The Vatican

by allegrainitalia

Ciao raga’!

I’m sitting at home in my sun room enjoying the (finalmente!) lovely Roman weather after having eaten yet another beautiful meal and discussing with my host mother what I should wear to the bar, Cioccolato e Vino, tonight.

If I were to borrow a overly-trite phrase from one of my college peers’ sparse phrasebooks, I’d ask myself “is this real life?”

Luckily for you, I won’t do that, and I’ll simply comment about how content I am now.

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve been in Rome now, almost one-third through my program. Small things continue to surprise me every day, and I’ve been enjoying the stark contrasts that make Rome what it is. Like Piazza Venezia, Rome is full of the old juxtaposed with the new, the beautiful making the ugly especially unattractive, and the mean people making the lovely even more lovable.

Every morning, I walk the two blocks I am from my house to the bus stop, and I pass a wall of jasmine flowers surrounded by concrete on a sidewalk with SmartCars mere inches from each other. I love my walk to school, and not a day goes by when I don’t think about how lucky I am to be here.

The last weekend, I went to Assisi, a medieval, religious town just 2 hours from Rome. As I’ve already written, the town was lovely, and it made me happy to just stand in the streets with other tourists window-shopping and gazing at the horizon. However, maybe it was because I was in a group of college students who don’t believe in spending a lot of money on good food, I’m afraid that Assisi’s food did not blow me away.

In fact, a lot of the small cafes and shops had a very clear sign that they weren’t going to be good, and the sign said “Coca-cola.” I don’t know if the signs just come with the microwaves that these “restaurants” buy, but a lot of my friends see these coca-cola signs that have pictures of hamburgers and panini and descriptions in English, and they still expect good food. It’s amazing.

And I’m sure someone somewhere will want to give me a serious talking-to for saying this, but I am not feeling the pizza in Rome. I have yet to have a good slice of pizza, with buffalo mozzarella cheese so fresh it melts in your mouth, tomatoes so sweet they give you the compliment of eating them, and basil so fresh that it pops in your mouth as you bite down. I’m waiting to go to Napoli to experience this.

I’ve found that the best food is across the river from my school in an area called Trastevere. The food there appeals to those who know Rome a bit better. It is better quality and cheaper. The other day, I ate the best bruschetta in my life in Trastevere. The bread was fresh, but toasted to a crunch that sounded like a harmony when I bit down, and was the inviting bed of the salad of dark red, juicy tomatoes and vibrant basil. The warm bread had a hint of garlic, which was briefly spread on it after being toasted, and a hearty glug of dark olive oil. Lastly, and most importantly, the bruschetta was perfectly seasoned with a snowfall of salt and pepper.

Contrast this with microwaved pizza on stale, unseasoned crust and topped with a mixture of frozen mozzarella and (I swear to you) cheddar cheese. Ugh. Unfortunately, that pizza could not have come at a worse time. Me and three other friends had just left il Museo Vaticano, the Vatican Museum, and I don’t think I’ve had a more disappointing experience. First of all, hopeful spectators have to wait in a line that is probably one to two hours long, being heckled by people from all different races offering the chance to skip the line for 40 euro. But I don’t mind standing in line.

After we finally got into the museum, we had to go through what was just like airport security. After going through several more hurdles (check the bag, pay for the ticket, get past the large group of tourists on the never ending spiral ramp/staircase) we finally arrived at the art.

And were promptly nudged, pushed, and knocked into by the hundreds of other tourists hoping to get that perfect photo of the fresco (which they are not allowed to photograph). It is impossible to enjoy the art this way, and the Sistine Chapel especially. Once you go through the various claustrophobic-inducing narrow passageways and hallways, the guards inside the chapel instantly “shhhhhh” the crowd, reminding them for the hundredth time, “NO PHOTOS.” Going to the Vatican Museum is one of the worst experiences I’ve had here in Italy. I should have gone to get gelato instead.

But tonight will be so much better, since we’re going to a wonderful bar that serves chocolate and wine. Tomorrow, we’re taking the free, 30-minute train to the beach. The day after, we’re all going to celebrate my birthday by going to a jazz club. The day after, my host family and I will be traveling to my host mom’s son’s house an hour away from Rome in his car. This will be a scary experience, no doubt.