2011 Spring Matthew Flocco Temple Rome

Il sangue

I came onto this trip with very few mishaps. Thankfully, I’m leaving with very few (well, let’s hope so, I’m still here traveling to Greece and Paris). Alas, I have a few scars to show. The one I am most proud of is on my right elbow, which I scraped while swimming into the Blue Grotto two weeks ago in Capri. I had gone the entire day without getting scratched. We were going up and down a mountain, hiking through woods, traversing sharp rocks so that we could jump into the sea which had jellyfish and maybe a little shark (that’s an exaggeration), clambering back up the same rocks, and yet I didn’t get a cut until the very end when we jumped off a dock, clung to a chain, and swam into the grotto. It was awesome, and definitely worth the scar.

The other scrape/bloodshed happened this week (again, of course, at the end of the program). This is when I was climbing down the steps from Villa Borghese (Rome’s Rittenhouse Square/Central Park) to Piazza del Popolo. The steps are narrow and walked on by hundreds of people a day, possibly thousands over the past week because of Settimana Santa (Holy Week). The marble is smoothed out by all of the people, so naturally (after my friend had warned me the day before) I slipped, fell, scraped my leg, and got stared at. That’s ok, when I stood back off and played it off as a joke, an Italian guy said “No ho visto niente.” I was more excited by the fact that I could understand him…says he saw nothing.

So yes, I’m here talking about literal blood. Many say Italians are hot-blooded, have a temper. Thusfar, I have found this to not be true at all. If you try to speak the language, or gesture and smile (yes, they really do gesture that much), you’ll be good, and most are friendly. Yes they get angry, but not any more than the average human being.

So beyond that blood (and the blood shown movies about ancient Rome like Gladiator), there are two other kinds I’ve found here that are much more meaningful to me. The first is the blood of kinship and family. Many of the people I’ve met in the program have family in other parts of Italy or Europe. I’m jealous in this aspect, but I bet if I look hard enough (for when I return to Italy…eventually), I will definitely find family members. I’m even on a facebook group (organized by a guy in Delaware) with a bunch of people that share the same last name as me. In addition to this, I found a town with my last name! It’s called Flocco, and it’s located right outside Napoli by train. Unfortunately I couldn’t go because no trains were running (did I say that in the last post? Or am I just rehearsing for when my family in the States calls me out for not traveling there?). My Nana’s side of the family is from Sicilia. I actually spoke to a schoolteacher from there who has a cousin with the same last name as my Nana’s maiden name….she lives in Canada. Maybe I should respond to all these friend requests online with people that have the same last name as me.

The most important kinship is the one I’ve made with the people in the program. It really has become like family. Some go to Temple, some go to schools closeby, some farther away. But here, it didn’t matter. Everyone walked in and out of one anothers’ rooms for pot lucks, or to have a glass of wine, or just to sit and talk on the backporch, or to study at all hours of the night. Because most of us live in the residence, and because the campus is just one building, you see everyone all the time. I knew 10 people going into the program, and I’m glad to say I’ve kept those friendships, made them stronger, and made plenty of new friends as well. When you’re with that amount of people in a small space for an extended period of time, you’re bound to have things in common with people. In the beginning of the program, everyone met everyone, hung out with everyone. Then people started making close friends, and outtings got smaller. But at the end of the program, people started hanging out with everyone again, going out in big groups. I suppose it’s just human nature, to connect with something at the end with similarities to the beginning, or to throw aside differences and remember how awesome it is that we’re all here together. This morning, two of my closest friends in this program left on the same shuttle to the airport. Unfortunately, their shuttle left a bit early, and my goodbye had to be on the phone instead of a huge hug in person. I was really bummed, but then realized that of course I’d see them over the summer. Goodbyes were really not too sad, because so many of us know that we will be keeping in contact when we get back to the states. I know that there are a handful of these friends that I will have for a lifetime. We joke around that we’ll come back in 50 years when Italy turns 200 (we were here when it turned 150). I hope to God that we’re only half joking, and that at 71 years old we’ll be coming back here again.

Lastly, and fittingly, I want to talk about the blood of Christ. For the Temple News, I wrote a column about religion in Rome. Because I’m Catholic and because most of the city is Catholic (though apparently only 9% are practicing…perhaps a rumor),   a good chunk of it revolved around my own spiritual journey. I looked at other religions as well, and this encouraged my faith. I’ve always believed in God, but at this age we’re encouraged to really look at our belief and explore it. I have done that, and I have never felt closer to God. At the same time, I feel so much more enlightened and fascinated by other religions. Of course there are politics involved in many types of religions (especially Catholicism), but when you get down to the nitty gritty, it’s really just about the raw belief in a higher power, and that connection you have with it. For me personally, that connection is Jesus and the stories he both tells and is a part of.

Last week, we went to palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican. It was packed, but awesome. They handed out olive branches and booklets to follow along.  Because I knew the story of the Passion so well, it was awesome to follow along in Italian and learn the language in that way. On Good Friday, we went to Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum. This is a depiction of when Jesus carried the cross to Golgotha, where he would be crucified. Here, everyone had candles and booklets, and the Pope sat overlooking the crowd, and the stories were told. It was an absolutely beautiful service, and to be standing there at arguably the most famous building in the world (besides Eiffel Tower and the Parthenon..maybe) with all those people lighting their candles was an out of body experience. Last night, after walking around the city, we walked to the Vatican. There were life-size stations of the cross along the road there. We got to St. Peter’s square right before midnight, and saw the Pope and cardinals and bishops distrubiting the Eucharist. Again, powerful to watch, and to be standing at the Vatican, at midnight, on Easter Sunday, was something I will probably never get to experience again. Finally, this morning, I went to Easter Mass at Santa Susanna, the American Church located near Repubblica. I’ve gone to this church for the whole semester, so it was a neat way to wrap it up. The priest gave a great homily (sermon), during which he talked about the belief in the mystery of the Resurrection. For the first time, I really thought about how the disciples, the friends of Jesus must have felt when they saw the body gone from the tomb. It’s not like they just up and believed it. They were incredulous. Only after a while, when they started to see Christ appearing to them, and in other ways, did they believe. I never thought about the fact that the Easter season doesn’t really stop on Easter. It begins. The events succeeding Easter talk of the disciples doubt and then of their journey of faith. It was a rebirth for them, after they learned the teachings. When he was delivering this sermon, it all came together so clearly for me.

I hope to learn the teachings of this program in the same way. When I get back to the states, I may be disoriented, culture shock, all that stuff. But then I’ll remember the teachings I’ve learned here. The program doesn’t just stop here. This is not the end. Extremely cliche, but this really is only the beginning of the next chapter. I want to take all I have learned from my classes, from others, and most importantly, from myself.

Ps: John Kerry was at Easter Sunday Mass at Santa Susanna. I shook his hand. It was awesome.

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