Monday, September 29
First day of school. And it starts out pretty easy. Actually, this is sort of a "welcome to Rome" day, when there are no assignments given except for student apartments. Back in August in Seattle, I had been asked at what time on this "Day One" I could be at the UW Rome Center, so I said "Ummmm, how 'bout 1 PM?" Seemed to me like a perfectly reasonable time to start the school day! So I had coffee and a roll with jam and butter at the hostel, packed my life up again, got on the overcrowded bus with my huge backpack, and went south to make my appointment for orientation.
After I managed to shove my self and my pack out the door of the bus at Ponte Sisto, I immediately met up on the street with Waldo and Paul, a couple of other UW students in the program, who had already been taken to their apartments earlier in the day. They said their apartment would be a couple of floors above mine, and they already knew their way to the Rome Center and back home. I followed along, across the Tevere on the Ponte Sisto, to the University of Washington Rome Center at the Palazzo Pio.
Wow, familiar faces after so long. It's been a couple of months since every one of us in the program was in the same room together. At the UW Rome Center, a group of about half a dozen has assembled, so Professor Layne Goldsmith decides it's time to shuttle some of us to our apartments. Two of my new roommates, Joe and Steve, come along as we walk through Campo de' Fiori, the Field of Flowers, which is no longer a field but is still filled with flowers from the daily market that takes place in the public square. What a great setting for school. It's like having classes right next to Pike Place Market. Need an entire squid for an important project? Just go downstairs. Pizza? Cup of coffee? Three kilos of bananas? It's right outside the UW's doors. Ah, Roma.
Our apartments are in Trastevere, the working-class neighborhood which is, you may have guessed, across the Tevere, the river which snakes north-to-south through Rome (and which is marked as the Tiber on Anglicized maps). Once more across Ponte Sisto, onto the narrow, twisting cobblestone streets leading to...my home! Pizzerie, ristorante, newsstands...and, from what I've heard, a bookstore that offers net access, if I can find out where the place is. Yeah, I should be able to get by in this neighborhood pretty well.
Though we are in Rome, the living situation, it appears, will be Spartan. In our building the UW students share two apartments, one of which will have three tenants and one which will have five. The one which will have three is large, has a wooden coffered ceiling, bathtub (with a bidet!), hardwood floors, writing desk, and plenty of storage.
This is not the apartment I get to move into.
Steve, Joe and I go downstairs to a smaller apartment with plain walls, cold floor (although it is marble -- but looks like linoleum), and one of those curious European bathrooms similar to what I once found in Amsterdam.
...there will be five of us living in this two-bedroom apartment...
The shower, you see, is not within its own stall but simply a showerhead coming out of the wall right next to the toilet. By adjusting the showerhead, one could literally take a shower and relieve themselves in the toilet at the same time. Cleanup is relatively simple, because if the toilet floods it goes down the same drain that's provided in the middle of the floor for the shower. In Amsterdam, however, I only stayed in this setting for a couple of nights. I get this bathroom for two months and some change. Or should I say, we all do, because there will be five of us living in this two-bedroom apartment.
Steve and Joe, quicker on the draw than I at this point, pick the two beds in the room located away from the street. Our other two roommates haven't yet arrived, so I begin the process of flopping around on the three remaining beds in the room near the front window and street, to see which one is most suitable. My room will still be next to the vespas, but this time one floor above. I hope this neighborhood is a little quieter at night than that of the hostel. Knowing Rome, I'm not so optimistic, even though the winding streets would seem to limit vehicular movement. Those vespas, though, they do buzz around...
Did I mention yet that "Vespa" is Italian for "Wasp"? Bzzzzzzz....
This will truly be unusual. I've never lived in a dorm-type situation while in school. This won't even be your ordinary dorm. I'm used to five people sharing one refrigerator at home, but not five college students. Not in a neighborhood where we don't even know where the grocery store is, or if there is one. Of course, there are a lot more pizzerias in this neighborhood (I counted nearly a dozen within a two-block radius) than anywhere else I've lived in my life. So college students probably eat just fine in this neighborhood. :-)
One aspect of the apartment is particularly appealing -- the interior courtyard. We don't have our own mosaic to look at. It appears the sun may not even shine down into the narrow court for very long, if at all, during the day. But with all the other windows looking out into the central area, the lines strung to hang laundry, the heat and humidity of the city pressing in through the window, it reminds me of the rear courtyard we had when I spent my summers in Chicago on North Sawyer. We don't even have grass down below, just tile and cement (and bags of concrete -- must be renovating here too). It's plain, but it's similar to something I've seen before, and if nothing else I'll have a window to look out from. Even if all we can see are other people's pants hanging in the air three stories above us.
I picked my favorite bed of the three remaining, and soon Nick came along to claim one of the other two. He had followed the same flight path I did -- US Air Flight 104 to Philly, then Flight 2 to Rome -- but he did it one week later than I. Now I'm really glad I spent those four nights at the hostel, taking the afternoon nap, not being able to sleep through the night. I've mostly finished making the time-zone adjustment, while there will be a few freshly-arriving jet-lagged students who are just now starting the process right as classes get underway.
To practice my navigation skills between new landmarks, I head back to the UW Center and tell Layne about my lost airplane ticket, and let her know it's no big deal for now. If you can believe that. Gee, here I am in a bureaucratic wonderland 10,000 miles from Seattle, with no airplane ticket home, and it really is no big deal to me. Lots of time left. As I talk with her about the flight and the upcoming quarter, my fourth roommate arrives at the Palazzo Pio via taxi from the airport after a late-evening landing.
Beau flew from his home in Pasco (Washington), connecting to Salt Lake City, then to Cincinnati, on to Zurich, then Rome. In 24 hours.
I wonder what Rome would be like after being in Salt Lake and Cincy. I wonder what Salt Lake would be like after Rome...
Speaking of students who are just starting the process of changing time zones...
At our apartment, Beau tosses his clothes in somewhat random fashion around the floor while listening to some sort of...music...on his walkman speakers, and generally spinning himself into a tizzy. He tosses himself on the bed, lays still for a few seconds, and says:
"I'm antsy -- wanna go drinkin'?"
I decline, since I feel I've finally adjusted to what time it is here rather than what time it is on the West Coast of the United States and I want to make it stick by sleeping solid for a couple of nights. I've set up most of my belongings in a somewhat home-like fashion, so I set the alarm to get up for school intros the next morning, and sleep in a bed -- my bed -- although not all the way through the night. The windows keep the noise out quite well. The mattress is soft and doesn't squeak, yet. The pillow is fluffy. The sheets and covers are thin, but there are lots of them. Still, a nonstop night of sleep eludes me for whatever reason. Still trying to make the clock stay on time. Getting closer, though.
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