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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

cinquanta shades of roma

Before I boarded the plane from New York to Rome, I had a bit of time by myself in the airport during a six hour layover.  I remembered that a friend from home had written me a letter that I was not to open until I had begun my travels.  While waiting to meet up with the rest of my group flight, the lonely terminal seemed the perfect place to read it.  She herself had just come back from abroad and she wrote to me about the culture shock, and about feeling awkward and awestruck at the same time.  She told me to talk to everyone, no matter how strong the language barrier.  While reading this, I suddenly became more excited to go than I had ever felt before.  Until I had read the letter, Rome had been a distant place tossed around in studio when we wished for stronger coffee (i.e. vino).   But the reality of my semester abroad hit me in that terminal and I realized I felt no need to look back on anything.  There was only onward, upward, and the possibilities that lay ahead in Rome.


It’s now been only a few days into our four month long stay here, so I am only able to describe the outer layer of this enormous onion.  What I first noticed is that Italians primarily move about in shades of grey.  In Rome there are definite places you should walk, and definite places where you shouldn’t, but the spectrum between the two extremes is very large.  Rather than the black and white zones of road to curb to sidewalk to front lawn to building, everything blends together and it takes a grand gesture (less like a curb and more like a façade) to divert traffic. There are few sidewalks, especially on the back streets, so when a car or vespa is not coming through, the street becomes pedestrian territory and vice versa.  These slackened boundaries certainly heighten my twenty minute walk to class each day; playing real life frogger with a revving scooter is obviously more exciting than dodging students determined to reach the stacks before you do.


Though I can only now describe with certainty the rules of movement within the city, I have a feeling that the grey areas go deeper within the social spectrum.   I have met many friendly Italians and already I know that just because you may not know a person’s name or even speak their language doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something from them. I think this is why it seems possible for anything to happen here. Though this idea comes with all new places, perhaps the constant flux in Rome perpetuates it since the boundary lines seem much more blurred.   Justin Bieber may have been too cool for us in Ithaca, but is it too much to think that an Italian pop star may mistake me for his ex-singing partner here and scoop me up on his scooter to perform at the Colosseum?  I think not.


-Heidi Schmitt

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