Monday, September 22, 2008

Rome. If You Want To.

This has nothing to do with me turning thirty in six months. Not really, anyway. This is just to say that 10 years ago today I was on a plane headed to Italy where I would spend my sophomore year of college soaking up Italian culture and education and all that came with it. That was the idea, anyway. When I left the following April to go back home, I thought for sure I would be back to Italy soon. Hopefully within five years. Definitely within 10.

Wrong. I haven’t been back since. Physically, anyway. I take a trip there in my head about once a week, though. At least once a week.

I’m not going to spend the next 3,000+ words Romaniscing about my time spent studying abroad. I could, but I won’t. Unless you were there, it would mean little more to you than me telling you a funny story about this one time when we were on a Lecture and Tour excursion and saw historical things and someone made a funny comment, and then later, this girl Liz Marsh fell down the stairs. A lot of what happened in Rome involved seeing historical things, someone making a funny comment, and Liz Marsh falling down the stairs, but I understand that it’s probably not all that interesting to someone who wasn’t there.

But in honor of this 10 year Romaversary, I would like to share a top ten list of things that I learned while studying abroad, ten things that I remember a decade later.

1) Cutting your spaghetti is barbaric. Our program director, our mother hen, if you will, Portia Prebys, informed us of this on our first day at our first meal together, all 60 of us sitting down to eat. Also, you should cut your fruit when you eat it, but you must cut it gently. Hacking away at it is akin to raping your fruit. Apparently, Italy frequently suffers from foodicide? To hear Portia talk, indeed.

2) If you are travelling by train, do not be alarmed if at the last minute you suddenly realize that the train station officials, for no apparent reason, have switched the track from which you are to depart. Just run really fast to that track screaming like an uncouth, American banshee.

3) When you get back from Christmas break and realize that you’ve just blown all your money but yet you have an entire second semester ahead of you and you were really hoping to go to Ireland for Spring Break, call Dad. He will sigh in exasperation at your bad money habits, but he will loan you dough to be paid back when you come back down to earth and start waitressing again the next summer.
a) Addendum to #3: working three jobs the summer prior to studying abroad does not guarantee that you will have enough money to get you through the year if you don’t know how to budget.
b) Addendum to #3a: Europe is expensive.

4) People, like your program director, tend to remember last names like Strzelecki. And then immediately dislike you, even though you have only been in the country six hours. But someone (oh, I don’t know, your eldest sister, maybe) pissed her off 10 years prior and Prebys never forgot it and that means wonderful things are simply bound to happen for the next year of your life.

5) Hand-washing clothes in your tub or bidet on a regular basis may be eco-friendly, but it is definitely not fun.

6) The Amalfi Coast may be one of the most beautiful places on earth. And when in doubt in Bologna, just order the tortellini soup.

7) You may think you are drunk on the power of freedom, being without parents in Europe at the age of 19, but really you’re most likely just drunk.

8) If you meet people who don’t like Americans, tell them you’re Canadian.

9) You don’t need to speak Italian to live there. It would be nice, sure, but more often than not they’ll speak to you in English before you can even say, “Ciao.” And if you’re my friend Deb, you can spend the entire year using barely any words at all and simply gesticulating with your hands and throwing knowing gazes to and fro and have entire conversations with someone else even though neither of you speaks the other’s language.

10) If you want to smoke a cigarette on an Alitalia flight, you have to be sitting on one of three specific rows at the back of the plane. Otherwise, the flight attendant will come hustling down the aisle waving her hand frantically at you and throwing around Italian words. If this happens, just blame the guy sitting next to you who gave you the cigarette in the first place, because he should get used to being blamed by women for something. After all, he is about to spend the next educational year as one of 15 guys surrounded by 55 girls.

There is more, so much more than that. I did learn a few things, classroom-wise that year, but now I can't remember what those things were, but I'm most positive that they had to do with mythology and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. (Though not together.) There are three journals and two scrapbooks worth of memories that I can pull out whenever I want to remind me of my year in Italy. It was the smartest thing I’ve ever done, keeping that daily journal while in Europe, though last week when I was reading through some entries, I cringed out of embarrassment for my 19-year-old self who wrote with confidence and a cooler-than-thou worldly knowledge, but did so only after a few days of whining to her notebook about how she missed home. This girl scribbled away trying to take it all in, the people, the places, commenting that she thought Corey Clay was soooooo cute and she was very glad he was on her Rome program this year, commenting look how well she could already get around Rome and look how awesome everything was and how awesome she was, even when she was being thinky and philosophical and maybe a little maudlin as you might be when you are 19 and awesome, and writing as if She Knew Everything.

My cringing knows no bounds when I read these journals. But then again, neither does the smiling and cackling and pride and happiness, because underneath it all there are stories and smells and flashes of sights that helped shape me and that I will always carry with me. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world. That year was amazing, dammit. All the blogs posts I could write could never fully do my thoughts and feelings justice on the subject. So just trust me on this one.

Happy 10 years, SMC Romers. Don’t forget to look left.



Rita said...

11. Never be afraid to physically threaten any Italian man on the train who is getting out of hand. Just because he invited Molly to dinner... then breakfast, does not mean he is a nice guy. When he is trying to prevent you from leaving the suddenly-too-small little cubicle you are all sitting in, just threaten to stomp on his nuts. By placing your foot over them. You know, in case the language barrier is an issue.

Anonymous said...

The first day in Italy will always remain vivid. Thank you for bringing back the the wonderful memories that the Rome Program enabled.

Francesca said...

I think you must have been there the year before me but your first day sounds exactly the same! Oh Portia! I found this totally coincidentally but what a treat - happy belated birthday!

Francesca, SMC Rome '99-'00