Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Containing the Creator

"Is there anything in me, O Lord my God, that can contain You? Do indeed the very heaven and the earth, which You have made, and in which You have made me, contain You?"*

St. Augustine's words echo into the darkness of a cold night. They sound haunting in their doubt but hopeful in their wonder. Is there anything that can contain? Of course we know that this is the night when creation contains the Creator of the stars. This is the night the Incarnate sleeps in a manger in Bethlehem - the feeding trough in the House of Bread. This is the night that will culminate "when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness"**. This is the night when the filled vessels, "should they even be broken...will not be poured forth". 

I often have a dreadful sense just before the end of Advent that the season was overlooked. Much of this has to do with being a student and the fact that early to mid December is consumed by finals, packing, and travelling - not to mention the hectic fury of seasonal consumerism. Sometimes it feels as if all of Advent is condensed within the hours leading up to Midnight Mass. Final preparations for both tonight and tomorrow are made and still we glance at the clock in anticipation. King's College has live streamed their last Advent Lessons and Carols and the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur has broadcasted their Midnight Mass. Outside falls rain after another day of grey mist and fog inspiring the thought of London (and not even a Dickensian Christmas at that). Still, in Eastern Standard Time we wait. We're promised it won't be long, but we continue to ask how soon? Presently the uneasiness of a weak Advent will be forgotten in song and the warmth of incense and candlelight.

Not yet, but soon.

Anyone who has ever patiently waited for something has experienced immense joy at receiving the object of desire. Given time, however, this feeling of happiness usually dims and gradually gives way to complacency or even blatant dissatisfaction. The beauty of Christmas is that when we receive the long awaited it is incapable of bringing us complacency and incapable of dissatisfying. Augustine resounds: "And when You are poured forth on us, You are not cast down, but we are uplifted; nor are You dissipated, but we are drawn together." 

We are close to joy because we know that even before morning we can contain, as the heaven and the earth, more than our fill. Gloria in excelsis Deo. It is nearly midnight.

*The Confessions (Book I Chapter 2-3) 
** Pascal Exultate

Friday, September 26, 2014

Crashed and "Grilled"

The basilica bells tolled 5 pm. "Ok, class is over." we whispered to each other as we shifted on the pavement by the statue of St. Joseph overlooking the lake. We were reviewing outside and had two more presentations before the end. Cellphones and bricks were distributed over the drawings as paperweights. A few pairs of shoes came off throughout the course of three hours and at least one intrigued passerby stuck around to listen.

"I was timing reactions and you kept them amused for four minutes," our professor stated at the end of the last review, "then you crashed and grilled."

Crashed and grilled? We collectively spent the next ten minutes giggling in sporadic fits. Not crashed and burned. You crashed and grilled.

St. Mary's Lake is pretty beautiful as it is...
So, here we are knee deep in the semester. Everyone has muddled through at least one test and a handful of late nights falling shy of the sunrise. I imagine there is a steady flux of students entering and exiting LaFun, breathing in the arrival of autumn as they clutch their coffee and muse on the high R value possessed by the Huddle's Styrofoam cups. (Maybe that's just me.)

Then studio involves Fauré's Requiem on repeat interspersed with our obsession with "Jackie and Wilson" and "Riptide", cups of Earl Grey, The Idea of Space in Greek Architecture, graphite covered hands, and channeling everything Bertram Goodhue. We joke frequently about high cortisol levels and about how every environmental systems class we are reminded of ways in which we could easily die at the figurative hands of mold or mites.

Don't let the cortisol jokes fool you, however. I've been making dedicated efforts to monitor my coffee intake, sleep according to REM cycles, take breaks when necessary, not forget appointments, and keep my life in a state of relative order. Efforts have also been made to fulfill my friendly duties of keeping my studiomates fed with dining hall bananas and generating a steady flow of snarky comebacks and puns.

Then there's always the huge, on-going topic: process. Architects are dedicated to making the intangible tangible and there is nothing quite as thrilling as the hands-on process. I'm speaking of furniture design class which is (in my biased opinion) unquestionably the best concentration. There's a tremendous satisfaction that comes with taking rough-sawn wood and joining, planing, and cutting it yourself to reveal its beautiful, natural finish. We're getting close to creating the actual joints so stay tuned for mortises and tenons soon-ish.
Future skirting for the table.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In Deep Charrette

Near the start of the semester I went to the campus bookstore and bought a planner to keep my life organized. That was a brilliant idea except for the fact that I keep misplacing the planner and thus can never refer to it. I'm discovering that a hamster has better organizational skills than I do.

Most frustrating and recent was the oversleeping incident this morning. I overslept mass and joined the usual crowd in the dining hall in the most completely grumpy mood.

"The schola sang."
"It's the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross."
"There was incense."
"Shut up."
"You missed the schola and the incense."

"Give me the baby." I demanded of my sister who passed the toothless and grinning chubby child to me. I held him throughout most of breakfast until I was no longer aware of self-inflicted anger. Law School Mass it would be today, and Law School Mass it was. It was fine because Fr. Miscamble gave an excellent sermon that was partly about crucifixes in the classroom. I appreciated it because I often appreciate the crucifixes in Bond when everything is tipping over the edge.

Speaking of studio, our charrette is actually going quite well. I'm very excited about the project as a whole and there is enjoyment amidst the stress. Credit for the expression "in deep charrette" goes to a fifth year who relayed the phrase to me during our charrette in Romania. I'd not be surprised if arkies at another school have thought the same thing at some point. Architorture is similar everywhere.

In other news, those of us in the furniture design concentration purchased our wood last week. In case you are curious, my table is going to be walnut. I'm pretty excited for this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hello, Syllabi

Part I. Awkwardness and Grace

Fumbling with my card at the door, sporadically and hopelessly punching in my code between card scans while balancing poster tubes and a roll of vellum that I will never use again, I deduced that my Italian ID is the only card that works now. Abandon hope, all ye American cards.

Walsh is beautifully located off God Quad and houses the most spacious single one could imagine. I am now properly settled in minus a few more decorative desires, such as more Christmas lights to replace the fluorescent atrocities. I need white lights for Narnia too. Narnia is my walk-in closet, the "hermit hole within the hermit hole", but actually just a brilliant little storage space.

Between timidly asking my sister "What code do I punch in at the doors again?" and actively researching the dining hall hours of operation it's a little strange to be back in a college setting. After cooking every meal in a kitchen with friends for the past year something seems off about the luxury of having various cuisines laid before you.

Coming home hasn't changed anything about my excitement to be here, not even slightly. As my brother and I pulled off the toll road a few days ago I was practically shrieking with joy behind the wheel, "Where's the dome? Do you see it yet?". It's still an honour to spend another year (two!) on campus at this university. The novelty of it just doesn't seem to wear off for me.

Part II. Enter the Syllabus

Classes began on Tuesday and the first and most exciting was furniture design. After the safety lectures about possible "dismemberment and even death" we were released into the library to search for design precedent. The theme of potential death continued into environmental systems when hypothetical situations were addressed. I can't recall another semester starting off on that foot.

Those of us who were abroad in architecture for a year are foreign to worksheets and tests. We're slightly disgusted that "homework" is still an accepted concept. We're spoiled with design work and painting so structures and systems worksheets with numbers are both ugly and frightening. Suddenly carrying a backpack and being assigned homework seems extraordinarily childish after becoming accustomed to learning through one-on-one discussions with professors, walking cities, and listening to guest lectures. I don't know what other schools and departments are like, but I am thankful that in the School of Architecture we cultivate personal relationships with our professors and chat with them at literally any time of day or night. There's mutual respect and they tell us that we're capable of doing more than we often realize.

With every syllabus it seems that another weight is being given to us. At the end of the day they stack up and you can feel the pressure of assignments building up -- oh, and here are some forms to fill out and some emails about the information we'll be covering and other classes you might want to take. It has begun, friends, it has begun.

Part III. Barbarians and the Cave

After completing my environmental systems worksheet I set out with the intention of going to Morrissey Mass. I remembered that there isn't a way for me to swipe in so I hoped to rely on the kindness of a resident. However, when I reached the threshold I saw in the lobby a flood of freshmen and chickened out. Then I observed a friend running in through the side door but she was gone before I could call out. So, that's not happening I guess. I'll try tomorrow. 

I casually looped around Bond and towards the lake where I saw fire flaming in the water. It was a gargantuan bonfire across the water by the CSC. By the time I turned towards the peaceful flames of the grotto barbarian chanting was audibly accompanying the wild fire. I can't wait until beginning-of-the-year dorm activities end so the grotto returns to its silence. Eventually the wild yells increased in volume until I got up to leave. A literal hoard of barbarians wearing horns and running shorts jogged roughly towards Main Building. Ugh. Siegfried. I rolled my eyes.

Now it's time to read all the emails from professors. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bookcase for Fiction

Due to some recent conversations and because this has been stewing in my mind for a while, I think good fiction needs its respect. Summer has always been the time to lose yourself in a story. Last summer it was Flannery O'Connor and John Henry Newman accompanied by countless pots of tea. This summer it's the top of my I'm-Embarrassed-I-Haven't-Read-This-Yet list and more pots of tea. There are a lot of books on that list but if I told you which ones, well, I just wouldn't.

This is me when I'm home. If you know where this is from, then we've just became best friends.
Last summer I also skeptically began watching Doctor Who and barely passed the Eccleston test of stupidity tolerance. The timing for Doctor Who actually could not have been any better as I embarked on my year of travel. I told myself I wouldn't continue watching it abroad (because who watches TV when in Europe? Amiright?) but before I knew it I was through all of the David Tennant series and suddenly Matt Smith as well. Travelling sometimes alone and sometimes with friends but always in an unfamiliar place, I learned to empathize with the likewise Baggins-esque choice between home and a different world. I don't think I encountered many aliens or dragons in my journey (there were some strange folks and Gaudi houses), but I did often think about these stories and their characters because they resonated with my life.
I'm no English major, but I think that's sort of the point of fiction. It must be grounded in something that resonates with humanity - in fact there's no way it cannot be. Civilizations were built upon stories, myths, legends, and epics and even the craziest of fantasy creatures is connected to something we already relate to or know. My dad is quick to remind us that there are only about seven basic plots because these are sort of inscribed in humanity. When properly told, stories do more than just entertain and provide an escape from reality. Fiction helps us understand ourselves through the eyes of someone else. Good fiction helps us live better lives.

In other words, fiction isn't a time wasting escape from our "real world problems"; it tells us how to deal with them. Humanity hasn't changed much from when Shakespeare penned his plays. We still overthink, ponder unexplored death, and obsess over our inaction like Hamlet. There's something comforting about discovering this in someone else's words and witnessing the echos of the past come alive in the present. It's why we form attachments to fictional characters and long deceased authors. It's why we weep at the graves of men we never knew.

That's my soapbox for the day.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

(Almost) Midnight in Paris

"Are you sad?" my friend turned and asked as we stood in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame which towered shining in the darkness. No doubt there was a shadow of concern on my face due to the inevitable and fast approaching goodbye.

"No! Oh no." I instinctively denied before pausing and correcting myself. "Well, yeah. Of course I'm sad. I don't want to leave. I seem to be having that problem everywhere I go."

There passed a melancholic silence before he suggested that I might be back sooner than I think. There is truth in that. I wasn't ready to come to Paris and now I'm not ready to leave. However, now that I have perspective on the situation this was the perfect risk to take. I might even take it again if it's right.

We had a picnic that lasted something like five hours with the stagiaires at the tip of Île de la Cité. Even though some of them attempted to steer the conversation into English it always naturally lapsed into French within a few minutes. The sun eventually passed over the horizon and the world went from purple to gold as the city lights turned on and shone on the river. I thought about Van Gogh's "La Nuit des Étoiles" that I had seen earlier that afternoon in the d'Orsay. I zoned out of the conversation thinking about how the thickness of the paint works to the painting's advantage. When the light catches on it it makes the whole image shimmer like it's made of real stars and water.

It's better in person.
I never understood how Rome could be considered a romantic city but Paris I understand. It is more "beautiful" than Rome in an elegant sort of way. There's more grace to it than the unapologetic boldness of Rome's gritty streets. That's not to say it isn't more modern and just as dirty. We saw a rat during our picnic and we decided it was definitely Ratatouille.

Monday I came into the office a bit later than usual because I wasn't supposed to be there. I finished the watercolor while everyone in the office was in a meeting. I waited for years for the meeting to end so I could properly say goodbye, but when I saw that there was no chance of it wrapping up any time soon I had to do the last thing I wanted. I made an awkward public goodbye to everyone sitting at the table and they made their awkward goodbye back. It was so painfully awkward that I walked two blocks out of my way back to the apartment simply because I couldn't stand the thought of having to pass by the wide, open office windows. When I got back I reprimanded myself for not thinking up an alternative solution to leaving. I hate goodbyes but I hate leaving loose ends even more. Thankfully those loose ends were more or less tied up in last minute chance encounters, emails, and Facebook friendships.

If I could have relived my last day in Paris I would have done it differently because I tried to cram in too much. Most of the time not spent on transportation was spent frantically roaming the Père Lachaise cemetery. I crossed paths with a family from Fort Worth who were so charmingly American I started talking to them. At the time I was looking for Frédéric Chopin but I ended up joining their search for Jim Morrison. After being moved by Oscar Wilde's tomb I went on a wild goose chase to find the Picpus Cemetary and never found its possibly invisible door.

That night I met up with my friend and the French stagiaire for one last walk around Paris and one last crêpe. It was the most perfect weather you can imagine and everything was beautiful. We saw every site you could want to see either up close or from a distance. It was midnight when I returned alone to my apartment and used adrenaline to help me pack until, exhausted, I slept for three hours before a painfully long day of travel. When I finally got home the next night after two connections/three flights (I had the unlucky middle of the middle seat for seven plus hours over the Atlantic) every part of my body was sore. Nothing feels better than your own bed.

Now I have less than a month at home and plenty of things to do in that span of time. Boredom lost its hold on me a long time ago.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Summary of Events

"You should finish those windows today because you'll be a different person tomorrow."

I laughed at my friend who was standing over my shoulder creeping on my rendering. But today when I sat down to resume painting the windows I happened to think about what he said. A lot happened between when I started and finished painting them and it gave me some pause recollecting everything that had occurred.

I haven't written in a long time because I have been wonderfully busy. I enjoy being busy when it's the productive and fun kind of busy. I never talked about the experiences in Romania but I'll say this much: it was so. much. fun. Saying I'm grateful I was able to go is an understatement. Whether it was counting the shooting stars we saw under the night sky, jumping up from the dinner table with our teacups to watch the cows walk home, blasting an Italian opera out the van speakers as we pulled up to the Prince's House, climbing dangerous medieval towers, jokes upon jokes, speaking in our best British accents, sitting around a campfire with Romanian architecture students, or laughing until our sides hurt...all of it was memorable and more perfect than we could have imagined.

As for Paris, my time here has gone swiftly and comfortably post-Transylvania. One of my best friends from high school came into town one weekend from London with two of her friends so I showed them around and ended up with a fridge full of macarons. (I had never had a macaron prior to our trip to the Ladurée on the Champs Elysees. Yes, this was a documented event.)

Just recently after weeks upon weeks of cold and rainy weather, Paris burst into a blistering hot summer. I'm not sure if it's actually as hot as it is back home, but it's hot enough without air conditioning.

My French comprehension level has significantly risen and I've also been busy learning Sketchup and AutoCAD. All credit goes to my American peer at the office who has done much in teaching me little by little and giving me things to do. Yesterday the three of us Americans were the last ones in the office and I was chatting with him about Rome before he invited us over to his apartment for dinner. We had to stop by the grocery store first and by the time we got around to making dinner it was after 10 pm. My friend sort of got shooed out of the kitchen for being incompetent or something (just kidding...but he was booted after inquiring too much about how to rinse green beans and we were also disgruntled that he has never pulled an all-nighter) so I took his place in the dinner process. I was asked to talk more about my experiences in Rome, so I did after struggling to start fresh from the vague "Tell me more about Rome." part. Professors were, as always, a good place to start and then from there I divulged the law-breaking story about the last architecture project Via Monterone ever saw.

We had previously met his roommate (an Egyptian student my age at MIT) and his American friend who came for dinner and stayed the night. The roommate had a bunch of his MIT friends over who ended up staying too. They mostly did their own thing while the four of us talked and laughed until someone looked at their phone and told us that we had to leave right now or else the metro would be closed. My friend and I sprang up from the table, said goodbye, were given the door code in case the metro didn't work out, and we ran. I didn't make my train. My friend made his train, but I was left without means of contact or direction at 1 AM in a Paris metro station. I waited long enough to see the last train whiz by without so much as slowing down and then I realized I had no choice but to return to the apartment...if I could find it. Thankfully I have a guardian angel and a good retention of images when I walk somewhere (I kid you not, I found my way back by looking up at apartments that I recalled looking up at before while admiring their architecture). I don't know or want to know what would have happened otherwise because I couldn't remember which street we had run from. I had also mistyped the door code in my phone and yet somehow I miraculously remembered the correct number. Sparing the gory details, I made it back safely. My host set down a well prepared set of sheets, intentionally chosen ND clothes, and a pillow on an air mattress and said "Here you go, Dubs." I thanked him, said goodnight, and when I laid down I looked at one visible star out the open dormer window until, seemingly an eternity later, I fell into a restless sleep.

One of the many times I woke up in the morning was to the sound of the MIT girls making pancakes for our hosts. It was oddly soothing to hear American voices I didn't know. It was not so soothing when they packed up and left long before I needed to get up for work. (We girls were all in the room attached to the kitchen.) I went over to the flatmate's laptop to check my messages and then went back to bed until my host came in signaling we had to leave for work soon.

Today was going to be my last day - we even went out to eat as a celebration - but even after staying late I still hadn't finished my watercolor. I opted to come in on Monday morning, finish it, and leave after lunch, rather than let my American peer finish it for me. He had offered to and I declined because I hate leaving things incomplete.

Tomorrow I am making a solo pilgrimage to Lisieux and Sunday will be really the last hurrah for Paris. We have it planned out for a post Mass visit to the Musée d'Orsay, watercoloring and a picnic on the Seine with the interns, and all sorts of fun.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Le Plat du Jour

"I have something fun for you today. You're going on a sort of scavenger hunt." I was told on Monday. "I want you to go out to the island and take a bunch of pictures of balconies. I don't expect you to be back until after lunch. Take as much time as you need."

Kid in a candy store or, rather, architecture student unleashed in Paris.

But this past Monday was a rare treat in terms of the work day. Work can be slow. I mean the type of slow that makes you get up to get a glass of water, not because you're thirsty, but because it's something to consume two minutes. Lunch becomes the halfway peak of the day and, in turn, the 4 o'clock café glacé is the halfway peak of the afternoon. Time is broken down by these parameters which are fixed, not by the hands of the clock, but by a dull progression of increasing boredom; a sequence of sometimes now, sometimes then, varying daily. There is no strict adherence to the hour. This leaves room for both the hope that action will come early and the fear that it will be delayed. I cling to every duty I am given and nothing strikes more grief and terror than hearing that my superior will be out of the office for a day (ok, a bit dramatic, the Reign of Terror ended in 1794).

When work ends at 6:30 it's too close to dinner time and I am too exhausted to explore. Ultimately I do exactly what I would do for comfort's sake no matter where I am - curl up with a cup of tea and read a book or watch Doctor Who. (It has taken a full year but I'm almost up-to-date.)

A coworker of mine has been impressed recently that I've managed to speak only in French to him. I, however, am not impressed because those conversations don't even deserve to be called conversations. It's the mundane equivalent of "Hi, how are you? I'm kind of sick today unfortunately." I'm more comfortable speaking French with him than anyone else (including the Americans) because his English is good and he doesn't judge.

The awkward thing is when everyone assumes I understand all of their statements and questions. I don't. I really do not. My french comprehension is pretty darn good by now for someone so immensely out of practice, but that doesn't mean I catch all the jokes at the lunch table or understand entirely what changes need to be made to a project. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, it depends largely on how fast it is spoken.

Overall I have fallen very much into the routine of things. Work is great until there is absolutely nothing to do (a period that occurs almost daily, sometimes hourly) and even if I don't have much time to actually see Paris I am at least absorbing what I can. In fact, absorbing is what I do all day long. I feel like a giant sponge at the lunch table just sitting there in awkward silence trying to pick up on the fast French chatter. Flipping through the books in the office I try to absorb the language of the architecture too, especially to make the switch from Italian to French. Working at a desk I overhear and absorb the phrases people say all the time on the phone or in dialogue with each other. It really exercises a lot of mental power to hone in on language while drawing or designing architecturally. That's what makes this so exciting though.

For those who I have not told yet, Friday night I will leave for a short summer program in Romania. It's sponsored by Notre Dame and INTBAU/The Prince's Foundation and it promises to be oodles of fun. Apparently Prince Charles fell in love with Romania when he first visited and now he has foundations working to restore the historic architecture. We will be sketching, watercolouring, learning about masonry from a British expert, and taking part in restoring a medieval church. I couldn't ask for a better break from the office or halfway mark for my work time abroad. I've already received more requests for even more pictures so I will not disappoint.

St. Etienne doesn't really have to do with anything, but I loooove this church.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mistaking Clouds for Mountains

Oh my, this has been an extremely eventful week, and not always in the best of ways. Most recently I left my key in my apartment and could not notify the landlady because she was out of town and left her cellphone behind. After involving way too many kind souls in this frustrating issue, a housekeeper came to the rescue with an extra key a whole day later. I apologized so many times to my friend that he told me to shut up. I still feel bad about it even though this sort of thing happens to everyone sooner or later. I mostly feel that way because I specifically told myself - upon realizing that you can't walk through my door without it locking itself - that this ought to never, ever happen. The landlady even said "If you ever need an extra key just ring my door." (Challenge excepted.) Anyways, my friend put me up for the night and I slept so deeply and comfortably that it took me by surprise when I woke up the next day and instantly remembered everything. I told him that I owe him iced coffee until he graduates and, now that I think about it, crème fraîche until we go home. 

Other events in said eventful week include things we will not be able to attend. We wanted to make it to Normandy for the anniversary of D-Day but, during lunch break at work I realized that today is June 6th so that was automatically out. We also wanted to make it to Chartres on the annual pilgrimage I mentioned previously, but we have work on Monday. This means we are stuck with a variety of silly options such as walking part of the way on Saturday and turning around on Sunday without ever arriving to the cathedral. We also don't have sleeping bags which are kind of vital for the camping part. So, we're not going. 

All of that was sort of a downer I 'supose, but I think my relief at being back in the apartment softens the blow of the fallen-through plans. Also on the bright side, work has gotten more comfortable in the past few days and I have successfully (more or less...) completed one week in Paris. I could even simplify that statement to "I am in Paris" and it would still be something on the bright side. I reminded myself of that yesterday when we took the metro to my friend's apartment. Looking out the windows when the subway surfaced for a few stops, passing the numberless apartments and the Eiffel Tower itself, I had the tongue-in-cheek thought, "If I end up being homeless at least I'll be homeless in Paris, right?" 

These weekends will be the stuff I crave. With a 9:45 am - 6:30 pm work day five days a week there isn't much time to sightsee. Today another intern and I went on a quest for more drawing supplies and that was the first time I stepped outside besides going to the grocery store at lunch.* The city seemed so vivacious. The thing about Paris is that there are hundreds of architectural details on every block, so there's always something fascinating to be seen. There are boulangeries that smell heavenly, fish markets that reek, and when you pass the expensive restaurants with rich customers you can smell the euros. 

I'm excited for both staying in tonight and adventuring tomorrow. We might go to Versailles. We're not really sure yet. I am sure of one thing though - all in all, again, I cannot complain.  

*The grocery store which, by the way, I should just move into. J'habite à Franprix. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Settling into Montparnasse

Tomorrow I begin my internship so I anticipate that this will be the best time to write. I think it's safe to say that the hard part of this journey is over...the hard part being the actual journey. I made my descent into Charles de Gaulle on the Feast of the Ascension and miraculously met my friend there. I say miraculously because we had no means of contact and he arrived late, which thankfully was the moment that I walked out of customs. I was so dead the entire day that I blindly followed him around with no regard for my personal being. I didn't take in my surroundings, I didn't attempt to speak French, and I didn't eat. I felt really rough and the excessive subway rides only made me feel more disgusting. However, all negative feelings vanished for a duration when we stepped into Église Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile. It's kind of a wonky church, it has elements that look train station-esque, but it is gorgeous and the small sections of plaster damage make me nostalgic for my home parish in Baltimore. I was so out of it when we first entered that when I saw the organ I kept gushing over its radiant magnificence. After seeing a few other impressive organs it's not as wondrous but at the time it boggled my jetlagged mind.

I'd rather not recap the hassle and confusion of lodging the first day or two because everything is settled now. I really like my apartment even though I've had a taste of the neighbour's Saturday night raucous. Also, in the morning I was slightly amused by whoever was attempting to play scales on a recorder. The Wi-Fi is ages ahead of the Wi-Fi in Italy and I already was able to take a break and watch Charade, the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn classic set in Paris. No one can say my apartment lacks hot water. Also, the bathroom is what the bathroom in the Albergo dreams of being. Nothing is luxurious but it's exactly the functional, glorified closet I was searching for and there is a great supermarché a few strides down the block. I'm a fan of the building across the street too because it has more decorative pinecones on it than you would believe. It makes me happy because one of my favourite buildings in Piazza Navona was a museum at the South end decorated with lions holding pinecones in their mouths (a family symbol that I took a fancy to). 
Inside the door from the street but outside my apartment.
There are signs in French around the city outside historic buildings and there happens to be one outside my apartment complex. It explains that artists, especially those who left Montmartre at the turn of the century, have long lived and worked in these studios. The studio apartments were built by the architect Taberlet using recycled materials from the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris. Othon Friesz ("inspired by Gauguin and Van Gogh"), Giorgio de Chirico (who "met Apollinaire and Picasso"), and Rainer Maria Rilke ("Auguste Rodin's secretary") are among the creative minds who lived at this address. I'll be honest, I still have little idea who these particular artists and poets are but, cool nonetheless.
The neighbours outside. There also is the resident chat.
Friday marked my first solo expedition around Montparnasse. The expedition devolved into a successful quest for jus d'orange since I had woken up that morning with a sore throat. This weekend my friend and I wandered great distances through the city, stopped in many churches, waited in a horrendously long line for delicious ice cream*, noted the staggering amount of swags on the buildings, sat on the bank of the Seine, saw details we had never noticed before on the Louvre, ate falafel (so French, right?) in Place de Voges, and witnessed a dramatic sunset. We passed up entering Notre Dame because it was throbbing with cacophonous activity and tourists but, like at many of the sites, we said "we'll definitely be back".
There is much picnicking to be had here. Le Jardin du Luxembourg is a stone's throw from my place/the firm and there are countless other places in the city that are picnic perfect. Sit down restaurants will be avoided because of expense and besides, picnics are so much more fun. After Mass today we walked to Montmartre, bought brunch on the way, and picnicked halfway up the hill to Sacré Coeur on the grass. There we had the options of gazing at the cityscape and people watching. Someone walked down the entire hill standing on his hands...I can't believe he didn't break his neck!
We walked up to the basilica, said some prayers in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, looped the church, said "we'll be back", and made our way down to the metro where we parted ways. Upon arriving at my apartment I made coffee and sat down at the laptop. So, here I am in the bright whiteness of my "studio" with overcast clouds visible through the skylights. I have the rest of the day to myself and I think I'll devote it to books. It just occurred to me that the rain on these skylights could make a beautiful sound in a storm...which looks like it might be coming. Well, I can't complain about a thing.
*Fridge, you and your 2€ chocolate-dipped glory will still always be my one true love back in Rome.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

An American (Almost) in Paris

I have precisely four days until the next unexpected adventure. Recently I told my dad that I feel as if I'm being whisked away by the wind from Rome, to Indiana, to Michigan - just blown about wherever it appears is my duty to go. Personally, I believe a hot air balloon would be the ideal way to travel, but I don't know what happens when it rains.

Back to the subject at hand, however. I've spent shy of two weeks total at home so what on earth am I talking about? Well...

This time it's Paris.

Yes, the one in France. I have an internship at an architecture firm in Paris. It's crazy. I'm crazy. I know. I don't believe it either.

I wish I could rent a closet because I'll be barely making enough money for food. I am beginning to excitedly budget how much Parisian cuisine I will not be eating. (Ok, confit de canard is delicious and I haven't really had escargot...but seriously, I will be cooking for myself A LOT.) Disorganized mental lists are being composed of all the things I want to do or see on weekends. Roundtrip train tickets to Lisieux have already been looked into. I've been metaphorically dusting off my French "skills" (riight.) and literally dusting off my French books. (High school was eons ago.) Also, my friend working at the same firm asked me if I wanted to attend the Chartres pilgrimage. That shouldn't even be a question. We're going and I am more than pumped after hearing about it from family friends for years. That's three days of walking from Notre Dame de Paris to Chartres with hundreds from dioceses all over the world. 

Now it's time to pack up the wagon (no more than 62 linear inches and 50 lb., of course) and ditch the unnecessary. (Packing sort of feels like Oregon Trail when you got stuck in the quicksand and had to lighten the load. Who brings grandfather clocks with them anyway?) I've also been watching my email inbox obsessively waiting to hear any word back about housing. Please say a prayer it works out. I'm getting more nervous about that as the days go by and few responses are received. Maybe I'll write my own counter-book to Hemingway's A Moveable Feast entitled A Moveable Bed. Let's hope it doesn't come to that for everyone's sake.

After all of this I haven't even gotten to the adventure wedged within the span of this one. I'll probably fill you in shortly after it happens. I'm not anticipating having an internet connection during that odyssey. The truth is I feel immensely guilty even mentioning that I'm interning in Paris, but I suppose it's almost a duty to tell my friends why I won't be in the country until late July. There's a fine line between bragging and sharing excitement and I can be rubbish at determining when I've crossed it.

Slight humourous digression. Last week my family was talking about a professor's whereabouts and - ever the anglophile - I misheard "New England" as "England". I asked "Ooh, where in England?" and my mom retorted "New England. Not everyone is as cosmopolitan as you." This phrase quickly became the perfect joke whenever I unsuccessfully tried not to bring up culture shock. So, I'd like to formally apologize if I'm being obnoxious. I don't feel "above" anyone for travelling, in fact, it's pretty humbling. Seeing the world makes one feel much smaller.

More to follow soon.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

We're Finished but Still Here.

We have almost exactly one week left in Rome. Nothing proclaimed finality like picking up my last bus pass this morning. No, not even being finished with the project reviews and all my classes communicated this as clearly as that tangible paper card with the words "Vale 7 giorni".

For the longest time the opening verse of a song called "Nothing Short of Thankful" by The Avett Brothers summed up my experience in Rome better than anything else:

Hey, man - yes?
Do you think we'll ever get back home?
Well I guess
We choose our battles one by one
How I need rest
One more day of travel on the road
How we've been blessed
Some times it don't feel that way

For better or worse our time here is almost over. Around 3:30 pm on Monday I essentially was finished with everything. I still had some watercolors to catch up on, a quick history project, and a vague theology final looming somewhere in the future but now watercoloring is completely out of the way and history won't take long. I've been waking up each morning (beautifully late) with the question "what am I going to do with myself today?" confronting me for the first time in a long time. 

Yesterday my solution was to do absolutely nothing. I sat in studio all day using my laptop and watching episodes on Netflix. It was disgustingly unproductive but I shut down after the canonization, project, and entire year.  

Today we had a pinup for watercoloring in the morning that murdered all my desire to go out in the city and watercolor for fun (my initial plan). So, instead I once again collapsed indoors while trying to figure my life out. The most relaxing part of the day was sitting alone on the roof terrace in the sun reading Cardinal Ratzinger and drinking pomegranate juice for the latter half of the afternoon. We're still trying to figure out what is happening with our theology final but, regardless, now is the time to read what we didn't have time to read before. 

I was hoping to squeeze in another trip within Italy in this last week since we truly have nothing happening but the prospects of that are looking more and more slim. 

I never talked about what the experience of the canonization was like but I will post more soon, I promise. I went with four guys from my studio and we attempted doing vlog segments to commemorate the night but there's a large chunk of time from 3:30 am until after Mass when I barely touched my camera. I honestly don't even recall what happened between 5:30 am and the beginning of Mass. I remember pulling the hood of my jacket over my head when we finally sat down on the cobblestone in the square by the obelisk. At some point I woke up, slumped over myself, to hear prayers before Mass over the loudspeakers. I've pulled many an all-nighter in my college experience but there's something about thousands of people and cobblestone that pushes your exhaustion over the edge. I took a nap in the albergo on Sunday afternoon and woke up in throbbing pain from my back and legs being cramped the entire night prior. It was definitely a sort of pilgrimage even if we didn't have far to travel. 

We are using this last week more or less to complete our Roman bucket lists. We're going to favorite restaurants for the last time, taking full advantage of gelato, and visiting or revisiting specific places. Eventually there will be packing to deal with but I'll put that off for a least another few days...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Deep breath, everyone.

30 days. As of tomorrow.

I'm in dire need of motivation and design inspiration. Oof.

No, my sister has not had her baby yet. Yes, I promise you will all find out...probably at the same moment I do. Go make yourselves a cup of tea and waste a few hours on Pinterest.

I think the conspiracy theory is true. My studio has got to be in a social experiment.

Introspective hedgehog is struggin'.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Hath Sprungeth

In Syracusa, Sicily when we were eating our typical cheap grocery store lunch on the side of the duomo I sighed "I'm tired. I feel like I'm always tired."
"Like weary? A general sense of weariness?" my friend asked.
"Yeah. That's it." There was a pause. Then as if I forgot something important on the kitchen table and was about to walk back and retrieve it I added simplistically, "I need to go home."
"Tell me about it."

That paints a fairly bleak picture of the state of affairs but in reality those moments are engulfed by the tasks at hand. The wonderful thing about being here right now is the sunlight. Sunlight really does have a lot to do with happiness. Yes, I am inside on a warm, sunny day because the thought of crowds of tourists is the opposite of appealing to me. However, the light penetrating the windows and blinds is enough to remind me that spring is here with all its joyful anticipation.

Before I go back to designing I'd like to share the two latest music obsessions: There Will Be Fireworks and Andrew Bird.

The former is a Scottish band from Glasgow that a friend introduced me to outside of "Plato's cave" in Sicily. I've listened to their album The Dark, Dark Bright an average of once a day for the past week. There's something that resonates deeply in a Mumfordian way recalling the spring of my senior year of high school when I binged on Sigh No More more than I've ever binged on any album prior or since.
It's hard to find much information about them because of their indie-ness but I'm intrigued after hearing  their songs "Ash Wednesday" and "In Excelsis Deo".

Andrew Bird's name is not new to me and I listened to a few of his songs years and years ago but for whatever reason I did not awaken to the thoughtful brilliance of his songs until sometime last month. If Youtube videos are any indication, I prefer his live performances to his studio recordings. Science, psychology, mythology, philosophy...he thinks about a range of topics and applies his thoughts to music. His explanation of his songs are fascinating because I have yet to run across a song of his that doesn't have some specific story or concept behind it.  Who writes a song about exiling all your stuffed animals ("your close advisers") as a toddler from your bed thereby establishing autonomy? (Apparently this happened.)

Oh, and he has an early instrumental version of his song "Eyeoneye" called "Oh Baltimore" and covered the blues song "Grinning In Your Face" so, bonus points for that.

My family acquired a violin through another family in our homeschooling years and it has been sitting in its case in my bedroom for years. Between my early exposure to folk and classical music and concerts at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as a kid I decided I wanted to learn violin. It didn't happen for several reasons. I taught myself guitar instead, kept playing piano, toyed around with mandolin, and now I think it's time to at least make an attempt. The idea of holding it like a mandolin and strumming the strings either comforts or fools me into thinking that it can't be so hard to pick up. Either way, life's too short to let that violin collect dust. La Città Eterna has been giving me plenty of thoughts like that.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Polyphony In the Cave

This morning at Mass the haunting echo of sung Greek filled the cold shell of space lit by a few candles and the damp day's faint light. In reality it was the Kyrie at S.S. Trinita in Rome but in my mind it was an Easter vigil in the magnificent grotto of Plato's cave. When we were in Sicily last week we went into the same cave that Plato and Caravaggio set foot in and it was one of the most poetic spaces I have ever experienced. Caravaggio said that the shape of it resembles a human ear and it was the ear that we first tested within. The acoustics in the cave are spectacular and we wandered through singing softly to ourselves and wishing that we were either completely alone or in unison to test the full strength of its power. The polyphony today in the darkness of the church reminded me of this experience and the words of Aquinas:

Taste, and touch, and vision, to discern Thee fail;
Faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.
I believe whate'er the Son of God hath told;
What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.

On this side of the veil we see shadows flicker on the cave wall in the "vale of tears". As hermits living in an apathetic world we seek strength by consuming "bread" in a "cave". Wasn't it in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, that a cave provided more for humanity than anything before? Plato, Caravaggio, the Gospel of John, Aquinas, Dante, and anything or anyone who has ever tried to express Light and Darkness, Truth and Hearing all poke at the indescribable beauty that can be found in this cave. 

Whether it is the cave in Bethlehem or the cave of Christ's tomb the cave seems to have a deep connection to the origins of something closely knit to human life. In G.K. Chesterton's book The Everlasting Man he spends two entire eloquent chapters on this very topic (which you should go read now if you never have). In the deliciously witty

Chestertonian way he speaks of the caveman and civilization and later of "God in the Cave". The caves of prophets, hermits, and saints were not escapes from life but were for escaping towards life. It isn't shutting oneself into the ignorant life of confined shadows but emerging to "see the world hanging upside down" as St. Francis, Chesterton, and Marcus Mumford all can relate.

"The man who went into the cave was not the man who came out again; in that sense he was almost as different as if he were dead, as if he were a ghost or a blessed spirit. And the effects of this on his attitude towards the actual world were really as extravagant as any parallel can make them. He looked at the world as differently from other men as if he had come out of that dark hole walking on his hands."
~ G.K. Chesterton St. Francis

When we enter the cave and listen we cannot come out the same person again if we have really entered to find something and have really listened and understood in the uncomprehending darkness.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ain't Nobody Got Time

11:17 am I woke up for the third or fourth time this morning and jolted out of bed and the strange dreams I was having. "It's so late. How long has it been since I slept in this late?" I asked myself. Leaving the albergo and turning the corner at Sant'Andrea I saw what I hope to see every morning - the 87 bus stopped at a red light. I picked up my pace to meet it at the bus stop but as I was mid sprint I realized some woman was trying to ask me directions to Piazza Navona. I stopped and told her in broken Italian, gesturing a left turn but saying "a destra". "A sinistra?" "Si, si, si! (Yes, I knew that. That's what I meant. I swear, lady, I'm not that ignorant, just tired.)". I don't know what happened to the 87 bus but I caught a 571 that happened to be at the stop. Unfortunately the driver took the long route to the Colosseum but fortunately the bus was basically empty as far as Italian buses go. I reflected on the fact that when we learned about directions in Italian class it has been more useful not for us asking for directions but giving them. The "sinistra" scenario played out in my head a couple of times before I rushed into studio.

Our project is due on Ash Wednesday so we have entered that time when studio is full but hushed. Everyone is plugged in, bent over giant white sheets of paper, brief glances become a form of communication in themselves...we are tired, obsessed (with either perfection or artfully fudging everything), and anxious. I feel guilty for writing this on a lunch break but maybe I'll be more focused after I drink the coffee I just made. Now begins the dark dinnerless days when no one wants to buy ingredients, cook, and clean so we stop eating formal meals and end up with whatever can be eaten at our desks. Don't even think about "eating out".

We have entered the time of "whatever works works". I start listening to whatever doesn't distract me be it strange or beautiful or both. I realized today that "Let It Go" hasn't been stuck in my head for a few weeks but since I have entered into the one-track-mind mindset I searched out repetitiveness. After the multilingual, instrumentalmashup, instrumental mashup, tribalsinglegoogle translate, fingerstyle ukulele, fingerstyle guitarmasculine, and, of course, original versions that has been remedied and I think I've just lost all appetite. If anyone wants to trade places for a few days I'd take all the snow if you finished and presented this project for me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have much less than 12 hours before studio closes.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


This morning I got to Mass a little late and seated myself in the very last pew where the kneelers start getting funky because clearly they are leftovers from devotional altars. (By the way, never build a kneeler with a deep slanted board for your knees unless you are going for penitential endurance.) I came in during the lengthy epistle but many people came in afterwards including a family of six who sat directly in front of me. Their youngest, redhead baby kept smiling adorably at me with wide blue eyes.

Afterwards I stopped in a cafe I had never been to for an espresso and noted an increase in Americans around the city. The walk from Campo dei Fiori to the Colosseum is infinitely more pleasant in good weather than a bus ride so I walked to studio. In the grocery store I heard little Italian kids telling their parents what to buy and then begging to leave. I quickly made bruschetta for lunch with tomato, zucchini, mushrooms, and pancetta that ended up being really very good.

On my way up the stairs I noticed the terrace door was open. I stepped through the threshold onto the sunny patio and took in the accordion music from the street below, the laundry hanging on the colorful apartments and the clear blue sky and wondered what it would be like to return home to suburban normalcy. If there's one thing I've learned from studying abroad it is that there is something to be appreciated no matter what side of the ocean you are on.

The field trip to Naples was, as all field trips are, fun. We were not able to go to Paestum because it rained daily except for the day we spent at Pompeii. Naples itself is everything everyone says it is: dirty, dangerous, gritty, and quirky. The mountains of trash on the sidewalks make Rome look almost pristine. Every night we ate the best pizza in the world though. The first night we went to Da Michele, the pizzeria apparently visited by the writer of "Eat, Pray, Love" and Julia Roberts portraying her in the movie. That doesn't mean anything to me having neither read the book nor seen the movie but the crust there was the best pizza crust I have ever eaten. Food is food - it tastes really good or bad and you move on with life - but this pizza was SERIOUSLY GOOD.
We saw more jaw dropping marble than ever before on floors and walls. There was an altar rail with huge inset precious stones and white, curling marble like the breaking crests of waves. Our theology professor, a priest from the Vatican, met up with us when we saw the oldest baptistery in the western world. Our professors also made sure we tried the local pastries that they kept recommending.
Naples at sunset. 
I hesitate to say the last day was a throw away day but we spent the entirety of the morning at a random museum and were all bored to death after slowly perusing its two floors for hours on end. On the bus ride back I shifted in and out of sleep. When I could no longer rest in any mildly comfortable position I gazed out the window and tried not to think about being cold and my hunger manifesting itself in a dull headache. I turned my face towards the sun whenever it was fleetingly present and observed my professors sitting in the two rows in front of me. One propped up a thick paperback as a pillow against the window. The other seemed to be in the same boat as myself, caught between the ability to sleep and stay fully conscious. Southern Italian mountains, countryside, vineyards, telephone lines, ugly sprawl, humble houses, and vegetation rolled by. I recalled a conversation earlier in the day with two classmates about how we can't accurately convey our gratitude to our peers. Really, we could be in the middle of Siberia in the heart of winter and I would be comforted being with these professors that we respect so much. As my classmates and I know, this education is completely worth it if just for the mentors we have. I more fully understand why you cannot spend a year abroad and not come back a person changed for the better.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Working Hard or...

Since today is Monday the NAC seminarians came at 8 o'clock to hang out and talk. Afterwards we clearly did not want to get back to work because none of us budged from the couches. Two of them hadn't been able to come to the Monday sessions this semester so we then offered to give a tour of the new building that they were seeing for the first time. After successfully procrastinating and squeezing in a few more minutes of jokes and conversation, they said goodnight and we tromped morosely up the stairs humorously whining about returning to our designs. Obviously I haven't quite gotten back to work yet.

Last week was a blur like all the weeks before. A friend came into town on a field trip so we were able to meet up twice this weekend. We ate the best gelato ever, avoided dragging out drawing assignments, were amused by melting pediments in the rococo church, and sort of maybe talked ourselves out of buying this beautiful coat that we both liked. That was about all the excitement I've had besides shifting deadlines and the sun making a steady appearance for three days in a row. The next round of excitement comes in the form of a field trip to Campania lasting from Wednesday to the end of the week. For those curious, that entails Naples, Paestum, and Pompeii.

Ok, back to work. There are only two more hours left to work before it is midnight. Eesh. Oh, and we just received a campus email about free Chipotle. I'm going to go cry over my desk now.

Monday, February 10, 2014


It seems like we're already running out of steam if we had any to start with this semester. It doesn't help that between creating portfolios, resumes, applying for internships, homework, and designing we don't leave the building except to go to the grocery store a block away.

Last time I was outside for a considerable period of time was on Saturday. I walked by the Collegio Romano simply because I could and it was my inspiration for my final project last semester. I also met a friendly cat in the process. I slew of warnings came to mind when I bent down to pet it but I found that my hand was already reaching out and touching its absurdly fluffy fur. I said "Heyyy!" and then apologized and amended the greeting to "Ciao! Come stai?". He meowed back but his accent was so thick that I wasn't sure if he understood me or if I just didn't understand him. Then I stopped in what seemed like half of the churches on Via del Corso and accidentally stumbled upon the one with St. Charles Borromeo's heart. Then I made an impromptu visit to Piazza del Popolo and got turned around in the Villa Borghese gardens. It was fun.

I look forward to future explorations outside this building when the weather gets nicer. On Friday we went to the forum and as we sat outside on the steps of the curia I stupidly remarked to a friend:
"I wonder why the sun makes people happy."
"I'm sure it's something chemical."
And we didn't question it any further but sat there next to a blight ridden laurel tree in content silence.

As for today there's not much that is exciting to report besides that a professor appeared to be wearing a new cravat. I'm inexplicably sleepy. I say inexplicably because I more or less slept in today after our makeup history class was postponed yet again due to "rain". Numerous people have come up to me today groaning about not knowing what to do with themselves or their lives. I groan with them. The proverbial towels are being thrown into the proverbial...laundry basket? I don't know. Where else do towels go?

At the beginning of studio my friends and I found ourselves looking up Nicholas Cage and Nigel Thornberry photoshopped onto things (you have been warned should you decide to look this up yourself) so that we could mindlessly laugh, question the state of the world, and remind ourselves that there are people out there arguably weirder than ourselves.

Stay safe. Stay weird. Stay ever caffeinated.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Adventures in Watercoloring

Professor: "That looks too yellow."
Me: "Yeah, I know."

Professor: "All this looks good but that over there disturbs me."
Me: "It disturbs me too."

Professor: "Make sure the reflected shadows fade out and have soft edges."
Me: *looks down at paper* "Uh, whoops."

That's just about how all of last Thursday went.
"She couldn't draw at all, and however bright, the colour were in the tubes, by the time [she] had mixed them up, they came out a kind of khaki."
Sebastian Flyte (Brideshead Revisited)

Today blue and red kept making a green instead of purple. I don't really know how.
We have a watercoloring class this semester which is the first of its kind I have ever taken in my life. I took art classes in high school and watercolored a tiny bit and then was thrown full force into it my first (sophomore) year at Notre Dame. I freaked out about the horrifying process of dumping water all over the paper you spent hours drafting on, stapling it mercilessly to a dirty piece of plywood, and then putting color to the paper. It still occasionally feels like an act of murder. Needless to say, that first project deserves a good bonfire along with all my other first semester sophomore projects.

I remember the first time I stepped into Bond Hall and saw a large rendering of a Corinthian capital on the wall. My initial reaction was "Oh no, I can't do that. That must take some natural talent." and soon after I thought, "Well, this is why it's an architecture school is it not?" Lo and behold. Three years and a couple of choices later I'm stuck in Rome. So, here's to hoping that we all continue to get better at the things we struggle with.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Regular isn't Regular

This morning I went to mass at the English College, a hop, skip and one jump from our hotel. I either go there on Sundays or to the tridentine rite at S.S. Trinita. S.S. Trinita is beautiful and full of incense, Latin, reminders of home, gorgeous chant and vestments...and a sermon I can barely understand. On a regular day the sun beams through the dome almost always during the Credo and shines on the pendentive of St. Mark. The English College, however, gives me a chance to go to mass with a friend or two and understand the sermon which is preached in refreshing British accents. My weekly decision is based on these factors and time. Even though the masses are only an hour apart sometimes one more productive hour is all you need. Both churches are less than a five minute walk from each other and both have a painting of the Trinity above the altar. 
The English College. Today for Candlemas we had an procession with candles prior to mass.
After Mass I made a deliberate decision to stop into Alex Bar (the cafe some of us patronize) before going to studio. I feel like I tend to duck in there when it's raining but it does seem to rain a lot. In any event, it's a wonderful thing to be considered a regular in an Italian coffee shop. When I entered, the elderly owner, Alex himself, immediately smiled broadly at me. I typically don't say much but they give me the regular's discount on everything and to see the happiness on their faces is priceless. I know nothing about Alex, Ettore, and the other old man who works there and they know nothing about me besides that I am not Italian and almost always order a cappuccino. But it's nice all the same. 
S.S. Trinita dei Pellegrini
After the cappuccino I passed our old studio building which is something of a stark and empty shell at the moment. The Notre Dame plaque is gone and you can feel the silence from the outside but a hundred memories flood to mind. The large door next to the main entrance, for instance, makes me think of Michael Graves being wheeled in to the library/review space on the other side where nerve-wracking crits took place.

Dodging puddles, hopping zig-zaggedly across the uneven cobblestones I was still trying to get a palette at the art store...but it was closed (as it should be on Sunday). On the way to the bus stop I passed a church I had passed countless times before but today it was open. So I poked my head in for the first time because mass was going on.

For some reason I held back a smile the entire bus ride. I didn't necessarily need a reason to be happy. Maybe it was mass at the college today or the Domincans walking around the streets in their black and white habits or just the fact that I am living in Rome. I don't know, but I hope everyone else has a day full of spontaneously happiness.

P.S. Which is your preferred depiction of the Trinity?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Triangles, Time, Tea, Tiredness.

Life in Rome is progressing rapidly while, as rumours tell, back home is like Arendelle in "deep, deep, deep, deep snow"*. My desk is already a colorful, chaotic heap of trace, paints, cups of water, teabags, pens, tape - you name it. A tin Babar pencil case is functioning as my palette because the local art store is sold out of the palettes we were supposed to buy. I am perpetually tired but would rather be busy than bored.

I'm sitting here at my desk looking at the extremely rough beginnings of a parti and realized I am staring at something essentially like this:
The Deathly Villas
...and it probably makes no sense.

You could argue I've just been looking at this too long.
Switching gears before time gets too far ahead of me, I wanted to briefly list a few of my post-Christmas break thoughts in addition to what I wrote the other day.
  1. I have an even greater appreciation for Rome after experiencing its influence in other countries. Whether I was at the Roman bath in Bath, England or the Brompton Oratory in London it was clear that hundreds of miles are no match for Rome's reach. 
  2. Always travel by train when possible. You miss less that way and don't have to deal with security and possibly checking bags. 
  3. People are the same everywhere. 
  4. A good umbrella and map are invaluable. 
  5. You're not going to see everything so appreciate what you do and don't stress too much about missing the rest. 
  6. If there's something you really want to see and means a lot to you it is worth the time and money.
  7. Always have a book with you but don't read it unless there's nothing to look at in your surroundings.
  8. Realize that things can go unexpectedly wrong.  
  9. Coffee shops and free WiFi are not only your friend but your lifeline. 
  10. Don't take anything for granted. I'm pretty sure I am the most fortunate person alive.
So, there you go. Stay warm and safe if outdoors is predominantly buried in white fluffiness where you are. I've been in Italy so long that it's almost shocking to me that there could be snow affecting all of my friends and family. Then again, it's still a strange thought to think that there is an ocean and the whole of France, Spain, and Portugal between America and me. Hm. But it's also strange that there are only about 3.5 months left until I come home. Eesh. Where's the time going?

*Frozen discussion, references, and songs abound in my studio as of a few days ago. It's all stuck in my head so you'll have to excuse me. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Moving Forward

I dug down into my bag to put away my sketchbook and micron and pulled out my umbrella in their place. Walking over the slick cobblestones I remembered that coldness seeps through a sweater and peacoat when one stands outside for three hours in the January rain in Rome. Our awesomely quirky and intellectual history teacher prattled on with stories and historical tidbits but, as it was nearing noon and I have what feel like a hundred responsibilities weighing on me, my mind drifted off and focused on one thought: hot chocolate. Hot chocolate has become inseparable from rainy days in Rome for me and right now I would love nothing more than to curl up with a mug and read to my heart's content.

The reality of this week, however, is more accurately an image of me drinking cup after cup of tea and staring into space struggling to focus, not to mention stay awake.

Martin Freeman is not quite a coincidence here. I empathized with Bilbo consistently throughout Christmas break when I was off on my own adventures (though they did not include dwarves, dragons, or wizards). If anyone can officially claim that they have backpacked solo across Europe I suppose I now can. Yes, excluding the few occasions when I met up with friends/studiomates I was alone. I went to Belgium, France, and England which totals to a small number of countries compared to my comrades but I saw many cities in each. First came the charm of Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent then followed by Amiens, Beauvais, and Paris. I took the Chunnel train to London and a few days later ventured to Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Salisbury, and Canterbury.

There are pros and cons to travelling alone which I quickly figured out. At one point as I was rereading Jane Eyre I smiled out loud at a passage that I could identify with word for word.

"It is a very strange sensation to inexperienceed youth to fell itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted. The charm of adventure sweetens that sensations, the glow of pride warms it; but then the throb of fear disturbs it; and fear with me became predominant when half-an-hour elapsed and still I was alone. I bethought myself to ring the bell."
Charlotte Bronte

I could try recounting every thing I saw, building I touched, cuisine I tasted, person I met, or issue I encountered but I don't have time and that would sooner or later bore you. What I can hint at is my dumbstruck gratitude. I'm not really sure how to describe riding on a train through Flanders and realizing just how literally wonder full the world is from the dirt to the clouds. Salisbury may have articulated this best but if you want to know that story I would be more than happy to sit down over a cup of coffee in May and tell you. There's an impersonal touch to blogging that isn't suitable for the depth of these situations.

Anyways, I'm sure at some point all my stories will slip out in natural conversation. Right now having classes straight from 9:00-6:00 three days in a row is proving to be brutal on my body and brain so you'll have to forgive the pathetic nature of this update. I can't wait to get to the design portion of this project and a cup of Earl Grey because this fruity tea bag I acquired is pretty gross.