Tuesday morning, September 30.
The upstairs neighbor likes to play keyboards. Really loud. Late at night. And in a hyper-pop, Italian rendering of the kind of lame American top-40 music that Kurt Cobain made immobile and smashed into shards back in 1991. Go into a video arcade and listen to the computerized caffeine that bubbles endlessly from a car-racing game. Play the central melody over and over. Practice it again and again, as if it were difficult to learn. Now do this in the apartment above mine, and you get the idea. But it's slightly better than the actual car-racing game that was outside the window of the youth hostel. At least the music stops after a few hours, and I get some sleep.
This might be a good time to post en masse my whereabouts; I don't imagine any of you would have at home a nearly foot-tall stack of maps like I do. You don't get picked as navigator-at-large for a group of 26 without reason. But maps of Rome would probably be available at your local library. My physical address is:
in the Trastevere neighborhood, kitty-corner from the local Church of Santa Maria. It won't do any good to mail anything to that address, so the snail address for the program is:
c/o UW Studio Art Program in Rome Piazza del Biscione 95 00186 Roma Italy
And if you find some spare disposable income behind the couch, our apartment's phone number is: 011-39-6-588-2761. The first three numbers are the access code for an international call from the US -- if you take a trip of your own to another land and want to talk, change the access code accordingly.
ed. note -- although I'm not living there anymore as I write this, to the best of my knowledge the apartment is lived in only by UW students taking part in UW programs in Rome. So even though I'm not there, go ahead -- give the phone number a try! It'll probably be a UW student who answers. Find out how they enjoy that two-bedroom apartment that has five beds in it. Ask them what they think of the showerhead attached to the wall next to the toilet! See if they've learned how to start the oven yet. ;-)
Second day of "school," and the first that seems like a class. With everyone settled (more or less) into their apartments, we gather to get the lowdown on the work to be done. But it's still not quite like being in Kane Hall at 8:30 AM. One of the more noticeable differences is that the University of Washington doesn't have outside its front door a daily farmer's market taking place in a public square, wherein stands a statue in honor of someone who was burned alive at that very spot during the Inquisition. And now you can get pizza just forty feet away while studying the statue's bas relief sculpture describing the trial and death of Giordano Bruno.
One of the UW Center assistants, Alison, briefs us on history such as this that surrounds us, as well as good places to go if we're in need of anything from drycleaning to half hour photo developing to paper clips. The other office staffer is named, appropriately enough for Rome, Romulus. But don't get any mistaken notions. He's actually Filipino. He just happens to like living and working in Rome. He's the one who hands us our papers to be filled out not for classwork, but for our journey to the post office to purchase the insurance we'll need during our stay. After we've purchased the student insurance, Romulus will do us the favor of going down to the police station so we don't have to, and obtaining for us the mandatory "Permesso di Soggiornio," which will be our official document to keep with us at all times proving that we have the legal right to be in Italy.
Dana Prescott will be the instructor for our drawing class, and although our first drawing session won't be till next week, she begins by taking us around the neighborhood to a couple of art supply stores. One of them is run by a friend of hers, and we get 20 percent off the top of any purchase if we drop her name. But it's a smallish store, and most of us buy a few pencils and paints instead of stocking up. The next store is larger, in fact one store for color and an annex for paper, and I make a great find - gel medium.
Gel medium is a gluey substance usually used for mixing with pigment or paint, but it has another curious attribute. If you paint it onto a Xerox (color or black and white), in several layers, it absorbs the toner from the copy. Wait for the layers to dry, then soak it in water to rub the Xerox paper off. The toner (and therefore the image) stick to the hardened gel medium, and you have yourself a translucent, malleable image of what was run through the copy machine. Go ahead, play with it; run it under warm water, cool water, shape it, rub more or less paper off to give it a parchment quality. The stuff's pricey, especially so in Italy, but I buy a jar of it on the spot with no regret.
Layne Goldsmith, as it turns out, is now the only UW professor we will have in our program. The other professor who was to be a part of the Studio Art Program is Denyce Celentano, who stayed back home in Seattle because of a pregnancy and her doctor's advice to -not- travel abroad for three consecutive months with the sort of schedule we'll be keeping. Students who have taken classes with Denyce tell me that her quiet forcefulness and demanding instructive style will be missed; I tell them (most of whom are completely unfamiliar with Layne in a classroom) that they're off their meds if they think they've been let off the hook. Just to make sure, Jamie Walker will arrive from the UW later in the quarter to help Layne if one professor isn't enough, although one professor can be plenty if it's Layne. But the other students will find this out in their own way, still to be determined.
On this day I also find out one reason why the bunk bed at the youth hostel may have been so rickety. On Friday the 26th, one day after I arrived, a major earthquake occurred to the north of Rome, in the Umbria region of central Italy, and several aftershocks have been felt. In America, a natural disaster would usually be accounted for in terms of its human or commercial toll, but here in one of the major art centers of the world it also is measured by how much visual and religious history is destroyed. The church of St. Francis of Assisi has been hit hard, and a special warning is posted to art and art history students advising against travel to the region. I hadn't felt any quakes, and Rome in general seemed to be oblivious.
However, four people died because of the earthquake, and the church of St. Francis of Assisi is not just any church, as St. Francis is not just any saint -- he is the Patron Saint of all of Italy. This psychological devastation is as serious as the damage to masterworks by Cimabue and Giotto.
The bad news dispensed, it's time for another great Italian tradition; time off in the afternoon. We're told to meet up again at 7 PM for a slide show related to the first field trip (tomorrow already), so we have some spare afternoon hours to grab lunch. But many shops are closed up in the middle of the afternoon; siesta is common not just in Spain. Since the humid weather makes for sweat-drenched clothing after just five minutes of walking, some of us venture back to our apartments for a cool shower before grabbing some pizza or gelato on a streetcorner and a somewhat cooler early evening walk back to the UW Center. I celebrated having a washing machine in our apartment by changing clothes for the second time since leaving Seattle nearly a week ago. Hey, now that I don't have to carry all my used clothing with me on my back, might as well live it up.
Back at the Pio, our slide show is presented by the TA for the Studio Art program, Sara Yerkes, a grad student investigating Etruscan art history. The destinations for the journey are Cerveteria and Tarquinia, in the countryside north (ulp!) of Rome, where necropoli are seemingly as ubiquitous as churches or statues in the city. Rather than jumping into the middle of the Roman Empire's power and glory, we will begin in a maze of burial crypts similar to the more well-known catacombs found south of Rome. But visits are much more colorful than slides, and my time runs short again, so that trip begins tomorrow.
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