Friday, July 3, 2009

Life in the Eternal City

It’s been a packed few days in the Eternal City. After arriving in Rome on Monday afternoon, our group was a bit tired and foggy to say the least. We spent an hour or so at the Fiumicino baggage claim before the group was whisked off to St. Stephens with (amazingly) every piece of checked luggage in tow. After brief orientation and a walk around the Circo Massimo area for gelato (the “best” in Rome according to their sign), everyone collapsed into their beds for a well deserved night’s sleep.

Tuesday afternoon was devoted to the Vatican, where our tour guide Bruno (not from the movie) gave us the inside scoop on the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s. Many students appreciated visiting the epicenter of the Catholic Church, while others seemed intrigued by the art history- whatever the points of interest, the cameras rarely stopped flashing. Hungry and exhausted from pounding the Vatican pavement, we headed back to St Stephen’s for a relaxing night in.

On Wednesday morning, we were especially excited to meet Massimo Bassano, our National Geographic expert. Massimo is an Italian photographer and journalist and has been a welcome addition to our group. After breakfast, he showed everyone a presentation of his work and introduced the idea that all of the students should be looking at the world through the lens of a National Geographic explorer by appreciating the intricacies of what is going on around them. He encouraged the students to take a closer look at the geography, history, people, products, religion, development, social structure, culture- everything around them, rather than be passive consumers. Being travelers instead of tourists is a big theme on this expedition.

After Massimo’s lecture, the students split up into their On Assignment groups for an orientation with their leaders Rachel (Photography), Matt (Archeology) and Breena (Journalism). Soon afterwards the group left St. Stephen’s for a walking tour of some of central Rome’s most famous historical attractions. We stopped at the Pantheon, where the students got to see the second largest dome in Rome, then for lunch on our way to Piazza Navona where the famous Bernini fountain “The Four Rivers” faces Borromini’s church. Next it was on to the Trevi Fountain and then back past the Forum and the Colosseum. After dinner the group gathered for a game of Mafia- where masterminds Gina and Jimmy displayed a truly disturbing/awe inspiring aptitude for the art of deception!

Today, On Assignment groups headed in separate directions to focus on individual projects. The Photography group chose Trastevere as their subject of choice, cataloging the graffiti, churches, markets and inhabitants of the vibrant quarter with what Massimo and Rachel described as significant technical improvement since yesterday. Meanwhile Matt took the Archeology group to the visit the Forum, the Coliseum and the Palatine Hill- a highlight of the trip so far for those interested in Ancient Rome, and a jumping off point for delving deeper into individual interests within Archeology. The Journalism group chose to journey outside the city to the Villa D’Este, an amazing UNESCO heritage site of fountain filled gardens that once served as a Renaissance haven for Roman elite. The inspiring gardens provided the perfect atmosphere for some creative travel writing.

It has been great to see everyone get excited about their individual projects and the trip as we all get to know each other and adjust to life in Rome.
After an early dinner this evening the group gathered for a presentation of our photographer’s favorite picks from the day in Trastevere and part I of the film Ben-Hur. Thus ends another action-packed day in the eternal city!

Breena, Rachel, and Matt