Culture and Identity Envoy Historical Sites Public Transit Reflection Shreya Sridhar Temple Rome urbanism

Meet the Italian Youth

Artist’s Statement

This piece was inspired by an event titled “Meet the Italian Youth” discussing the experience of young, diverse Italians engaging with their communities and politics. The speakers at the event included Filippo Perticara, Oumaima Zhioua, and Lorenzo Sanchez, all of whom discussed the difficulty and power of the work they do to create space for themselves and occupy positions of power to change Italy for the better. I connected this with the concept of belonging on a smaller scale through this prose-poem.

The Roman metro system dresses in orange and blue just like the subways back home, and some days, if I squint as I walk past the signs and make sure my earphones block out all the sounds, I find liminality. The Broad Street Line and Linea A seem to know each other so well, both underground, both crowded only when you need them, both just close enough to your destination to make the ticket worthwhile but still stir ire, both caught between what was and what will be. Both blind to what ought to be.

The Roman metro system seems as though it has more regularity than the one in Philadelphia. The signs hanging from the ceilings read the time until the next train and everyone on the platform has this funny way of pretending they aren’t trying to track whether the times the signs say are accurate or not. We all pull out our phones and sneak glances at the signs only when we think nobody else will catch us in the act. We stare at the weather app or an old thread of Whatsapp messages and pretend we aren’t holding our breaths and listening for the screech of the train on old rails. When the cars arrive, we all scan the windows and try to find where we will fit most comfortably.

The Roman metro is the first place in Italy where I found myself accidentally being part of the collective. “We” stand by the doors but never against them. “We” avoid holding the upper bars as if by an unwritten rule that I abide by regardless. “We” are simply people who are simply going places. No matter how busy the cars are, “we” all manage to fit.

Time runs slower here than I’ve ever known it to before. Every action is deliberate, the choice to drop by the grocery store the spoils of a twenty-minute internal argument. There is no dropping by the bookstore because a friend is still hunting for a special edition copy of a novel I’ve never heard of before nor gas station snack stops because the driver says so. Here, life is fully, unequivocally, and completely mine, and it runs on the timeline I prescribe.

I’ve spoken to my family for 14 hours since arrival. I’ve called my closest friends for 78 hours. I’ve spoken to advisors and professors and career-deciders for 7 hours. I’ve listened to 552 hours of music, or so my Spotify Wrapped says, and I’ve written to myself for 58. Independence looks different than I had imagined it would, and it’s odd to find that I’ve stumbled upon it in such a way. All of a sudden, the hours fail to come unless I push the hands of the clock. These last days of my time here feel as though they may not come to pass if I don’t pull them into my orbit. Sometimes I wonder if I should.

I’ve found that the simple acts that keep me alive—to wake, to cook, to breathe fresh air—all have called upon a quiet courage I didn’t know I held. A friend once told me that sometimes the act of existing is powerful enough, as if time and space are stallions to be broken in and they will grow to cower at your resoluteness. I wish he would have heeded his own words if only so I could tell him that now I know he was right.

The Italian Parliament houses il corridoio dei passi perduti, the corridor of the lost steps, and it exists as the seat of discussion from which alliances and coalitions arise. Much like the metro, it is basked in liminality, poised in the space between what will always be unknown to the people and what fights to only ever be known by the elite.

Looking at those who walk out, I think it would be more than powerful to exist within those walls as the othered, to be anything but lost if different. If existence can bring time to its knees, I wonder if occupation would turn it onto its head, call for revolution, if an empty space were to appear I wonder if hope would be considered enough to fill it.

I imagine il corridoio dei passi perduti has room enough to echo, if only in that haunting, ancient way. I imagine if that’s true, there must be hollows carved into it around the glad-handers and elites, and I imagine, if we really tried, we would all manage to fit.

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