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?