Thursday, December 24, 2009
Rome and this past semester almost feels like a crazy dream. Even on the plane back to Chicago, I was writing on my journal, and I could hardly believe that everything I was saying was real. Did I really spend the past 4 months living in Rome? Did I really spend most of my weekends traveling around Europe and Africa with my friends? Did I really hike the seven miles linking the Cinque Terre? Did I really skip around the gardens of Salzburg? Did I really ride a camel around the pyramids? Did I really spend Thanksgiving in Paris? Did I really see the house my great-great grandfather was born in in Germany? And by the end did I really know Rome like a local? Yes, yes, and yes.
At the beginning of the semester, I feel like most of us at the J-Force lived our lives in a constant state of disbelief. "Guys, we are on our way to Italy for 3 months... We just landed in ROME!... Oh my gosh, we're at St. Peter's... I can't believe we just spent the weekend at Capri... We just had class at the Colosseum... You can buy good wine for 2 Euro?!?!..." and so on and so forth. Much like David, we often wondered, "Is this real life?" The answer was always "yes" and "no." Yes because it was real, but no because it wasn't permanent. We always knew we'd have to pack up our bags in a few short months and leave this experience behind.
After awhile, statements of disbelief stopped being quite so frequent in our lives. They were instead gradually replaced with ones more along these lines: "Yeah, I'm just staying in Rome for the weekend. Nothing too exciting... Okay, we'll meet you at the Spanish Steps at 10:00 and then go to Campo like normal... We're just going downtown to get gelato and walk around--it's a pretty chill night... Another Art in Rome class in a Baroque church this morning... I just booked a plane ticket/spent a weekend in [insert European destination of your choice]..." Rome and our way of life there became comfortable; it was never remotely close to a routine, but it was comfortable in it's inconsistency, drama, and excitement. Despite the fact that things were always crazy and different, after awhile, it was a sense of change that we grew accustomed to.
At the very end of the semester, we all began to realize that this change in perspective had taken place almost without us noticing it. As our time drew to a close, we all focused on appreciating our last moments in Rome by spending them in the places we had grown to love.
As for me, while I said many of my goodbyes with my fellow J-Forcers before they returned home on the group flight, I had an additional round of goodbyes with Rome because of my travels to Germany. After returning to Rome on Friday afternoon, I had all day Saturday to spend the way I liked before flying out on Sunday.
So, on Saturday morning I got up early and walked to the Vatican, where I watched the sunrise from St. Peter's Square. So beautiful. There are no words. After that, I paid my last visit to the Basilica itself before it became crowded with tourists groups. Instead of standing on my tiptoes to see a glimpse of the Michelangelo's Pieta, I looked at it by myself, admiring the emotion and detail in the work. I knelt to pray for the last time, in thankfulness and gratitude for my gift of a semester.
Then, I left the Basilica to spend the rest of the day wandering around Rome, reliving my memories, visiting my favorite sights, and bidding them goodbye. I spent two hours at the Borghese Gallery, hanging out with two of my favorite artists, Bernini and Caravaggio. I ate my last real Italian pizza, pasta, and gelato and drank my last glass of wine. I remembered beginnings at the Colosseum, art classes in churches, nights out at Campo de' Fiori, meals eaten with my parents, afternoons shopping with my friends, and all of the moments in between. As I walked miles around downtown for the last time, I realized how many memories I really had acquired in Rome; they were every corner I turned. I ended my day in Rome the way it had began and the way my time in Rome had begun, at St. Peter's Square--my favorite place in the city. It was the perfect ending to the best semester of my life.
Then before I knew it, my alarm clock was ringing at 4:30am, all of my bags were packed, I was armed with snacks of pizza and Italian pastries for the plane ride, and I was stepping into a Roman taxi for the last time. I chatted with the cab driver in Italian on the way to the airport about simple matters, how long I had been in Rome, what I was studying, the weather, etc. "Fa molto freddo!" he commented, almost shivering in Rome's low 50 degree temperature, while I wasn't even wearing a real coat at the time. As I had recently returned from snowy, windy Berlin, I corrected him saying, "Germania fa molto freddo!" He laughed at that and agreed with me. He asked "Ti piace Roma?" (Do you like Rome?") to which I could I could only answer emphatically, "Si, mi piace Roma molto," my Italian-speaking abilities falling short in expressing how dearly I have grown to love that city.
Once at the airport, I thanked the cab driver for his kindness, checked my two suitcases, bought one final beginning-of-a-trip muffin, and eventually stepped onto the plane that would take me back to the United States, leaving Italy behind. As the plane ride went on, two emotions overwhelmed me: thankfulness for my wonderful semester and excitement to be going home. You see, it's Christmas Eve today after all, and I can't imagine being anywhere but here, with the friends and family that I love. At the end of the day, it's the people that matter, not where you are--even when where you are is Rome--and I don't know if I have ever appreciated being home so much.
But no worries, Rome. I am fully confident that I'll be back; I threw my coins in the Trevi Fountain to guarantee it. You couldn't keep me away if you tried. And until then, we will always have our memories.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Well, the semester in Rome has now officially come to a (rather dramatic) end, and I have found myself in Germany for the week! So far, Beth and I have been to Rothenburg and Munich, and today we leave Munich for Berlin. I LOVE Germany so far!!! It is definitely one of my favorite places that I have traveled to. It's wonderful... and I especially love being here during Christmas Market season! I fly back to the States on Sunday, and I am starting to get more excited about coming home though. I think once I finally get there after all of my traveling, it will be great. :) Okay, well, I have to go make one more quick round around the Christmas Market before we leave!
Monday, December 7, 2009
You make me crazy, make me laugh hysterically one minute and want to cry hysterically the next. I make decisions that don't make sense to me, do ridiculous and impractical things, and when I wonder "why?" out loud, all I'm told is to blame you.
You--with all of your inconsistency, your chaos, your completely disarming and yet charming sense of beauty. There is no place like here, no place like you, and you know it. You are proud, but not cocky; regal and majestic; ancient and full of wisdom--wisdom you don't share easily. You know what's gone on before, and you know that it's not worth the trouble to deal with it again. You don't even have to try; you are content to exist, to just be. You understand that being is an art grander than the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, or even St. Peter's. Rome, you know how to live.
Rome, you're no good for me; you make me weak, lower my defenses, let me stumble, leave me exhausted. You push me around, and when that's not enough for you, you knock me down on my face. You shape me; you make me. I get sucked in by your mystery and your romance, and you spit me back out laughing, making me stand up on my own two feet again. You have taught me passion, to live in the moment, to seize adventure with both hands and take off running.
Oh, Rome, we've had less than four months together, but a lifetime wouldn't be enough for you. After all, you're the Eternal City--you've been here for thousands of years before me, and you'll still be here after me. In a city of this scale, I never thought I'd really get my hands on you, but I've made pieces of you my own. And I haven't left yet, but before I do, I'm leaving a piece of myself here too. I'll be the girl in the dress sitting on the cobblestones of St. Peter's Square, gazing up at the Basilica with a cone of gelato in my hand, still as completely in awe of you as I was my first night here back in August. Others may not see me, but a memory of me will always remain; you'll know I'm there, and that's enough.
Oh, Rome, you're no good for me, but I've loved you relentlessly all the same. I've defended you, and I keep coming back to you over and over again. You're intoxicating, and you draw me back in every time--from the alleys of Trastevere to Via del Corso and back to Monte Mario. Somehow my roads have led me to you, and I can't escape--and I don't want to.
You have given me everything, but you've taken all of me too. I can't get enough of you because there will never be enough. You're everything, and you're definitely too much for me.
Oh, Rome, you have been so good for me.
"... Each, in its own way, was unforgettable. It would be difficult to - Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live." --Roman Holiday
Sometimes it takes stepping onto that plane to begin the best journey of your life.
Sometimes it takes being away from your family to realize how much you treasure their presence.
Sometimes it takes leaving your best friends to make yourself realize exactly why you became friends in the first place.
Sometimes it takes being halfway across the world to understand that when it comes to the people that matter, distance doesn’t change a thing.
Sometimes it takes making the effort to meet new people to remind you how worthwhile of an effort it is.
Sometimes it takes pushing yourself to do new things to experience all that you came to experience.
Sometimes it takes taking a chance to have the memories you’ll never forget.
Sometimes it takes wandering Rome by yourself to really start to see it.
Sometimes it takes seeing history firsthand to reassure yourself of the value in studying it.
Sometimes it takes having nothing to rely on except God to realize that He always provides.
Sometimes it takes questioning yourself to understand who you really are.
And sometimes it even takes making the wrong decisions to make you realize what the right ones are.
Rome, I’ll miss you, but I’m almost home.
Less than 3 days left at the J-Force… Rothenburg, Germany on Thursday.
Friday, December 4, 2009
--from the student farewell speech at the end of the semester banquet
Thank you for making this the best semester of my life. Thank you for your passion, your enthusiasm, your willingness to have a good time, your desire to embrace this culture, and most of all, your friendship. After being in Rome, you have been what made this semester what it is.
I'm usually more wordy than this, but no amount of words could ever convey my gratitude. But I'll say it again anyway: thank you, thank you, thank you.
In the words of an Irish blessing (I should probably have picked something Italian, but oh well):
"May the road rise up to meet you;
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand."
Love & memories,
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Final week of class. Last Theology class yesterday. Last Italian class tomorrow. Calcio championships/last night at BP tomorrow night. Last paper due Thursday. Final day of class Thursday. End of the semester banquet Thursday night. Study day Friday. Finals starting Saturday afternoon. Last night out in Rome Saturday night. Last Sunday Mass at the JFRC chapel. Finals Monday and Tuesday. Packing, packing, packing Wednesday. "See you later's" and then Germany on Thursday.
It's coming too soon, especially finals. I am so bitter that my last real week in Rome is mainly being spent in the JFRC library, tucked away with notebooks and textbooks by myself, rather than out exploring the city with my friends for one last time. It has been unanimously agreed upon that we have learned exponentially more on the weekends than during the week anyway, so why are my final days in this wonderful city being ruined by something as trivial as exams? In the end, what is really more important?
While I've never ever been someone that has blown off school (and I'm still not), I think that one of the most important lessons I have learned while studying abroad is that there are so many things that are far more important than school. And what matters now, in these final, fleeting moments, is Rome, with all of it's inconsistency, all of its chaotic beauty, all of its passion, all of the lessons I have learned and have yet to learn.
Oh, Roma. I have to leave you, but I won't let you go.