Part IX: Rome Saves the Story
By Bridget Meade
One thing I did not expect about my adventure was to reach a point where I want to stop talking about my travels and begin resenting the experience. Constant reflection of my time in Italy forces me to maintain a healthy perspective and reevaluate my attitude if I’m unhappy about a situation. That and I assume readers people do not want to read about a graduate student’s bad mood in Italy.
Unfortunately bad moods happen. Daily tasks that one doesn’t think about at home take extra time in Italy. Certain tasks take longer because the rules are different like one must weigh their bananas before they check out at the grocery store. Others take longer because language barriers strain communication. At first these challenges are charming and laughable. After five weeks of challenges compiled with stressors from home, it becomes exhausting.
“I want to be a tourist in Rome and disconnect from day-to-day life in Viterbo,” I said to myself. The thought that I wanted to be a tourist surprised me a little. I enjoy life away from the tourist scene in Viterbo. It is complete with authentic Italian food, fresh pasta, and gelato made daily in a shop next to my apartment.
While these foods are available in tourist destinations, the clerks in those stores view them as a mere transaction. In Viterbo, the greetings I receive as I walk into my favorite stores are a sign that they recognize my face. I’m more than a transaction to them.
My burnout overwhelmed what I enjoy about my life here. By Thursday night, I knew I needed a break. The next day, I spent the day in Rome with a group of USAC friends. When we boarded the train, I realized how grateful I was for their sense of direction, humor, and positive attitudes. When I travel alone, I spend more time wandering around than I do site seeing and I was missing my sense of humor.
We spent the rest of the day eating gelato and laughing about the obnoxious Vatican tour sales people. We wondered what it is like to live near such a popular travel destination. At St. Peter’s Basilica, I watched a curious travel peered behind the curtain of an empty confession booth. I could relate – St. Peter’s was holding confession the last time I was in Rome and I spent a significant amount of time watching people enter and leave the small wooden booths.
One of our stops included the Crypt of the Capuchins. Located beneath the Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins, it contains the remains of over 4,000 Capuchin friars and poor Romans from 1500 – 1870. Commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in the 1600s, the artful arraignment of the bones on the walls and ceiling reflects a time when the dead were worshiped and spiritual leaders held skulls in their hands while meditating and preaching. Some of the bodies are mummified, laid to rest in tiny chapels with skulls and bones around them. One chapel contains a bone arrangement that resembles the grim reaper.
I was reminded of trip to the Catacombs of Paris on my last trip where we walked through 1.4 km of arranged skulls and bones. I kept my arms folded in front of me as the remains were inches away. In various parts of the tour, gated hallways revealed more bones left in piles. I eventually became desensitized to my surroundings. I didn’t have the same reaction to the Crypt of Capuchins. The arrangement of the bones implied the artist’s respect for their subjects. It was clear they knew those bones once belonged to a human and treated them with respect. The Catacombs did not leave me with the same feeling.
In modern times, bodies are typically shipped off to the coroner’s office then to a mortuary to be cremated or prepared for burial. It’s up to that person’s loved ones their remains are handled and we do not create art out of our loved ones bones. However, the Crypt of the Capuchins is a reminder that even the worst situations can be treated with respect and be turned into something beautiful.
It also reminded me that my experience in Viterbo is far from dire. For the most part, I have treated my experience with respect in my thoughts and writing even if it sometimes exhausts me. I am forced to do more than just snap a few pictures of a building and move onto the next famous building. Without realizing it, my break in Rome allowed me to do exactly what I needed: wander, see, and reflect. After it was over, I wanted to tell the story.
Bridget Meade is an Interactive Journalism graduate student at the Reynolds School of Journalism. She decided to pursue her Master’s in Journalism after she discovered personal blogging several years ago. As a result of online communities like 20-Something Bloggers and the new friends she met all over the world, Bridget’s interests expanded and she redefined her personal and professional goals. Her interests are in social media, specifically Twitter, technology, and networked news. She enjoys snarky humor, the ocean, all things Italian, wine, and time with her 90 lb German Shepherd, Keo.