When in Rome…Raid Some Tombs!
Week 2 of my five weeks in Rome has been full of walking, eating, writing, walking, eating, writing, walking, eating…you get the picture! With so many good sites to explore and food to devour, I’ve found little downtime (and admittedly, little sleep!) but I’ve enjoyed every single second of it. Rome is proving to be just as inspiring as our program director, Kevin Craft, had promised before our arrival, and I’m slowly learning to look at the world in a new, open, detail-oriented way. I’ve also enjoyed getting closer to my classmates and discovering more of Rome! From hilarious nightly street performers mesmerizing children and elderly alike with their flashy displays, to daily cannon fires at noon, to casual dinners in new spots across town, there is always something new and fun to adjust to and experience in Rome.
One of my sources of inspiration this week was at the Keats-Shelley memorial house. Adjacent from the famous Spanish Steps, this house was the death place of Romantic poet John Keats, who died in 1821 from tuberculosis at the ripe age of twenty-five. At the house, we learned engrossing details of the life and death of both Keats and Shelley, as well as their contemporaries, and had the opportunity to tour Keats’ bedroom and living quarters, lined with handwritten letters, original manuscripts, rare portraits, and other special artifacts related to the poet. I’ve been familiar with Keats’ works since the study of his poems in my high school AP British Literature class, and arrived in Italy with the knowledge I would have to memorize and recite his 50-line masterpiece, Ode to a Grecian Urn. However, it wasn’t until after visiting his dying place, with the same blue-and-gold daisy adorned ceilings that he gazed upon as he settled into bed every evening, that I came to fully appreciate his short, passionate, but tragic life. Although the house is more or less a museum, I felt a deeper connection and more poetic inspiration by breathing in the same space and taking in the same terrace views as Keats did in his last, ill months than I have in other museum trips. In this case, I wasn’t viewing the overwhelmingly beautiful art of some faceless artist, but rather discovering the artists behind the art. And I suppose I sympathize with his mere 5’1 frame, as well! 😉
However, my favorite class adventure of my time in Rome thus far was our field trip to Cerveteri and Tarquinia to explore ancient Etruscan tombs! On some levels, I initially felt that I shouldn’t be there – that I would touch something in a tomb that would awaken a demon, or I’d step to forcefully in a spot and fall down to my death. Very dramatic thoughts for someone who considers themselves a practical, rational person, but these kind of paranormal, superstitious thoughts ran through my head throughout the day. It might have something to do with that fact that that morning, we discussed augury, which is the ancient study of bird flight. With Etruscans, the sky was divided up into as many as fourteen sections, and the direction of flight was interpreted as a good or bad omen. In general, when a bird flies to the left, it is viewed as favorable; right, unfavorable. Just after exiting one of my first tombs, a bird flew to the right above my head, and within an instant and without any real explanation, I found myself slipping down ten steps of stairs! While I brushed myself off and laughed a lot about it (even finding inspiration for one of my daily poem pitches!), I was a little spooked out at the coincidence of it all and considered momentarily that I might be cursed!
However, after climbing in several cool damp tombs, I began to see the tombs as sacred places – a dwelling to celebrate, embracing death as the Etruscans did. The more we explored, the more the tombs appeared as homes, places for families to rest in death together, as the tombs featured special bed-shaped cutouts carved in stone, connecting rooms, and even windows. It was wonderful to visit multiple museums before and after these explorations to see the pottery, tools, jewelry, instruments, and even toys that were used in the Etruscans’ daily lives. Picturing their usage in and around the tombs we visited helped to make history seem not so long ago, and to really imagine people living their lives in these spots. These beautifully crafted objects were a way for Etruscans to show their appreciation for and celebration of life, and as death was a “pleasant continuous of life,” according to D.H. Lawrence, these items were buried with them. Since what little we know of the Etruscans lies in those tombs and objects, the day trip served as a special lesson in history and humanity.
Although we normally have Saturday classes in both the morning and evening time, the 29th happened to be a Roman holiday known as the Feasts of St. Peter and Paul. In honor of the patron saints, we had brief elective workshops in the morning, including bookbinding, character development, and botanical “flora” discovery workshops, but the rest of the day COMPLETELY FREE! Most stores and little shops closed up mid-day as well to celebrate throughout the city. The day culminated with a beautiful firework display shot off from Castel Sant’Angelo, a tradition since the time of Michelangelo. Although I did not get to see the return of the infiorata, a lavish floral carpet display that hasn’t made an appearance at St. Peter’s since the end of the 17th century, I enjoyed viewing the fireworks from a nearby bridge. Since I will not be home to celebrate Independence Day with my family, I imagined this was my honorary Fourth of July celebration.
Thanks again for reading about my revels! I’ll update again soon about next week’s festivities and midterm break plans!