Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I heart Roma

Last week I had to go to Rome for the day to visit the South African consulate to inquire about my student visa for study in Cape Town next semester. Now the process of getting that visa [or not getting the visa as it turns out to be] is not something I want to go into here [due to the sheer ridiculousness of that situation], but I did want to talk a bit about my obsession with one of the most beautiful cities in the world: ROMA.
Now those of you who know me well know that I'm not one of those girls that just falls in love easily. But this only holds true for people. Places, on the other hand, have the power to sweep me off my feet. Cities steal my heart in a second. I find myself dreaming about places I love like a 13 year old girl dreams about her middle school crush. And Rome, OH ROME, how I swoon for Rome!
Just as Istanbul is the culmination of Turkey, Los Angeles is California and Cusco is Peru, ROME is Italy. Rome is the Italian stereotypes; the beautiful, the dirty, the men on the streets whispering "ciao bella" as you walk by, the smiling square-sliced-pizza vendors, the friendly directionally-challenged police men, Roman ruins at every turn...Rome is Italy and I love it. Whereas other tourist spots in Italy such as Florence and Venice are overrun with tourists, especially the particularly loud American tourists, tramping on the culture and stealing tastes of the "bella vita" in disgusting mouthfuls of bad pasta, Rome is surprising REAL. I mean of course the Vatican has hoards of tourists pushing their way through the giant cathedral doors and the forum is crawling with gawking foreigners, but wander down streets, even streets in the dead center of the old city, and there are Italians everywhere living their lives. Winding down side streets and sitting in piazzas, you can feel as though you're truly in Italy and truly in the former capital of the Romans, a population that dominated Europe for a thousand years.

This trip, I decided to go to a museum that somehow I had missed during my time in the city: I Musei Capitolini. It is a museum all about the Roman empire, especially its' elite and its' emperors. I'm usually not very interested in Roman statues, but these were definitely the best
Roman statues that exist. There were
giant heads of Constantine that used to sit on bodies and thrones in the old city, a giant horse mounted by Marcus Aurelias, and the official busts of all the emperors. I walked among these faces of old Rome seeing in their facial features images of modern Italians, big noses and curly hair. Beautiful greek statues that adorned rich gardens of senators and tombs of people that lived 2000 years ago. To top it off, the museum has a fantastic view of the forum spread out in front of the hill just as it was all those generations
ago, minus a few pillars and roofs here and there.

One thing that struck me this trip to Rome as I was looking around at all the tourists taking pictures and enjoying the sights, was my complete bafflement on how these people are probably in Rome for the only time in their lives. So many of these people come to Rome for a day or 2 or maybe 3, see the sights, and then leave, never to come back again. I can't do that. Every time I come to Rome, it just makes me want to come back again and again. It's like a drink of the most delicious nectar that I find myself craving more and more of. The idea of never being able to come back to Roma makes me sick. The city gives me this feeling of comfort and wonder at the same time. Despite my troubles at the consulate in the morning, the day in Rome made me feel so good, so refreshed. These past few months back in Italy have made me a little dissillusioned about life here, with lots of frustrations and a general homesickness for my fully-functioning California, but with one day in Rome was enough to reignite that flame of love in my heart and make me dread that day in 2 weeks that I leave Italy, most likely never to live here again.
So here I pledge my undying love for the eternal city, and I promise you, Roma, that I will return to visit you again.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Marina di Ravenna and the Italian summer weekend phenomenon

Coming from California, I must admit, I'm a little picky about my beaches. Nothing really compares to the expansive sand beaches of the Pacific coast, nothing like those huge crashing waves. Yes, the water is a little cold, but by mid-summer, the San Diego beaches are a tolerable temperature and the La Jolla shoreline near where I did my undergrad studies at UCSD is some of the best in the country. And I have also spent some time traveling Europe during the summer; from the Turquoise coast of Turkey to the famous coastline of Croatia to the Cote d'Azur...I have seen and swam in my fair share of beautiful sea.

Marina di Ravenna is not one of these classically beautiful seaside locales. When you look out into the water, the color is a muddy brown green. The waves range from non-existent to miniscule. The water is a strange chilly temperature. When you enter, you can't see your feet below the surface. As the Italians say, "fa schifo" (it's gross) and I must say, I kind of have to agree. But Marina di Ravenna has 2 things that a lot of places on the coast don't: a decent sand beach and a distinctly Italian nightlife. When combined, this creates a particular phenomenon that makes for a great mini-vacation weekend getaway. And this is indeed how many Emilia Romagna region residents spend there summer weekends starting in late May. Many locals own summer houses or just simply drive for the day/night to this seaside hotspot tailored to draw you despite the fact you won't even want to touch the water once you are there. The city is hot and the air is humid, so crowds flock to the fresh sea air to indulge in a little summer fun.So this weekend, some friends and I went camping at Marina di Ravenna in search of our own little Italian summer vacation. My one friend and I took the train earlier to spend the day on the beach while the others came in car later. With traffic and campsite set up, the others were ready just in time for something called Super Happy Hour. This is a fun Marina di Ravenna tradition at a particular "Bagno" called Toto. (a "bagno" here means a private beach club. Beach spots are privately owned and all along the coast there is beach club after beach club with fun names like "Baci Baci" and "Saint Tropez") At Bagno Toto from 6-7pm, drinks are buy 1 get 1 free and there are fun Italian classics blasting on the sound system. No American music, no Eurodance...only Italian goodies! And as you know from my previous posts, Italian music is a bit "special". So Italians, who don't dance and are notoriously particular about their clothing choices (boots in May just because it's not technically summer yet? pants and coats in 80 degree weather??) are jumping around in their skimpy bathing suits, barefoot and enjoy the summer. And thus is the Italian beachside experience. All along the seaside, Marina di Ravenna provides happy hour after happy hour until the entire thing closes at midnight and the party moves to the center of town. (We skipped that part and spent the late hours of the night sitting on the beach and enjoying the fresh sea air) All I could think the entire night was how very Italian the whole thing was, and I couldn't help but smile. And then we had fried fish from a street vendor for dinner and my smile got even bigger.

The next day we sat on the beach some more, surrounded by baking brown people of every body type and Speedo color, before heading back to the heat of the city and the heavy air.
Ciao Marina di Ravenna, magari ci vediamo presto...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Friends in Faraway Places

Most of my travel this semester in Italy has been spent visiting friends rather than exploring new places. I’ve taken a few trips this semester, but instead of discovering new lands, I’ve focused on seeking out my faraway friends in their new homes. I haven’t stayed in one hostel or eaten any bad touristy meals. From Dublin to Florence to my most recent trip to the French Riviera, I’ve been spending my limited time in Europe this year balancing my desire to travel with the fact that I simply miss my friends!

During the first few days of June, I had the pleasure of being able to visit some friends I made in Istanbul last year who now live in Nice, France. I’ve been to Nice before, but every place is different when you’re with locals. We ate lots, drank lovely wine, and got to visit a cute hilltop town in the Provence countryside.

I get spoiled when I visit friends. While traveling around to new places is invigorating, staying in hostels and getting lost and falling into tourist traps gets tiring. Visiting friends means that you not only get to hang out with people you rarely see and really like, you get an automatic local guide to the city.

My friends in Nice, Maite and Çağdaş, were with me during my time in Istanbul, so seeing them was like reliving a small part of Istanbul. When you spend time in places with people, whether a week or a few months or a few years, they will forever be a part of that place for you. Seeking out faraway friends thus becomes a game in seeking out memories of those places. It’s a special kind of friendship and probably my favorite part about life abroad. People and places become intertwined, not one is the same without the other, but you can still enjoy both and get a taste for a time that once was when the place and the friends were joined. So instead of sharing a Taksim hamburger at 2am, we get gelato in front of a church in Nice and enjoy our small world.

I have many faraway friends whom I unfortunately can't see all the time, but at least I know that for the rest of my life, I’ll have friends to hunt for all around the world during my travels and this is a beautiful thing.