Guest Post: Rome & Pompeii

June 14, 2011

We’ve seen so much since my last post, I don’t even know where to begin. All of it has been incredible. I can’t possibly recall the order in which we’ve experienced everything. We’ve descended into all of the Imperial Fora (which are off-limits to the public – I wish I could convey how cool it was to walk around in them), we’ve crawled through the Catacombs of St. Sebastian (the original “catacombs,” from which the word itself is derived) and the Necropolis under the Vatican, where we saw St. Peter’s supposed grave and bones. We’ve been in St. Peter’s and to the top of it, and through all the Vatican museums, we’ve walked through the Campus Martius and wandered the sprawling Palace ruins above the Palatine, we’ve been to two massive bath complexes and tons of churches, and on and on and on. All of it has been unbelievable, and I feel like I’ve learned so much. Roman culture seems almost familiar to me now.

But this trip is about more than academics, and the things we have done outside of our classwork have been just as cool. For one example: Saturday happened to be the date of EuroPride, Europe’s yearly gay pride celebration and festival which, serendipitously, was being held in Rome this year. Yet we were more amazed to learn that Lady Gaga had accepted an invitation to speak and perform there. So when we were done with our classwork that morning, we staked out a great seat where the concert was to be held at the Circus Maximus, Rome’s ancient racetrack which has now been reduced to a long grassy strip (sort of like the National Mall in DC). It was hours until the performance so Jacque and I went over to the Colosseum for a bit and watched the parade. There were thousands and thousands of people there – so many that the floats could barely move due to the sea of people in the street. By the time the event started at 9:00, an estimated 1,000,000 people were in attendance. We cheered as Lady Gaga came out to give an impassioned speech on civil rights, and sang along with all of Rome while she played her songs “Born This Way” and “Edge of Glory” on the piano. We were all really excited and fortunate to have been there for such a unique and quintessentially multicultural event.

As far as the modern city goes…

I love it here. I love every aspect of it. I’m confident finding my way around, on foot or by bus and my mental map of the city has become very clear, so I don’t think I could ever really manage to get lost. I’ve had fun meeting people and talking with shopkeepers and waiters and friendly-looking strangers. The city is incredibly beautiful, whether you’re looking at ancient ruins or modern monuments or churches or even apartment buildings, or a blend of all of them in one place! The weather has been perfect, hot with puffy clouds surfing overhead and an occasional breeze. I would live here in a second, I really do feel at home.

Today we went to the villa of the Emperor Hadrian, some miles outside of the city. The estate was sprawling and must have been stunning in its prime. It has experienced 1800 years of looting, so the majority of what’s left is brick walls and terraces, but even these humble remains beg one’s wonder. Each building, each stairway, each arch or broken column hints at the majesty that once was, setting one’s mind to reconstructing the ruined buildings. Even if one were devoid of imagination, just the location of the villa is worth a visit. It is situated on a plateau overlooking the countryside and beneath a tall green mountain, to the slope of which several towns cling.

We leave Rome tomorrow, and I’ll be very sad to leave it behind. I wish I could stay here forever. There’s so much more to explore, so much culture to delve into, so many people to meet, so much fun still to be had. But we will be heading to the Naples area, with at least two very cool sites left to explore (Herculaneum and Pompeii), which will doubtless present their own incredible wonders.

J.T. Fales is a senior at William & Mary, where he is majoring in English and minoring in Linguistics. He was born and raised in Norwalk, Connecticut. On campus, he is an RA and serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Winged Nation Literary Magazine. He hopes to become a writer when he graduates. J.T. participated in W&M’s Rome/Pompeii summer study abroad program in 2011 and blogged at J.T. Studies Abroad.

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