by jeffrey salerno
Italy: A Trip Back Home
Thank you for the opportunity.
Friday March 1st
I have never checked in to an international flight before. It was surprisingly simple. Somehow I felt that security was going to be more stringent.
The flight was not bad, just long. I don't think it was only 6 hours but it was hard to tell with the time difference. The movie choices were great. I had been wanting to see Hitchcock for a while. I thought it was pretty good. Obviously the sound was interesting to me but I didn't know that Danny Elfman was doing the score for the movie.
Airplane food deserves every horrible joke that 1980's stand-up comedians make.
Saturday March 2nd
Weird that I'm getting off the plane at "9:30am" I felt like I was going to pass out but I made it through. Giorgio seemed nice. Funny. He took us to our hotel. Hotel Laurentia, Largo Degli Osci, 63 Rome 00185 Italy.
As we were passing through Rome we passed many architectural landmarks, I remember taking pictures of many of them and listening and being very interested in what Giorgio had to say, but I was so tired I did not retain very much of the information at all, but it was so interesting to see people living amongst this ancient culture with contemporary conveniences.
After we dropped our belongings at the hotel we went for a walking tour with Giorgio. It was interesting seeing and hearing so much about the city in such a compact area even. It was surprising to me to see how Americanized and modern places like the train station were, while right down the block we went to a medieval cathedral, St. Maria. This cathedral was so beautiful and expansive and such a contrast to to the modern world. I just wanted to sing with a full choir in there. Another thing I found interesting about our walking tour was the Italian respect for Mussolini. I had never thought about all the beneficial things he did for the Italian people. And I had no idea of the influence he had on the restoration and preservation of ancient roman and medieval landmarks. It's fascinating to me to see how one man's villain is another's savior. It really makes you think of how you are perceived in life.
That night we went to a little returning for our first night dinner. When they brought out the first course I thought that was going to be it, and I was perfectly ok with that. The first course was several types of bruschetta, eggplant Parmesan, and fried vegetables. The only thing I didn't enjoy was the bruschetta with olive paste on it. The eggplant Parmesan was the best I'd ever had. And I also found one of my new favorite types of wine at that dinner: (and every other meal in Italy) Chianti. The second course was a pizza with mozzarella and a pizza with no cheese just tomato basil garlic sauce. They were wonderful. The third course was pizza with prosciutto and salami on it. I preferred the salami to the prosciutto. Prosciutto tends to leave an odd aftertaste for me.
Dinner was great it was the first night on the town. One thing that really surprised me was the discussion that Giorgio and I got to have about politics and Dario Fo. I knew about Dario Fo being a communist, but it was interesting to hear someone else's opinion on what he does. I feel like Giorgio has very strong opinions politically, but doesn't enjoy theatre all that much so all he see's is the propaganda in Dario Fo's work and not the art and history behind some of the inspiration. I was certainly not insulted by the debate but I was a little taken aback by hearing such strong opposing opinions. I think Giorgio sensed this and he kind of apologized later while we were walking around. Therewas no need but it was still nice none the less.
After dinner we walked around some more. We went to the Trevi fountain, the pantheon, and several obelisks brought over from Egypt. The Trevi fountain was certainly one of my favorite things. It was beautiful. I was completely dumbstruck. It was one of those things where I couldn't believe I was actually there. The sculpting, the atmosphere, even the magic of the tradition of making a wish was all so incredible. It was probably one of the most romantic places too. What am I saying everything was romantic, but it makes sense that the street sellers try to push flowers on you there. I also had my first sample of gelato. I had mint chocolate chip and it was so good. I still don’t really know the difference between ice cream and gellato.
By this point we were ready to head back to the hotel. We got back to the hotel and then obviously we went out to the bar. There was a bar right around the corner that was nice and small and quaint. I got a gin and tonic because I didn’t know any Italian liqueurs at that point. It was good but nothing special. Actually I was kind of surprised that they gave me lemon instead of lime for everything that I usually get lime with. I also bought a stupid bracelet off a street vendor just so he would go away... It was a lot of fun. This was the bar that we saw some kids our age rolling joints and started wondering about drug laws there. It's interesting that they have almost a decriminalization policy, almost like what happened recently in Colorado and Washington. You were right about me sleeping well that night.
Sunday March 3rd
I woke up very early to shower and try to go to mass with Rachel and Hannah before we had to meet to go for our tour of the Colosseum. I got up and ready and headed downstairs. I was running a tad late so I thought the girls had left without me. Turns out I just beat them... So we left around 7:15, but when we got to the church everything was closed. We asked one of the garbage men what time mass started, he said 8,unfortunately. So we headed back to the hotel and met everyone for breakfast. Breakfast was always interesting. I'm not a big breakfast person, let alone a sweet breakfast person so it was never anything extra ordinary to me.
When everyone was ready we headed over to the Colosseum for our tour. Our tour guide was named Olivia. She was very nice and incredibly knowledgeable about the Colosseum and the Forum. The thing that fascinated me the the most was seeing how cultures were built on top of cultures. The medieval structures were built on top of old roman foundations.
This is the point when my camera died. We then left to go head towards the Spanish Stairs, and we broke for lunch. Jamie, Rachel, Hannah and I went shopping down the road that leads up to the Spanish Stairs. There were many shops that I will never ever be able to afford to shop in. Honestly, I was surprised they let me walk in at all. Pretty soon Jamie and I got hungry and convinced Rachel and Hannah to come along. We went to this really awesome outside dining restaurant. I got spaghetti al pomadore. It was delicious of course.
After lunch we decided to keep walking around and head up towards the Piazza del Poppulo. After walking some ways we decided to give up and head back to the Trevi fountain. This is when we decided to get on a bus that we thought would take us back. It wasthe right bus, but it was going in the wrong direction. I was trying to find the bus route on the map that we were provided, but the bus went off the map. We rode the bus for an hour and a half outfrom the center of the city. The bus stopped in a turn around and the driver turned it off. That is when we were a bit worried. Hannah went up to the driver and asked where we are and what was going on. The driver was supposed to wait twenty minutes before turning around, but I’m pretty sure he did not wait the whole time.
Finally, we got off at the Trevi fountain and were pretty famished by this point. We decided to go to the restaurant that we had passed the night before. It was a very nice restaurant. They even had a live harp player. I believe they knew how american we were because the harp player kept playing popular american and british songs. My Heart Will Go On, Memory from Cats and Hey, Jude were some of the more notable ones. This dinner I ordered Sea Bass. It was Forty euro, but so worth it. I got my first glimpse into the importance of wine pairing. We had ordered a liter of Chianti for the table. Drinking the red wine with the fish was not of of my favorite experiences on the trip.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel where we met up with Patrick and Danielle. We decided to go out to the bar again that night. I tried my first Perroni. Not the greatest beer in the world, but it was not bad for being what they drink like we drink PBR. Another night well slept.
Monday March 4th
The day of the Vatican has finally arrived. As we head over to the Vatican I was excited, but not nearly as excited as if I knew what we would see when we got there. I was not expecting to be able to get into the Sistine Chapel. When we arrived I was floored by how gigantic the outer walls of the city actually were. Inside so much history and so many secrets were hiding. As we entered the museum I saw many incredible pieces of art, but we moved so fast through the museum that I felt like I lost a lot of it and there was so much that we did not even see. One of my favorite sculptures however was of an actor. You can tell this is an actor because of the mask that he is wearing. It is fascinating to me to see what I have read about so much sculpted into a three dimensional form.
Luckily, when we got to the Sistine Chapel our guide let us roam free a bit. Stepping into the Sistine Chapel was like getting into a warm bed. The art in beauty of the room just enveloped me. As I stared at this work that Michelangelo created I began to cry. I am not very religious, but being in that room made me want to be. The only terrible thing about being in the Sistine Chapel was everyone else. There is a reason they ask you not to take pictures. There is a reason they ask you not to talk. I was insulted frankly by how self absorbed some people were being in that room. I was actually even surprised when Giorgio and our guide began talking in the room after they made such a fuss about us not talking. Regardless, that was one of the best experiences of my life. I’m so happy we were allowed in and I’m so happy Emma was able to buy us ten more minutes in there. Finishing the tour in St. Peter’s was also incredible, but honestly, I was still in shock from the Sistine Chapel to take it all in.
After we left the Vatican to get food collectively, Rachel, Jamie, Hannah, Emma and I headed back to the Vatican to climb the Duomo. As we got to the front of the line we were told that we needed to buy the elevator tickets because there wasn’t enough time to climb the whole way up. We took the elevator up to where we could and headed in. Seeing St. Peter’s from up top made it look so much more impressive. We were even able to see a part of a service from up top. The climb took us up farther however and showed little vantage points through tiny windows on the way up. But they were nothing compared to actually being up there. The view from up there was one of the most stunning things I have ever seen. I know that someday if I decide to propose to someone, it will be there. You could see everything. There was this one couple who
accidentally knocked a woman’s camera out of her hands over the side. The couple was more upset than the woman was. None of them spoke any English or Italian, but we tried to console them and help them find a solution.
We met back up with Patrick and Danielle and went to this tiny restaurant around the corner from our hotel. I had steak with balsamic vinegar on it and it was delicious. I crashed when we got back to the hotel though.
Tuesday, March 5th
We woke up early to get on the bus to Florence. That bus had magical powers to keep most of us asleep for the majority of the time I think. I only just woke up as we were pulling into the pitstop, where I got a sandwich. Italian gas stations are so much nicer than ours. I fell asleep when we got back on the bus again.
When we arrived in Florence we had some time to get food and walk around a little bit. Rachel and I went with Hannah, Emma, Dr. VA and Jamie to a restaurant where we got pizza. Rachel and I split ours, which was a very good decision because no one else finished their food. At the end of the meal they brought out limoncello. Dr. VA took hers like a shot because we were in a hurry so I followed suit.
After that we all collected back together for our walking tour of Florence. It was a little rainy but not miserable like people were saying. The architecture and the art around Florence astounds me. So much of it all was influenced by or designed by Michelangelo. It is so incredible that one man had so much influence.
The leather workshop was a lot of fun. It was really interesting to see how the process works. I still don’t know if I can tell the difference between real and fake leather though. I wanted that jacket though. One day I will have the money to throw 350 euro down for a jacket, but that is getting dangerously close to most of my pay for the job I have. It was a very good thing I didn't have my debit card with me. I would have bought it.
We had a bit of free time before heading back to the hotel. I went with Patrick, Emma and Dr. VA to the piazza di Santa Croce. This was where many famous and influential people’s tombs were. For me the most notable was Galileo. After working with the Theatre Department on The Life of Galileo it was something really special to be able to see the place where all of that happened. After that we headed back to the fake David to meet up with everyone. As we were waiting for everyone I was looking at all the statues in the square. One of the statues was The Rape of the Sabine Woman. This piece had special significance to me because in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the players perform The Rape of the Sabine Women for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as they run away. I thought it was funny that I saw two examples of Catawba College’s Theatre season in the same day.
We all headed to the hotel and then out to dinner. Dinner was incredible. I’m still quite surprised by how much I felt like I ate, but how little I felt stuffed or like I overindulged. At the end of the meal we got more limoncello. Hannah shot hers just as Dr. Sabo was saying not to. She got a high five anyway.
We tried to go out on the town after dinner, but everything was closed. Eventually we gave up and headed back to the hotel where we ran into everyone else playing catch phrase. This was one of my favorite moments of the trip because it was one of the moments where we all felt like one group and it was a blast.
Wednesday March 6th
Emma and I headed out to try to find the Medici Library. I am working on a scene for a class that talks about the murals in there so I wanted to see first hand what it was like. When we got there we went into the Cathedral which was interesting mostly because we actually got to see some people working on restoration, but it was the wrong part of the building for what we were looking for. We finally found it and when they let us in we were at the foot of some gargantuan stairs. These stairs felt like they were ten times too big for the vestibule they were in. These stairs led up to the first public library in the world. It was incredible to think of how intricate all of this was for a library. We also saw an exhibit on the Medici influence across the globe due to the printing press. It was really fascinating. I didn’t get to see the staircase I was looking for, but just seeing the work all together gave me a very good grasp of the idea.
We met back together to head to the cooking class. I didn’t know what to expect but when we arrived I felt like I walked into a Travel channel special. Everything was so picturesque and quaint. Even the stories that she told about hearing the children running around her first night staying in he tower were something out of a storybook. Making pasta was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. It was incredible to see us all make something that we think of as a staple that is just a part of our diet already. I was quite good at making the pasta and had to slow down.
The meal we had was one of the best meals in Italy. Everything was so light and simple and perfect. Following it up with the holy wine was incredible. As we left to head back to the Accademia I knew that I wanted to go back someday as an accidental tourist.
The Accademia was fun, but not nearly what I was expecting. Seeing the David was incredible. The amount of work and care that went into it is astounding. The musical instrument library was also interesting, but I was very surprised at how small and limiting the Accademia felt.
After the Accadamia Emma and I went shopping. Rather we tried to but everything was closing. This however was in the Accadamia gift shop and it made me laugh.
Thursday March 7th
We woke up early in the morning to do some shopping before we left Florence. I bought olive oil, balsamic vinegar, limoncello, a commedia mask and some parmegano reggiano and picarino cheese. It was a very good shopping day.
We got back on the bus to head back to Rome and I passed out. When I woke up we were in the middle of nowhere. We had arrived at a vineyard for a wine tasting. This was incredible. I had never been to a wine tasting, let alone known the proper way to do one. It was fascinating to me to experience how each of the different wines went well with different food. I still think Chianti is my favorite wine that we’ve had. I ordered a bottle and really hope it arrives soon. I also ordered a bottle of truffle oil that was poured over the lasagna. That lasagna was the best in the world.
We left the vineyard full and tipsy and got back on the bus. We made another surprise pitstop in a medieval town. It felt like something out of a movie. If it hasn’t already been I want to use it as a movie set someday.
When we arrived back in Rome I had very little time before I had to run out to the theatre. I was really excited to see the show. It was called L’ arte del Commedia. I thought it would have a lot more overt influences of Commedia Dellarte, but it was a lot like a standard play. It was still interesting to see how differently italian actors are from american actors. They were so specific and expressive in every little thing that they did. So much that you could almost understand them. I wish I could have understood them.
Friday March 8th
We all gathered to leave Rome. It was sad to leave Giorgio, but I know we will see each other again. This has been one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of my life. Thank you for everything.