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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Roaming in Rome

Sammy in Rome
                After encountering a float of bears in Rome, an exploding river in Pisa, and an airborne attack in Venice I have been obliged to conclude that Italy is  slightly less predictable than Paris.  For those interested in traveling to Italy, I highly advise going in June, it's open season on festivals.  And in case you hadn't heard, festivals are spectacularly fun, as I will attempt to show in this blog, along with the more traditional fun of museums and churches that on permanent installation in Italy.  For those who have no interest in floats of bears feel free to skip to my time in Rome, or in airborne attacks skip Venice and so on, as I won't be mixing my cities in this blog, I find the idea utterly wrong somehow.
                Okay so, here's the fast forwarded version of Rome. I did all the big touristy things, they're pretty cool and as I'm sure you've heard at some point, everything in Rome is quite old.  My hostel, for instance, was in a refurbished convent.  If Rome has anything in abundance it is churches and gelato.  I advise you take great advantage of both. However not at the same time, it seems the nuns frown upon that type of thing, something about the sacredness of churches and worship.  However I can assure you it is worth it to put down your gelato for a moment to go enjoy the churches, as they are all together magnificent.  In general, Florence churches excepted, churches in Italy aren't much to look at on the outside but once you go in, it's a whole new world.  As for me I went on a scholarly search for depictions of Christ, and a personal search for paintings of Carravaggio.
                 Now we come to the float of bears.  No I don't mean Winnie-the-Pooh, lives in a zoo, bears; I mean the slang term for gay men who happen to be particularly  large and hairy.  These bears happened to be singing Lady Gaga's caught in a bad romance in overbearingly strong Italian  accents (pun intended).  I know, I know, it's an odd picture but I promise it makes sense.  You see I happened to be exploring the Coliseum one day, as one is apt to do at some point in Rome.  I was just about to make my way back down to the ground floor when I chanced to hear something odd.  It was a song, it was, "Fun to stay at the YMCA, it's fun to stay at the YMCA".  "What the (word inappropriate for this blog)!"  I spun around and marched back to the second floor arches.  A crowd had, understandably, already gathered.  Cursing my shortness I searched around on tiptoe until I found an unoccupied spot.  Oh. My. God.  I have never seen so much glitter in my life.  And people, so many people, they fill the street in what seems like an endless parade of rainbows.  In case you haven't gathered yet I had stumbled opon a gay pride parade.  And not just any parade, the gay pride parade for all of Europe.  The gay pride parade that happened to have...  "Is that, um, is that Lady Gaga?,"  I asked the girl standing next to me.  "Yeah" she replied blandly, as if Lady Gaga showing up in her life was a regular occurrence. "She's performing later tonight." "Oh, cool" I replied because honestly, what else can you say in a situation like that?
                Simply put Florence is the place for you if you like Renaissance art.  It is everywhere.  A stunning situation if, as most of us are, you are from a country that didn't even exist when this art was created.  And it's very picturesque. Florence looks like what you expect Italy to look like.  They also have a famous Renaissance parade mid-June.  There are drums, and people in costumes, flag throwers (whatever you call them) and horses, and monks that look like they came straight out of Monty Python.  All in all Florence is a lovely town that I would recommend.
                Most people go to Pisa for a day, which is usually enough.  Pisa is small, and a bit dingy, and for some reason smells of what I eventually identified as pickles.  But for all this, I loved Pisa.  Then again, I saw her at her best, during festival time.  Let me just say that I cannot recommend the festival of San Ranieri enough.  It's like if you mixed Christmas, and the fourth of July, and a carnival all together, and stuck it in Europe.  In other words, it's awesome.  What they do for the festival is light up the entire riverside with candles.  The candles are in these glass holders on these wooden frames that make patterns, and are posted up on the houses all along the riverside.  They spend all day putting them up, and then come evening, everyone goes down to the river.  There are street vendors with toys, and food, and gifts.  Both kids and adults fill the streets, and there's a certain air of happiness that comes with festivals and carnivals.  Make sure you get there before sunset, so you can get a good seat on the walls lining the river.  Then about a half hour after sunset, the fireworks start.  And it's not like we're used to, where the fireworks are far away, and you only see the  end result of an explosion of light in the sky.  No, in Pisa, they fire from the water.  They have these barges all along the river, and that's where the fireworks shoot from.  It's amazing to get to see them go off, reflected in the water.  Even if you're not the biggest fan of fireworks, trust me, this is a show that is not to be missed.
                I've saved the best for last.  Although I loved every single town I visited in Italy, Venice was far and away my favorite.  And this is partially because of some excellent advice I got, wander the back streets (especially in the early morning).  Before you do anything else, wander the back streets, go into the small churches, find the nooks and crannies that make Venice so wonderful.  Do not, I repeat do not spend your time in the middle of the day at the big tourist attractions.  Though they are beautiful, it will be so crowded you will come away like so many before you, hating them and hating Venice.  I advise going in the early morning, or afternoon, after the cruise ships have left.  I was also there during their biannual art festival, the best part of which is actually not the art, it is the buildings.  The way the festival works is the exhibitions are housed in these very old palaces, and houses that are generally not open to the public.  At times the buildings have been modernized, but at other times they have not, and you are allowed a glimpse into the past glory of Venetian houses, for free.  But this blog has gone on long enough, so let me get to my last anecdote.  
The seagulls are fearless.  I repeat.  The seagulls have no fear.
                As I've explained, much of what is beautiful about Venice is not in museums, but in the back streets of Venice itself.  For this reason I spent very little of my time sitting down in Venice, even to eat.  I couldn't seem to tear myself away from the mystery I felt sure was hiding just around the next corner.  So when I wrenched myself away from the residential Dosoduro neighborhood, deciding I should probably see St. Mark's basilica before I left, strolling the square eating my sandwich was not unusual.  I suppose I should say eating half my sandwich, as it would be more accurate.  Because on my way to get a closer look at the pillars, there was a sudden flash of white in my face, and a firm tug on the sandwich clasped in my hand.  The next thing I knew my sandwich was gone, and there was a squawking flock of seagulls having an epic battle over my prosciutto and mozzarella.  I did the only thing you can do when a seagull steals your sandwich. 
                I laughed.
                 My slight embarrassment at being unable to defend my lunch from airborne attack was diminished, when I saw the exact same thing happen to another girl the next day. Apparently this is a fairly common occurrence, which is why I must warn you, when in Venice, keep an eye on the skies.