Thursday, June 25, 2009

Where I've Been/Where the Time's Gone

I've been a delinquent blogger this past week, mainly due to the fact that we've been wrapping things up in class and enjoying farewell social activities. I've also had my head elsewhere (mainly packing and looking ahead to my summer of studying for comprehensive exams in State College), so the blog was temporarily orphaned. I must say, though, although it feels like I've been busy, I'm not exactly sure where the time has gone. This is true not only of our last week here, but of the program overall. There are days when the brief semester here feels like it might last for seven months rather than seven weeks, but then you wake up one day and realize that you've only got about three days to check off everything on your to-do list and buy chintzy souvenirs.

Rome was especially beautiful after last weekend's thunderstorms cleared the air, leaving the skies a saturated blue and the clouds extra fluffy. I thought I had enough pictures of the Colosseum and Via dei Fori Imperiali, but all this city has to offer looks quite different in the cooler days following a good storm. That's why you're getting the gratuitous shot of one of the most photographed images in Italy (top left), and I don't feel the slightest bit cliché for including it.

I'm including one more photo, as all of the action that's gone down in Iran has not yet made its way into this blogspace, which I think is a significant absence but also difficult to work into the overall theme (sorry for all the clauses in that sentence). We passed this CGIL poster, which I can't translate fully, but basically expresses sympathies for and solidarity with the women and men of Iran, who have voted for change in the recent elections.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I See Right Through That Kimono (Not in a Gross Way)

The heat is still on in Rome, and when that's the case, I prefer indoor activities that include air conditioning in the cost of admission. I'm also a sucker for museums - I think it's because museums allow me to engage in one form or another of elitist escapism while simultaneously putting my rhetorical critic skills to work (think of it as scholarly self-flagellation infused with Catholic guilt - fun, right?). Today's museum encounter was no exception, as I laid out 9 euro (which, by the way, would've been 7 euro if I was under 26; a mini, just-over-quarter-life crisis ensued but ended quickly) for the Hiroshige exhibit at the Museo del Corso. The exhibit consists of ink and paper and wood block prints from the James Michener Collection at the Honolulu Academy of Arts (PA sidenote: the James A. Michener Art Museum is located in Doylestown, in Bucks County - Michener's hometown).

So I'll start with the escapism elements: the pieces themselves are simply displayed, complete white matting and plain wooden frames. The blues in some of the scenes are phenomenal - gorgeous stuff. And now for the critic: the exhibit is curated in such a way that you first walk onto a faux-Japanese bridge in a faux-Japanese garden, and silhouettes of human figures dressed in kimonos populate these scenes, although sparsely. The folks policing your museum experience, whom I usually expect to be wearing burgundy blazers and black slacks or some awful variation thereof, are instead dressed in pseudo-kimono inspired tops and black skirts. All of said 'policers of experience' are Italian women.

Further, visitors are invited to keep a record of their travels through each of the four rooms of the exhibit inspired by Japanese travel diaries (the best explanation of which I found here, after doing a basic search of the surface Web). You just pick up a blank booklet and a stamp in each room (the stamps are elements taken from Hiroshige's scenes) serves as evidence of your journey. Now you're faux-traveling like a real Japanese person. Here's the evidence of my journey:

Did I enjoy the exhibit? Most definitely. Am I a little weirded out by the presentation and abbreviated explanations of the ways in which visitors are to inhabit a particular moment in Japanese history and culture? But of course. Is this what it is to experience a conflicted trip to the museum with Mia? You betcha - and I didn't even touch the Michener stuff. So who's up for a visit to the Palmer when I get home?

Hiroshige poster taken from Museo del Corso website.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Bit of Lancaster in Rome

Yeah, I know. Doesn't make a lick of sense, does it? Please allow me to put this in context for you.

Lately, I've spotted some folks in Rome and also some celebs on trashy gossip sites (come on, what's a grrrl to do without trashy TV?) wearing clothes conspicuously marked with the logo Franklin & Marshall. For my Pennsylvanians, that name might ring a bell as Franklin & Marshall College, a small liberal arts school located in Lancaster, PA. Was I wrong to connect fashionable young Italians with small town U.S.A.?

It turns out I was wrong to think that there wouldn't be something wildly profitable in a Veronese clothing company that operates under the guise of promoting vintage, American, college style across the pond from the place where it was allegedly born (wait, why does it smell like Abercrombie & Fitch all of a sudden? I hate that smell). The creators of the F&M clothing line are a couple of Italians who were inspired to create the line in 1999 when they spotted a second-hand Franklin & Marshall sweatshirt a London flea market. According to Wikipedia, they almost didn't get away with their presumptuous branding, but the college decided not to sue and instead to accept a licensing fee from F&M clothing to continue producing cheeky sweatsuits bearing the name.

In a portion of the F&M clothing website entitled "The Heritage," the history of the clothing company and the college are strangely intertwined. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this fashion phenomenon, and when we happened by one of the F&M stores off of Campo de' Fiori this morning, I had to head home to do a little research. I'm especially concerned that a slightly edgier A&F has gained its footing in Rome (of all places! you can have your McDonald's, but leave your faux-vintage distressed hoodies to the college towns of the Big 10!).

Stores are peppered throughout Europe but conspicuously absent from Lancaster.

Top right: F&M store in Rome.

Different Ways of Seeing Rome

Over the past five weeks, our students have become intimately acquainted with Rome via countless hours and kilometers passed walking about, exploring, and getting lost in la città eterna. This morning, we capitalized on their knowledge of Rome's better and lesser known sights and asked them to lead us on two guided walks through our temporary hometown.

Although all of our students created walks, they were asked to limit our morning adventure to two. The lucky leaders were Nicole Arcidiacono, who designed a walk she titled "Rome on the Silver Screen," and Aimee Boyd who loves her gelato so much, she had to share it with the rest of the blogosphere.

The guided walking tour of Rome is one of the last assignments that students are asked to complete as a component of the Street and Studio blogging course. You can link to all of our undergrads' walking tours and maps (even those from last year's CAS in Rome group) via Dr. Benson's Rhetoric of Rome: Street and Studio page. They've come up with some unique ways to see this city - lovely additions to your own maps and guidebooks.

Top left: Aimee schools Dr. Browne about gelato.
Bottom: The gang at the Trevi Fountain, the last stop on Nicole's walk.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Roman Food Gods Will Have Their Revenge

On Monday, Una and I threw touristic caution to the wind and gave in to our basest desire as U.S. Americans - the desire to eat hamburgers. We've been dying for some burgers and fries, and we thought if we were gonna go all-American, we better sell out big and hit up the Hard Rock Cafe on Via Veneto. I was silly to think I'd get away with such a foolish move. Not 24 hours later, I was struck down by the Roman food gods, punished with that most unpleasant effect of undercooked meat - food poisoning. That burger was apparently destined to put me out of commission from the very first mouth watering bite.

I'll tell you what, it has not been a pleasant couple of days, folks, but I'm finally feeling a bit better. What I've learned from this: trust your tourist guilt, and stay out of the burger joints . . . especially the spectacle that is themed chain restaurants. Anything cooked in the shadow of Elton John's 'Crocodile Rock' suit and gigantic glasses should be eaten with scrutiny, if at all.

Image top right (found here): Ceiling at the Hard Rock in Rome. Note: Rock n Roll putti do not ensure safe meal passage.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I Am the Weekend Warrior

To borrow a phrase from Una, what didn't I do this weekend? Well, I got a second wind, that's one thing, and I decided to go a tourist-ing. Traveling through Italy is wonderful, but I love a nice, relaxing weekend in Rome, and with a semi-empty apartment and a little extra time on my hands, I rested up nicely for two different ends of the tourist spectrum in Rome.

On Saturday, I visited Terme di Caracalla (ancient public baths, people). I'd dare say these are the best ruins in Rome, and admission isn't all that expensive (six euro, please). The immensity of the walls of the baths can't quite be communicated in these photos, but I'm including them anyway, so just do me a favor and try to imagine it. One of the best characteristics of this site is that looking down has just as many benefits as looking up - there are remnants of the marble and mosaic floors of the ancient baths here and there, so it's best not to get distracted by everything above eye-level (not too difficult for those of us closer to the ground).

The next day, I finally got around to seeing two exhibits that have been on my radar for quite a few weeks now. At Palazzo delle Esposizioni, I indulged in jewelry and photography for over two hours. Although the air conditioning was a big draw (seriously. huge. it's 90 city degrees here.), I was primarily interested in the historic, kind-of-retrospective Bulgari exhibit, celebrating 125 years of the Italian jeweler. Especially exciting (for this nerd) were the items from Elizabeth Taylor's personal collection and the jeweler's connections with the most recognizable Italian actresses of the 20th century - Gena Lollobrigida, Anna Magnani, and Sophia Loren.

FotoGrafia, the other exhibit at Esposizioni, is a touch overwhelming at some points, but overall is a fantastic chance to see a whole heck of a lot of photography that covers a pretty wide range of subjects, objects, topics. A special treat for photo lovers is Nan Goldin's Heartbeat, where the exhibit begins. This slideshow is not for those easily offended, but it's quite cool to experience - I especially enjoyed the music sung by Bjork (composed by Sir Jon Tavener) that played as a soundtrack as the photos were projected onto a large screen in a dark, dark room. A hallway of simultaneous slideshows and soundtracks overstimulated my eyes and ears a little, but there are plenty of benches where you can rest your bones and take your time soaking it all in.

All in all, for my second to last weekend in Rome, I don't think I did so bad.

Elizabeth Taylor in Bulgari found here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pittsburgh vs. Rome - Liveable Cities?

I try to keep up with what's shakin' in the States while I'm here in Rome. I'm especially invested in the goings-on in and around Pittsburgh (it's home, people!). While checking out the Post-Gazette today, I happened upon an article on The Economist's "Liveable Cities" rankings. Turns out Pittsburgh is ranked 29th overall and the most liveable U.S. city by this poll's standards. That's proud news for Pittsburghers, I suppose, but I think we better not hold our collective breath that it indicates an increase in popularity or even that it affects the standard Steel Town image that the city's history invokes in most people's minds. Not that we might want folks to flock to Pittsburgh or that we're ashamed of its working class history, but to what extent is such an "honor" a boon for local economies? According to the Post-Gazette: "[T]he value of such publicity to the Pittsburgh area (priceless)." I'm not sure I'm sold on that.
So, what does this have to do with Rome? Well, my immediate reaction was to search for the entire list of "Liveable Cities" in order see where Rome falls in the rankings. I think I might need the print version of The Economist for that, so if anyone can provide that information, please do share. It's at least clear from the info available online that Rome did not make the top ten in 2009. In spite of this, and in relation to my musings above, populations seem to continue to boom in the places like Rome and where you'd expect - crowded urban and cultural centers like New York, LA, London, etc.

I used to think I'd like to live in a city like Rome. Now that I'm a little older, a touch stubborn, and more particular, I don't know that I'm so into it. It's wonderful to have the experience of seven weeks in an education abroad program here, but how would I be able to truly live here? Picking up the language could happen, but the euro is sure to kick my butt financially eventually. It's about as crowded with tourists as any place can get (although I can't speak for the 'off' season), and I'm certain that I'd miss my family and friends in the States too much to make it here long term.

Aside from The Economist's 'objective' standards, I think I'm ultimately questioning what makes for a 'liveable' city? It's got plenty to do with the rhetoric of the developed versus developing worlds, and I'm not without my biases toward the former. I do know quite a few folks, however, who put a lot of stock in the quality of the city's football team.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vision of the Past . . . and the Future

My dear readers, you know my affection for Anna Magnani is strong, but this week's film, Mamma Roma, calls us to pay some close attention to one of its lesser characters. Bruna (played by Silvana Corsini), is Mamma Roma's worst nightmare, as she is a clear reflection of the aging prostitute/fruit vendor in her youth. Bruna is the young, single mother of a two year old son, she has no prospects in terms of work or family, and she exchanges sex with the young men in her neighborhood for gifts. We can see the fear and resentment in Mamma Roma's face as she eyes Bruna in the market - at least Mamma Roma was a bona fide hooker; Bruna is merely a promiscuous girl who stupidly expects she might get ahead in some small way using her body.

Bruna gets the short end of the stick in Pasolini's second outing as a film director. Were Mamma Roma to recognize the similarities between her life and Bruna's, were she to show the girl some compassion, were she to open her eyes to her own sons misguided decisions, the viewer mightn't be so opposed to Bruna's misguided decisions. Bruna is not so stupid as Mamma Roma assumes - she inhabits a space in which it makes sense for her to keep the gang of local boys on her side. They have no qualms about assaulting her, and she has no means to get out. When the boys are enraged over her decision to 'go for a walk' with Ettore, she sides with their violent group. This move appears cold, but I believe we are left to wonder what might happen to Bruna were she to reject them for Ettore's company.

This situation parallels Mamma Roma's - she who finds herself at the mercy of her old pimp. He needs money, so she must find her way back to the street and pay up, or face several consequences that are, I'm sure you know, undesirable. In spite of Mamma Roma's claim that the individual is responsible for her lot in life, Mamma Roma is very much a film about constraints, context, and inhibiting structures. Bruna gives us a glimpse of those constraints on Mamma Roma's past as the character of Mamma Roma provides insight into how they might affect Bruna's future.

Image found here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

When in Rome, go south!

Una and I are back from a weekend in Sorrento. We couldn't quite escape the scooter noise from Rome (our hotel room faced a busy street), but at least we were rid of the barking dog and cawing gulls for a couple of nights.

We took a ferry to Positano on Saturday, and I somehow managed to capture a pretty darn good photo of the Amalfi Coast's famed bouganvillea and picturesque buildings stuck right into the hillside (if I do say so myself). See . . .

It was weird to feel like I was actually on vacation this weekend, but I definitely enjoyed our downtime - especially the strolls through Sorrento's and Positano's narrow streets lined with shops. Eat, shop, enjoy the views - that's about it around these parts, and I was happy to indulge for just about 48 hours. All things are fabulous in and around Amalfi, as emphasized by this guy who apparently just hangs out in front of Missoni in Positano all day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fauna, Fauna Everywhere

Class time consisted of a walk on the Aventine Hill today, and every place we went, we encountered busy little animals either hanging out in their habitats or eager to interact with all of the people infringing on their habitats. I figured a gratuitous photo entry was in order. You may want to shield the kiddies' eyes from the beetles pic.

Friendly kitty at the Protestant Cemetery.

Snail that almost met its end at the sole of my sandal in the Protestant Cemetery.

"Busy" beetles at the Protestant Cemetery.

A rather tame herd of humans at Giardino degli Aranci.

Happy dog and his pine cone in Giardino degli Aranci.

Curious kitten in Giardino degli Aranci.

The bee does its part in Roseto Comunale.


There's a tempting little store on Via del Tritone called MUJI. I'm a little bit in love with it, but I also cannot make a solid argument to myself in favor of actually making a purchase there. The Japanese company's "philosophy of 'no brand quality goods'" is reflected in the minimalist packaging and store design. I'm a little perplexed, however, how they maintain a reputation for earth conscious production and packaging when most of their appealing little products (and I do mean that they are actually wee little things) are mostly plastic and kind of unnecessary.

I think I might hold out for one of the MUJI stores in the States, since the prices in euros seem to differ greatly from the prices in British pounds (both are printed on the tags), and I don't think it's simply a matter of currency conversion. So the next time I make it to the Big Apple to visit my girl Jenny, I think a little trip to MUJI SOHO might be in order.

*Google tells me that today, this is the euro-pound equivalence: 1 Euro = 0.866634158 British pounds.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Man and His Dog . . . and the Maid

I'm sure you've all been on the edge of your seats wondering what this week's film selection was for CAS 415 in Rome. Lucky for you, the wait is over. Today, we watched Umberto D, another neorealist staple directed by Vittorio De Sica. Critics love this movie, which succeeds in so many ways in spite of it's fundamentally trite premise (did you catch the title of this post?).

Maria-Pia Casilio plays Maria, the maid in the boarding house where Umberto rents a room and from which he is soon to be evicted. Although it has the potential to develop as maudlin and exploitative, empathetic is the way in which I would describe the relationship between Maria and Umberto. She seems to have no significant ties to family, but she does not seek out Umberto as a surrogate father or grandfather, nor does she wish to be his caretaker. This might have been an easy move for De Sica to make, but he is appropriately restrained in the presentation of Maria and Umberto's friendship (which might also be stretching it).

Maria is rather no-nonsense, but then, she must be, as she is three months pregnant and on the verge of poor, single motherhood. However, De Sica does not neglect her the complex character portrait that such circumstances require - she cries quietly over her situation as she makes the morning coffee, alone in the kitchen, but she does what she can to help out with Umberto's dog when he requests it. The stereotypical notion of the Italian mamma who feeds others' problems with a heaping plate of pasta in red sauce is lost on De Sica and neorealism generally. Maria has her own business to worry about, after all.

Umberto D poster found here.
Maria-Pia Casilio image found here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Today is a national holiday in Italy, folks. I blogged about it a touch last time around, but I've got a very different perspective on it this year. Part of that different perspective is based in geography. This year, we're living in an area that is directly in line with the parade route, and today's parade route is, on most days, the most efficient way to walk to our classrooms off Piazza del Collegio Romano. As Una and I walked along Via dei Fori Imperiali this morning, however, we were trapped like rats - forced to watch the parade of endless segments of the Italian military marching in all their masculine, uniformed, glorious lock-step. I didn't think I'd be up for it, and especially not without at least one cappuccino under my belt.

The point is, we beat a hasty retreat out of there, roundabout though it was, and did the more sensible thing - hung around a group of military folk just off of Piazza Venezia in white riding pants, gold chest plates, and patent leather riding boots. It was their beautiful horses rather than the sharp dressing that drew us in, which to us, did seem more sensible.

Okay, so aside from the way in which today's parade makes the navigation of a chaotic urban center feel even more chaotic than usual, I am uneasy about the show of military might (warranted or not) that is Festa della Repubblica. There have been alternative parades for peace in previous years, especially during the 'W' years and the height of the Iraq war, but I found no information on any alternative celebrations this year. The symbolic purchase of flexing the national muscle in the June second parade has somehow become less significant to peace movements in Italy, or in Rome at the very least, in this, the year of Obama. As with the declaration of a 'post-racial' era in the U.S., I have to imagine/hope the lack of alt festivities does not necessarily prove this to be true.

On a lighter note, do check out Joe Augello's blog for the most surreal experience that any of us CAS in Rome folks had on Festa della Repubblica this year. You won't be disappointed.

Top: Firefighters scale/hang out on the Colosseum.
Middle: The horses . . . with distinctive haircuts.