The first day of class began Monday. I am studying Italian Renaissance art and Roman garden architecture. During the first two days in Rome most of the focus of the class is on the art. Monday I woke up bright and early around 6:00 am local time. I read a few chapters from the assigned book, had an espresso, and ate breakfast. The class gathered in the lobby of the hotel, and we departed on foot to the Vatican City (which happened to be way on the other side of town). The professor heading the Renaissance art class has an astounding wealth of knowledge and oozes information everywhere we go. Kirk Ducleaux is his name, and he has been absolutely remarkable so far. I followed him through the Vatican just like a puppy, smiling the whole time. If I had a tail it would have whacked everyone in all the crowded rooms just wagging away. There was an unbelievably long line to get into the city. Fortunately, my class didn’t have to wait in it. Kirk took us straight to the front of the line, and we started our lectures. We began by discussing how the renaissance came about, how it contrasted from the Middle Ages, and specific characteristics. We focused on the influence of Classical antiquity, particularly ancient Rome, the shift towards individualism, and the popularization of the vernacular. The first piece we looked at was the Stephaneschi Altarpiece by Giotto that was in the original St. Peter’s Basilica built by Constantine. We next saw Raphael’s Transfiguration, on which I wrote my formal analysis. It was very intriguing. Exhibiting a scene from Christianity, the work is gracefully and beautifully composed. The next painting on which we focused was Caravaggio’s Deposition. It was breathtakingly eerie. Unquestionably my favorite moment of the day was exploring the Raphael rooms and beholding my most dearly favored work of art, School of Athens. I was the happiest girl in the world. I have a four-foot, framed poster of this fresco in my room at home. Getting to absorb it in person was better than meeting a celebrity. I learned so much more about the work, and about Raphael as an artist. His other pieces in the same room were underratedly spectacular. Visiting a slew of other artworks along the way, we entered the Sistine Chapel. It was magnificent, a truly beautiful example of Michelangelo’s talent. St. Peter’s Basilica was next our next stop, where we beheld Michelangelo’s Pieta and Bernini’s famous bronze canopy over St. Peter’s tomb. The grandeur and opulence of the entire edifice seemed very fitting for the headquarters of Christianity. Unfortunately, I was not able to encounter Papa Francisco.
After all the academic ends had been reached, we were free to explore on our own. I went to lunch with some girl friends at a little cafe outside the Vatican and ate a pizza. After lunch, most of the girls went back to the hotel to nap and begin working on our first assignment. But Katie, the girl I’m traveling Europe with after the program ends, and I insisted on seeing the Spanish steps and shopping. There was only one problem. Neither of us had a map, and with our data plans, we were unable to use our phones. We had to navigate all the way there based on word of mouth directions from the locals. Somehow we were able to navigate the two and a half mile walk through the winding, confusing, foreign streets, and we stumbled right onto the Spanish steps in no time. And boy did we do some shopping! I made the most of the €25 that I had on me. Our next big challenge was finding the way back to the hotel. Not knowing the address was not a great start to that task, but fortunately there are some well known landmarks nearby that made getting directions easier. We made it back to the other side of town without getting lost once! We felt like locals. For dinner we had the best food in all of Rome. It’s not what one would expect at all. Near our hotel Katie came across a very small Indian fast food joint called Pizza & Kebab. The sweetest man works there, and we’ve made friends with him. We have been back to Pizza & Kebab three or four times now. We are his favorite customers, and he is so delighted when he sees us coming down the street to get our kebabs.
The second day of class we visited the Colosseum, or Flavian Amphitheater, the Forum, and the Pantheon. All of the site were just exquisite. The Forum was practically my Mecca. Making my pilgrimage to my favorite Latin-speaking place in the world was purely blissful. Getting to learn in depth the functions that each ruin performed was delightful. Seeing where my beloved Julius Caesar ruled and brought an end to the Roman Republic couldn’t have been any more splendid. Going to the Temple of Vesta, where the mother of Romulus and Remus immaculately conceived the twins was fascinating. I love, love, loved the Forum. The Colosseum was no less incredible. Standing through the ages preserving the lifestyles of antiquity, the Colosseum was home to horrific acts of sadistic, voyeuristic violence. Nubian archers shooting hippopotamuses, donkeys raping women, lions placed between women and their children, gladiators fighting to the death, the carnal desires of the ancient Romans were atrocious. The architecture of the Pantheon was enormously impressive. It is so well preserved and complexly simple. Day 2 went as wonderfully as day 1. I’m loving Rome so far. It almost feels like home!