Yesterday, on a chilly Saturday afternoon walk down via del Corso, I found myself maneuvering around mounds of gray icy slush and inconveniently discreet potholes filled to the brim with rainwater. It was the kind of dodging strategy that reminded me a little too much of home, a similarly gray city that also turns gently fallen snowflakes into heinous piles of mush that not only blockade pedestrian walkways, but also force you to justify their awful existence with, “Well, it was kinda pretty this morning.”
I guess snow does a funny thing to a city you’ve newly discovered but haven’t quite acclimated to. It blankets the sleek cobblestone streets, the heads of towering monuments, and the awnings of family-run butcher shops with a familiar whiteness that calls for the subtlest of realizations. It makes you wonder—hm, maybe I have been here before.
To be honest, I’m not sure if my first impressions of Rome have quite settled yet, or perhaps they are only beginning to settle now, just in time for the end of our first month abroad. Rome is strange with its continuous encounters between the old and the new, between the remnants of its history and the urgency of its present. It seems almost easier to talk about Rome this way, as if it were offering itself up for analysis when, in actuality, it is much more of a living, breathing, and ever-changing thing than I would have thought it to be.
Abstract musings aside, we have been offered many opportunities to help better acquaint ourselves with a country that continues to steal the hearts of millions of tourists each year. Last weekend, for instance, we embarked on our first overnight field trip to a city a bit seedier, but no less picturesque than Rome. It was on this first bus ride down to southern Italy that we encountered our first Italian snowstorm. The five-hour bus ride (initially set for three) was mostly quiet, as expected of a trip that began before sunrise. Thanks to our indispensable bus driver’s ability to sweet-talk traffic control and navigate through the winding roads of the outskirts, we were able to safely arrive in Paestum, an ancient city southeast of Naples, by lunchtime.
The major features of this site are the expansive field of archaeological ruins and the museum directly across from it. We were given several hours to roam at our own pace, so many of us dispersed to try to efficiently organize our times between the ruins, the exhibits, and lunch. Because I had already prematurely devoured my egg and salami sandwich on the long bus ride, I devoted most of my time exclusively to the ruins.
Though my knowledge of the history of Paestum is very much limited, the act of just standing amongst its millenia-old ruins was enough for me to envision its once glorious status.
There were remnants of structures that are still recognizable today, as well as hints to some things that might have been.
The ruins, with roofless abodes and dead-end staircases, were reminiscent of a labyrinth—I found myself lost more than a couple of times and relied on the tops of classmates’ heads to negotiate my way around.
There are many reminders of the ancient world in Rome, but to actually stand in the remains of one is an experience that is not only somewhat out-of-body, but also strangely calming and, inevitably, sad. It was a slow and subdued reaction, but one that brought about the unavoidable questions of mortality and the cyclical nature of history.
It is probably needless to say that the museum packed much less of a punch. The view from its backyard, however, was extraordinary.
Our first day ended with a rainy drive back up to Napoli (as the locals would call it) for the Hotel Rex, located on a side street across from the city’s prized waterfront, and a traditional Neapolitan dinner of Pizza Margherita (Mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil—done, you’ve got the colors of the Italian flag) at the famous Antica Pizzeria Brandi.
The second day went a little bit like this:
Many of us rolled out of our beds well before 8:00 AM to be greeted by hotel cereals, pastries, coffee, juice, water (so precious here), ham, cheese, and various sliced breads. We then piled onto our beloved SIMET coach bus to escape both the cold and general sleepiness. After a 45-minute bus ride, we arrived in Herculaneum to visit our second archaeological zone. Herculaneum, along with Pompeii, was an ancient town destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Excavation of the site didn’t take place until 1738 and continued well into the twentieth century.
As AAP students, we were all encouraged to sketch. This suggestion was taken with no hesitation.
…and then we found a cat.
We left Herculaneum before noon and prepared to spend the rest of our day in Naples. After a lunch of yet another delicious Pizza Margherita, we regrouped at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (the Naples National Archaeological Museum). This institution houses endless ancient Roman sculptures, artifacts, and paintings. It also has in its collection the famous Alexander mosaic. Though not explicitly encouraged to sketch here, many students took it upon themselves to draw their surroundings.
And now some glamorous head shots from the museum’s varied collection.
The third, and final, day began much the same way:
Many of us rolled out of our beds well before 8:00 AM to be greeted by hotel cereals, pastries, coffee, juice, water, ham, cheese, and various sliced breads. We then piled onto our beloved SIMET coach bus to escape both the cold and general sleepiness. This time, however, the bus was only a temporary shelter from the frigidity of Neapolitan waters. After throwing on a couple more articles of clothing, we were all relatively ready for our walking tour of Napoli. Ten minutes into our tour and several snapshots of street kittens and dogs later (see below), I realized that I was losing camera battery fast. These are the remaining desperate photos I attempted to capture of Naples before it died completely.
The view from the waterfront—
Encounters with Neapolitan wildlife—
And obligatory people shots—
Our last destination was MADRE (Museo d’arte Contemporanea Donnaregina), a contemporary art center on via Luigi Settembrini. We meandered through rooms that showcased works by Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, Jannis Kounellis, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jeff Koons, Rebecca Horn, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, among others—quite the all-star cast. I was impressed by both the works themselves as well as the spaces dedicated to their display. The museum served as a fantastic complement to the extravagant church and palace visits sprinkled throughout the rest of our trip.
Though our trip to Naples felt, in some ways, short-lived, many of us agreed that we were happy to return to Rome. With my luggage in hand, I walked with my housemates back to our via Dandolo apartment across the River Tiber. As I anticipated the relief of crawling into my own bed, I felt suddenly a new sense of home in this once foreign Italian city.