out of hock in the first place. I'm also partial to the character of La Santona, "the one who sees," who both women and men frequent for advice and predictions about their futures. In a historical moment in which many folks are struggling to earn and maintain some kind of salary, La Santona's waiting room is packed with clients, eager to hand over whatever lire they can spare.

One last crucial note about the large cinematic shadow cast by Ladri di Biciclette - the epic narrative, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, is arguably a loose intrepretation of Antonio Ricci's quest to reclaim his bicycle. I thought I caught a hint of that brilliance watching Paul Reubens as a six-year-old.

Image from TrovaCinema/laRepubblica.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Home Is Where My Cot Is

Una has already taken the time to blog a bit about our living quarters, but I thought I might put my two cents in (you know, for good measure . . . oh, and because we can never say enough about, well, anything).

Our humble apartment's address is Via Labicana, about half a mile from the Colosseum, just around the corner from one of my favorite churches, San Giovanni in Laterano, and la Scala Sancta, and across the street from la Basilica di San Clemente. Not a bad location for a couple of grad students kickin' around Rome for a few weeks.

The living is relatively easy (thanks to the elevator), but it has become a bit of a chore to walk home from Piazza del Collegio Romano in the afternoon sun, navigating through crowds of tourists along Via dei Fori Imperiali and dodging those kids who want to scam you on some ticket that allows you to jump the line at the Colosseum (no thanks).

Once I get past all that, and I decide I'm going to be a trooper and walk up the 100+ stairs to the apartment, I'm pleased as punch to relax on my squeaky little bed before reviewing the undergraduates' weekly journals or washing the stink off in our only bathroom (that's for six people, by the way). Thank goodness for that thin mattress and those two old pillows. I sleep like a baby on it nearly every night, and I hesitate to lift my body out of it early each morning. That's how I know I'm at home in Rome.

Above left: view from my room; Right: the bed!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Monte Celio, Mother Theresa

Una and I went for a Sunday stroll to break up our reading and journaling in the apartment. Sundays are big park days for folks in Rome, so we thought we'd head up to nearby Villa Celimontana to see how jumping it is on a hot weekend day. The villa is located on one of Rome's seven hills, Monte Celio, and like so many places in this city, there's a lot of stuff to see aside from the park area.

We walked alongside an outside wall of the park on Via di San Paolo della Croce, and I continued down Clivo di Scauro to San Gregorio Magno (above). In the center of the piazza outside San Gregorio Magno sits a bust of Mother Theresa. The inscription on its base indicates the bust was a gift from India, although I'm having a difficult time researching the impetus for such a gift (certainly we can safely assume something Catholic is going on here).

So many of the busts one encounters in her explorations of Rome are ancient and seemingly meant to honor some masculine legacy of imperialism. Sure, there's the classic figure of the Virgin Mary who has her fair share of makeshift altars and honorary portraiture throughout the city, but Mother Theresa is posted, in one way or another, at several sites, as a significant contemporary female figure of Catholicism that Pope John Paul II put on the "fast track" to sainthood shortly after her death by nominating her for beatification. It's interesting to think about where the memory of Mother Theresa stands six years after beatification and four years after the death of Pope John Paul II.

Check out a couple of good articles for comparison published when she was beatified in 2003, from the BBC and everyone's favorite Atheist, Christopher Hitchens.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Expanding the Roman Blogosphere

Yesterday, we had our first Street and Studio class in which all of the students in the Rhetoric of Rome program initiated their own blogs that they will cultivate and maintain throughout their education abroad experience in Italy (and possibly beyond). You can visit the Rome - Street and Studio page (via my 'Related Links' section) to connect to all of this year's students' blogs, as well as last years'. Here's a little glimpse into our blogging-in-action . . .

The Personal and il Politico

The topic of the Italian prime minister's marriage - and now, his divorce - has played out rather scandalously in Italian and international media outlets in the past five years. My poor reading skills in Italian leave me guessing a lot about what is being reported in la Repubblica, so I turn to the BBC and New York Times for supplemental information about and narrativization of the Berlusconis' very public marriage woes.

In several of the recent articles following Veronica Lario's (Mrs. Berlusconi, if you weren't quite sure) public outing of Berlusconi's alleged affairs with very young women, I have noticed an interesting move on the part of journalists to frame Lario's actions as decidedly feminist. In spite of the disapproving few who believe the Lario/Berlusconi saga should be worked out behind closed doors, Lario has chosen to remain vocal about Berlusconi's extramarital activities as well as what she sees as his inabilities as prime minister. Lario has even gained a following online that supports her election to a major political office - apparently not a regular occurrence for the First Ladies of Italy. The public airing of Lario's and Berlusconi's "personal" issues and the journalistic and popular responses to the situation serve as demonstrations of the blurring of personal and political realms. Further, Lario's insistence on publicizing their marital conflicts (and Berlusconi's subsequent insistence on a public apology from Lario) as an exemplar of how Italian women must hold their own in relationships with Italian men, suggests a possible challenge to a presumed, strict cultural divide between private and public in an Italian national context.

Image from the New York Times.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Magnani and Me

We begin our coursework in Italian cinema today with Roma, città aperta, perhaps the quintessential Italian neorealist film. Neorealist offerings are a far cry from the Hollywood-happy ending, popcorn-and-soda flicks many U.S. audiences are used to, but the films we watch throughout these seven weeks are a crucial component of Italian history and cultural memory that enrich our readings of our experiences in Italy and cinema more generally.Although there is much darkness in films like Ladri di Biciclette and Umberto D, we begin and end with movies that feature the bright performances of Anna Magnani (the last film being Mamma Roma, by the by). The neorealist narrative is, more often than not, a male-centered one, and so it is through Magnani that I have begun to think about the roles that women do play in cinematic and nationalist histories. Through their marginal presence or glaring absence, we might begin to think about the ways in which the function and depiction of women in film has potentially transformed as the rhetoric of film has evolved.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

When I was in Rome last year, Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona was completely covered in scaffolding and under repairs, so I was denied a proper view of it. As Una and I took a walk through Piazza Navona today after orientation meetings, I finally got a glimpse of the fountain (along with hundreds of other tourists), finally stripped of its construction-site aesthetic - another sign of the complex relationship between change and preservation in this city. Also, not a bad way to begin the Roman summer/semester.

Monday, May 11, 2009

This Old Classroom

Mark recently sent last year's Rome vets a great article about the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj (now a gallery) which is the larger building that houses our classrooms here in Rome. I think the theme of "change" in the article relates well to the way in which I anticipate embarking on this experience for the second time. Have a look see.

One more time . . .

I'm getting the ol' blog up and running again! I arrived in Rome this morning for another round as a teaching assistant in the Penn State CAS in Rome education abroad summer program. Being in the Eternal City feels excitingly familiar, but the shape of the program is a bit different this time. Perhaps most notably, we are small in numbers this year - the CAS program is composed of six undergraduates, two graduate teaching assistants, and one faculty member. We're living in an entirely different section of the city (closer to the bustling city center, only a few blocks from the Colosseum), and it's already quite hot for this early in May. Change is good, though, no? I'm looking forward to what's to come in the next seven weeks here in Rome and possibly on a few side trips in Italy. At the moment, I'm especially looking forward to starting my day with a delicious cappuccino tomorrow morning (arrived too late for one today!) and meeting together as a group for orientation at the Sede di Roma. I hope you'll stick around to see how things shape up this year. Ciao.