The temperature was almost hitting the 90s (40Celsius!) the day I arrived at my dorm. Sept 2, 2021. I was so excited to finally have roommates after a freshman year online. We are 6, sharing a large apartment with three bedrooms and two bathrooms in a courtyard building with a glass elevator. Some of the students are from Temple, some from other U.S. universities, and Max is from Germany. Below me, from my window, I could hear Italians chit-chatting on the narrow road and Vespa zooming by. I pinched myself; I still couldn’t believe I was in Italy.
Walking in Rome is like walking in an outdoor museum with outstanding centuries-old art pieces dotting each city corner. I remember the first time that I was walking in the center of Rome. I casually turned a corner, only to be surprised by a huge fountain taking over almost the entire square with the famous Fontana di Trevi from the movie “La Dolce Vita.” Another time, we were taking a cab back to campus and turned into a greyish business-like square, only to be surprised by the gigantic Colosseum in all its might, lit up by warm yellow lights over the dark blue sky of Rome. Just wow! The sky in Rome is almost always blue. I did not realize it initially, but Rome is very close to the sea. So at the first chance I had, I took the subway to the beach with some friends. In that way, Rome reminds me of New York City.
Saint Peter’s Basilica is just around the corner from our apartments. I visited the Vatican museums on a Friday night, a little off the tourist hours, only to find the place almost all to myself. The amount of art jammed packed onto the walls and the ceiling of those mile-long corridors is breathtaking. Sometimes, I like to walk by Castel San’ Angelo, Hadrian’s mighty mausoleum, on my way back from the store. Occasionally musicians are playing at its entrance. Temple campus is only a 15 min walk from our apartment, housed in a historic building overlooking the Tiber River. We can see the river from some of our class windows. The population at the campus is small, and so are our classes, which is a great way to get to know your teachers and classmates. During the week, they organize different activities, from soccer tournaments to pasta-making. This week I also started my internship in the sales and marketing department at Mercedes-Benz Italia.
Rome is a buzzing city. There are so many people, most very well dressed, walking in the streets and driving by. The food scene is unbelievable; it’s so hard to find a bad restaurant. And compared to Philadelphia, the price of Italian food is much lower. At a Trattoria, the more “home-cooked” version of a restaurant, you can buy a plate of Pasta Alla Carbonara (mouthwatering pasta with eggs and bacon) for around $8 sitting at a table. I learned that in Italy, they do not expect tips as the restaurant pays waiters well. Instead, you pay something called “Pane & Coperto,” which means “Bread and a Placemat,” usually around $3. So for $11, you get to sit at a restaurant and have a delicious home-cooked Italian meal!
One of my favorite restaurants is called ‘Cacio e Pepe.’ The name celebrates another typical Roman plate, a pasta made with a creamy cheese called “cacio” and sprinkled abundantly with pepper. Yummy! The restaurant offers some outdoor tables, which are covered with brown and yellow paper tablecloths. We tend to walk there sometimes after a late class because it’s just across the bridge from campus. While in the U.S., we tend to show appreciation for our food by snapping pictures, Italians do “scarpetta” (using bread to clean off your plate). I realize that we tend to eat dinner much later here in Rome, often at around 10 pm. Many restaurants do not even open before 7 pm at night!
Many Italians drink a glass of wine with their meal, and many people get together after work at bars to enjoy an “aperitivo.” A great aperitivo usually features small dishes that you can taste for free, from mini sandwiches with salami or prosciutto to mini square pizzas and olives. My favorite squares for people watching and enjoying an aperitivo are Campo Dei Fiori e Piazza Navona, which are very close to our apartment.
One neighborhood I have enjoyed the most, and only a 30 min walk from us, is Trastevere. When the sun sets, the neighborhood comes alive: people sitting at bars and restaurants, others having “gelato” (a richer version of ice cream, always made with fresh milk as they proudly tend to stress to tourists), and some watching street entertainers. Trastevere is not on the typical tourist’s visit to Rome, and it’s considered a politically energized neighborhood freckled with graffiti and crowded “Circoli” (small bars with membership), where Italians get together to discuss more progressive political plans. Italians tend to be louder than Philadelphians, and you can hear them laughing or discussing politics or soccer loudly over wine or beer. The first night I went to Trastevere, we arrived at almost 11 pm, and you could barely walk across the very crowded bridge at the neighborhood entrance. Finding a place to eat was even more challenging as all the restaurants were full, and people were indulging their nights over “Limoncello” (a lemon liquor most restaurants offer you after dinner).
The vitality and excitement you experience in Rome are unforgettable.
For me, there will be another layer. Here in Rome, I am part of the Culture and Identity Envoy Program. We are here to question our identity (in my case, a multicultural one) within a global context and with the support of our group. Being multiracial (Italian, Japanese, and African American) has a significant impact on who I am and how I relate to people. I was raised Quaker, recently found out about having Jewish roots, have a Catholic, and also a Buddhist grandmother. I hope that through this program, I can have a deeper understanding of the dynamics of race and cultures within this city and where I fit within this intricate mesh.
I look forward to sharing my journey with you. Thanks for reading!