Final thoughts on Rome, and VIDEO!

Rome may not be the center of the world anymore, but try telling that to the eight million tourists milling around the Vatican. For the number of people here and for the diversity of language and race, it’s easy to forget that all roads no longer lead to Rome. But the bustle of the city also begs the question: Has Rome been too commercialized? Or does it still retain some of the ancient magic that made it a cultural hub years ago? I think the answer is, “both.”

I believe it’s important for people to come here and see the artifacts and sites. It provokes a connection and sense of reverence regarding history that can only be gained in a hands-on way. It’s mind-boggling to picture a group of people more or less like me erecting hundred-foot-tall stone columns at their public forums or the thousand arches of the Coliseum, not out of aesthetic ambition but for practical use. Just as I walk to the dining hall and then to the chapel and then to the library each day without a thought, the ancient Romans worked, ate, worshiped, played and studied in these majestic structures every day.

Imagining a population for whom these sights were ordinary offers a moving peek into history that we are fortunate to have.

Beyond even that, structures such as the crumbling Coliseum remind us that no earthly empire is everlasting, no matter how vast or powerful. I am reminded of the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which tells of a traveler who found the ruins of a huge statue. An inscription reads, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” Ozymandias thought his kingdom would last forever. In the same way, people thought Rome would never fall. Neither is with us anymore. It’s not hard to imagine tourists visiting the United States in a few millennia to see what’s left of the Pentagon or Mount Rushmore. It’s a sobering thought, but I think people need to grasp the transience of all we take for granted – not only so we can appreciate the good things we have, but also so we can learn to hold those things loosely, assigning greater value to the intangible qualities of culture.

Yet on the other hand, the commercialized aspect of the tourist scene makes me cringe, and it’s more than the pressing crowds that make me feel that way. It seems somehow wrong to “go see the Vatican,” a place that was built to be holy and honoring to God. It’s not a museum. It’s holy ground (or should be). I’m glad the Pope still used it for his weekly message and that pilgrims still worship there. In this way, it is still being used for its intended purpose. On the other hand, I think the builders’ original vision for some of the other monuments has been lost.

But then, we have progressed. Maybe it is too much to ask that a new culture in a new millennium cling to the values of a culture so old we can hardly understand it. To the ancient Romans, watching lions eat Christians was quality entertainment. It would turn our stomachs today. For us, it would be sick to reinstate gladiatorial fights in the Coliseum, yet I believe it is a good thing to use that space as the public arena it was meant to be. I heard there was recently a concert there. Surely the designers did not intend for power chords to resonate through the stone arches. At the same time, this use of the Coliseum holds true to a purpose the architects may not have intended, but which is nonetheless as old as the structure itself: spectacle.

The real disrespect is the way vendors and con artists have turned the historical and religious sites into marketplaces and stages for robbery. Walking out of the Vatican, souvenir shop windows display tacky gold souvenirs plastered with the face of the Pope as if he were some flamboyant celebrity. It makes me think of the Bible story about Jesus overturning the tables in the sanctuary. It’s an even greater shame that portions of the city, including some of the most ancient sites, bear the artwork and tags of vandals.

All else aside, the fact that the new Rome reflects aspects of the greater global culture can hardly be pegged as a bad thing. Global culture values green space. One can see this in the city of Rome. As a matter of fact, the Italians have valued green space for centuries. In the center of the city you’ll find the gardens of the Borghese palace, a sprawling grassy space with paths for horseback riders and knolls for picnickers. Trees are scattered about and green and yellow birds fight scrawny brown squirrels for branch space. The gardens have been there for six hundred years, way before the rest of the world had even begun to create the pollution we are now desperate to eliminate with our city parks and nature reservations. Rome does not just open a window on ancient cultures; it spotlights today’s in a manner that even the culturally semi-literate can comprehend as a good thing, in spite of what may have been lost in the sweep of time and tourism.

And now for the much-slaved-over video, for which my video partner Tyler went to great lengths to procure a firewire cable (which connects the camcorder to the Mac) and for which he was pick-pocketed in the process:

Peace, love, and jet lag,
Miss Rex

Photofinish Friday: Arrivederci, Italia!

This morning, looking out the kitchen window at the sprawling green patchwork valley of Umbria, I realized that tomorrow will be the last morning that I will wake up to that view. Maybe I'll come back to Italy, maybe even to Assisi, but I probably won't live in this monastery.

It has been such a great trip and I have so many great stories to tell once I get home and get some sleep. A part of me is devastated to be leaving this beautiful country with its beautiful stone cities and beautiful gracious people, but it will be nice to be surrounded by people who speak English. Less stressful. And I miss my peeps. I think a whole semester abroad might have been stretching it, but someday I'd like to travel the world spending 2-week stints in different cities getting to know the local culture. To me that is far more valuable than any pictures I might take of monuments or any historical sights I might look at. In the end it's the people that matter, here, now, not the ones who died two thousand years ago after building the Coliseum.

With that being said, enjoy my last batch of Assisi photographs!

Peace, love and arrivederci,
Miss Rex

Rah rah ah ah ah, Roma...

Scenes from the weekend:

The view from the cliff of Orvieto, where I rendezvoused with my roommates, Razmataz and Mnomanoms.

Brother Sylvestro takes a group hug photo.

The Duomo in Orvieto. It's a freaking huge church where they have this big ceremony involving a dove and a zip line or something... it's complicated.

I finally found the wizard of Oz! I was following the wrong yellow brick road this whole time....

You see? Our hostel was somewhere over the rainbow.

Peace, love and Lady Gaga,
Miss Rex

Thoughts from La Rocca

In Assisi, there is really nowhere to look but up. The buildings aren’t tall, but they loom as if reading over your shoulder, and when you feel their breath on your neck you must look.

When you do, you’ll see nothing but texture. In the architecture, yes – rough-hewn rock is mixed with more recent, geometrical stones and modern-day bricks in the walls. The streets, too, are mostly cobbled. Wood and metal doors to homes and yards are set in the walls like gates to secret gardens. And there are gardens in plenty. The greens are intoxicating. Pines and palm trees live side by side. People raise cactuses next to wild poppies. The flora hides dozens of different kinds of birds, from city street pigeons to happy darting finches, that chirrup and tweet in disregard of the many tourists.

In short, the place itself is a paradox. Sacred shares ground with secular. Modern infringes on ancient. The rustic lingers in the urban. There is an old wooden cart in an alley off the piazza and a red crane repairs a tower held up by Roman columns.

Yet much of the texture comes from the juxtaposition of the people. Assisi is a pilgrimage town, which makes it more of a melting pot than even our home in the States. I’ve heard Italian, Spanish, German, and Swedish. Once in a while I even catch a snatch of English.

Visitors of all ages and races gather in the piazza. A class on tour takes pictures by the fountain. A group of Swedish tweens plays some version of sharks and minnows. Families dine under umbrellas at an open-air restaurant. A man wearing a beret sits on a stone bench and scribbles in a notepad. There are parents, grandparents and children, schools, couples, seekers and pilgrims, all bundled together in one jostling, joyful square. Countless camera eyes are poised to remember what the photographers fear they will not.

So, I have described the people in any tourist town. What makes Assisi unique is that all of these gather in the shadow of churches and basilicas that played major roles in Christian history. The streets bear the names of saints. Shop windows showcase religious souvenirs. To this day, friars and nuns walk the narrow streets, heads covered, alongside bare-shouldered visitors, Vespas, cars and buses.

And it’s relaxed. American tourist towns are so rushed in comparison, urging guests to squeeze in as much activity as possible. Assisi seems to call us simply to be. Enjoy. Take a leisurely meal. Nothing remotely like fast food exists here – the thought must be as appalling as requesting to check books out of the library (which is not allowed; most of the libraries are not even public).

Even groups on tours aren’t frazzled. The only ones in a hurry are the little children, who can’t wait to see the next new thing. As for the rest, they have nowhere to rush to, nothing to cause them stress. Assisi is a sanctuary from such things. Thus, the wine bar bubbles with company throughout the day. A man sits by himself, drinking and watching the traffic. A kid gets water all over his face at the bubbler and simply laughs. Most of the shopkeepers are gracious and patient while we try to communicate with them and everyone seems eager to help, like the friar who brought us around the library and even to the rooms and secret passages below. It seems Assisi extends as far down as it does up.

And everywhere you go, there is always something to look up at. But with the direction of up comes a compulsion to climb, and thus I find myself at La Rocca, a mountaintop castle that kept its eye on the rival city of Perugia once upon a time. From here the city is only patterns – unfolded origami rooftops, quilted farmland laced with wild poppies. You could play tic tac toe with the property lines. Patches of green pepper the rooftops where people have planted gardens. The city spills down the hillside into a valley of a thousand greens.

There are no people or cars from up here, no storefronts or pizzerias or wine bars. It’s hard to call Assisi a city from the mountaintop. With a castle behind me and the quilt below, I’d sooner say I got caught in a time warp. Tradition still holds sway in the stone labyrinths below me; it’s in the very mortar. One might say it is the mortar. Something has held this city together for over a thousand years, and I’m guessing it’s more than rocks.

Still sorting through pictures from Rome, but I'll post them in the next couple of days provided I have time. Which I may not since I have to go back to Rome to replace my freaking passport. I dunno what happened to it. I didn't have it leaving for Rome on Friday, but I had it coming through customs at the airport. I remember the guy was all impatient because it took me a second to open up to the page with my photo and he just waved me through without even taking it. But beyond that things get a little fuzzy. I had been traveling for 12 hours at that point. Anything is possible. I could've gotten pick-pocketed by aliens and never known it.

Anyway, the fact now stands that I have to get the damn thing replaced before I can leave the country. I actually would not be opposed to spending a few extra days here, but you know... I might've rationed my Euros better if I'd known that would be the case, as opposed to indulging in so many of those yummy sprize things at the local bar...

Photofinish Friday: Bella Italia!

I'ma let the pictures speak for themselves today, since it has already taken me over an hour to upload them via our monastery's Internet. Off to Orvieto to see Razmataz and Mnomanoms, then Rome for the weekend - more pictures to come!

Peace, love and Saint Francis,
Miss Rex

When in Assisi, do as the Franciscans do

Ciao, friends! I'm writing to you from Assisi, Italy! So fear not, there IS a good reason for my neglecting you all week.

I'm here for a journalism seminar with 11 other Go-Co kids. I'm in charge of documenting the trip and compiling a promotional video, since this is a new seminar. Thus I have waaay too many pictures to upload them all, but I'm trying to pick out the best of them. I shall post them tomorrow for Photofinish Friday! Until then, some thoughts:

There is something pleasantly surreal about living in a city that is centuries older than my entire country.

Passing under stone archways, I wonder how they are still standing and what it was like for Saint Clare to pass under those same arches in the 1200s. Climbing the hill to the castle called La Rocca, I wonder how many battles were fought on these ancient slopes and for what. I wonder how this rich culture and civilization could be so deeply rooted in these mountains for thousands of years without tarnishing the green of the valley. I wonder how an ancient religious order still draws practicing friars in the 21st century.

Here in this place, free from cell phones and wireless Internet and the general hubbub of the States, where the gardens encroach on the city, where you can wash down gelato with a glass of wine, where the locals need their afternoon siesta, here where history is in the very mortar of the walls and where learning is not a chore but a privilege – here I can breathe.

We have a fantastic group without whom this beautiful place would be infinitely less beautiful. Everyone is so chill and there is almost always someone up for doing something (especially drinking vino!). It's hard to buckle down and do work when you're surrounded by so many great friends and such a rich culture, but thankfully the load isn't as heavy as our professor keeps making it out to be. At least I haven't found it to be so. Video work isn't stressful for me; in fact, except for the headache that is logging and capturing videos from a camcorder, I find it almost therapeutic. And with that I am off to play with my new buddy, Final Cut Express. Arrividerci!

Peace, love and gelato,
Miss Rex

Photofinish Friday: The end of junior year

Oops. I meant to post this yesterday, and thus begin the tradition that is to replace Excavations of Claymore for as long as I have no Claymore to excavate (i.e. for the summer). It's been crazy - I'm simultaneously trying to move back home and pack for Italy (I'm leaving tomorrow). So, alas, our new tradition fell by the wayside.

I am calling it Photofinish Friday. Although I cringe a little bit at the alliterative title, I think it's apt - Photofinish Friday posts will finish off the week with a series of photos I've taken that week.

I have two hopes for this new tradition. First, I hope it will encourage me to keep experimenting with my new camera, Cassie - not that I will simply take pictures but that I will learn all the cool features she has to offer. Second, I hope the posts will be quick "reads" for all of you. As much as I like to write longs posts, I don't usually like reading them because I have so many blogs to keep up with, and I figure many of you feel the same way - hence, the quickie.

So to kick it off, I've got some photos from the last week of school - enjoy!

Peace, love and packing,
Miss Rex

On Being a Loser

I wrote this for my internship in light of the fact that yet another school year is ending, possibly the best school year I've had yet at Go-Co, and how depressing it is that summer break is starting even now while my friend KZ packs his stuff into a mini-van and drives away.

I had the best hall ever this year. Thanks, guys, for resurrecting my social life. I made great friends in Claymore and I am sad to see the ghetto basement coffee house relocate to our lame fake pub next year. It's weird to say goodbye to the seniors after looking up to them for the past three years, and even though I have fewer close friends graduating this year than I did last, the ones that are leaving..... how will Go-Co ever be Go-Co without you? It will become a different place, and it will always be deficient without your presence, your advice, your laughter. Without you.

So yeah, before I start bawling my eyes out, here's the thing I wrote, entitled "On Being a Loser."

Every time I go home for the summer I find myself excavating the closet under the eaves in search of something I’ve lost. This also happens at Christmastime, Easter, Thanksgiving, and on sundry weekends throughout the year. I can’t help it; I’m a loser.

My favorite pants went missing for more than half a year. I haven’t seen my hiking boots since high school. There is a tragic space between Mae and Muse on my CD shelf where Matchbox Twenty should be. Sometimes when I leave my dorm I don’t even know where I parked my car. For the record, I hardly ever lose the keys.

But these things are only misplaced. More regrettable are the things that promise to stay lost: the poem I wrote in fourth grade, the recording of my best friend singing about green tea and the word “pshaw,” the plush bear my birth father gave me when I was born (one of the only mementos I had of him).

Are these important losses? I don’t know. For now, I still have the memories. The poem was less important than how nice it felt to see people smile when they read it. It’s not important that the recording got deleted as long as my friend and I can still scream “green tea!” to each other at random and confuse everybody else at parties. Knowing that my father wanted to be remembered is enough to remind me to remember him.

I think the greater losses are the ones we couldn’t hold to begin with. I lost a best friend once, and not knowing what happened to our friendship was volumes worse than not knowing what happened to the many books and CDs absent from my shelves.

I lost my childhood a few years back, and that was a shame, too. Finally realizing what a blessing I had in spite of stupid bullies at school, I’ve returned to my tree-climbing, Disney-watching days as best I can, but it’s not the same as having no obligations.

With the end of the school year looming, I realize I am about to lose something again. More friends are soon to graduate. In another year, I’ll be the one leaving school behind. Maybe then I will look back on these four years the way I look at childhood now.

But I don’t think we really lose the things we leave behind. I think we carry them forever. They carve themselves into the fleshy pink tissue of our brains and into the caverns of our hearts. We don’t lose them because they are us, and if we do lose them it’s because we meant to, or maybe they didn’t pierce us as sharply as we once thought.

My grandfather is losing his memory to Alzheimer’s. To me this seems the greatest loss of all. Everything I create, writing or otherwise, comes back to the friends who left and the ones who stayed, to the parents who loved me enough to give me up to a better life through adoption, to the songs that served as soundtracks through the high school gauntlet. To the things I carry in the compartments of my mind.

I know how to love because I’ve been hated. I know how to sacrifice because I’ve been shown more than selfishness. These are things I haven’t lost and will never lose, even if I can one day forget where they came from. I can tell that my grandfather still has them, and because of that, I can hope that wherever I may have left my car, there are some things I’ll never lose.

RIP, Go-Co 2009-2010. We'll go out with a bang at the Batrave tonight!

Peace, love and black lights,
Miss Rex

Excavations of Claymore: Rasp-lime-erry Fizz

OK, guys. Last Excavation of the year! How sad is that? I've been thinking about reviewing the Rasp-lime-erry Fizz because summer is coming and it seemed appropriate to review a cold, fruity drink. Plus, Jenniferin said I should try it. But in fact it is barely over 50 degrees out, so really my body would have preferred something hot. The only reason I'm reviewing this drink tonight is that it cost $1.60, whereas coffee is $2.25, and I had $1.81 left on my meal card.

I forgot to take a picture while I was in Claymore, so instead I am going to post this picture I found of a zombie unicorn until I get around to replacing it. Which may be never, because this picture is awesome.

I must begin with the disclaimer that I dislike fizzy things. I think they are very pretty to watch, and staring at a soft drink makes me think I would like one, but I can't not hate the way the bubbles feel in my throat. So, I am biased. Sorry.

The Rasp-lime-erry Fizz is made of Polar seltzer water and raspberry, lime and cherry flavor shots. In theory, a good mix.

Bubbles aside, I still don't think I'd be a huge fan of this drink. It's syrupy. Not as syrupy as a Shirley Temple, but syrupy. If you're used to that kind of thing then you'll probably like it. The taste is pretty good for something so artificial (which I guess is like saying, "Hitler was an artist. He was OK for a mass murderer.") I just don't normally drink anything made of such flamboyantly fake flavors. I'm all about the Juicy Juice, yo. 100% juice for 100% kids!

And Naked - I love Naked! It's pretty much puréed fruit, which explains why syrupy soda isn't my cup of tea. Or rather, juice.

I still believe raspberry, lime and cherry would make a great team. I'm sure they'd taste amazing together in a smoothie or a freezepop or a mixed drink. Just not in soda.

Defying woman's intuition

In my head, I have a pretty good sense of what's a good idea and what's not. You hear about a woman's intuition, and I definitely have it. Yet that doesn't stop me from doing a lot of things that I think are bad ideas. Why? I can't explain it. I guess it... generates writing material...?

Even as I'm goofing up, there's a little voice in my head by the name of Jiminy Cricket asking me what the hell I'm getting myself into this time. But what fun would life be if we didn't spend 90% of it defying our better judgment? Thankfully Jiminy is only a cricket, and easy enough to ignore; thus I continue to do the following.

1. Using Facebook. It's such a black hole. At any given moment that I am on Facebook I can usually think of at least fifteen better things I could be doing, yet how can I fight that kind of gravity...?

2. Procrastinating. If it's not due tomorrow, I'm not worried about it (blame #1). Then when it's due tomorrow I don't have enough time to do it. Vicious cycle.

3. Drinking coffee at night. I can only do this if I intend to stay up for at least six more hours, and even after six hours, going to sleep can be problematic. This means I am tired the next day and need more coffee. Another vicious cycle.

4. Foregoing sleep. I can almost get away with alternating nights of no sleep and 12 hours of sleep. Almost. But I'm not saying it's healthy.

5. Agreeing to nap with a certain friend of mine. You'd think by now one of us would have realized we have totally different definitions of napping. If I say I want to nap, it means "I didn't sleep last night. Unconsciousness is necessary RIGHT NOW. I am saying it's cool if you join me a) because you are comfy, b) because I am too tired to argue with you, and/or c) because I want to retain some hope in your half of the species." Somehow my intentions always get lost in translation...

6. Being the sober one. You'd think I'd regret being drunk more than staying sober, but the fact is I hate playing babysitter and I can't handle it when people barf. And I get tired and cold and hungry, which I don't think I would notice if I was drunk.

7. Breaking visitation. I'm not even sure what the consequences are for spending the night in a dude's room but I'm sure they are not pretty, regardless of what actually goes down in said dude's room (the handbook does not differentiate between hawt sex and watching movies about journalism).

8. Climbing buildings. It's a $400 fine if you get caught... but everything is more exciting at higher altitudes, and visitation hours don't apply to rooftops.

9. Playing the awkward game. Letting people know you have no shame is pretty much an invitation for them to try and make you feel uncomfortable. Case in point? I have this one friend who's been trying to wig me out by putting his face really close to mine, so last night I kissed his cheek, which freaked him the heck out. He jumped across the lobby and turned bright red. Funniest thing I've ever seen. So today he happens to walk by while I'm taking down the whiteboard outside my room, runs over, and kisses me on the mouth. And runs away.

Peace, love and true confessions,
Miss Rex

The Beach of Salisbury

As promised, the photos from Salisbury Beach! Can you spot "That Guy?" He's in more than one.....

I invite you all to suggest captions, since I have never been good at crafting them, and frankly I'd like to hear a little more from you in my comments section, O readers ^_^ If I like yours best, I'll post it with a link to your blog. Yes, networking! Feel teh lovez.

Peace, love and epic sneezes,
Miss Rex

Dear Mother

These may be a tad late for Earth week, but I'd like to share them all the same. Not sure how to give Mother Earth a hug? Here are some ideas.

1. Save the monkeys by buying your monkey bread locally.

2. Save water by not flushing the toilet.

3. Save a mattress: sleep outside! Who needs waterfront homes when the view from the ground is this stunning?

4. Do your homework in a tree.

5. Stop and smell the roses (or whatever these are).

But DON'T do this:

"Dear Go-Co: Happy Earth day. Let us take these trees off your hands. Love, Some Assholes With Chainsaws."

Don't worry, the pics from Salisbury will be up shortly; they just require a little more adjustment as far as lighting and such. I only post the best for you guys.
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