Tag Archives: life list

Letter to my Archivist

24 Jun

Dear Memory,

I know you are cluttered and stuffed to the brim with all sorts of knick-knacks – puns and conquests and the smell of my Grampa’s French toast – but I would like to file a request.

Please clear out a corner, preferably on a high shelf that won’t need to be disturbed for a while (and where those pesky short-term reminders can’t reach), and open a file entitled:

NIGHT WALK OUT LOUD, JUNE 23-24, HANDLE WITH CARE.

In this file, with utmost precision, I would like you to record every moment of last night between the hours of midnight and 4am. I want pictures, audio, press clippings if you can find them. This ought to be a veritable archive.

I know you are already overworked processing the Colosseum and that you have a backlog of Bernini statues. But trust me, this is a memory that I will want to come back to for the rest of my life. Push it to the front of the line, would ya?

And just because I’m so grateful for your hard work, I’ll start you off with a collection of the best moments of the evening. You take it from there.

Ashley and I were washing dishes and singing. This was not unusual in itself; however, this time it went on for a long time because we were doing dishes from both the group dinner and the wine tasting. I had already started making a mental map of the rest of my evening like I always do when I am stressed out, weighing the different possible combinations of study and sleep and realizing that sleep would yet again come up short. I had a presentation the next morning on Byron and wanted to knock the socks off of my teacher (I had been talking to her since arriving in Rome about my love of poetry) and so I knew that after dinner, I would hunker down with the eighteen open tabs on my web browser to read more and more about this crazy, violent, passionate, supremely talented man.

Until, that is, Nick, Hannah’s friend who was visiting and who did the program last year, walked into the kitchen. “I’m taking a walk tonight,” he announced. “Anyone else in?”

Hannah nearly choked on her laughter: “Seriously? I am going to SLEEP.” But Ashley and I made eye contact once, twice, shook our heads, rolled our eyes at each other knowing the futility of our situation, and answered together, “We’re coming.” Completely cuckoo or not (not to mention academically irresponsible), we would never say no to a night walk in Rome.

We left the apartment at 1am. It was Nick’s last night in Rome, but Ashley and I had class the next morning at eight thirty, and I still had my presentation to plan. Feeling a sudden pang of worry on my way out the door, I grabbed my Byron printout from the table and told them, “I’m still coming. But I’m going to read Byron from wherever we stop.” They shrugged their shoulders and we walked out into the piazza, still packed with 20-somethings laughing and leaning inwards in flirtation. The cobblestones echoed with Italian.

Before leaving Trastevere, Nick grabbed a cappuccino from S. Calisto despite the fact that everyone else at the bar was ordering a harder beverage. “Ciao!” I announced into the night air when we entered, as usual. “Ciao,” the older man at the cashier nodded back to me as he handed Nick his change with one hand and cleared Peroni bottles off the top of the glass case of pastries with the other.

Newly caffeinated, Nick decided on our destination: Piazza del Popolo. In Italian, this means “Piazza of the People”; in the language of night walks, this means “Hold on to your sandals, kiddos, this is going to be one heck of a journey.” But we went anyways, along the Tiber (dark with no sun to filter through its trees), through Piazza Navona (bodies mixed with bodies in the blackness in front of me. I could only see those closest to the fountains clearly), across the broken glass bottles of Campo de’ Fiori, and into alleyways that confused the compass that I always keep at the top of my mind. I don’t know how long it took for us to reach the piazza, just that it was long enough to weave in and out of narratives of Rome, everything from our independent project topics to the story of deceit behind one of Michelangelo’s window trimmings.

When we did find Piazza del Popolo, it was deserted. Beyond deserted. Echoing and dusky and much vaster than I had realized back when I saw it clothed in hundreds of sneakers, it met us with its central fountain with four lions shooting water down through their jaws.

“I’m reading Byron,” I said. Then, pausing, “Is it okay if I read Byron?”

“We’re listening,” Nick said, and leaned into the bottom curve of the fountain. I took the folded paper out of my purse, looked up at the top of the fountain, and began to climb. One narrow step at a time. My sandals were not made to grip marble against water but I pleaded with them to succeed, and within a minute, I was straddling a lion, facing a deserted piazza, holding Byron in an 8.5 x 11″ message on my palm.

“Then farewell, Horace; whom I hated so,

Not for thy faults, but mine; it is a curse

To understand, not feel thy lyric flow.

To comprehend, but never love thy verse…”

I trailed off. I had chills. I had two people with closed eyes listening to me read Byron into the marble ruins around me. I was getting wild and romantic, and Lord B. himself would have been proud. On to later stanzas, and,

“Oh Rome! my country! city of the soul!

The orphans of the heart must turn to thee…”

Without acknowledgment I stopped mid-poem and passed the paper off to Nick, who also said nothing but clambered up the adjacent lion. And I stood on the center staircase, listening to words written in that place two hundred years ago. Then Ashley, who had initially shied away from our declamations, pulled herself up onto the central platform, and from above us, looking out, she finished the piece.

“Wow.” Nick said after a few moments. “I think that’s one of the coolest things I have ever done here.” “Wow,” I responded, quietly. “Wow.”

Piazza del Popolo at night. The four lions can be seen, barely, surrounding the base of the obelisk.

By the time we left the piazza, Ashley and I had red roses on our laps from a wandering vendor (“No grazie!” we told him. “No pay — you beautiful,” he argued back, and thrust them onto our laps.) We held them awkwardly in one hand as we followed Nick to our next destination, a “surprise,” we were told.

The surprise was at the top of a hill climb and past scattered Roman couples making out. It was first, a fountain, hidden behind stairs and walls, and second, a view through the Borghese gardens, one that looked out over all of Rome in its quiet repose. “We should recite something else,” we thought. And so, because it was the most firm text in his memory, Nick began the Gettysburg Address from this ledge in Rome in Italy in Europe across an ocean from its initial composition. At the end, we moved on. Each moment of the night cleared the paths of more people until, almost spookily, we were alone on most of our sidestreets. We were deep in the city by this point, and far from home.

"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. "

So far that our next stop was a climb down – down the Spanish steps. Here, we shared from memory the opening few pages of the Canterbury Tales (yes, Ms. Haag, I still do remember those, Old English emphases and all) and snippets of Shakespeare. By the end, we were sharing every poetic line that had ever stuck to the walls of our minds. We shook them free of their cobwebs and loosed them into the night.

The Spanish Steps

The walk back could be described as uneventful, except that we were walking in the footsteps of emperors and popes. We got lost, used churches as landmarks, and finally stumbled up the stairs more than three hours after our departure. Everyone in the apartment was sleeping, and so we put on pajamas, too; brushing my teeth felt strange after all of those mouthfuls of remembered words.

In the morning, we were tired, but not enough. We had already forgotten moments, but not too many. And we will remember, just for this long.

A rose (and a view) (and a city at rest)

( Now go work your neuron magic, mind. I want – no, I need – this file done right.)

Yours,

Jessica

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City By Night

22 Jun

Just returned from another night walk after an evening of dressing up and eating out. I can’t speak for it in the daytime, but tonight was my first time ever seeing the Trevi Fountain, and when it is lit up against the depth of the sky, it is beautiful. Someone carved that, someone carved each stone, and now it means so much to so many people (each of us with our stolen moments in its presence; each of us with our custom memories)…one visit a postcard can’t quite capture.

Tossing our coins in. Now we have to come back to Rome. (I like superstition when it means more travel!)

Climbing the edges of the fountain, moments before a guard told us to get down. That's one small step for us, one giant potential Trevi belly-flop for mankind!

And, because I am already talking about art, I’ll end with a quote from artist Tullio Pericoli’s personal statement in an exhibit at the Ara Pacis museum:

Our face is a page we always carry with us, a page that we write and rewrite day after day. Faces are individual stories, landscapes are collective stories. Hidden in each of these stories is an accumulation of past events, ideas and cataclysms. I feel all this very intensely, and like so many other people I often wonder what’s inside us, what’s below us. I like to think of the earth’s surface as if it were a page in a story, the continuation of a story that began on earlier pages, and I imagine that the future pages will depend on the one I’m reading now. What we see around us today is the result of what happened a million years ago, or a hundred years ago, or yesterday: ground broken by the plow, woods cut down, a drought, a flood, a road laid out, a geologic cataclysm. The same kind of thing happens on the canvas. The surface we see speaks to us of the layers it conceals, of the history of that canvas, of the layers of paint over it, but it also speaks of the history of painting, which has settled intangibly on the work and in our minds.

Until tomorrow —

ciao,

Jess

An Honest Heart

24 May

Occasionally, amidst the million flutters of excitement about this trip and the hours of packing and the composition of effusive emails, I stop dead in my tracks and say, “Jess. What the heck do you think you’re doing, spending half of your summer abroad in Rome?!”

It’s not the craziest question. In order to pull this trip off, even with the help of a very, very generous ISA award from Yale, I am emptying bank accounts that I have been filling since the age of ten (yes, Grandma, that’s where the birthday card money ended up – thank you!). I’m leaving my family behind for a month and a half when I haven’t gotten to spend more than three weeks at a time with them for two years. And, as a scholar and citizen, I’m leaving the city and town that I have spent the past few years learning about and trying to participate in for a city where I will be just a few steps above an enlightened tourist.

And it’s not to volunteer, or to work, or to intern, or even to take a required class. No, I’m going to Rome to take a class called “The City of Rome” for credits that I may not need, with a syllabus that includes both Dante and wine tasting. It is an enormous privilege that I even have this choice, and I still feel an occasional pang when I explain my summer to an acquaintance. “Actually, I’ll be in…Rome this summer. Yeah. I really still can’t believe it myself.” There is something that sounds so dangerously frivolous about this path – some hint of jet-setting entitlement.

For me, of course, that feels far from the truth. Aside from Canada (which doesn’t feel like too much of a trek from up here in New Hampshire), I have been to three countries over the course of my life. France and England on a whirlwind family vacation when I was ten (ten whole years ago, wow), and India for two weeks this past March break with a Reach Out trip from Yale where we did some volunteering in Delhi for a week and then spent a week visiting a few other areas of the country. I still consider myself a travel rookie – the one who, much to the amusement of everyone else, spent every flight to and from India with my nose plastered against the window, whispering to the mountaintops through the clouds.

This is me caught staring outside of our bus windows in India. I wasn't kidding about this constant sensation of hyper-alertness and incessant wonder.

I wasn't kidding about whispering through clouds, either. And taking pictures of them. I really couldn't bear to miss a single moment.

And Italy – well, Italy is somewhere I have been praying to travel to since I can remember thinking about traveling at all. I don’t know why it has always been Italy. Maybe it’s the food, or the language, or too much Mario Brothers. But every time my family mentioned taking a trip, I would bring it up again. Every single time. It’s like this inexplicable platial mystique from deep inside of me. And so this is, really, the fulfillment of a dream.

But it’s also this enormous thing, to travel to Europe to spend part of a summer. A thing that has connotations and expectations and very crisp evocations. And though it seems normal for many Yalies (and even many Andover kids, and more and more friends from home), it still sometimes feels weird to me. But there comes a point when I have to just stand up and say it, and that point is now.

Yes, I am lucky. I am so, so, so, so, so so so so so SO very lucky to be able to do this. No, it is not something that is directly applicable to my professional life, though as a concentrator in Urban Studies with an interest in international urban development, it does happen to be a really perfect place to get to know. Yes, I feel like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, to be able to go live and breathe and LEARN a place every single day. For those of you who may not know the details, this class has me reading about a thousand pages a week with seminars that take place on site all around the city. One day we walk the entirety of the ancient walls, another we are assigned to visit ten separate churches. Throughout the whole course, we will each be researching our own independent project, meeting with experts and preparing a giant paper and report for our final presentation. It is the ultimate Humanities experience, one in which millennia of learning and beauty will be tied into our present day personal experience. It is how I wish I could introduce myself to every new city – by walking straight up to its gates and saying, “I have read your ghosts and studied your victories; I have been tested on your path and want to walk through your present. Teach me more.” So the real answer to the “Why the heck are you doing this?” question has something to do with responding to a yearning and something to do with a sense that if I don’t do this now, I’ll never have the chance again. A few nights ago a group of friends and I sat talking about all of those crazy things that seem to be on our life lists for some reason or other, and we already felt as though we were running low on time and serendipity. So if not now, when? And if not now, a better question to be asking myself is, “Why the heck not?”

“Carpe diem,” the saying goes. And here I go seizing it.

Who knows what life will look like tomorrow?

The Road to Blog is Paved with Good Intentions

23 May

Though the roads to Rome are mostly paved with these:

Aw, quit groaning, already. The last post already warned you about my dreadfully corny sense of humor. I can "cobble" together a few more examples, if you'd like...(oh, NOW you're getting the hang of it!)

When it comes to this blog, I should make a few things clear. The first is that I don’t take myself too seriously (you should be able to tell that by now) – until, that is, I’m writing about some new urban social issue or some truly good pesto and then I will be very serious indeed. But I recognize, just like everybody else there in the blogosphere (or the people I like to read about, at least) that this is nothing more than a soapbox of sharing among many other (even taller, cooler) soapboxes in the world. In short, I’m writing as much, if not more, for me, as for an audience – because writing is how I process the world, because words can sometimes almost capture the curve of a streetlamp, because when I don’t have a pen in my hand and the world is happening around me I don’t know where to keep my memories. Plus, for all of the effort it took to be in Daily Themes, I kind of liked having that moment-with-self-and-language at the end of every day, and I’d like to continue the habit heading into this summer.

The second thing is that I am no expert. At anything. Not travel, not Italy, not card castles or foreign languages or mathematical theorems (especially not mathematical theorems). So if you are hoping for another version of a decornographer, I may not be the gal for you. However – and this is kind of the point of this blog – I am someone who wants to DO everything. Why have limits? Why ever have limits about what to read or see or help or learn or fail at or dive into? If this sounds naive or hopelessly dreamy, fine. You’ve pegged me. I don’t make a very good cynic mainly because I’ve always been raised to spend more time discovering the world than knocking it. Ah, lost, wandering, bright-eyed soul that I am — somehow I think I’ll survive. And probably have a pretty amazing time while I’m at it.

Okay. Enough with the explanations; time for a rapid fire list. A few activities that will probably recur on this blog (amongst much miscellany and more comments from my wonderful Nana — hi, Nana!!!): walking, cooking, attempting languages, failing at languages (see Frances’s comment on my first post for details – fyi all, cannoli is a both plural and delicious word), examining a city from as many angles as possible, eating, life-listing, checking off life lists, making super sly allusions to my family back home (ay, ay? mom? that was for you. thanks for subscribing to my posts), reading, late night existing. Did I mention cooking and eating??

Also recurring: embarrassing photos. Like this one of me eating my "The Italian Cooking Encyclopedia" Cookbook. Mmmmm.

Ciao for now!!