View from Macerata

View from Macerata

mercoledì 14 dicembre 2011

My new perspective

The end of the term is fast approaching, and I was assigned to write a paper on what I would give the U.S. from Italy (in terms of values, lifestyle etc) and what I would give Italy from the U.S. and I thought it was an interesting topic... :)

From Italy, I wish I could bring back:
  • Little, local shops.  There is one grocery store in Macerata that resembles a Safeway, but most locals go to the little butcher shops and fruit stands too.  There is a shop called La Casa Di Parmigiano that sells nothing but cheese.  That is kind of extreme, but it's much better than Walmart would be in this town; everything is local and the money stays in the community.

  • Health.  I don't really know how to explain it, but everything is somehow healthier here even if it's an American product.  You can find oreos and ritz crackers here, but they're a little different (i.e. not as good, but more natural).  And NO ONE is obese in Macerata.  Seriously.  Not even a little bit.  Yet, at the same time, there are no gyms or fitness centers and they eat mostly carbs.  People just eat less and walk more and the result is (as far as I've seen) 0% obesity. 

  • The piazza.  Every day I walk through Piazza Mazzini multiple times and every morning there are the same three old men, smoking their pipes on the benches and other people just in giro, out and about.  The piazza is the center of Italian towns, they're always full of people socializing, especially at night.  There is no where to just hang out in America, other than parks, and they aren't safe at night.  You have to go into a coffee shop or restaurant and buy something to be able to just hang out anywhere in the U.S.  Maybe that's why we hang out in front of the tv so much more.

  • Living with less.  Italians have just what they need in my experience.  Macerata is a relatively rich town.  Most people work for the university or one of the banks that are based here.  Yet things like dryers (which I really miss, I have to admit.  I love warm jeans fresh from the dryer), dish washers, toasters, microwaves, and big tvs aren't particularly common and you are only allowed, by law, to have the air conditioning on for 10 hours a day.  I'm not saying I don't miss all of that stuff, but it is kind of nice to see that a whole town is doing just fine without it.  Also, they just have less of other things, like clothes.  People don't have huge wardrobes, they wear the same few shirts a lot.  Being here makes me notice how materialistic the American culture is, even more than I did before.  It bothers me how everything is made to just be thrown away.

  • Multilingual people.  Okay, not so much in the Marche region where I am because it's pretty out of the way and theres no real need, but in most of Italy (and Europe in general) people speak 2-4 languages.  English is now compulsory in Italian schools whereas in the U.S. students only take 2 years of a foreign language, and they don't start until high school when it has become much more difficult than if you start before age 12. 

  • Closer families.  In Italy, Sunday is family day.  Which makes it a pretty boring day as an American whose family is like 6,000 miles away because nothing is open and no one is around.  But I still think it's nice.  It was really shocking to me, at first, how dead the town actually is on Sunday.  The buses and trains don't run, and if you don't have any food in your apartment you will starve that day.  I know this from personal experience.  I'm close to my family, but I know a lot of Americans who aren't and I think it's really sad. 
And I don't think I would actually give these to Italy, but in theory...
  • Grass.  There is a park in Macerata where you can go on the grass, but in the city there is nothing green.  It's sort of picturesque, but there are no trees in the city walls so you can't see the leaves turn colors in the fall.  In towns we have visited where there is grass, you're never allowed to walk on it.  Filiberto studied abroad in Portland, Oregon when he was in college and said that one of his biggest culture shocks was that walking on the grass is allowed. 

  • Diversity and the ability to embrace it.  There is a little racial diversity in Italy, but most people are white and catholic.  I think diversity is really valuable, and part of the reason the U.S. is so modern while Italy is still so old-fashioned.  There is definitely a negative side to that diversity though, since the U.S. is also deeply divided on almost every important issue and Italy is not.

  • Optimism and smiling! :)  Italians generally think Americans are really odd in how much we smile, especially when it's directed at random people on the street.  Filiberto said, so I don't feel guilty repeating it, that Italians have a much less optimistic view of the world than Americans do because they have been through so much more in history than we have.  I'm not saying they aren't friendly, they really are, but you have to work a little harder for it than you do in the U.S.   It's just sort of odd to me since I like smiling, smiling's my favorite :)

  • Schedules and organization..not really, because it's part of the reason you come to Italy, but after almost 4 months I still find the relaxed way of life here kind of frustrating.  Stores just sort of open when the owner feels like it and there is reposo for like four hours in the middle of the day.  The reposo part I kind of understand, because shops then stay open until like 8 instead of 5 like in the U.S.  Also, this probably is only necessary for Americans in Italy because Italians seem to have a sixth sense.  If a schedule says a train leaves from platform 3, I go to platform 3 while all the Italians walk to the bus stop down the street because, for some unknown reason, that train is actually a bus when the moon is in the 3rd house, but only if it rained the previous wednesday.  Or something like that.

  • Breakfast.  Italians don't really partake in it.  Lunch is the most important meal of the day here, and for breakfast they generally have a cappucino and maybe some toast.  This toast, by the way, comes pre-toasted in little packages. 

I absolutely love Italy.  I am somehow already homesick for it, since this is my last week, so I've been trying to go to all my favorite places one more time.  Last weekend I got up at 5:30 am and took the first train to Civitanova at 6:30 with my friend Annalise to watch the sunrise over the Adriatic sea and it was so much fun!  Filiberto is from Civitanova and will, given the chance, explain in great detail why it is the center of the universe.  I can definitely see that being true, it's my favorite small town for sure.  Afterward, we went to a cute cafe and got cappucini, then walked around the outdoor market. 

We took a bus back to Macerata and went to an evening church service, then to a bon fire.  Macerata is close to a small town called Loreto, where the House of Mary is located in the center of a beautiful church.  The house, where the anunciation supposedly occured and where Jesus spent his childhood, was brought to Loreto during the Crusades from Jerusalem. The bon fire is supposed to guide the way of the angels who carried the house.  It was the shortest bon fire I've ever been to, just thirty minutes long, but it was so much fun and I've never felt so immersed in the culture of Macerata before.  It's incredibly corny, but my heart was just so warm inside standing in a circle with about eighty Maceratans, holding candles and standing around the fire, singing songs in Italian and even one in English.

I'm going to miss Italy in general, but especially this region. The Marche is so authentically Italian, I didn't realize it until I visited Florence and Rome.  At first it was kind of terrifying, but now I love how no one speaks English, because it forces me to try to speak Italian, and how half the time I don't really understand what is going on.  Coming here was such an adventure,and I know I wouldn't have had as amazing an experience as I did if it hadn't been so nerve wracking at times.

giovedì 8 dicembre 2011

Roma, non basta una vita

I have not satisfactorily explained how amazing my site director, Filiberto, is.  This quote sums him up pretty well:

"What the protesters want is socialism, but socialism is too close to communism, so they will settle for a fantasy governmental organization that is able to take a minuscule tax-base and magically give them free school, healthcare, homes, and cars...all while giving them a gravy job. This is only achievable by either Dumbledore or Filiberto." -Scott, one of the five guys in my program, talking about the Occupy Wallstreeters

"...St. Francis of Toulouse.  Those are two french towns, To win and Toulouse."
"Here is the tomb of the man who created melodrama.  Mele means apple, so he had drama in his orchard."
"That's Stephen.  He was stoned.  He didn't smoke, but he was stoned."
"This is the Medici chapel.  It's baroque, pretty broke."
"There are primary colors, and then there are complementary colors.  Those are the free ones."

I'm going to miss Filiberto more than anything else when I go home!  He makes me feel so at home because his little puns remind me of my brother, Brett, who I just realized I get to see in 17 days!  I can't believe it's December.  Only 10 days until I go home!  But I am finally basically ready, now that I've seen the number one place on my list: Roma!

We only had three days, and you could spend a lot more time than that in Rome and not see every important landmark and monument.  We did our best though, and saw pretty much everything I was dying to see:

Day One

We took the early train, went to our hotel, and set immediately out for the Colosseum!  I saw the colosseum when I first arrived in Rome in September, and almost cried.  It's surreal to see in real life and it's just crazy to think of how long it has been there, almost 2,000 years.  Construction finished in 80 A.D. when Titus was Emperor of Rome.  We walked around the outside, on the original Roman road, and then toured the inside with Filiberto, our expert guide.

After that, we went on a walk and saw the House of Augustus, where Caesar Augustus lived during his reign as the Emperor of the Roman Empire from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D.  It's huge, and we also saw what remains of the private aqueduct that ran into the house.  It was meant to be a safety precaution to protect Augustus from water-born disease.

La Bocca della Verita, the mouth of truth, a giant marble face that is hung on the wall in a church and you put your hand in the mouth and it's supposed to come to life and bite off your arm if you are telling a lie.  Audrey Hepburn stuck her arm in it while filming Roman Holiday, so there were tons of Audrey souvenirs being sold outside. 

And my arm is still attached to my body!  Success!

Ponte Rotto, originally called Pons Aemilius, the oldest bridge in Rome.  It was meant to be temporary, but part of it still stands over 1800 years later.  From here we also saw the Isola Tiberina, a little island in the middle of the Tiber River that is shaped like a boat.

The Campidoglio, a hill that was once a citadel.  It's now filled by palaces and a lovely piazza that was designed by Michaelangelo.  From here we also had an awesome view of the forum. 

Side note: this is the exact spot where a scene from the Lizzie Mcguire movie was filmed :)  I'm a little embarrassed how excited I was when I realized this fact.

This looks like the Colosseum but it is il Teatro di Marcello, an open-air theater built in 13 B.C.  This sort of thing is exactly why Rome is such an amazing city; there are 2,000 year old ruins around every corner, just integrated into the city.  It's lovely. 

The Altare della Patria, a beautiful building dedicated to Vittorio Emmanuel II, the first king of united Italy. 

Finally, we got to the best part of the day.  As we got closer, Filiberto said that he had "heard there was a leak and some flooding in the area but the plumber was called."  We heard it from about half a mile away: the Trevi Fountain! 

It is so beautiful in person, I completely missed everything Filiberto said about it.  The legend is that throwing a coin in will bring you back to Rome someday.  I threw one in, and I know it's going to work because I'm going back in less than two weeks.  I'm definitely going to go back and throw another one in before I leave to go back to the U.S. though :)

With that, our first tour was over.  I decided to keep going, though, and Filiberto took me and a few other people to see the Spanish Steps and la Piazza della Spagna, where there is really upscale shopping, like Prada, and the Spanish Embassy. 

View from the top of the steps

Fountain by Bernini and Piazza della Spagna

And this was just day one..

Day Two

The second day we saw what used to be the Roman baths.  There is really nothing very exciting to look at now, but I'm mentioning it anyway because I thought it was fascinating that, at the height of their use, 160,000 people bathed in them every single day.  The rest of the day was spent almost entirely in the Vatican, although we could've spent much longer there.  The Vatican museums are among the biggest, best museums in the whole world.  I was surprised to find that we were allowed to take pictures of everything except the Sistine Chapel:

Vatican library, the dome of St. Peter's in the background

Maybe it's because of reading the Da Vinci Code, but I really wanted a picture of a member of the Swiss Guard

I wish this was actually the Sistine's a poster outside of it.  Inside the chapel, guards were threatening to smash people's cameras who were taking pictures, so I decided to obey :)

This is a famous sculpture, but I can't currently remember the name of it..

A man with two faces, it reminds me of Professor Quirrel from Harry Potter :)

There's a room full of map frescoes.  This one has Macerata on it!

School of Athens by Raphael

Then we went through a maze of halls to finally, finally reach the Sistine Chapel.  Trust me, they make you work for it.  It was packed, and I was so glad that I saw it but it's huge and I just didn't really know what I was looking at.  There are about fifty different images of stories from the Bible, over half of which I didn't recognize.

Then we had a lunch break and had a little picnic in the piazza next to St. Peter's.  A Chinese woman came and sat next to me and her husband took a picture of us.  I was confused then, and I still am but it was really funny.

St. Peter's.  It's the most beautiful building I've ever seen, this picture doesn't do it justice at all.

Inside the basilica

While inside the basilica, we followed Filiberto around while he talked about various things, and so did a random Spanish couple.  They seemed to think that they were being very sneaky by getting a free tour :)

Then, we got to climb up to the top of the cupola!  We took the elevator for the first part, but still had 350 stairs to climb from there.  The view was completely worth it though!

The cupola from where we got out of the elevator.  The sun was setting while we climbed to the top, it was perfect.  Somehow Filiberto always makes these moments even more perfect than they would be otherwise.

Halfway there!

St. Peter's Square from the top!

Me and Rosie :)

Vatican City

That night, I went to a random part of the city on the metro just to check it out with Annalise.  It was still kind of touristy but we got some fantastic gelato and saw a huge obelisk and arches that I'm sure Filiberto could have told us the historical significance of:

Cioccolato e caffè! E state bellissimo
Day Three

Our third, and final day in Rome, we only had one thing on the agenda: The Pantheon.  It's in this tiny piazza full of cafes that sell coffee to stupid tourists for 5 euros (about $7.50). 

It takes three people to wrap around a column :)

Tomb of Queen Margherita, for whom margherita pizza was named.  Margherita pizza was inspired by the Italian flag; red tomato sauce, white cheese, and green basil.

Inside the Pantheon

Tomb of Raphael

After the Pantheon, the people who are taking music went to the museum of musical instruments, but I went out and about Rome with two girls in my program, Brittany and Beth

Sitting on the Spanish Steps

Filiberto told us that La Casa Del Caffe, near the Pantheon, is the best coffee in Rome so we went and got a caffe, a shot of espresso

Italian pizza > American pizza

Balcony where Mussolini declared Italy's entry into World War II, no one has been out on it since.

Rome was so amazing, I loved it.  The city has so much energy compared to Macerata, even though I love Macerata too.  Life is very slow-paced and just very Italian in Macerata, and Rome seemed all the more exciting in comparison.  I can't wait to go back, even though it will only be for a day, in a little over a week!