The Vatican – the rock on which the Catholic Church is built. The beautiful gold trim that runs throughout the building will carry your eyes to breathtaking statues and paintings. Each work of art has a captivating story behind it and every brick seems to have seen some remarkable historical event. As stunningly captivating the exterior and interior may be, what truly caught my mind’s attention lies below the cobblestones.
The Vatican Necropolis lies beneath your feet as you lift your eyes to gaze upon the glory of St. Petersburg Basilica. As a student on the Shakespeare in Italy program, I was given the honor of traveling beneath the infamous city. Before entering, I was given a lecture concerning the history of the Necropolis. The Necropolis houses the deceased bodies of not only Christians, but Pagans as well. I did not know what to expect before entering. I was greeted with thick, dusty air and dim lighting. The tan walls surrounding our group seemed to swallow us whole. Our guide began explaining the various layers of the Necropolis. She pointed out the graves of men, women, and children. The maze continued and we all listened carefully to every historical detail of our ancient surroundings. Towards the end of our journey, we were greeted by the bones of Saint Peter. A feeling of peace, familiarity, and understanding surrounded me. It was remarkable to be in the presence of the bones of such an outstanding figure as Saint Peter.
After we emerged from the dense tombs, our group boarded the buses which took us back home to Due Santi. At dinner we discussed the experience we had just had, it was a bond that would tie us closer together.
Our first outing off campus was to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence. Castel Gandolfo overlooks the beautiful Lake Albano. We got the first taste of what the journey ahead would look like as we struggled to keep up with our professors on the hike up the Alban hills. We were rewarded at the top with the first of many gelati. I selected the lemon flavored gelato (which I highly recommend, especially when paired with coconut). We were all intimidated to order with the little Italian we knew, but we all struggled through it successfully. We all wandered down to Lake Albano to listen to our professors give a small lecture about our surroundings and returned to campus for our first dinner.
The adjustment to life at Due Santi was easy. We attended classes and then we went sightseeing or vice versa. The heat of the Italian sun in July presented the only great difficulty. My fellow Shakespeareans (as we so affectionately called ourselves) will tell you the best part of our adjustment. Each morning we all raced to the kitchen to snatch one of the doughnuts that had been prepared alongside meat, cheese, and fruit. We enjoyed our breakfast with a fantastic cup of coffee to begin our day as authentically as possible. Nino and Nuccia, the chefs at the campus, cooked each meal for us with love and care. Our need for the Italian language became a priority upon meeting them. Practicing Italian with them prepared us for our outings in the city.
I must confess one of the more favorable parts of my experience was the food. I never tired of eating pizza, pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables, the coffee, the gelato and the pastries. Food had never tasted so amazing. The only downside was returning to America to be disappointed with the mediocrity of anything I am capable of making, or the misfortune of returning to the bland, processed taste of fast food. I envy those of you who will be partaking in this culinary adventure after reading this entry. Buon Appetito!
I had packed my bags with care the night before, wondering if I had everything I needed to live for three weeks in a different country on the Shakespeare in Italy program. My mother had made me a small breakfast, knowing that I would have little appetite with all of the nerves and excitement. I was dropped off at the airport and a few hours later, I found myself in Irving, Texas meeting new friends from all over the country. We were all instructed to go into a conference room where we ate excellent food and listened to professors explain the traveling process. Dr. Hanssen gave a wonderful speech featuring questions we would only be able to answer upon our arrival in Rome. The one would echo through my mind during my travels was: “Why did Rome fall?” Along with this question, she used beautiful imagery to describe the odysseys of other ancient travelers sitting upon steps watching the sun sink below the ancient buildings. My newly found friends all looked at one another with questions in our eyes and visions of gelato in our heads as we boarded buses and planes to get to our destination. I remember gazing at the beautiful Roman country side on the way to the Due Santi campus without a clue as to what was in store for me. As we pulled up to the gates, an adult (quite frankly I do not recall which one) stood and told us “welcome to your new home.” None of us knew how much of a home that campus would become.
The days ahead consisted of exploring the campus and adopting our new way of life. It took us three days to become comfortable with one another and adjust to the superior food. We quickly became like family as we bonded over our unfamiliarity in this new land. We would sit and have late night discussions as we looked at the vineyards or Castel Gandolfo or the Roman skyline. The life of a Roman was luxurious. Our quick adaption did not repeat upon our return to the states as we shared photos and constantly kept in touch for at least a month before moving back into the American lifestyle. Life as Romans meant learning how to order gelato like a pro (which, by the way, I recommend coconut and lemon). Life as Romans meant swing dancing in the streets of Padua after walking miles through Venice. Life as Romans meant drinking espresso in the morning while discussing Shakespeare. Life as Romans meant exploring the vineyard. Life as Romans meant a lot to us during those three weeks and in some ways living as Romans never left our spirits.