Posted by: sryan1 | October 13, 2011

Cardiff, Glastonbury, and Other Arthurian Things

Week One of Classes was rewarded with a study trip on Friday with my Myths and legends class.
We were bussed out early Friday morning to Cardiff castle, also known as a possible Camelot or Avalon.
Which in reality is just a really big hill that has evidence that a giant fortress was built there.
Now there’s just a bunch of cows that all of us were quite tempted to play with, but as our Tutor Patrick pointed out:
“They’re not exactly our cows- so while they’re mostly docile, I wouldn’t touch”.
So we just looked at some cows and one of the most beautiful views of the English countryside. You can see for miles, which is exactly why it was such a good lookout place for a fort.
After climbing up and down some hills and looking out at the world, we descended and bussed it out to Glastonbury.

It is honestly one of the hippiest towns I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been to a lot of hippie towns. But this was on a whole other level. There were multiple shops devoted to crystals. And lots of wiccan shops. Second hand bookstores. Health, vegan vegetarian restaurants and shops. I probably could’ve bought a wand there.
Even the man spouting Christian mumbo jumbo on the corner did so unobtrusively, as if not to disturb this haven for the magically inclined. Every bookstore had books on Astronomy, Astrology, Religion, Mythology, and other ologies I didn’t even know existed. Most of the class stopped to get Fish and Chips at a tavern renown for Fish and Chips. I decided to wander about some more, I mean I loved it. There were also lots of art shops and second hand clothing stores and music stores. Great great town. The type my Aunt Martha would love.
We then went into Glastonbury Abbey, which is really just the old ruins of an Abbey, where apparently they found the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. It was only ruins at this point, but it was ancient and had this old Roman archway, and it was simply amazing to imagine the scale of it originally. It was more than twice the size of the ruins left there and that was already impressive.
It was also great to see how an abbey worked originally. The kitchen, the orchards, the fish pond, and duck pond. It would be such a lovely place to live. And someone does live there. I am so jealous.
I was so happy there and of course had to be corralled back to the group.
They apparently have events there, and there was party going on there the next night. In the old cathedral ruins. How sick is that?

After that, we of course had to climb Glastonbury Tor. Which is just a GIANT STEEP HILL. It’s honestly massive. And the sheep were all over it. I don’t know how they got such sure feet, but I love ’em. Sometimes I pretend I’m a mountain goat and this was definitely one of those moments. I raced ahead toward the top with Deirdre and other Sarah and it was wonderful. The view from the top was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The wind constantly whipped around and it felt like you were almost flying while you stood still. There are tons of furrows in the hill that are apparently unexplained. There are lots of theories, including aliens. Apparently there’s an astrological significance to the place and the tower that stand on it, but all of us were too normal to figure it out.
Some quotes on the Tor
“I didn’t come here to learn anything- I came here to commune with the universe”
Silly hippy.

Also, in the Tower on the Tor a bunch of people started singing and it echoes up through the Tower and was honestly wonderful.
Then we hiked leisurly back down and bussed it home.
It was lovely and a great welcome to get to know people and this wonderful country I landed in.
Its still one of my favorite places here.
Its a little cracked out, but I like it.

Posted by: sryan1 | October 11, 2011

Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Lacock

Despite having visited these places only a month ago, I still feel as if I must dig under the garden of my mind to find details of this long past date.
I remember being tired, partially by jet lag, overwhelmed by new faces, and happy to be in such a beautiful country where everything is indeed green instead of grey.
The bus ride was honestly breathtaking.
And I remember thinking that they sprinkled sheep on the land like the Gods must have sprinkled the stars in the sky.

Stonehenge itself was magical. I know many are disappointed by it because it really is just a bunch of rocks. But they are important mysterious rocks and that’s why I like them.
Not knowing what they are- so that there are thousands of possibilities behind the rocks. They have the potential to be any type of big rocks.
Astronomical, Religious, Festival, Sacrificial.
It was nice to sit and look at them and wonder the hows and whys and wherefores.
Perhaps more fun was taking tons of jumping pictures in front of the rocks and frolicking around in the grass surrounding Stonehenge. I engineered a picture where we spelled STONE with our bodies in front of Stonehenge. Slightly ironic, but mainly just because we didn’t have enough people to also spell Henge.

Our bus ride continued to bring us to Salisbury, where our main destination was the old cathedral. Andrew Butterworth, a charming old man who is honestly one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met. He gave us details about the tombs inside.
There was also a didactic exhibit inside that had lots of tiny sculptures of men in business suits. The pamphlet literally old you the meaning of every statue- which to me totally defeats the purpose of making the statue in the first place. They’re supposed to speak for themselves. It was silly.
I also wandered into the smaller church with the giant Doomsday painting. It’s actually hysterical with lots of rainbows and all the sinners dying on one side and the dead being assumed to heaven. For once the church just made me laugh instead of uncomfortable. Maybe this was due to my 4 compadres who were discussing religion and the ridiculousness of the painting, but who knows?

Back in the bus we made our way to Lacock, which was undoubtedly my favorite spot of the day. It is this little 18th Century village that is owned by the National Trust and is used in lots of historic movies because it is nearly untarnished by modern architecture. It’s definitely picturesque. We went into Lacock Abbey, which was founded by Ela, the Countess of Salisbury. After the Dissolution, Henry VIII gave the abbey to Sir William Sharington, who transformed it into a house. Eventually the Talbot family inherited the house and William Henry Fox Talbot created one of the earliest examples of the photograph negative in 1835. It’s on display in a photography exhibit. There were also lots of pictures taken by George Bernard Shaw. I loved his portraits, they seemed to capture something truly natural and wonderful.
The abbey itself was gorgeous and the caretakers created perfect exhibits. All the rooms had cards on the side that encouraged the viewer to imagine the room in different stages of its life, depending on who lived in the building at the time.
Though I think my favorite part of the main building was reading about all the children who lived there during World Wars I and II, having been sent away from London during the air raids. It describes personal accounts of their time there and it sounded like so much fun. It was easier for some reason to imagine lots of children running through the halls as opposed to nuns or servants.

Oh yeah, and Harry Potter was filmed in the Abbey and Slughorn’s house is in Lacock. It was nice to see as a person who likes ot know how movies are made….but in general, I like the building itself more than the fact that Harry Potter was filmed there.
We had a lovely quiz dinner at a pub, whose claim to fame was their dog spit. Yes, dog spit. It was what they used to roast pigs on, but there’s a little wheel on the side in which you can stick a small dog to turn the spit. I almost wish I was joking.
After dinner, I poked around the cemetery, played on the playground, and bought some hazelnuts from some children who were collecting them. They were too precious not to.

English charm settles into the body quite quickly and I definitely felt at home here by the end of this day.

Posted by: sryan1 | October 10, 2011

Meet the Tutors

We aren’t supposed to call them professors because some of that don’t have their Doctorates- so they are our tutors. As I am only taking 4 classes- I have four.
Mondays- aka today, I don’t have class. I do have two papers to write and some Latin homework to finish- but I figured I could take 10 minutes to write this.

On Tuesday I meet with Patrick Wadden for Myths and Legends of Ireland and Britain.
He is a young Irish student who’s finishing his degree at Oxford. He is getting married to an American girl and trying to get a job at Williams college and elsewhere in the states. I love his teaching style. He presents some information at the start of class, and has students give short presentations to fill in background at the start of each class and then we’re off running in discussion. It’s a nice bouncing off of ideas and bringing up the topics that we want to talk about. Also- we all know how much I love mythology, so I’m always a happy camper.
He does tend to go on a ramble every once and while because he gets scared he’s forgotten to say something he wanted to and then he just kind of talks in circles. But if we give him a minute he’ll just go “Alright, now Patrick, shut up and let them figure it out. You guys really need to stop me from doing that.”

After that I have Exploring Short Fiction, my creative writing class, with Claire Packard. She is honestly the most stereotypical old English cat lady. She wears long jean skirts with Birkenstocks and gauzy flowy shirts so you actually have no idea what her body type is- and then always big neutral colored cardigans. Usually these fall off of one shoulder and it drives Amy insane. She has long frizzy grey hair and long bangs that she’s constantly playing with, but she’s really smart and a very caring soul- just doesn’t give two shits about clothes. She always has the perfect critiques. We spend the first half of class workshopping our stories and the second half talking about a few we read for class. I like this method a lot.

Wednesday, I go to Oxford to meet Melinda Letts at the Classics Center for my Latin Tutorial. She’s a genius. She is this middle aged twig with bright blue eyes that boggle out of her head a little and short greyish brownish hair with bangs. She’s a little skeletal, but more in a doe type of way, then an OhMyGoshAreYouDying kind of way. She loves scarves and cargo pants and boots. She started learning Latin at age 6, and Greek at age 9, which was late for her. Everyone in her family is a classicist. Her grandfather wrote a textbook for young boys that I’m using among other sources to study. She uses her father’s old books with his notes in them to help teach and now her son is studying at Oxford like she did. She really is a genius, but one who is very understanding and encouraging. She points out my mistakes with a brutal but kind eye- and always reminds me I can do more. She expects a lot, but so do I, so we get along well. And she’s constantly telling me not to beat myself up about not knowing something.

Finally on Thursday I meet with the New Zealand-er- Hannah Fields for Fantasies of Youth. She is feisty redhead who always talks really fast and kind of into her mouth so she can be hard to hear unless you focus all the time. I’ve gotten good at this game thanks to a handful of professors that do this at Skidmore- so I’m good. But I can tell some other students struggle to find her points and struggle to follow her. Especially Vince, who is half deaf in both ears- which isn’t to say he can’t hear. He can really well, but she’s a struggle even for us all hearing folk. She’s really interested in her subject and also teaches a class on Pullman, Lewis, and Tolkien in the Spring, which I wish I could take so desperately. She’s also got my kind of style, lots of long skirts, retro hippie chic. I love this class, but it can get old because there are lots of soft spoken people in the class. So I tend to dominate the conversation a lot unintentionally and it can feel like its just me and Hannah talking sometimes. I wish I could hear more of other people’s thoughts about the books. I also love how Hannah likes to include tons of side sources. During class she’ll share lots of quotes and film clips and illustrations to discuss all sorts of things. I feel like if we had a longer class she’d fill it even more.

Alright- now I have no excuse. I have to go work on these papers and my Latin homework. But I think I’ll keep this post a day pace until I catch up with myself.

Hope everyone’s doing well.

I was just reading the lovely Bridget’s blog and I realized how incredibly awful I’ve been at keeping this up.
I had intended to update it on a weekly basis, which of course has not occurred. But there is a lot I want to relate to all of you. Many stories and anecdotes to share and there are all recorded in my journal instead of online. Unfortunately- this is the beast known as Paper Week. I have two due on Tuesday- which I have yet to start, and a lot of reading to do in the meantime. I’m enjoying a relaxed luncheon at my kitchen table and decided I should update you. Then I realized that would not be a good form of procrastination- especially since i spent my morning putting up facebook pictures.
So future highlights to look forward to in no particular order:
My Tutors
Oxford Week
A Weekend in London
The British Boy
Balls to the Walls Dinner
Poetry Nights at Prior Park
Green Spaces In England
Glastonbury, Cardiff, and The Tor
Stonehenge, Salsibury, and Lacock
What a One on One Tutorial is really like
Adventures in the Kitchen
Learning About Gender

….I think that’s it for now. This will be a slow process, but at a blog a night I may accomplish something. It’ll be my prize at the end of the day.
I do miss everyone terribly and hope you’re all doing well.


Posted by: sryan1 | September 9, 2011

Week 1: Prior Park

Has flown away and is never coming back.

I have been here an entire week officially and have been busy enough not to have time to use this.

I’ll attempt to be more diligent, but no promises of course.

But let me start by introducing you to typical life in Bath.

The Prior Park Residents:

Myself and My Wonderful Roommate Hannah:

Tall Blonde History Major from Williams with a love for the middle ages and castles. She runs and plays squash and gets up as early as I do. She also sleeps like a rock so that I never wake her up when I’m up later than her. In the 3rd floor attic room looking onto the street we exist- we’re the seemingly super social happy members of the household.

Manda and Natalie: Live in the room across from us. They are the funny people. They love to laugh and have high energy and can talk at fast paces- especially when they are together- they feed off each other tremendously.

Manda is the child of a marine and air force pilot. An Irish beauty who loves dark humor and telling stories- and saving money.

Natalie reminds me of Monica from the Truth About Forever. Smart, but not a cooker.From Denison. And says Leg and Egg like a mid-westerner.

Amy and Kristen: Under my room- they have a random shower put in- supposedly in case we don’t organize our showers appropriately. They are the sweethearts in my book. And my favorites.

Amy is the favorite freshman of the boyfriend of the senior who loved me. So we’re supposed to be best friends. In case no one got that- Greg and Claire are dating. Greg knows Amy- Claire is the person I was a dramaturg for- and I love her dearly. Amy is a creative writer and a runner who loves to dance and is getting her movie education while she’s here from the rest of us and our fantastic VHS DVD collection that has been left behind by past Prior Park Residents. It’s fantastic- we’ve been watching about a movie a night. Thus far we’ve watched- Almost Famous, 10 Things I Hate About You, Sense and Sensibility, Pretty Woman, 28 Days later, and now Monty Python and the Holy Grail is on in the background.

Anywho- we have a lot in common- apart from movie tastes and I like her a lot.

Kristen is the Education Major from St. Michael’s College- where my Mom, Grandpa, Uncle, and 2 cousins have gone. She’s taking the education program here and is a TA for young British Kids. She’s a wonderful Lesbian who giggles a lot and says how it is and likes my silly jokes and eccentricities. She’s just a comfy cozy person.

Sarai- Lives across from the hall and has her own bathroom. The communal one is between Sarai and Kristen/Amy’s room. Sarai is very independent and has the only single in the house. She’s taking a politics tutorial. She’s this sassy girl from Brooklyn and totally sweet, but needs lots of solitary time. She’s also a fantastic cook- she impresses me all the time.


Having Met my Residents- we spend a lot of time together and cook our own meals- which has been an adventure for me as most of you should know. But it hasn’t been as hard as I’ve thought. I’ve been eating, salad, eggs, pasta, lots of veggies, potatoes, pb and j’s and ravioli. But I haven’t been eating many snacks apart from apples and handfuls of pretzels. When you actually have to pay for the food- it becomes less appealing to eat it all the time. I’ve become very aware of when and when I’m not hungry. Guess I’m gonna lose some weight while I’m here. Whatever.

They all help me with cooking- in that they explain things I don’t understand- like poking holes in a potato- or how long it takes pasta to boil.

I get up at 7 everyday. Stretch my body out- and shower- putz around making breakfast- read and explore or go to class.

I found a nice cemetery up the street that allows for outdoor time reading. It’s beautiful old and overgrown and up on a hill so it overlooks Bath beautifully. I love it- I should probably take pictures, but I feel like it would ruin it. It’s intended as a public walking space, and is the overflow cemetery for Bath’s central abbey. Tons of wild flowers and critters.

Alright- I’m a little blogged out for now- more coming on the professors- excuse me tutors- things that are different in Britain and America, and more on simpler adventures. Also really exciting ones.

Posted by: sryan1 | September 3, 2011

After a Whirlwind

I’m here. In Bath. In England. In Britain. In the United Kingdom.
( I learned the difference between Britain and England today).

Noon September 1st
Get lovingly collected by Nanny and Grumpy and deposited at JFK. Learn my bag is 25lbs overweight. Oops. Shoes and toiletries do that.
Fly out JFK 3 15.
Write a letter and Dive further into The Forgotten Garden.
Arrive in Montreal 4 15.
Go through Canadian customs. Have major confusion when I think my bag is lost. Realize it isn’t. Find Shannon- another girl on the program- realize her bag is lost. Watch her bags by our gate while she retrieves it.
Fly out Montreal 9 45 PM.
Arrive at London- Heathrow 9 45 AM.
Go through Cutsoms and pick up bags.
Have a lovely old gentlemen walk us through step by step to get our bus ticket to bath.
Get bussed to the Central bus station.
Leave on Bus at 11 45.
Arrive in Bath at 2 30.
Gather belongings- have made it considerably through The Forgotten Garden- almost done with it.

Get picked up by Emma Hurry- charming young program leader. Walk the 5 mins to Nelson house.
Get the grand tour. Have lots of packets of information tossed at me, since Shannon and I missed all of orientation.
Including Diagnostics- which is good- because now we don’t have to take the beginning tests. =D. Wooo timing!
Tour the skinny 6-story, charming house.

Get a cab. Arrive at 31 Prior Park- my house with my 7 house-mates and 1 roommate.
Make dinner? Yay pasta?
Get fancy. We are supposed to dress “Smart”
Go to gallery opening to meet our professors.
I zone in on the art, because 1. Its pretty and
2. I don’t feel like dealing with the mass amounts of people I should hypothetically meet right now. But did meet quite a few of them.
My Latin Professor at Oxford seems awesome- the class is going to be intense, but I can tell she and I are going to get along. And that’s she’s going to be a hard ass- she started studying Latin and French when she was 6- and has a family of classicists. But she was behind on Greek- only got to that when she was 9. She’s also new as a tutorial teacher- but I think we’ll get along well.
Also briefly met my creative writing teacher.
And I hear the Myths and Legends professor is a jolly Irishman. =D
But mainly avoided human contact and was fading fast by the end of the night.
Of course- instead of going straight home, I decide to stop by Claredon Villas, the house a few streets over from us. I can’t resist new spaces, or comfortable places in which to meet these new people. So I’m social, and play with the neighborhood cats who desperately wanted to get indoors. Have I mentioned that? My neighborhood has lots of neighborhood cats. =D. It’s chill, I can play with them whenevers.
Then after the weariness truly sets in- I walk home, curl up and go to sleep.

Saturday (aka today)

10 30 AM Farmer’s Market.
Actually learn to buy food. Discover I don’t know at all what I’ll need, but pick up Tomatoes, Carrots, lettuce. Safe bets. Go to Grocery store. Tea, Bread, Jame, Cereal, Pasta, Simple things.
I seriously need help if I’m going to learn anything about cooking while I’m here guys- Anne, Roma, anyone- guidance? I know Anne mainly bakes- but I could bake a pie of some sort or something, right?

Walk home with bags of groceries- its a long walk- therefore I am glad I did not buy milk and will do that on the next run I’m sure to make.

Unpack groceries. Sit and Watch Almost Famous. We have the best movie collection ever stored up from people living here in the past. It’s glorious. Most movies you could think to watch- on like a bad day- its all favorites. Plus we have a collection of stuff at ASE we can borrow.
Made PB and J. Ate some carrotts.
Greeted neighbor who was making shelves in his front yard. His name was Andy and he was very pleasant. I do hope he is the friendly type, I don’t care is he’s old- he’s British and I want to be friends. And he has a nice backyard. Ours is lacking.
Explored back yard- peeped over stone walls to compare it with other back yards- ours is lacking in charm. Explored behind our house. Found a shortcut to Claredon Villas- and a bushel of Free Lilac- took some to put in a vase at home and put it in my drawers so my clothes smell purty. FREE LILAC! EE!

Decided to go a wandering- not into Bath, but more around our residential area. Found a small orchard and some sheep. Everything has stone walls around it, so you have to peep over a lot of times to see pretty yard, but I managed.
Also found a kickass graveyard that I’ll describe more tomorrow.
Made myself Pasta again- and made a poorly cooked potato. Looking forward to figuring out how to feed myself.
Went wandering around central Bath with Sarai and Kristen, my housemates.

And I apologize for this little description, but I’ve just got here and its been 3 days already- tomorrow I go to STONEHENGE. =D. STONEHENGE!
And I assure you that will get much more description.

Posted by: sryan1 | June 8, 2011


Well, I’ve been back in the ol’ U S of A for 3 days now, which means I really do need to say goodbye to Rome. Driving back home from the airport, I can honestly say I felt like I was in a dream world. Everything looked too green and it kind of hurt my eyes. When I came home from LA, it was a relief to see all of the trees and grass, but now its disappointing not to see winding alleys and cobblestones in its place.

Looking back to the beginning of this trip, I can remember my cynicism as I clung to memories of my beloved Paris, and refused to let Rome meet its standards. By the end, I can honestly say that Rome came very close to meeting my view of Paris. If we had been there longer, it might have very well overtaken Paris.

As soon as I got home, my mother warmed up a pizza, since she was going out that evening. I took one bite and regretted it. All the fabulous meals I had in Rome rushed back to me and my tongue was not happy with this formerly frozen piece of bread and cheese. I longed for homemade pizza and spaghetti. I even wanted a mediocre croissant from Café Prati.

In the days I’ve been home, I’ve been sitting and reading, which it has been a relief to do. I missed my books in Rome, despite the wonderful adventures I had without them. But staring at my now smooth feet, and clog tan line, I almost miss my cut up heels and blistered toes. I do sincerely miss walking everywhere. I’ve had to use my car innumerable times to get around my town. I never realized how big American suburban towns are. Rome seems smaller simply because everything’s packed together.

One of my happiest times in Rome was just walking home, in the peace of my own thoughts and observances, or every so often with the company of friends. Our loud, laughing stumbles back from the Campo Di Fiori were absolutely hysterical. I’m going to miss a lot of people I met on this trip because I have truly enjoyed their company. This is especially true of our Professors. I am so glad of you two and the privilege I had to wander and adventure alone with you both. Whether it was walks and museum visits with Dan, or going to visit Massimo’s mother and Carole with Jackie, I had a great time and lovely conversations.

I’ve been editing some of my pictures lately and I just cannot handle how beautiful everything is. Liz’s “I can’t! I can’t”! rings in my head as I adjust color balances of my favorite places that I cannot wait to see again. I’m pretty sure most people know my favorite spot was the Villa Medici, quickly followed by the Keats-Shelley House, which truly did feel like my home away from home. Then there is a little spot of the Tiber that I used to sit that I will truly miss. It was always peaceful when you moved away from the traffic. There were two boats docked there and it wasn’t a walking path, so I was hardly ever disturbed when I wanted to sit and write or read. The Castel San Angelo, also by the Tiber, will forever hold a place in my heart. It served as a guide whenever we got close to home and on my second to last day in Rome I must have spent an hour at the top talking with my friend Rob and his roommate Matt.
I have never been so privileged in my life. This trip allowed me to have friends from home and friends from school in wonderful Rome. I’m always split between close home and school friends and to have some in the same place for once was fantastic. I’ll never forget seeing my friend David sing at the Basilica di San Agostino. It was amazing, and the little old Italian ladies warmed my heart with their cheers. Then late nights with Rob and his friends made my trip that much more fulfilling. I learned some Italian from them, heard other life perspectives and understood so much more about Italian culture thanks to observations they made in their sociology class. It also helped once in a while to separate myself from the group since I’m a natural independent wanderer. I am so grateful I got to see both these wonderful people while I was in Rome.

Rob’s knowledge in conjunction with the knowledge Romekids accumulated all semester really helped things hit home for me here. When we walked through the forum or the Palatine hill, I could easily rebuild the buildings in my mind and imagine myself thousands of years ago, a living breathing ancient roman performing a simple task. Often, I could not contain my excitement when I realized I was at a place I had written about in my travelogue. I felt I had already been here through my character. I remember Emily laughing as she explained a road she had gone shopping down in the Roman Forum. It was so great to bring the ancient city to life and truly understand how many people have lived here and worked here over centuries of time and what has changed. It was a fantastic historical experience.

And now I have to come to a close, because I’m far over the word limit, as I’m sure Jackie will joke about later. But this was an incredible experience, one I’m sure I’ll never forget. And I know I will return, at least to visit Jordy and Jackie in the fall when I’m in England. I cannot wait until then. And my coin in the Trevi is always there for good measure. I will be back, if with not quite as pleasant company. Goodbye Rome, you’ll be dearly missed.

Posted by: sryan1 | June 7, 2011

Campo Di Fiori

I adore this market square. There’s something absolutely European and charming about it that you just don’t find in the states. Locales and tourists mix evenly, and though some market sellers can be obnoxious, trying to get your attention, most are content to sell their wares quietly. And everything is delicious. The Campo adds whole new set of colors to Rome, the bright vegetables and clean white tents standing out against the yellow buildings. At night this becomes the center of Rome’s nightlife, full of bars and drunken youth, but now it is a busy grocery market.

There are these tiny 3-wheeled trucks everywhere that are used to put up the market and carry wares and garbage to and from the square. They are adorable and I’ve had to resist hopping a ride on one. I love the Italian logic, that things should be made smaller in order to fit through their narrow streets, rather than making street bigger. That’s American logic; let’s make more parking lots, rather than making smaller cars. There are mopeds and bikes everywhere in the Campo, because a car simply can’t get through here. You either walk or ride these smaller vehicles of transportation that fight in the side streets for room to pass.

I approach a stand, intending to enjoy a peach, or what I hoped was a peach. I ask for one and the stall owner, gives me a strange look, because it seems hardly anyone buys just one of anything. They’re usually buying groceries for the week, instead of just a lunchtime snack. But he smiles anyway and weighs the fruit on a scale in the middle of the stall, which then prints a receipt of the price. I pay the euro necessary and am on my merry way.

It is fascinating to watch stalls individually, because each one seems to have its own rules. In one, you bag your own fruit and make your way around it before checking out. Another stall owner insists you use plastic gloves while picking your goods. Yet another has lots of old women pointing to their desired foods, while the stall owner and her assistants bag things quickly. Its all very personal, and quite unable to fit a certain formula.

I think its funniest to watch some of the women, who clearly circle the entire square, noting prices and quality of the food, making little marks in their notebooks. Finally, discerning a winner from their scratch-work, each approaches a stall with confidence, gifting the stall owner with their precious money.

I bit into my peach, which I discover is likely to be a nectarine, I walk through the square and just watch people.

I stop to watch a dog with his legs splayed out in the shade of the building. It is a black and brown mixed breed. He has on a red collar with a nametag that says Roma. He seems to be alone, but knowing the Romans, he’s probably waiting for his owner to exit a store somewhere. I approach him, hoping the pet the pretty puppy. But as I get closer, he gives me this look that says, You are not my owner, don’t you dare touch me. So I content myself with watching him, making sure his owner is actually somewhere around here. He seems to be watching one wine shop. Whenever someone exits it, he leans forward, as if trying to get a better look at the customer. A woman with brown hair leaves the shop, and Roma’s tail reveals her to be his owner. He bounds forward, already by her side, as she looks behind her to call to him. She quickly realizes he’s already next to her and continues walking, purchases in hand. I don’t know what the Romans do to their dogs, but I certainly wish I had a pet that loyal.

Finishing my questionable nectarine, I desire a place to sit. Of course, there is no seating anywhere in the Campo, Italians don’t provide much seating in general, as it costs more to sit in Cafes and Restaurants. It seems they’ve gotten used to perpetual standing. As a lazy American, who is used to frequent benches and couches, I move to the next Palazzo. The Palazzo Farnese has a nice long marble bench on the back of the main municipal building and I rest my complaining feet there while watching the world pass.

I zoom in on a pigeon trying to eat a piece of bread that is clearly too big for him. He captures the morsel in his beak and throws back his head, hoping the motion will allow the chunk to slip through his tiny mouth. Or perhaps he actually expects the bread to reduce itself in this motion. Either way, it usually bounces off to the side, waiting for another pigeon to attempt the same motion. Pigeons love the Campo area, where there is always a chance for an extra speck of food.

Posted by: sryan1 | June 7, 2011

The Vatican Museum

I just had three completely different experiences in the Vatican.

Part 1.

In the beginning I zoomed through it with Gia, starting at the exhibit of Greek sculpture and moving toward the Sistine Chapel. There were people everywhere and if you wanted to truly examine a piece of art, you had to dodge several of them. The energy of the crowd constantly compelled you forward, refusing to let you appreciate anything. The goal was clearly to get to the Sistine Chapel and anything along the way automatically become less significant.

Tours passing by were especially obnoxious. They would stop suddenly and it was almost impossible to navigate around them. Even as you tried, you got the sense that the piece of art they were clustered around was important, and I often wanted to push through the crowd to see what was so interesting. The value of the object increased by the amount of people squished around it. Which is ridiculous, because art should not be measured by its fame. I hate that feeling of someone telling me what is important and what isn’t. I find it more enjoyable to find that little detail that most people don’t notice in a work and stare at it, giving it some much needed attention.

Its greedy of the Vatican to house all this great art in one place. If it was properly distributed, more artists could have breathing room and get the attention they deserve. Even if you emptied out all the rooms and just toured the Vatican palace itself, there would actually be a chance to appreciate the architecture and the details of the rooms themselves. There’s hardly any blank space in the museum and this makes it impossible for the viewer to cleanse their eyes before moving on to the next piece of art, especially at the rate you’re forced to walk through the museum. Art is everywhere and its overwhelming rather than awe-inspiring.

It was also unnerving not to have a map to organize your visit. Some hallways that Gia and I thought would lead us away from the crowd became dead ends, forcing us back to the waves of people. The layout of the museum is impossible to discern. When Jordy found Gia and I, we took a turn into the Egyptian wing on the way to the Sistine Chapel. It was lovely and quiet and gave use a breath of fresh air after the crowds in the main hallway. But this became problematic once we exited because we found out we were back where we had started on oue journey to the Sistine Chapel. The security guard refused to let us travel back through Egypt and we had to push back through the crowds we had just finished pushing ourselves through.

People in general were grumpy, which is not how you’re supposed to feel in a museum. Museums should be calming. At one point I lost track of Gia and Jordy. When I did spot them, about 5 rows of people ahead of me, I tried to push my way to them, saying excuse me to people as I literally had to squeeze myself through bodies. This lady whipped around and yelled at me to “CALM DOWN AND CHILL THE FUCK OUT” as I was pushing past her. I apologized profusely as I explained I had been separated from my friends. I know I seemed rude and pushing getting through the crowd, but there was no need to react that strongly. The whole aura of the space was hostile.

Along our journey we picked up Amari and decided to take a detour through the Raphael rooms, which was the best decision we made. It was still crowded and you didn’t have much room to see the actual art, but it was so amazing it didn’t matter too much. Though people with cameras were providing me with endless frustration, flashes going off everywhere, damaging paintings left and right. Then there were the families who brought children her. What a mistake. I saw one small child trying to scale a column, nearly knocking over a statue. Another child was almost trampled in the crowd, and those who were safely in their parents’ arms were wailing. And I couldn’t even resent them for it because I felt like doing the same thing.

Finally we reach what everyone had been waiting for, The Sistine Chapel. All of us covered our shoulders and shut our traps to pay respect to the great Michelangelo. And honestly, I was the most upset I had been this entire trip. I was close to tears. This masterpiece is treated like shit. Everyone takes a million snapshots of it, with flash no less, when they could find higher quality photos of it online. Tour guides were pointing out details on the ceiling, when they should have been discouraging their clients from speaking or taking photographs. I wish I could be there when it was almost empty and just sit and look.

At the Palazzo Barberini yesterday, Amari, Liz, Emily, Gia and I got a chance to lay down on some couches to appreciate an amazing painting on the ceiling there. We must have lain there for 10-15 minutes straight. In the Sistine Chapel, there was no choice but to move in quickly and move out just as quickly. Some old Italians in front of us were busy discussing the Gnocchi they had the previous night instead of admiring the art around them. I wanted to smack them, despite their age.

Afterwards Gia, Amari, and Jordy left the Museum, they were so upset. I was as well, but I felt I needed to give the museum another chance.
This leads me to:

Part 2.

Which is significantly shorter than Part 1. I needed to escape the crowds immediately so I went to go look at the Pope’s carriages in the basement. There was hardly anyone down there. No tour groups to tell me what to pay attention to, and no getting pushed around. It was not the most interesting exhibit ever, but it gave me a chance to calm myself down and renewed desire to see more of the museum.
Re-entering the museum I looked at an exhibit of Aborigine Art and took my time walking around. Sounds from outside the exhibit kept invading my inner quiet, but I enjoyed myself as best I could. There was an aborigine Madonna and Child that was absolutely beautiful. I wandered up some stairs and found myself surrounded by stamps. Upon closer examination I realized I was in an exhibition about the papal postage and I almost laughed out loud.

As I walked through a doorway one of the guards said “Bonjourno” and naturally I replied and smiled. A few minutes later he approaches me to ask me if I like the exhibit. I shrugged and told him how ridiculous I thought it was. He then explained he worked in the Grecian sculpture portion of the exhibit and asked if I wanted to see it. Before I know I am getting swept through the museum by the security guard who sent me a steady stream of questions about what I had and hadn’t seen in the museum already.

This leads me to Part 3.

Exploring the Museum with a Guide.

I was navigated through crowds and lead through a few shortcuts to get to the courtyard outside, where Luca, the guard begins to explain to me how the museum is laid out. He pointed out what’s on each floor and which tower holds what. I answer questions about why I’m in Rome, while he points out the Pope’s Summer House and the Tower of the Four Winds.

As we move to return indoors, he insists that I go see the Faberge Egg exhibit, and once again I’m being steered through crowds and dropped off at my destination. At that point he needs to return to his post, but makes me promise I’ll end my visit in his part of the museum. I explore the eggs, not terribly interested in them, but absorbing information about them nonetheless. One egg is from Prince Alexei to his Mother and had an adorable letter inside. On my way out of the exhibit, there were lots of grand religious paintings that I enjoyed immensely. My favorite was a strip of small paintings called Astronomical Observances. I love that the Church was the head of scientific investigation, finding Godliness in the order of the world.

Eventually I find my way back to Luca, who leads me to a few Key Statues in the Grecian Wing and finally to a beautiful mosaic floor from the Baths of Caracalla. It was breathtaking. Though I was in awe, I couldn’t help thinking of Jordy and how angry she’d be to learn that these floors had been stolen from their original resting place and moved to the Vatican.

Leading me behind some ropes and screens, Luca decided to show me more of the floors of Caracalla, seeing how much I liked them. A big part of the Greek Sculpture wing was also closed off for cleaning and he showed me some key pieces down there before dropping me back off at the exhibit entrance. It was so nice to see art without tons of people around it.

I had been telling Gia earlier than never in a million years would I work in the Vatican, but after walking around with Luca, I realized it has its perks. Working there means you always have to deal with crowds and tourists, but you also get the privilege of seeing all this art without the crowds and having lots of time to examine it. They actually get to see the Sistine Chapel empty. Just imagine. Luca said he loved working there. I told him I had to me up with my class and went on my merry way, still not liking the Vatican, but happy that I gave it another shot.

Posted by: sryan1 | June 6, 2011

Palazzo Altmeps


This museum was a little disappointing to me. This may be because I was feeling sick or because I was thrilled with the Palazzo Barberini earlier this morning. I had also tried to get to the Baths of Diocletian earlier and was frustrated at not being able to find the entrance.  But even without those earlier events, I had mixed feelings about the Palazzo Altemps. It was beyond a doubt fascinating, but I had trouble getting immersed into the museum. I don’t like that they don’t give you a map. I could not for the life of me figure out how the museum was laid out and that disrupted my flow through it and I just end up confused. People kept finding me wandering around and pointing me in the proper direction to find an entrance or an exit. I didn’t even discover the first floor until I was about to leave the museum. I obviously should have had my blue guide with me.

Though I was frustrated with the layout, it was interesting to see how the palazzo altered over the years. In one room the ceiling was lowered, but the museum raised it again to show the overlapping frescos from different time periods. The frescos in general were amazing, it was hard to believe they still existed. They had such detail, especially in the loggia. That was the most surprising place to see well-preserved frescos because it is a balcony and can easily be affected by the elements. But the warm vines and animal scenes are still in tact and wonderful to look at. The remains of the medieval inside were awesome to behold, but it wasn’t too clearly labeled, creating a feeling of puzzlement as well as awe.

A fun confusing part of the museum that I enjoyed was finding little details that showed that rooms had once been used for a different purpose. In one room I found a curved crevice by the floor that came up to midway up my calf. It had a nice fresco inside and a tiled floor that went below the present floor. I have no idea what it was used for and the museum certainly didn’t note it. If you walked past it too fast, you would just miss it. There was also a letter slot in one of the rooms that if you peaked in it, you could see a tiled portion on the inside, like it was used for something else before it was a mail slot. Or maybe it wasn’t a mail slot at all and that was just my interpretation. I love these little mysteries that don’t seem to have an explanation.

In spite of my negative impressions of the museum I loved learning about the layering within different works of art. I thought it was so interesting that restorers centuries later would take bits of old statues and either fix them or repurpose them. Take a torso from here and a head form there and voila! Dionysus. Its like scrap art, but in an ancient style and classier. I also found it fascinating how art historians could tell when new marble had been added to a statue and could date it. Though they could date the statues, they didn’t have artist names most of the time, which I found fascinating. These nameless works of art, restructured and reused, but without owners. Artwork that simply stood for itself. There is a sort of poetic aspect to it.

Though the art was poetic, I have to admit I was quite childish in my actions in the museum. I kept sort of expecting the sculptures to come to life, or imagining them doing so. There is this face of a woman with a closed eye called Erinna, who is supposedly a wounded Amazon. I stared at her for a while, expecting her eyes to open. There was also a sarcophagus in the room that had this great battle scene on it and I just imagined it coming to life. Which was not practical at all because there were three rows of characters that were standing on each other in different ways and the whole battalion would have just collapsed had it come to life. I was suddenly reminded of the Keats-Shelley Museum and Keats’ Ode to A Grecian Urn, and was grateful that this relief was frozen so that many soldiers didn’t fall to their deaths.

When I saw the bust of Hercules, which was heavily altered by restoration I believe by Bernini himself, or his student, I could not help staring him down. I felt like I was four, making faces at the big brutes’ faces and getting an inch away from his nose. I was delighted at the fact that he could never wake up and bite my nose off. It was so much fun and I tried it with several of the other statues, but Hercules was my favorite.

In general I was surprised at many of the interpretations of the Gods. For instance, a statue of Cupid and Psyche in an amorous embrace left both genders slightly undetermined, like a Marc Jacobs Advertisement. Reading about the statue, the artist had thrown together other statues, switching male and female parts because that was admired during the baroque period when he was restoring the statue. It was bizarre. There was also a fresco of the Polyphemus playing pipes while Galatea cheated on him with another man. Instead of altering his facial structure to accommodate the third eye, this Cyclops looked like he had two normal eye sockets, just without his eye in them. The third eye was in the middle of the forehead, but it didn’t disrupt the symmetry of his face. The artist either wanted the Cyclops to appear more attractive or was too lazy to drastically alter the facial structure.

My two favorite statues by far were Cupid and Ares and The Ludovisi Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife. In the first Cupid was playing at Ares feet, who was sitting regally with his sword and helmet. The contrast between the two characters was absolutely darling. Cupid had a look of absolute wonder on his face while Ares kept his usual grimace. I couldn’t help but laugh at them. The Suicidal Gaul produced a completely different reaction. It is supposedly done in imitation of the famous Dying Gaul, but I found this statue much more powerful. Perhaps because you can see this Gaul thrusting the sword into his shoulder while holding his dead wife limp in the other hand. The grief on his face his indescribable. I haven’t seen many other statues that had that much facial expression. On the place card about the statue, it said the Gaul had just killed his wife and was in the process of killing himself rather than be captured by the enemy. I don’t like to think that way. When I saw the statue I automatically assumed the Romans had raped and killed his wife and when the Gaul discovered her, he killed himself in grief. I’m not sure which story is more tragic or admirable, but I think I like the second better. The first makes it seem like the wife didn’t have a choice in dying when her husband killed her and that is really depressing. Murder out of love is still murder.

Ending my visit in the Palazzo at that statue was perfect. I think it’ll remain my favorite piece of ancient art for a while.

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