Languages

The first thing I noticed about both Brussels and then Amsterdam was the incredible diversity in the usage of language. Dutch and French are equally spoken, but the culture is also colored with thick stripes of English, lesser prominent dashes of Italian, German, and even the occasional flecks of Spanish. I took it as a strange sort of compliment to be spoken to in a language other than English.

Knowing even a piece of a language other than your own opens doors to communicating with not only the people who speak said language, but to those who may know just bits and pieces of that language as well. In Madrid, I met a man who was from Portugal. His primary language was Portuguese, but had studied Spanish in school. Even though neither he nor I speak Spanish very fluidly, we were still able to communicate with each other and hold a small conversation.

There is another level to this, too. I came to Italy not speaking a hint of Italian but after taking the quickest-and-miniest crash course on the language, I am now able to read it fairly well due to my knowledge of Spanish. My two languages opened the gateway for a third.

This can go even further. I don’t speak a hint of Dutch, but while in Belgium and the Netherlands, I was able to understand certain words based off my strange assortment of English, Spanish, and Italian. With one deeply rooted language, another fairly strong, and the mere seeds of a third, I was provided with enough to gather up a few little acorns of a fourth language.

The influence of the diversity of the languages on the attitude of the locals in Brussels and Amsterdam was so great. Different cultures are not only accepted, but welcomed. The kindness of the natives was so distinct, and more than once a man offered up his seat on the metro for me and patience was firm as I stumbled along with wide eyes in the new and exciting environment.

It is this wonderful aspect that has left my heart longing to go return to the gentle, beautiful cities and to try with all my strength to learn another language or solidify the ones that I have. Imagine the possibilities for those who can speak 4, 5, 6 languages! The world is open so wide for these, the greatness of diversity and knowledge is heavy in their arms. It gives people a sense of security knowing the ability to vocally communicate is there.

So go and learn a few words in that language you’ve been waiting for just the right moment to learn. You’ll be surprised where it can take you.

I’ll leave you all with one last thought: Eat all the Belgian waffles you can.

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Up

Assisi is the most peaceful and beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

The climb up to St. Francis’ hermitage was steep. It took us an hour to trek what was barely a mile. The thought of St. Francis hiking the trail on the regular was enough energy for me.

The little cave we were climbing to could be what one would call a “thinking spot”. The man would go up there to get away from the hustle of city life and pray about what it was God wanted him to do. He agonized about whether he was called to be a hermit to pray for the people or to be with them, helping them and loving them in the person. I don’t think he ever actually figured this out.

Is this not such a human issue?  His struggle is so much our struggle, especially that of a near-graduating college student. I’ve felt that anxiety of not knowing what I’m going to do with my life. I could so vividly imagine the man lying on the cold floor of his little cave and begging God for some sort of answer about what to do and when to do it, falling asleep there, in silent contemplation.

But the hermitage, it turns out, was only half up the mountain. It was obvious to us that St. Francis would have continued to climb it, as far as he could, loving all the beauty of nature around him as he went.

So we did too. Passed “Trail for Experts Only” sign. Over the chest-high stone wall. Weaving up the mountain, we went on up, step by step, until our thighs were numb and the air was too thin to get a good breath. Up. St. Francis would have kept going.

We reached a barbed-wire fence just below the peak of the mountain and walked alongside it until we found an opening.

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 The beauty surpassed what could have ever come through in a lens.

The final stretch was the hardest of all. The climb was so steep we had to dig our hands into the rocky dirt to level ourselves, and the though the distance was short, our lungs ached for a break in the exhausting activity. But we continued; up.

The top was absolutely beautiful. Patches of snow were scattered across the peaks. Horses grazed on the hill across the valley. We could see the entire city of Assisi and all the calm and peacefulness that was so recognizable in the quaint little town was there even more so on top of this mountain. The sun was beginning to set over the town and all it’s marvelous colors were being delicately painted across the sky.

Assisi, your beauty and peacefulness are unfathomable.

 

Dallas Abroad

Last weekend I passed my time in Madrid, Spain, and let me tell you, it was one of the greatest places I’ve ever been. I know many would disagree with me, but hear me out.

Anyone who knows me even a little knows how much I love Dallas. The independent attitude and artistic vibe is so unique and has yet to be matched… until last weekend. Madrid was like a Spanish Dallas. A Spanish. Dallas. My favorite city in the world combined with the authenticity of the Spanish culture and language!? What more could I ask for?

Now I’ll admit that it takes a certain kind of person to really appreciate Dallas, Texas and probably Madrid, too. In these places graffiti is not gang signs or petty vandalism, it’s the product of a creative mind and artistic expression (yes, there is a difference). People don’tn stay out until 3 A.M. because they’re getting drunk or selling drugs (though there is a little of that too), it’s because they’re truly enjoying each other’s company at the only time of day they’re not all at work or in school. People are EVERYWHERE. Couples kiss on park benches. Friends laugh emphatically on the streets. Dogs trot alongside their owners and sniff every lamp post they pass.

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I bought it.

A man eloquently plays the Spanish guitar underground in the metro station. His fingers dance across all the strings; the music resounds through the concrete tunnels.

An artist props his table up in La Plaza Mayor and studies not only the architecture, but the emotion of the buildings above him and frosts acrylic paint across the white canvas with his pallet knife, painting the essence of his city onto the fabric.

With the added bonus of churros con chocolate, sangria, and paella, you could take me back to Madrid any day. We could awe at the still life street performers and say no to las discotecas all over again, explore, and come to know it even better.

Until next time, chao, mis amigos.

 

Enjoy the Little Things

Part of the challenge about being in another country is that it becomes very easy to get so caught up in the most marvelous of things that the little happenings seem to simply pass by.

Ancient Roman architecture is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. The intense and meticulous paintings that line church walls are indeed something to see. But I don’t want to overlook the small things.

The city of Rome is riddled with these simple old fountains that are contentiously flowing with a light stream of water. There is a hole on top of the faucet so that if you block the initial opening that the water normally directly flows down from, you can create a water-fountain effect.

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These fountains are all over Rome.

Helen and I thought this was REALLY COOL. Turns out the jug under the fountain was being filled by the man in the background… woops. If you zoom in on the picture you can see he is laughing at our over-the-top enjoyment of what is actually a very normal appliance in Rome.

But, what can I say? Sometimes it is the tiny things that leave an impression on you.

When in Rome, drink do as the Romans do.

A Room with a View

Before I went to Rome someone told me that in the additional comments on the Roommate Request Form if wrote “A room with a view”, something might become of that.

They were right.

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They say that on a clear day you can see the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. 

 

I’d like to take a minute to capture my current awe at how absolutely wonderful I feel like I am being treated here and how, strangely enough, we are only experiencing what seems to be a standard of Italian culture.

The food served in the Mensa is cooked by a loving Italian couple and is absolutely delicious- all sorts of pan, pasta, meat and vegetables. I’ve only been here a week and have already been treated to two of some of the finest standard Italian 5 course meals and authentic Italian wine. And the coffee… anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love coffee, and let me tell you, this is good stuff… dare I say it challenges Costa Rican cafe?

Our campus is on a working vineyard and has a small section of olive trees in the back. Unfortunately the grapes don’t bloom until the Fall, but it’s still a nice place to run. I can hear roosters crow, birds chirping, and dogs gossiping. There is a well recently excavated  that dates back about 2,000 years. Rumors say it could be the one that Peter and Paul met at as they traveled through Rome.

As I sit here and write this, I silently gaze out the wide open window as the breeze pushes itself through the frame every now and then. It’s nice. I feel good.

Welcome to Due Santi.

Don’t Eat the Oranges

There is a spattering of orange trees that speckle the edges of the roads that line all of Rome. They’re kinda cute, really, and the oranges dangle just within arm’s reach.

This isn’t normal where I come from. This isn’t normal where Matt and Helen come from either. It is no surprise that we were a little more than excited to come face-to-face with a couple of trees rather than simply viewing them through the glass of some kind of moving vehicle.

Picking oranges on what appears to be a public tree somehow felt wrong, and as we peered in and out of the various business on the corner that the trees grew on, no one seemed to care that we were very obviously about to pick the oranges.

I reached up. Plucked one off. Looked around. Nobody cared.

Matt reached up. Plucked one off. Looked around. Nobody cared. He reached up and picked one for Helen, too. The long, green leaves shook with the release of each piece of fruit.

I dug my thumb into the eye of the orange and pushed back the peal into a few falling chunks. The others did the same. The yellow juice ran down the length of my arm and it felt particularly sticky.

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Before the enlightenment.

Low and behold the golden sphere. We pealed off a slice and put the entire things in our mouth.

Don’t ever do that.

These oranges are like lemons soaking in baking soda, extremely sour and strangely bitter at the same time. No wonder no body cared if the meddling Americans ate the free oranges that lined the edges of the street.

But let’s be honest, it was totally worth it.
 

 

When in Rome

Friends,

I am here. I have made it to the eternal city , the heart of the Church, the beautiful city of Rome. And, let me tell you, writing about it is really, really hard. I’ve been scrambling for words for a couple of days now but like beads on a tile floor they roll and bounce and lodge themselves in the dusty underbellies of the furniture: out of sight, out of reach. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no possible way to convey the awe of my experiences to you, and even if I could eloquently translate experiences into words on a page, it would be far less personal than if I were to share stories with you face-to-face where we can both chat away about some of our greatest adventures in life. My goal on this blog is to tell the most simple stories to you, the highlights of what I see or do. My goal here in Rome is to learn: learn about history, culture, philosophy, and, above all, humanity. How incredible that throughout nearly 200,000 years of human existence, there is something vaguely similar about it all.

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The sunrise begins to light up St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Perhaps that is the difference about being in a city so old. Being here is not only experiencing the unique beauty of a culture separate from my own, but one rich with history spanning thousands of years. The city of Rome, in many ways, contains a wealth of pieces that begin to tell the tale of human existence.

I am beyond excited to get to be a part of it for the millisecond I am graced to be here.

Until next time,

Kelsie