In his 2011 Milstein lecture, architect Rem Koolhaas spoke of the “YES” regime that divided the world into three markets: the Yen (¥) for Asia, the Euro (€) for Europe, and the Dollar ($) for America. As a Chinese-American, I have been fortunate to have experienced both the “Y” and the “S” parts of the world, but never the “E”. To me, the “YES” regime meant that America was the political power, Asia the economic engine, and Europe the cultural capital. Well, I have finally made it to the “E”—and Italy is indeed the cultural mecca of my dreams.
I have been living in Roma for three weeks now, and I feel extraordinarily lucky. Not only have I escaped the arctic cold in the States, but I have also gotten to experience the Eternal City close-up. The Cornell in Rome (CIR) school is located in Centro Storico, in the heart of the city. As such, Vatican City is twenty minutes from studio, and the Pantheon is five minutes away—a popular lunch spot. Other architectural sites and beautiful churches can be found at every street corner. Delicious gelaterie, or gelato shops, abound.
My apartment is wonderful. Located in a quieter part of Trastevere, it sits near the top of a sloped street. The housing complex overlooks a colorful nineteenth century Italian villa in its anterior courtyard, and there is a beautiful open-cage Art Deco elevator in the stairway atrium. The nicest part of the apartment is the kitchen, which receives plentiful natural light from the East. My five suitemates and I, all architects, have already spent a lot of time making home-cooked pastas and risotto dinners there.
Speaking of food, I am in love with the confectionery culture here; I must yet again mention the gelato in Rome. Even during chilly winter days in Italy, a €2 cup of gelato is immensely satisfying and refreshing. The fruit flavors are rich and tangy, the buttermilk texture always smooth and consistent. Besides the gelato, I am also a huge fan of the Nutella culture here. It goes well with everything: bread, crepes, and Kinder chocolate bars. I would happily trade peanut butter for spreadable chocolate any day.
Of course, there is more to Rome, Italy, and Europe than just Nutella and gelato. Exploring the streets of the city, I feel as though I am walking through 2,000 years, and layers, of Western history. In the next several months, through classes and personal travels, I am inspired to learn as much as I can about the wisdom of Romans—architects and artists—who came before me. From my weekend trips to Florence and Tivoli, I am already getting a sense of the tremendous talent of the old Renaissance masters. If I could retain or reproduce even a fraction of that knowledge, I would consider the semester a success.