be not simply good, be good for something _ HDT.
The amazing thing about Rome is that in every corner there is a famous church, a sculpture by Michelangelo, or a painting by Caravaggio. On top of that is the crazy fact that I live here now. I can walk by the Pantheon at 2:00 am and see it in a state of calm, resting from the throngs of travelers that invade its doors every day. The word “travel” implies the need to eventually return home, and as one of the world’s biggest tourist stops has become my home, I can see things a bit differently now.
During the summer months, thousands of sneaker-wearing tourists flood the city. Everybody has a camera, iPhone, or iPad (yes, iPad) glued to their hand, spending the majority of their Trevi or St. Peter’s visit snapping pictures or even videotaping panoramas and getting out of there. A new world and its beautiful sights are frantically absorbed through the lens of a camera.
Of course, I was guilty of the same thing and calmed down only after the initial rush of living here subsided to a constant pleasure and appreciation for the city. But, when I go somewhere new, I still find myself subconsciously looking for the best view that can fit in a 4x6 box.
Maybe part of the reason we do this, at least for travelers my age, is that every picture is taken with Instagram or Facebook in mind. Pamphlets are thrown aside, aggression flares up when someone gets in the way of a photo, and I often wonder if those scantily-clad girls even know what they’re standing in front of.
With a thousand more apps like Foursquare and Yelp, it seems like exploring has developed a dual-purpose. Our lives are dictated by the need to prove that we have been somewhere and done something, when oftentimes we haven’t truly experienced it.
Having a great picture can solidify a memory (I mean, come on, I’m an Insta-ho and all up on Facebook) but by looking at something more with my own eyes, perhaps I’ll have something to say about it, questions to think about, or a personal experience that becomes special simply because it can’t be shared.
Thinking of you all,
Back in the States, we say that bigger is better. I often think about the packed streets of Rome compared to the vast fields that surround my two homes in Concord and Williamstown. There, we are pleasantly isolated, drive everywhere, and buy lots of things to fill our big lives. Size, or rather lack thereof, is something that has shocked me every day since I’ve been here. Some of the world’s grandest architecture is juxtaposed with narrow streets, microscopic cars, small stores, and tiny fruits and vegetables! Convenience has also been an issue. When Whole Foods, Costco, and Target are suddenly ripped away, I am at a loss as to what to cook and where to buy things like blankets and chip clips (real life).
While I’m not stranded in some third world country, America is truly all about a comfortable lifestyle that I haven’t found anywhere else in my travels. While it’s frustrating at times, somehow the slight depravation of goods is satisfying in a cleansing, minimalist way. I don’t skip out on a good meal to save up for a Free People shirt that I don’t need. Leaving a store with only as much as I can carry ensures that cooking is fresh and none of it goes to waste. And eating way smaller portions in restaurants is much more filling than you’d think (the plates seem normal-sized now that my super-sized vision has had time to adjust).
As for the gyms and yoga studios, there are only a few and look like they’re located in someone’s basement. I tried to go running but felt foolish in my Nike apparel, dodging tourists and ignoring the beauty around me just to lose a few calories. It quickly became clear that Italians, and everybody else for that matter, don’t exercise like we do. And I began to think that if our luxurious American lifestyles have led to problems of obesity, it has also lead to our obsession of working out and dieting. In general, the huge amount of accessible everything has made us compensate in drastic ways.
Italians eat food (real food… not just salads) and drink wine and espresso like it’s their job. Things are a bit slower and less convenient, but they are enjoying their lives to an extent that I’m not sure I (as an American) am capable of. Why do I love the idea of grunting and sweating in a gym, pushing my body and then depriving it of things it wants physically and emotionally? And why do I accept my future life as a work-obsessed mother dancer yoga instructor designer artist traveler, while the working Italians have been at the beach for a month now? The middle ground must be moderation.
Especially at Williams, a haven for type-A people, I constantly struggle with a seemingly easy idea: doing less. After a week of exhausting classes, I plan on partying hard and climbing a mountain the next morning. Even more frequently, I get so worked up trying to perfect NBC and forget that it’s the love and friendship that I’ll remember in the end. Although these activities are fulfilling in their own way, I end up being way too tired to continue my life in a steady, healthy way. In the next few months, I hope to do as the Romans do and reach a balance in my life through less indulging, less depriving, less over-working, and less idling.
27 Via dei Sudario, Roma
Didn’t know what to expect, but my home for the next five months is beautiful. My housemates are seven fun, sweet, artistic, and entertaining people that I can imagine being friends with for a long time. I’ll get to them later, though. For now, welcome to mah cribbbb!
Sweaty, tired, and excitedly lost in translation, we rolled up to our apartment Friday afternoon. Our building looks out on Largo Argentina, a classic Roman square, and the eight of us occupy the entire third floor. It’s actually sort of jutting out into the square, so the windows that wrap around the building give us a panoramic view of the area. There are some casual jillion-year-old ruins to the right and another building of apartments and store fronts to the left. Two blocks away is the Pantheon and three blocks away is the Roman Forum. Unreal, right?
We took the stairs because the elevator is 2 x 4 feet and if you don’t open it right, you’re trapped. As EJ would say, the apartment is “one of contradictions”. Take this example below:
This is the light in all of our bedrooms and the dining room. Notice the high ceilings, elegant molding, and classical, full-length windows (Thomas told me the shutters are called “black out doors” cause they block out the light…wrong). In the center of of the ceiling, where once there must have been a magnificent chandelier, is a shitty hanging Ikea light that emits blindingly white light.
This is the rest of the dining room. Cornell apparently had a FRENZY at Ikea :) This is Ben Waters, who looked at this picture and said “hm, that’s a nice ass!”.
There are lots of little nooks in the apartment. Here is one of them.
Questa è la nostra piccola cucina. It has a little breakfast table and a little balcony. It also has a little (TINY) washing machine. Can you see it?
We pee here! There are three bathrooms that all look like this. There are bidets in all of them. So euro right now.
And finally, here is my room. It’s an enormous square that is half undecorated because my roommate from Lebanon isn’t here yet. She says, “My visa hasn’t finished yet, third world country problems!” And here is my desk, my grandma Born sandals, and my soggy cross-body that I drag around everywhere.
I’ve been having a great time exploring, observing, laughing, and making friends. I’m enjoying myself so far, but have been having trouble sleeping because I get really homesick at night. My body is still adjusting to the time difference, eating a ridiculous amount of dairy products, and taking in the hot Italian sun, but so far so good!
JFK, Gate B26
Whoever is reading this (wassup wassup) probably knows that I am off to Rome to study art history, architecture, and urban planning. I’m actually practicing my Italian at this very moment by eavesdropping on an Italian man offering his kid various fruits!
The school year ended as it usually does, with the stress and satisfaction of wrapping things up. I found myself especially torn between focusing on exams and soaking up the goodness of Williamstown (whether the sun’s rays or a nasty rum drink lit on fire) knowing that I wouldn’t be back until January.
But the summer had been something I was looking forward to for a long time. Amir and I had a great set up with a beautiful apartment, easy jobs, and family and friends nearby. We moved in at the end of May, and soon enough, the cobblestoned side streets became our shortcuts, we became “regulars”, and we hosted and showed people around (like real adults!).
We often described our female neighbors in a crude (yet, favorable) way, addressing their status as mothers, combined with a high level of attractiveness. In addition to these ladies, our neighborhood was inhabited by senators, businessmen, and French bulldogs. The place belongs to Amir’s parents (Hi, N & N!). It was built with good old bricks and features a grand, marble fireplace. And inside, lived the youngest, poorest, and most eclectically dressed in the neighborhood.
It was easy to hide in our cozy apartment. We would wake up, carefully open the old school shutters that blocked out the sun and lift the front windows that looked out over Charles Street. We ate breakfast (toasted sourdough, cheddar cheese, avocado, and an egg over medium) and people watched/people heard through the open window. We managed to keep each other incredibly entertained despite a degree of isolation that we were never exposed to at Williams. Being together became the default rather than the thing to do after finishing everything else first. We laughed a lot, explored a lot, and lived a truly beautiful life for two whole months.
But soon, August rolled around and I hadn’t had one minute to actually think about Rome. I still feel shocked that I’m about to get the plane over there. Shout out to my dad who, like always, thoroughly reads the emails I blindly forward him and organizes my life like a pro. I wouldn’t be at the start of this adventure if not for him.
It was a tearful goodbye, to my friends, Amir, and my parents. I’ve never been so far from home and I’m very attached to my way of life, traveling the triangle of Concord, Williamstown, and Boston. My entire existence so far has been peaceful, fulfilled, and happy; and at this moment, I don’t feel ready to leave such a good thing behind. I am blessed to be able to say such a thing and I’m thankful for the people who have shaped my life in this way.
But the way I see it, it would be too easy for me to stay. I say that things are perfect but that’s because the people around me have adapted to my flaws that I could go on ignoring for the rest of my life. My parents have provided me with everything and, no matter how old I get, will never stop giving- that’s just the Asian way. In the next five months, I have to develop an independence that can’t be reached when I am always a phone call or a two-hour drive away from my beloved Concord home. And Amir has been by my side for eight months now, as the incredible and welcomed band aid to my restlessness. I’ve never been able to be alone. Even doing homework in the same room with someone is better than doing it alone. And this restlessness has often made activities like reading, self-reflecting, and just relaxing, pretty hard for me. Rome will be my time to learn how to settle down. It will be the time to figure out how to be happy on my own.
I’m pissed that the phrase “Life is Good” immediately evokes a grinning little stick figure on a t-shirt, but from what I’ve seen, life generally is. Moments of loss and struggle are inextricably woven into what I define as my overall joy of living, and the next challenge happens to be in form of leaving home.
Much love to all my people.
By the way, this is my last two hours of being an illegal drinker…. WTF?!
His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard.
I wish he was mine, he’s really divine,
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord.
Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived — who turns 33 today, according to the books’ chronology. Why do we love him? Let us count the ways.
HAPPEE BIRTHDAE HARRY, yer a wizard!