Rome

Being in Rome is like being in another country surrounded by another language, but with one significant twist: In Rome, I was immersed in an entirely new world of Catholicism.

It was like this in Costa Rica, too: At first the newness simply clings to the edges of your clothes, occasionally brushing up against your cheek, making itself known to you but not drowning you in its unfamiliarity. After a week or three, your body has adjusted to the altered air, and when you breathe it in, it inflates your entire self, steaming out of your lungs and pervading your entire body. Soon that too becomes electric, your awareness of it at its best; it tingles out of your fingers, nose, toes, and lips, and alters everything you touch or perceive.

It is so magnificent to be changed by something that has radically altered the history of Western Civilization, global politics, art and architecture, and human mentality for almost 2,000 years. And that’s just Christianity and Catholicism. The Roman Empire has been around for thousands of years longer than that.

It doesn’t leave, either. The electricity may lessen, but I am permanently affected by my time in Rome. I spent the entire semester studying the history and culture of Western Civilization while being completely surrounded by it,  but I came back with the knowledge that there is so much I will never know. What a beautifully painful thing to come to realize.

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We did it.

There were times I thought I would never make it to Rome, and while there, there were times I feared I would never make it back. But I went, I did it, and now I’m sitting at a table in my favorite coffee shop in the small town of Midwest City, Oklahoma and writing about it. I never thought I could travel all over Europe, but I did it. It makes me think, what else have I always wanted to do but shoved aside, thinking I never could? I’m going to dig those up, and I’ll make a toast to the next adventure.

Until next time,

it’s good to be home.

Peace.

Kelsie

City on the Water

I like it when things aren’t what I expect them to be at all. It’s like when I meet a someone for the first time, or even before that, and I come up with these preconceived ideas about that person by what I see on Facebook, hear from someone else, or even just by what I think after having had a usually insignificant encounter with said person. We all do this. But once I really meet them and get to know them, they are so much better- I am not capable of creating an idea of a person even close to how dynamic and wonderful that person actually is.

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The Bridge of Sighs.

Venice was kind of like this. What do you think of when you think of Venice, Italy? Unless you’ve been there, then I imagine your thoughts on it were kind of like mine: a beautiful, whimsical city that is alive in the bright blue waters of the Italian coast, basking in the sun as tiny boats and gondolas glide throughout the canals, selling fresh fruits and vegetables as they swirl along with the romance of couples deep in love filling the air.

Hopefully you’re at least a little more educated about the current state of Venice than I was. While the beautiful city is a lot like what I just described, that’s not all it’s like: a culture heavily influenced by Renaissance, centuries of refining the construction of ships and bridges, a unique and rather intense political history of doges and Napoleon Bonaparte, the Black Plague, and centuries of innovative craftsmanship, including glass making. (The history of Venice is actually really really interesting; read more about it here).

But there’s even more than that, too: Venice is sinking. The marshy land and tiny islands that the entire city is built upon, due to increasing water levels and erosion, are literally sinking. And, as it goes, flooded houses the ruin of your family business tends to drive people out. It’s nearly impossible to live in the city, and it’s one-of-a-kind atmosphere is filling it up with tourists and not much else. I think that the authentic, ancient culture of Venice will have been washed away within the next 100 years.

I went on a gondola ride with some of my friends late at night. It was nothing like what I would expect: there is no night life, no music, no twinkling lights in the streets… nothing. The city is essentially dead at night. But, despite this, it was still beautiful: there is not much more peaceful than gliding through the canals of an ancient city, elegant buildings hugging you on both sides, and all you can hear is the gentle swoosh of the paddle in the water as the lights from the building windows reflect off the water. This is the authentic Venice.

Venice is not dead. I met the city on the water in the darkness and tranquility of the night. I think, really, this is how we truly meet things: Strip away all the assumptions and premature judgement, and let the city speak to you rather than you to it.

It will always be so much better than what I could have ever believed.

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.

 

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