Friday, December 20, 2013

Arrivederci, Roma. I'll Be Home for Christmas.

Well, friends, my first semester in Rome has come to a close. Notre Dame's Rome studio building is being evacuated today, the keys have been turned in and all of our supplies are boxed up. It's a bit historic because the program has been going on for at least forty years. Those of us who haven't left Lazio yet are printing out boarding passes and booking confirmations, finalizing plans, eating leftovers, and talking and laughing while we're still here together. My hotel room looks like a complete disaster. I need to pack so I passed up a chance to see The Hobbit with friends tonight. Some of us are waking up around 3:30 am so we can eventually catch 6:40 and 7:00 flights.

Looking back on this semester I simultaneously can and can't believe we are half way through. The start was really rough. I remember when they ushered us into the lecture room with all the windows open and we strained to hear their introductions and just stay awake. There was the jet lagged first week and hurting, tired feet for the first month (or however long it took to break in my shoes and get used to the fast paced sprints after professors). Our schedules were messed up in every sense and we were introduced to the University of Miami students. There was the awkward and scary informal introduction to Michael Graves in the locker room. Chaos continued until that project ended. The extraordinarily fun and exhausting field trips to Tuscany and the Veneto happened. Jokes were made, stories formed, projects narrowly completed, and both headaches and laughter were had. Along with lots of gelato, of course.

During this past project there were some times while watercoloring when I was struck by the reality of the moment. It surprised me that I am a student at the University of Notre Dame studying architecture for a year in Rome and gratitude swelled inside of me. This truly is a wonderful opportunity and it is exciting to already see and feel the affects of learning since I've entered my third year of architecture.

It's odd to think that after all of this tomorrow I will be home. I'll only be home for a week (and then on to more adventures) but there still is a good taste of normalcy awaiting me. There will be lots of stories to tell and questions to answer. I'm already trying to figure out my response to "How has Rome been?" There isn't an easy or quick answer.

Saying goodbye to friends (or realizing that you've missed the chance to wish them a happy Christmas and good break) brings a sense of separation anxiety. It's the surrealism of Thanksgiving break amplified. We have been together day in and day out for so long that there's a sort of feeling of responsibility for their well-being. I cannot imagine graduation.

It hasn't hit me quite yet that I am actually leaving Rome absurdly early tomorrow. I'm really excited to see my family. I hope everyone else who has not journeyed home for Christmas has a safe trip. I hope there is still a lot of snow back home...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Waiting is a daily part of life. Everyday at least twice I have to wait at the poorly timed crosswalks outside Sant'Andrea della Valle and hope not too many vehicles have chosen to run red lights. Then there are the three hour classes that drag on while we wait for the moment we are given leave to run back to studio.

It's a bit hard to focus on Advent with how rapidly the days are passing . I'm anxious for break when I see decorations and hear Christmas music in studio. It's also getting cold in Rome and now I'm anxious for snow weather. I can't wait to be done with my homework for all my classes. I'd really like to finish writing that post about Thanksgiving break. The list goes on. 

I have piles of trace on my desk with plans and elevations and oh, there would be sections if I had gotten on that. It's really hard to focus in general. Appropriately, Advent is just as much about focusing as it is about anticipating. It's not just mindlessly counting down the days and eating the chocolate in your Advent calendar to pass the time. I don't really have a solution for focusing mentally but it's at least helpful to be reminded to keep re-centering to stay on track.

So yeah, baby steps. Any lengthy playlist suggestions for plugging away during the next two weeks? Or favorite prayers for students?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How It Almost Happened

Today I was planning on waking up at 8-something and adventuring out beyond the studio and hotel doors. I woke up for my alarms but ignored them telling myself "It's Saturday. You need sleep after this week and today you can sleep in." So I did.

I got up around 10-something, came to studio to eat breakfast, then headed down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. When I passed Chiesa Nuova I saw that the doors were open so I walked in. It's a bit embarrassing that I couldn't remember if I had set foot in Chiesa Nuova this trip because the interior of the church looked familiar-ish but not familiar enough. (Stroikian semi-sarcasm: They're all alike, right? You've seen one thermal window motif you've seen 'em all). Then I saw this:
And I remembered.

I was here as a kid. It was only a decade later when I stood outside with Michael Graves and went into the oratory library and watched the concentration on Professor Ingrid Rowland's face as she tried to read the Hebrew on the ceiling. Most of my memories from coming to Italy as a child are the tombs of saints. Churches blur together into nothingness (except St. Peter's and the Lateran) but I remember the relics.

There were a bunch of seminarians/priests walking around and as I began to head out of the church I happened to turn around and see a chasuble at this side altar. Not wanting to pass up this opportunity to attend Mass said over St. Philip Neri's body, I went back to the chapel and hesitantly stood there for a bit before kneeling down. It was a private mass and I felt awkward being the only person besides the priest and the seminarian serving. An elderly couple soon appeared and the three of us made up the congregation. At some point during all of this I realized that the priest wasn't speaking Italian but was speaking Latin. The server stumbled on the Confiteor and the priest had to help him a bit through the end of it. So I stumbled upon a Tridentine Mass at the altar of St. Philip Neri in Chiesa Nuova completely out of the blue. I was elated. The  elderly couple knew the Latin and before we sat down for the offertory the woman turned and smiled at me for some reason. Maybe she was happy that I knew exactly how to participate and wasn't confused by the Latin. The priest had such a French accent so all the Latin sounded Frenchified. It was great.

Everything was just beautiful until the personification of Italy walked in. A man holding a ridiculous handful of clanking skeleton keys told us to leave right in the middle of Mass. The church was "closed". During the middle of the offertory the church was closed and he wouldn't take no for an answer. We had to leave. So I did.

The elderly couple didn't know what nationality I was and I didn't know what nationality they were so we didn't really bother talking; however, we all exchanged looks that read something like "This is so, so stupid. Why is Italy so lame? Oh well. This was great while it lasted." They seemed like really nice people. Good old Universal Church.

After this I kept walking down the corso and went into the bookshop where I previously found the T.S. Eliot. I wanted to look at their prints because they sell a bunch for reasonable prices. I picked up some small prints because if you got a few it was cheaper and they are small enough not to get ruined on the trip home. 

In honour of hot chocolate escapades. Also that's some sweet lace.
I also saw another Caravaggio today...except it was a copy. I was looking at The Entombment of Christ in Chiesa Nuova and thought "This one is actually a bit disappointing." Then I noticed it was a copy from the late 1700's. Today hasn't been quite what I thought it might be but that's ok. There's always another adventure to be had tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Part one of our current project was due today at 2 pm after our professors gave us an extension over the weekend. One might think that there would be ample time to complete it after being given three extra days but this is architecture we're talking about. Last night if you had walked past Sant'Andrea della Valle you would have seen a procession of 5' wooden boards being carried by architecture students back to the hotel. Popcorn was made for the occasion, we changed into shorts or pajamas, and each group set up on a different floor of the hotel. Yes, we will bypass the midnight closing of the studio even if we look ridiculous. There was much laughing last night. Too much actually. We went to bed at 4 am and squeezed in four hours of sleep before waking up for drawing class (which was very brutal). But everything turned out well with the project.

Today one of the professors said "I can't imagine that you guys would have taken your boards back to the hotel..." and the room erupted into nervous laughter because until that moment she didn't know that that was precisely what we did. There already has been a night when some of us stole the St. Mary's girls' study room in the hotel so that we could finish perspectives.

So, anyways, the work has not ended nor will it end until Christmas break. Right now a site visit to look at cafe precedent would be great...if you know what I mean.

Oh, random question to friends who are more proficient in Latin than myself: how would you say "the shade has been cast"? It's a bit of a story not worth explaining immediately and I'm rusty on my conjugations.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Caravaggio and Coffee. Monotony on Monterone.

1. A few days ago I took a break and walked to the Pantheon to stop by an ATM and then decided to keep walking because I had been sitting all day. It was the best "study" break you could ask for. I decided to enter the French church (St. Louis) just to absorb the Caravaggio paintings again. I stood in front of The Calling of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew for a least ten minutes just taking it in. On the way back to studio I felt that it was a Sant'Eustachio cappuccino worthy day (or night...the sun had gone down but it goes down so early this time of year). How often can you just pop in to see Caravaggios and then get the best cappuccino in Rome before heading back to your desk?

The side chapel where these paintings are is incredible. I find it most striking that the two paintings face each other. On the left you have Jesus picking a surprised St. Matthew out to follow Him and on the right you have the same man dying a martyr's death because he chose to accept the call. I'd love to analyze and talk about these paintings but my time and concentration is short. 

2. It's always unnerving when you aren't stressed during a fact it can be more stressful because then you start wondering what is wrong and why you aren't stressed. You begin anticipating what horrible things are going to occur. This being said, I still haven't felt actually stressed. I think that's due to the fact that we're still doing group projects so all the pressure isn't just on me.

3. Some of us have decided that we are part of a social experiment. We think our lives are like The Truman Show. All the professors are in on it except one of them. It makes a lot of sense actually.

4. Today I reached the Pink Floyd stage of the project. There inevitably comes a time before the project deadline when I turn on Pink Floyd and avoid as much as possible any distractions, outside noise, and conversations. At least I wasn't listening to "Echoes" while staring into a light table during the middle of the night because that happened last year and it was trippy.

5. I was feeling inexplicably irritated tonight, really irritated, so I walked outside to get out of the building. I went to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and Mass was going on in a side chapel. A schola was chanting during communion time and they sounded beautiful. When I approached our studio building on my way back I saw the NAC seminarians standing outside waiting to get in so I unlocked the door for them. I'm so glad it was Monday because they brought both physical and spiritual nourishment of sorts (though the physical nourishment was American junk food and also my dinner for the night). I'm getting tired of being around the same 40-some people day in and day out in the same building so it's refreshing to have even the slightest contact with outsiders. It was great hearing about the importance of the relationship between prayer and work in an Australian accent. It's just a break from the monotony on Monterone.

6. I'm really tired but too tired to go to bed so while we still have 30 minutes until studio closes I'm stretching my legs out and staring into the distance. We've been painting on the floor kneeling on wood and staples for the past few days. I spilled some of the color for the John Cabot building in our plan and said, "Noooo, John Cabot, why?" so that's a sign it's bedtime.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Electro Italia Swing Routine

We wove our way through the streets of Trastevere, still slick from rain and alive with lights and throngs of people. I was blindly following my friends who knew the place where we were going to knit. When we stepped into the threshold of an Italian bar the smell of incense hit me like a brick and it was impossible not to notice the artsy jewelry, tea pots, handbags, etc. that they were selling. Can you say quirky? I followed them downstairs to a basement where they had couches and chairs, books lining the shelves, and more overwhelming incense sticks. We sat down and I picked up an old, Italian copy of Richard II sitting next to me. Then I noticed the music. I started laughing and was told "They always play stuff like this. It's really weird and hilarious." "What IS it? It's like a remix of 1920's music with modern techno." We eventually asked the waitress and she came back with a piece of paper that said "electro Italia swing routine" and told us it was a Youtube playlist. It reminded us of The Great Gatsby soundtrack so we talked about the movie for a bit while knitting. As we continued listening we came to the conclusion that it would make a great playlist for rendering large washes on a final project.

Yes, all of this is a true story. This was the second time I have joined in knitting with rebellion and frustration in unlikely public places while, in the words of Jane Austen, we "make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn". Welcome to our lives.  

This one is a remix of the song "You Rascal You". 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Brick and Old Bay

Some very random thoughts occurred to me today while in Trajan's Market. All of them involved some sort of revelation about missing something. The first thought was that I missed the historical architecture of the Chesapeake Bay area. It was the brick that reminded me of it even though Roman brick is of course different. It was probably also the conversation I had last night with some seminarians from the NAC who finally stopped by studio for the first time. One from Australia said he had been to Camden Yards before. Again, brick.
John's Hopkins
Hampton House
Mount Clare
Fell's Point
Mount de Sales Academy
The seminarians brought American junk food as promised and when I saw candy corn I remembered that apparently it's Halloween in two days. Really? I refuse to believe that November is a few days away. That's a scary thought.

Anyways, after the brief Maryland nostalgia I saw one of those "Top Things about Maryland" posts that a friend had linked to on Facebook. Luckily I have some Old Bay here that is pretty potent because it was just opened. I may or may not have poured some into my palm and eaten it straight...

It was shortly before lunch time in Trajan's Market when I also realized that I really wanted Cafe Poche's grilled cheese and tomato soup. The problem with that is that:
  1. It is not a Friday so Cafe Poche isn't serving grilled cheese and tomato soup.
  2. Cafe Poche isn't even open yet. It wasn't even 6 AM in America when I thought about it.
  3. Cafe Poche is in the States. I am not.
Meh. I need to get back to work although I finally got Netflix to work last night so that's a bit distracting. For all those who have regular access to Netflix, Cafe Poche, American coffee that comes in a cup larger than a thimble, Halloween, chai tea, and pumpkin flavoured things, don't always take the cheap and mundane for granted.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Back to Reality

We are "home" in Rome and back from a BEAUTIFUL week long field trip to the Veneto. I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

We started out heading by train to Bologna. I borrowed a copy of Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue from a friend and read it along the way. Perhaps it would have been better to read it After Coffee but I was glad to have something, especially a book I've been intending to read. I was amused a bit when the french man behind me spilled his mineral water and exclaimed "Zut!". European problems.

At first I wasn't impressed with Bologna because all we saw were dirty streets and modern loggias plastered and defaced with irate and crude political messages. However, when we finally walked into the city center it became alive with wide streets, medieval arcades, and markets and shops. Bologna is supposed to excel at food and the narrow market streets we wound through had all sorts of delicious looking vegetables, fruits, fish, and bread (and really creepy, bloody beheaded goat faces). What I actually consumed in Bologna wasn't anything great so that was a bit of a letdown I guess. Some of the best food I've eaten since arriving in Italy came later in the week in other cities. The best thing to eat in Bologna seemed to be the fresh bread they were making in the piazza in front of San Petronio and selling for a euro or two. The first time I passed it with some friends we immediately stopped because the smell of the bread baking was arresting. We split these plain pieces of bread and as we were eating we joined the rest of the group standing a few meters away including Duncan Stroik who was with us for the week.

Duncan Stroik had a huge influence on me when choosing to study architecture and I highly respect him so he helped make this week so great. I had been introduced to him when I became a student at Notre Dame and we talked before but we got to know him and he got to know us much better this week. He told us right off the bat that his teaching style involves asking us questions. That comes with pros and cons (getting us to think and being vague, respectively) but overall I really enjoyed it. Those of us who had to walk around with him received very little information about history but a lot about architectural theory. He also forced us to draw and pace off dimensions everywhere we went which was great for lazy people like me who are intimidated by their lack of talent and thus draw hesitantly. But really, I think I noticeably improved this week. It was like boot camp. We followed him all over each city and didn't stop until around 6:00 or 7:00 (I started falling asleep while drawing in Verona because I was so tired). But even when we did our assignments for drawing class I don't recall having a mini existential crisis each time I sat down to draw a perspective so there's improvement there.

I thought I was going to have trippy nightmares about endless
Bologna is a city of loggias. Stroik recommended that we climb 666 steps to see the view of the city from a church outside the walls and some of us actually did because we figured why not. Well. There was a slight problem. First of all, we had been on our feet all day long and were already exhausted but then we walked all the way up the hill and hundreds of stairs and through 654 bays (at least) of loggias and we had to stop to catch our breath along the way. When we reach the last stretch of loggia we found that a gate was blocking people from the top. You couldn't see the city or the church or anything except fencing and a cross through the gate. I remarked out of breath that it was a great metaphor for life. You work through a long, difficult problem and have to turn around, start over and try again. So with that joyful message we trudged down those 654 bays (at least) of loggias and slept very, very soundly that night.

Sant'Andrea in Mantova
The next day we went to Mantua and upon arriving made a beeline for Sunday mass. We stopped in a large cathedral and mass was already going on so we left and power walked to Sant'Andrea by Alberti. The rest of the day was spent sketching and walking with Stroik like normal. The other group that went around with another professor had a different and more relaxed schedule. We were pretty divided the whole time which was strange but I was happy to go around with Stroik. We went to Giulio Romano's house, Italian painter Andrea Mantegna's house (where we sang the fight song in the circular courtyard because Stroik told us to sing something to test the acoustics and you do what he says), Chiesa di San Sebastiano, and the oh-so-mannerist Palazzo del Te (or if you're punny and prefer to call it the Tea House). We didn't get to see the famous room of giants because we spent too long in other parts of the palazzo with the professors. I don't know if I'm disgruntled about that or apathetic because Palazzo del Te isn't quite my cup of tea (ba-dum tssh) and I also don't find it to be as hilarious as Giulio Romano did. It was raining pretty hard by the time we got to Palazzo del Te and of course it was the one time when I didn't have my umbrella on me. I got a bit wet and it was a bit cold...perfect weather for soup...which I did not have...but nonetheless, perfect soup weather.
Hazelnut hot chocolate. Yum yum yum.
Later that night we ate tortelli de zucca which is one of the best things I've probably tasted in my life (it's pasta with pumpkin in it). So that was delicious but then we went in search of hot chocolate and found a place that had a bunch of flavours and upstairs had ottomans and couches in a barrel vault against a window. It was such a good experience it has changed my view of hot chocolate; it must come with a window seat under a barrel vault now. We sat in that barrel vault talking and laughing for hours while it rained outside until we felt we had to go back to the hotel.

After pillaging another hotel breakfast we left by bus for Verona. I spent part of the morning racking my brain for the exact wording of the opening lines of Romeo and Juliet. Freshman Honors English in high school was eons ago. We also never got around to reading Two Gentlemen of Verona.

We saw a bunch of palazzi, Porta Borsari, the duomo, Basilica di S. Anastasia, and Gardino Giusti - spacious gardens across the river. Verona was so full of balconies. I did not see the "Casa di Giulietta" but I was told by others that it was a bit of a disappointment and even ruined the romantic image in their heads. We'll just stick with Franco Zeffirelli's vision in Pienza, eh?

Some quotes of the day were "Tectonics are good, especially a gin and tectonic." and "This is an early-on-a serliana." Professor Stroik got lost and took us on a wild goose chase for which he apologized several times but I was distracted from irritation by the conversation we had about Bond Hall and the new architecture building for campus. I was so tired that night that I sat down on my bed and started falling asleep so eventually I mustered enough energy to change and crawl under the sheets.

Before we actually arrived in Vicenza we started our Palladian pilgrimage. This was a really, really good day. We just stopped at a bunch of villas and drew and explored them. I think it was prior to this when Stroik started a "game" called "Is it Palladio or Not?" and he made one girl in our class always ask the question and then we all had to answer. It was amusing and it sounded like a game show especially when he kept saying "Do you buy that?". We went to Villa Poiana, saw Villa Saraceno through closed gates, Villa Pisani, and ended with Rocca Pisani by Scamozzi. There also was a conversation with Stroik about Pride and Prejudice which was priceless. It is a verified fact that the BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle cannot be beat and that the Kiera Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen one isn't worth watching.
Villa Poiana
The villas I enjoyed most were Villa Poiana and Rocca Pisani. In Villa Poiana we got to see the inside of the roof, the vaults below, and the rafters and I was, no pun intended, beaming. Rocca Pisani is at the top of a really long hill out in the middle of beautiful nowhere. The weather during the majority of the field trip was a really moody, beautiful misty haze so that was the backdrop for these villas.
Rocca Pisani
When we got to Vicenza that night and trudged to the hotel I got a glimpse of Palladio's basilica and exclaimed "Ahhrgh! Garghhh!" and gestured with my free hand. I was so excited because it was something I analyzed in my very first project at Notre Dame and therefore meant something a bit more to me than to anyone else.

The next day I sat down at a breakfast table for three and, to my joy, Professor Rowland sat down next to me and a few minutes later Professor Stroik walked into the room and sat down in the other chair. It was the best start to the day I could ask for. Professor Rowland talked about the book she's working on and the new one she is beginning to write. I really, really want to read it when it comes out. Later on the way to Villa Rotonda there was a conversation I overheard about The Hobbit and she excitedly revealed she's writing a character in her book based on Richard Armitage. I'd tell you what it is about but out of respect for her I don't want to give away too much information in case that's not something I should be sharing.

We went inside the Teatro Olympico which is totes cray and then visited more palazzi and Villa ai Nani and Villa Rotonda. Freshmen year at ND people apparently spend nearly half a semester on the Villa Rotonda so all my classmates were freaking out and groaning "NOOOO! Bane of my existence!" and in general having absurd reactions. That was the first day I ever had to draw it so it didn't mean the same thing to me but I would have the same reaction if I saw the Rose Seidler House in Australia because I spent half a semester of freshman year on that.
Pretty much the same house, right?
We had a drawing assignment in marker at Villa Rotonda and it began to drizzle so it must have been a comical sight seeing all of the undergrads crouched in a manure laden lawn drawing under our umbrellas. Consequently lots of jokes were made as we drew. The problem with drawing in marker as it is raining is that washes appear where you do not want washes to be so it looks like we wept over the Rotonda. I hope the professors got a kick out of our misery because it was just a funny situation.  

I believe it was during our last night in Vicenza when some of us again went in search of hot chocolate. We spent another night of laughing hysterically in the upper floor of a cafe (no barrel vaults sadly, but a beautiful view of the Basilica and piazza) though only a few actually ordered hot chocolate. The rest of us got coffee and ate chocolate muffins. It drizzled again outside while we were talking. I spun around and skipped in the piazza with my umbrella on the way back to the hotel.
By the way, Palladio's basilica isn't a church. It refers to its typology.
We took a train to Venice and when we got off and stepped out into the surreal sight that is Venice. It was so blue. There is no other city that can compare to how unique Venice's just...gah. I was excited for Venice because there was a build up all week to it and it met all my expectations. Venice is obviously meant to be seen by canal and we definitely took plenty of vaporettos (water taxi) around the city. I didn't get to go on a gondola but maybe next time. The gondoliers really do wear stripes and sing. We stayed in a former Dominican monastery that was a hop, skip, and a jump from its church Santa Maria della Rosario. The first day we saw Santa Maria della Pieta which was Vivaldi's parish and then we walked to Piazza San Marco and talked about that and the Doge's Palace. Then we went to four other churches including Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari which contains Titian's beautiful painting of the Assumption. A few of us went out to dinner with Professor Stroik that night and got gelato afterwards. A few of us listened to the competing bands in Piazza San Marco which was a lot of fun.

The next day we went to mass at San Marco at the altar where St. Mark is buried. San Marco is just gorgeous. The craftsmanship in that church is stunning. We went to Palazzo Ca'Rezonico later in the day and on our lunch break ran through the Doge's Palace after a friend and I had a picnic sitting on the base of the campanile in Piazza San Marco while people and pigeon watching. After lunch we went to San Giorgio Maggiore and Il Redentore where Stroik thanked us for the week before we went inside. I wonder how much planning he did for what came next. We went back to the sacristy, he talked for a bit, inched towards the door and then said "In the words of Bilbo, 'It's been too long. I've put this off for far too long. Goodbye." and then he actually disappeared. I'm not lying, we were genuinely confused. We exited the sacristy after him, looked around and didn't see him. A few seconds later we saw him sprinting out the doors and then he just kept running away. We stood there, jaws dropped, whispering "Did that just happen? He's actually gone." He had told us to draw half the plan and a section of the church so we diligently did so after he made that splendidly strange exit and then we left.

That night I went to a Vivaldi concert in the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro and then met up with more studio mates in the piazza and talked and listened to the dueling bands again until we decided it was high time to go sleep.

Before I put shadows in the sketch...
The next morning I saw Stroik at breakfast and he said hello/goodbye to me as he was leaving the table. I helped a British couple make tea by showing them where the hot water was since it was labeled in Italian. I should have warned them that the tea selection was terrible. Lipton is gross. We had the morning free except for a drawing assignment at Santa Maria della Salute. After I finished drawing and walked about the church I set off on my own in search of San Barnaba, the site where the scene in Venice from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed. After definitely over shooting the campo, I found it, snagged a picture, was satisfied, and made it back to the hotel in time to meet to leave for the train station.

It seems like most of us were very unwilling to get back to Rome, myself included. We are still mourning the end of the field trip and finding it hard to focus and prepare for our pin-up today. Ah well. Saturday night some of us made ourselves feel better by trying out Abbey Theatre for the first time and then getting Frigidarium. Rome is much too noisy, busy, and smelly and northern Italy seemed to be much cleaner and quieter. It was nice to have the normal solemn high mass at S.S. Trinita for the feast of Christ the King though. At some point in my life time I will go back to Venice. As for now I'll make a cup of tea and struggle to focus until Thanksgiving break.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thursday, Thwarted Plans, and T.S. Eliot

Thursdays are my beautiful and happy class-free days set between my two painfully long days. Today has been a bit unusually busy, however.

Thwarted Plan Number One. I attempted for the millionth time to go to English confessions today but seeing as my options are St. Peter's...or really just St. Peter's, I was unable to go. I guess the thing to do is wake up extra early and get to the piazza at 7:30 to beat the line. I still have yet to see the entrance line be anything shorter than wrapping around and across St. Peter's Square. There are still tourists galore here too. It's a very frustrating process trying to find confession times because they aren't posted online and in many places aren't posted on the church either. When we went to the NAC at the beginning of the year the priest told us they had English confessions on Tuesdays and mentioned the time but I didn't have anywhere to write it down and evidently this isn't publicized information because I haven't heard anything about it or them since and nothing is listed online including the address.

Thwarted Plan Number Two. Our awesome, cat-lady, super nerd, classics geek professor has offered to create a knitting club and teach or refresh people on the basics. A friend and I set out for the yarn stores but one didn't have a good selection and by the time we got to the other one it was closing. The knitting club is meeting today at 3:00 and the store is reopening at 3:45. So.

Thwarted Plan Number Three. People are playing soccer somewhere today. Due to a combination of problems (current lack of shoes, current lack of energy and health, current lack of time between soccer and knitting) I will not be joining today.

The best part of today so far was stopping in a proper bookstore/record shop. On the way back from the unsuccessful St. Peter's venture I decided my exploring for the day would be in the large bookstore on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II that just looked neat. When I walked in there were vintage prints and posters and rosaries for sale, when I went further there were delightful tons of used LPs and 45s, old and new books lining all the walls, old photographs and Italian newspapers, and a little bar serving coffee, biscotti, and "fresh squeezed orange juice". The whole place had a fresh coziness about it and they had tables and chairs and a leather couch with a coffee table facing the sunny street. They played American crooner music through the speaker system and vinyl 45s and architectural prints hung from the ceiling. The English books were an odd selection. They had quite a lot of baby books and completely uninteresting looking novels and thrillers. You sure can find Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling everywhere though; I have yet to find a bookstore with English books without the complete series of Harry Potter. They had English books mixed in with the Italian books in other parts of the store, however. Passing the poetry section I saw and picked up "Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot" and it didn't leave my hand until I had to put it back before leaving the store. I think they like to push that they have English books because the man working addressed people in English first. When I experienced this I thought it was because I just looked extra American today wearing my Mumford & Sons shirt but he did the same for every Italian who walked in. I ordered a cappuccino, sat down on the couch, read Eliot, and was content. The first stanza of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (the first one in the book) brought me back to high school English class. I smiled since I was in the process of drinking down the beautiful caffeine when I reached the part:

For I have know them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,  
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;   

It's nice to know that I can go somewhere in Rome where a cappuccino and copy of Eliot are waiting for me to pick them up. I suppose friends who have lived in Rome before me probably know about this place but I enjoy finding things by surprise instead of recommendation all the time. If any friends get a chance to visit town I will take you to this place and you can try the hot chocolate or espresso and flip through history in musty, speckled pages, or dog-eared paper LP sleeves, or photographs with cryptic descriptions scribbled in pencil on the back. It's as fun as it sounds. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Some Quick Updates/Recaps

1. I never talked about how our final review with Professor Graves went. One of the professors summed up the crit by calling it "good" and Michael Graves added "very good". Thankfully they all took the green watercolor plate with a dose of humour. My "regular" studio professor gently referred to it as "the copper plate" with a smile. It also helped that after we introduced ourselves our Miami student introduced "our huge sheet of mylar". It was huge. When we pinned up we started giggling. It was probably a very comical presentation because it included two of us knocking over the same can of pins and M.G.'s water bottle cap exploding off like champagne when his assistant opened it. The most flattering moment was when Graves singled out some of my drawings and addressed the one that was affected most terribly by the green saying "I'd like to congratulate you on that's very inviting. It makes me want to be there." If you say so, sir. I think he only said that because he had seen it before looking significantly less verdant.

2. Last night I was able to talk to all of my family members at once thanks to a three way Skype video call. One of the most hilarious moments was when I mentioned that at the Papal Mass on Sunday there were three little girls on their dads' shoulders holding signs that said "W", "♥", "P", and "F" for "We love Pope Francis"; when I said this my nephew launched full force into the entire alphabet. There was also a span of time when he just kept giggling and repeating "Nothing! Nothing!....Nothing!".

3. Before going to Assisi I was waiting to hear something about this yearly pilgrimage I vaguely heard about and today they forward the email. Grr.

4. There is no indication in Italy that it is October. None at all.

5. Any architecture student knows that picking desks is really serious business. Because we are transitioning into our normal schedule with our normal professors and normal class times many people have to move rooms. Thankfully I don't need to move. If you asked me why I picked this desk I could spit out at least five reasons why I think it is in the ideal strategic location. It's strange to have most of the people around me change suddenly though.

6. We were assigned our new project today and spent studio time on a site visit. I think it was productive even though the first 45 minutes on our own were pretty much spent trying out the organic gelato and the bakery that the professors told us to check out. I also had a discussion about the new Avett Brothers album with the fellow Avett fan. My opinion: it is better than The Carpenter.

7. This song:

Now I'm in a bit of a Bert Jansch mood...or more Zeppelin.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Assisi and Papa Francesco

This weekend was close to perfect if one forgets the details that went wrong. Three friends and myself took a day trip to Assisi on Saturday and we woke up around 4:15 AM to walk 40 minutes to the train station. So our trip started off with us getting there and finding out that the schedule online was completely wrong. We bought tickets for the earliest train and then I passed out in the middle of Roma Termini. Yeah...see, since the day of my review (Friday) I had had a constant headache and fever and chills and Saturday morning at 5:45 AM was no different. I remember realizing that I was going to pass out so I leaned up against the ticket machines while my friends bought the tickets and, instead of just sitting down on the floor like I should have, I collapsed. I pretty sure I fainted onto one of my friends or at least he caught me somewhat. When I regained consciousness one of the first things out of my mouth was "This is awkward. Sorry for passing out.". About three Italian security guards were standing around saying "ambulance? ambulance?" and I definitely didn't need an ambulance. One of my friends gave me his water bottle and when they asked a bit later how much of it I drank I shook the bottle and said "All of it?" which made us laugh. Suffice to say, it was an interesting start to the morning.

We waited at least an hour for the train and it's not worth relaying the details of our commute because it was all a bit messy and confusing. When we arrived in Assisi it was raining and intensely foggy. It was hard to see the church through the fog but we quickly decided that the fog just excited us and made for great pictures. 

Basilica di San Francesco di Assisi

Continuing on the fever and chills theme, while it remained rainy, foggy, and cool I was told that my lips and fingertips turned a shade of blue. This eventually caused a friend to lend me his down Eddie Bauer jacket which worked much better than what I had. However, the weather did not stay like this all day and there was a point when everything cleared up very quickly and the sun shone down with intensity. We walked around the town a lot and saw the tomb of St. Francis and St. Clare and the original San Damiano crucifix. They also have some pieces of St. Clare's clothing and St. Francis's breviary behind some glass in the crypt of Santa Chiara opposite from St. Clare's body. I remembered many of these things from visiting before. We went to the Basilica di San Francesco, Cattedrale di San Rufino di Assisi, Santa Maria sopra Minerva and Basilica di Santa Chiara but I don't have many pictures because you weren't really allowed to take photos in most of them. 

We stopped in a little grocery store and got panini for lunch and ate on the steps of the Temple of Minerva/Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The inside is quite a surprise if you compare it to its temple front. 

At some point we walked up and up and up until we reached the castle, Rocca Maggiore. That's about the time when the sun burst forth and for an hour the four of us sat at the base of it just being content. If I could describe how peaceful it was I would.  

Rocca Maggiore. This is also a view of where we sat looking out over the city.
Yes, this is how drastically the weather changed.
I guess there's not much else to say about Assisi besides that it was such a good break from Rome. I absolutely love this town.

The train ride home was rough and we were all exhausted. The reason we didn't stay the night in Assisi was because someone found out that Pope Francis was going to say mass in St. Peter's Square. So this morning I set off at 8:30 with four other friends to St. Peter's. We had been warned that was not early enough for 10:30 mass and that warning was correct. We stood almost at the very front of the second barrier, a little ways outside the colonnade. I'm feeling better today than I was yesterday but standing for at least three and a half hours in the sun was enough to make me feel quite dizzy again. Very pushy Italians also do not help. But anyways, Pope Francis was celebrating mass today because of the anniversary of the last apparition of Our Lady of Fatima and there was a procession of the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima around the crowd. The statue's crown now contains the bullet that hit John Paul II on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima May 13, 1981.

A rosary was led in Latin before mass. I was happy it was in a language I knew even though the Italian lady next to me said it loudly in Italian. Papa Francesco has a really soothing voice and I didn't understand every part of his sermon but he spoke more slowly and clearly than the average priest in Italy. He led us in the Angelus in Latin after mass ended. It took him forever to get into the pope mobile after mass because he was being individually greeted by priests; however, when he did drive by it was like a mad rush of excitement with people lifting up cameras, iPhones, even iPads trying to get a view of him. He passed us once, went down the street and obviously had to come back. He sped by the second time and as we were turning to leave I saw him on the screen kiss a baby and it was just adorable. The last thing he said was something about wishing everyone a good and blessed day and "Arrivederci!".

"Ciao, Papa!'

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bed Bugs, Black, and Birthdays.

Bed bugs. My friends are getting bitten up whenever they wake up at our hotel so that's fun. I am one of the lucky, unaffected people though one of my roommates has bites all over her. The hotel blamed it on our suitcases and suggested we take all our belongings out of our room and place them (five flights down for some of us) in one tiny room to solve the issue. We fail to see how any of this makes sense so none of us have moved anything. Not to mention that we live out of our suitcases so if they were taken from us that would create larger problems. Oy.

Black. Arkies love to wear black. I can at least vouch that this is true at "modernist" schools (ie. not Notre Dame) because my professor freshmen year smelled like a 5'6" cigarette, had hair like Shakespeare, and wore head to toe black or occasionally spiced it up with charcoal grey. I'm planning on wearing head to toe black tomorrow and numerous people today wore all black for their reviews. I think it's hilarious that a friend wore her black "shroud" to the final M. Graves review. "Not sure if this is a maternity shirt or shroud..."

Oh, also part of my group's project is uncommonly green. We have three sheets of mylar and one watercolor sheet which we printed. A grad student told us we could print on it, spray it with fixative, and stretch it with no problem. I don't at all doubt that he is right, however, the ink in the printers at the Miami studio must be different than the ink back at ND because it did not work and the ink bled to a vibrant green. There's nothing we can do about it except joke and say "One day we'll say 'Remember that time we presented that green project in front of Michael Graves? THAT was awful.'" It's like how we all have horror stories about previous projects that we recount with strange fondness.* We listened to the soundtrack of Wicked while painting it because of the green motif. We also named the fly that was flying around the room "Fred". Yes, we all had a decent amount of sleep the night before.

Birthdays. There were three in the past 48 hours but they were not celebrated (yet?) so there's nothing else of note to say about that. Sorry this is a downer.

So, there's that. Here's a picture of Steve Martin ironing a cat.
*One of my favourites is the night before my very first design project at Notre Dame was due I came down with a sickness and terrible fever and spent the night tossing and turning in bed having nightmares that I still needed to render it. The next day I was eating soup for lunch and it splashed on my white shirt before I had to get up to present. Good times.

Monday, October 7, 2013

More Lines Faster.

Here's a quick update. We have about 48 hours until this project is due so I have entered extreme focus mode. That means that I have been listening to the same simple, four chord, 3 minute long song for a half hour straight and I plan on continuing to listen to it until some later point. 

That happens. Before my calculus final freshmen year I listened to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" for about an hour. Don't ask me why. It seemed to help though because I got a miraculously good grade (seriously miraculous...I mean anything good involving myself and math is a miracle).  

We have a lot of work to do but the studio building closes at midnight so we physically can't pull all-nighters. That's for the best though the perfectionist in all of us dislikes this limited work time. Consequently, I'm going to go into hermit mode until I turn twenty. Don't worry, it's not as long as it sounds. 

St. Jude and St. Rita, pray for us. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"An Inconvenience Is An Adventure..."

I really can't think of a way to start off this blog post. I guess that took care of it.

All of us are still exhausted and now people are starting to get sick. Sarcastic huzzah! We've all been grumbling about the horrible disorganization of life in Italy and the meshing of classes because we really have no idea what is happening next each day. We cannot rely on the printed schedule because it isn't accurate. The professors relay everything via word of mouth like a game of telephone. They tell two or three students who in turn have to tell two or three more students and we have to trust their authority as official. For example, this morning I woke up and asked one of my roommates when class starts and she said 10:30 because we really thought it was 10:30. It turns out it was 9:00 and the professors were waiting and no one showed up because it was a 40 minute walk to Villa Giulia. Usually we are early and the professors are late so it was a switch today. When the stragglers arrived (including myself) everyone was already drawing so we had at the most ten minutes to draw. I'm not 100% sure but I think because I'm not in the Tuesday drawing class that thankfully those sketches are not due because my actual class is sketching tomorrow somewhere else. If that sounds confusing that's because it is. I honestly don't really know what is going on...just in general.

I think we've established that even those of us who don't get homesick easily are homesick this week. That combined with actual sickness isn't much fun. I'm not technically sick yet but one of my roommates skipped today because she really doesn't feel well. I just have a sore throat and perpetual headache. Sore throats are the bane of my existence. I can just hear my mom giving her advice "you need to drink more" from somewhere across the ocean. But really, dehydration has not been fun since I've arrived in Europe.

Anywho. Here are some of the things I'm grateful for:
1. The fact that I can still drink tea here. Moldy kitchen or not, I can still boil some water, use some of the tea I brought from home, and add this amazing honey with berries in it that I found in Campo di Fiori.

2. McDonald's fries. That's right. Today after some of us left Villa Giulia we went to McDonald's and bought milkshakes and french fries from the euro menu. Those fries were the most glorious thing I have consumed since the night of the banana pancakes. Now if only we could have tacos or burritos... 

3. Next semester we will be out of this studio. Previous classes have all said that it's terrible that we are moving but the people here who got to see the completed new building are convinced they said that because they are jealous. Personally I don't know because I haven't seen the new building but I'll take their word for it. I don't have anything against this building (except the moldy kitchen...I'm done talking about that now, really) but it's just exciting to me that we have something new to try out. Plus I've heard that it has COUCHES! and big terraces and you can see the Colosseum. 

4. We have internet in studio again and I was able to wash clothes on Sunday.

5. The cheap classical guitar we have. I think we may need an actual capo though because I used a pen and rubber band last night and it wasn't enough to hold down those pesky nylon strings (at least the middle strings). 

6. The music of The Avett Brothers. I recently discovered that a classmate likes them just as much as I do so he and I learned the riff to "One Line Wonder" last week. 

7. I could go back to the hotel and take a nap right now if I really wanted. I could also fall asleep right here at my desk since it isn't studio class time and maybe people would let me sleep...they probably also wouldn't judge....or maybe they would. Doesn't matter.

8. Here's a song that sounds like it should be motivational for this week but isn't exactly.

9. I just received word that the awesome custodian here is making lunch for us on Thursday. He's a very good cook...or so I've heard and smelled. I wish there wasn't so much of a language barrier because I'd like to say something more than hello to him.

"I say nothing to Him, I love Him."
10. It is now October! That doesn't apparently mean anything in Italy but it means something to me. I like it because it means autumn and awesome feast days. I never know if I should celebrate St. Thérèse of Lisieux's feast on the first or the third so I wind up turning it into a kind of triduum with the feast of the guardian angels on the second. Then there's St. Francis on the fourth. The best possible thing I could do for my birthday would be to go to Assisi. I LOVE Assisi. At least I love it from what I remember when I was eight. The project is due on my birthday but I may be able to go that weekend. Hmm.

It's a huge birthday month for my studio. One of my good friends has his birthday on Thursday, another is the day before mine, another is the same day as mine, and two more are slightly later in the month. They are all a year older than me, however. I have a feeling there will be a substantial celebration around the 12th when we are finished with reviews and Michael Graves leaves.

Yeah, I know I didn't pick a Giotto and El Greco is a Mannerist.
Deal with it today. I'm feeling Greco.
I really, really miss fall right now. It's very hot outside still and there aren't any trees to lose their colorful leaves. If someone could ship me a box of crunchy, dead leaves that would be the best. Maybe add some pumpkin bread and apple cider somehow...

11. The incredible thunderstorms yesterday that we got soaked in. The streets turned into rivers. I also saw out of the fountain-like windows on the bus a church with roses and a St. Thérèse outside that made me even more happy.

12. It amused me for some reason that today Michael Graves was explaining something to his eleven year old son Michael Graves Jr. about graves. I also enjoyed creepin' over M.G. Sr. watching him sketch something in the museum. I also swear I saw an amphora today that I studied in a Greek Art and Architecture class that I took at CUA to fill an elective requirement. Granted I saw a lot of amphoras but I'm pretty sure I'm not least not in this scenario. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Parti, Parti, Parti

Ciao, amici. The area by studio has been out of internet for at least three days now and I guess they sort of fixed it. Our one and only washing machine has also been broken for a few days but it has now been fixed so at least we can finally wash clothes. Yaaay.

The past week was rough schedule-wise because while Michael Graves is here we don't have our normal class schedules. We have these random walks and talks about the city and strange studio hours (like studio on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday...not Friday) and some of our normal classes have been squished into one massive multi-tasking fest. We still have the structure of the 9:00 am - 6:00 pm full class day with a break for lunch. We have four classes but the shortest classes are 3 hours long mostly because we never, ever sit during them. We haven't had two consecutive weeks of the same schedule yet since we arrived in Rome because we had one normal week, a field trip week, and now this scheduling mess. The Michael Graves project is due on my birthday, however, so that's not far off and once the review is over we will say farewell to the Miami students and Professor Graves.

We all have been grumbling about the terrible disorganization of all of this but really we are still fortunate for this opportunity. We've already had two reviews in front of Michael Graves and the rest of the faculty, not to mention the times when some of us have asked him about our parti ideas one-on-one. The first time I did that one of my friends said "Even if you cry it will still be a great story." because he said very harsh things to other groups that day. I did not cry nor do I consider it a great story because our conversation didn't last very long. It's still exciting that he is actually our professor though. I saw one of his tea kettles being sold in Piazza Navona the other day...
The tea kettle designed by Michael Graves. This is his sketch for the design.
He gave us each a book of his sketches when he arrived.
Anyways, our project is in the Jewish Ghetto by the Portico D'Ottavia. It's an urbanism project so I enjoy it though we are designing in groups and mixed with University of Miami students. It's odd how I enjoy urbanism but am not at all a city person. I mean I wouldn't choose to live in a big, bustling city such as Rome or Chicago or Paris. I've realized in these past few weeks just how much I miss grass. We went to the American Academy in Rome on Friday and that was fantastic. Out in the back they had an actual lawn with grass! I just wanted to lie there and feel grass again instead of cobblestone, cement, and brick. (Fun fact: this lawn I speak of is where Galileo tested out the first telescope.)
They also have a garden and fruit trees which explains the delicious food.

The Academy overall was amazing and beautiful and we all talked about applying there one day. 30 fellows get accepted to the academy and their studies range widely in the realms of music, art, architecture, history, and classics. Professor Graves and our history professor Ingrid Rowland went to the American Academy. We were given a tour and an extremely delicious lunch and then we attended a lecture by M. Graves that was the same one he gave when he visited Notre Dame last year. We naturally also saw the rare book room that he designed. I got to look through very old editions of Plutarch and a book by Galileo from 1653 among others.
The rare books room.
At lunch I sat next to an ex-fellow who happened to be a friend of Professor Rowland. It was pretty awkward because as soon as he and the woman sitting across from him introduced themselves to me I promptly forgot their names. Typical. The majority of the graduates from the Academy are known for high achievements and can be quite famous so it became increasingly awkward when the thought occurred to me that these two people might be really famous and I looked very ignorant. I felt like they had expected me to ooh and ahh when they introduced themselves and because I did not I was inferior for not being familiar with their accomplishments. I wanted to ask them questions but was too afraid after I said "What did you do while you were here?" and they both sort of laughed at me and said "Painting." I was going to ask what kind but just shut up after that. I also couldn't figure out the relationship between the man and the woman because they seemed very much like a couple but the woman referred to her kids when talking to the man. Previous marriage? Are they wearing wedding rings? It was awkward. It didn't help that earlier the tour guide spit out a bunch of names of alumni who she assumed we all would recognize but none of us had any idea who these supposedly famous people were.
Where lunch was served.
Besides that the lunch was great and I tried my first actual fig. At least I don't remember eating a fresh fig before. Yum, yum, yum. I bought some figs and apples at Campo di Fiori on Sunday after mass.

We walked by the Acqua Paola after we visited the Academy.
Speaking of food, I'm already missing non-Italian food. Our cooking group has had quseadillas and breakfast for dinner during the past few nights thankfully! I love pasta but I can't explain how nice it is to eat banana pancakes and scrambled eggs for the first time after weeks on weeks of just pasta and pizza. I also bought some cereal the other day because I miss cereal and milk. They don't sell gallons of milk (at least I've never seen a gallon of milk here) and when I went at least two weeks without a glass of milk I realized how much I missed it.

So, Rome is fun but exhausting since we have an actual work load unlike most other study abroad programs. We have joked that our La Fun runs have turned into gelato runs when we are stressed. Before our most recent review one of our professors said that they would allow time for us to get gelato (because she knew we were all stressed and grumpy) so she pointed to a specific gelateria and then promptly ran off in the other direction. This is funny in a sad way because that gelateria was closed due to the power outage and by the time we got back to studio we didn't have time to try another place. The professors, of course, got gelato because they went elsewhere. But it turned out ok I guess because that night some of us went gelato hopping and went to two places because we were particularly unhappy with life. I still can't believe we actually did that though.

Speaking of de-stressing, I'm so happy there's a communal guitar in studio. Some people cook to de-stress but I need to play music. Now if only we had a piano...

By the way, I still haven't uploaded pictures from Siena and Florence to Facebook. I promise that is coming eventually. I haven't forgotten, it's just that the internet is incredibly slow.
We saw Bramante's Tempietto before we went to the Academy.
That's certainly of note though I didn't say anything about it. It's so tiny!!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wild Boar, Duomo climbing, Hill Towns, and What Even Is Chef Fantasy?

We are back in Rome after the field trip to Tuscany. It was a ton of fun though we were very pressed for time in some cities. Consequently, most of us have decided to go back at least to Florence when and if possible. I may have taken too many pictures but who cares. Somehow I juggled photos, sketching, and note taking while walking everywhere.

Day One: Pienza, Montepulciano, Siena
Day one of the field trip we stopped in the town of Pienza. There I fell in love with a little medieval church and had a glorious but lengthy lunch with friends and one of the grad students. We pretty much followed our professors to a place they decided to eat at in a charming tiny Tuscan piazza. The food was very pricey but very good. We made the mistake of ordering three courses but sharing them amongst all six of us. The portions thus were tiny but the bigger problem was the service was super slow. Our professors (sitting back to back with the ex-marine grad student and myself) finished earlier than us. We ate goose, wild boar, amazingly tender beef, and guinea fowl. Sounds like a feast though, right? It wasn't since it was the portions for one person split among six but the experience and conversations made up for the slight hunger we still felt when we were done with the meal. In the end we rushed because everyone was waiting for us by the bus. The table became a chaotic scene as we scrapped lettuce out of bowls, chugged mineral water, and quickly poured the last of the wine down our throats. It was a bad time to start laughing but I did as I wolfed down the last of the salad and people joked "We'll be walking to Siena in a minute!". So we didn't really get to walk around Pienza nearly as much as we wanted but that lunch was maybe even more memorable and fun.
The main church in Pienza.

Lunch and then Tuscany from the bus.
All the bus rides on this trip consisted of driving past hilly fields full of grapes or sunflowers, mountains, scraggly houses, cyprus trees, and livestock. Most people fell asleep but no matter how tired I was I couldn't bring myself to miss the scenery. The conversations on the bus between myself and my friend sitting next to me consisted almost entirely of cars and Top Gear. That was fine with me.

The next stop was Montepulciano where we obviously got another tour and wound our way through hilly, old streets. Some things we found there included a tiny blue truck, a cat blind in one eye, a would-be-astoundingly-good sledding hill, cyprus tree lined drives, and medieval city walls. It's a fun town.
San Biagio in Montepulciano.
We pulled into Siena that night and my roommates and I lucked out and got a huge terrace with a stunning view of the whole city. One of our professors mentioned something about "committing acts of gluttony" upon arrival but that didn't happen until breakfast the next morning when we took as much food with us as we could possibly fit into our bags (this was mostly prepackaged toast, nutella, and bread wrapped in napkins). For dinner the first night, however, some friends and I went to a grocery store and got some slices of pizza. I decided to try a random slice with mystery toppings (at least I didn't know what they were) and it turns out it had potato. We ate on the steps in front of the statue in this piazza:
The next day our professor told us that someone centuries ago died by jumping from one of the balconies in that piazza. Gaah.

Day Two: Siena
I must have always really liked Siena because I remembered a surprising amount of the town from when I had visited as a child. I still like it. Siena is so much quieter than Rome and Florence and is built on three hills so it's by no means a flat city. We saw several palazzi and the Duomo which is FANTASTIC. I was interiorly jumping up and down like a little kid the whole field trip because I was so excited but often much too exhausted to show it. My special connection to Siena is St. Catherine who is my namesake so it was even more exciting to get to see her hometown again. We had a drawing assignment that was highly frustrating for a number of reasons so at one point I threw in the proverbial towel and set off by myself to San Domenico where St. Catherine of Siena's head and finger are kept. San Domenico as a church is pretty...lame. For those who think displaying the head of a saint is creepy I say the stained glass windows in that church are far creepier. Yikes. They didn't allow photos though so you'll have to google the church.
Siena's Duomo
I stopped along the way at St. Catherine's house and walked inside. Last time I was in Siena I had gotten a rose shaped locket containing a picture of her and a third class relic inside the rose but some how I lost it in August 2012.  That has been a big cause of grief for me because it meant so much, however, they still sold them so I bought another medal. They have since changed it so it has a different picture of her inside but it still is shaped like a rose and thus still works as a reference to my two other patron saints: Rose of Lima and Therese of Lisieux.

That night in Siena a very large group of the studio played a game called psychiatrist on our chilly but beautiful terrace. It was so much fun and the best possible way we could have spent our last night in Siena. We laughed a lot and clapped at a few fabulous puns.
The view of Siena from the terrace at night. 
Day Three: San Gimignano, Florence
We had another delicious breakfast in Siena and then left for San Gimignano which has always sort of been a tourist point because of its location. Dante went there to persuade the town to support the Pope (Guelph support) because they were on the side of the Ghibelines (non-papal support) back in the day. The town is also protected by the state in the same way that Assisi is today. Anyways, three of us ate lunch (aka a piece of bread from the breakfast in Siena and an apple) in a loggia by the main piazza. I scoffed at a place that had a sign "The World's Best Gelato" but as it turns it the world's best gelato was in San Gimignano...but it was at the place with the sign "Gelato World Champion" across the way from the other store. Oops, I missed out on that one.
San Gimignano
After the lunch break we left for Florence which was as fun as it sounds. I honestly can't even remember what we did this night. Florence seemed like one really, really long day. I think we started our "classes" if you can call it that. Our one professor had to leave for his sister-in-law's wedding so he parted ways after talking about the Duomo. Later that night I walked around the Palazzo Vecchio with friends. I believe we bought gelato that night...I know I had grapefruit gelato at some point during the stay in Florence and that it was delicious. I also know that some of us ate dinner at a place where a dish of pasta had the description "chef fantasy". Some friends present said they ate at another place in Siena where the description for "chef calzones" was simply "Fantasy.". This became sort of a joke especially since that calzone apparently was so huge and fantastic that it appeared to be levitating (hey, I didn't actually see a floating pillow of a calzone so don't laugh at me for that description).

Day Four: Florence
This day was crazy. We trekked around the city all day, had to do our sketching assignment at night, climbed the Duomo, and went leather shopping. But before all of that we saw Palazzo Vecchio, San Lorenzo, Michelangelo's Laurentian Library, Cappelle Medici, the Medici chapel, the outside of Santa Maria Novella, Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo Rucellai, and a few other places where I was much too tired to even take notes any more. The annoying thing was that any where you went you would get yelled at for doing something whether that was sitting on the floor, eating outdoors (yes, you can't eat outside Palazzo Vecchio), taking pictures, or drawing. That's right, we were not allowed to draw in Michelangelo's chapel for the Medicis. Our fearless Portguese leader (who also read a poem in the space...he's such a cool guy) got seriously offended by this (as did all of us) because it makes no sense to prohibit students from drawing such a famous interior space. A lot of us including myself already had a few quick sketches down in our sketchbooks so yeah, I'm not erasing that.

I've been to Florence twice now and sadly haven't been inside the Baptistery but I can now say that I have climbed the Duomo twice. I don't care if you are deathly afraid of heights or closed spaces, I was feeling extremely claustrophobic* as we wound our way through and up the tight, slanting, M.C. Escher-esque passageways and stairs that smelled like sweat and metal, however, the sheer excitement and the promise of the view got me to the outside and top smiling, laughing, and pretty breathless. There is a momentary realization when you get to the top that there is only a metal rail (that has been leaned on thousands of times) separating you from certain death but it's just too beautiful to be scary. On the way down when we passed through the inner dome we heard the final bits of "Immaculate Mary" being sung within the church.
Just one view from the Duomo.
After the Duomo climb we went leather shopping. I planned on getting something leather in Florence but didn't expect that to be a jacket. Anyways, my friend and I bought matching jackets (hers is black and mine is a dark chocolate brown) for less than half the original price. It was actually a really, really good deal for authentic Italian leather and for the rest of the night we joked "Hey, I like your jacket. Where'd you get it?" and are still surprised by its softness. Plus our classmates complimented us a lot on them and some of them bought jackets or bags as well. We have yet to take a picture together but we will take one.
A view of the Arno. 
Day Five: Monte San Savino
We left Florence in the morning and only made one stop on the way back to Rome: Monte San Savino. It's a cute, non-touristy town and the mayor herself opened up the city hall to us and showed us around...even into her office! It was great and the gardens outside were so peaceful and pretty and would have made a great place for a picnic. We broke for lunch and wandered around into some churches and down a few streets and a friend and I ate lunch with a large group of the grad students. That was fun, the gnocchi was very filling, and we were again pressed for time on the way back to the bus. As we neared the meeting point we passed a playground on our right where, to my delight, I saw all the rest of my classmates playing. I mean swinging on swings, spinning on playground merry-go-rounds, going down slides - the whole nine yards. I was pretty jealous I missed out on the fun because I was eating with the grads but that's fine.
Just part of the "backyard" of the city hall in Monte San Savino.
I will update more about the Michael Graves project tomorrow maybe. We started today but this post has been long enough.

*Italy in general is basically a nightmare for claustrophobic introverts but so far I am dealing.