Sunday, July 13, 2008

Verdi Cries

I finally finished my memoir for my writing class which ended Friday. I was unable to share it with the class on Friday so I think I will share it with you all here. On Friday I was fortunate enough to hear some of my classmates read their memoirs out loud. They were really well written one in particular made me cry. I was so thankful that my classmate trusted us enough to share some very dark moments in her life...I feel the more richer for having been a part of the community that got to share in her pain.

Anyway, I should be back to regular blogging this week - starting tomorrow with the results of our ultrasound.

Feel free to leave any feedback about my memoir in the comments section below.

It was the spring of 1990. It was official. I was a student of archeology. When my Latin teacher, Ms. Reidel had told me about the Summer Classics Program (SCP), I was a bit hesitant. I was only a Junior. Did I want to give up one night a week to schlep down to St. Joe’s University to take a night class for college credit? My schedule this spring was already a bit tight. Lacrosse, stage crew, Lit Mag and SAT prep left me with little time after school for much else.

“This is the first year that they are opening it up to girls,” she said. “There are only four spots and I want you to have one of them.” Then she mentioned the “on site” component. At the end of the semester the group would spend one week in Rome, two days on the island of Capri and five days in Sorrento.

Two weeks in Italy? Without my parents? With twenty guys from the Prep? During the World Cup? (Italy was hosting that year.) I looked at this opportunity with the practical eye of a 16 year old girl who attends a same sex school. Aside from our professor, I would be the only one on the trip that would speak Italian fluently. These twenty boys would NEED me. I saw myself surrounded by handsome young men, all vying for my attention as I helped them order a gelato or translated for them at a bar while we watched a soccer match. Italy was such a magical place there was no way that these boys would NOT fall in love with me. By the end of the trip I would have a boyfriend for sure. At the very least I would have my pick of them for a senior prom date. I told Ms. Reidel I was definitely in.

We arrived in Rome on a hot June day. By then, I had met the boys that I prematurely decided would escort me to the prom and realized that there were only a few acceptable candidates. My roommate was to be a girl from my high school named Eva. There were two other girls from my high school on the trip as well. My odds were looking good. On the plane I planned out the strategies that would have these “chosen” boys fawning over me by dinner the next day.

Then a funny thing happened. As soon as I set foot on Italian soil these potential escorts took a back seat to the magic of the Eternal City. I had visited Rome before with my family but never as a student of archeology. Our fearless leader, Dr. Bender, was a time wizard. With every lecture at every site we were drawn back into the past and soon we felt like we were actually living in the time of the Caesars.

If I had lived 2000 years ago would I have been a slave girl worth practically nothing and looked down upon by those I served? Perhaps I would have been the daughter of an aristocrat, married at age 12, mother of many children one of whom would become a senator. Dr. Bender gave us a truly special look into this timeless city. A place that would live on long after our footsteps and daydreams had passed through.

While our days were filled with time travel our nights were filled with soccer. Hosting the World Cup had transformed Rome that summer. Some of the games were even being played at the Stadio Olimpico right there in Rome. Azzurri fever was sweeping the city and we gladly let ourselves get caught up in the tidal wave.

Three days after my 17th birthday we visited the Capitoline Museums. It was late afternoon and the museums were already closed for the day. Dr. Bender, who by that time we had dubbed Caesar himself, had managed to find a way for us to visit the museums after hours.

The origins of these museums trace back to 1471 and Pope Sixtus IV who donated a bunch of valuable bronze statues to the people of Rome for exposition. Almost 600 years later the collection contains mostly pieces from Roman antiquity, possibly the largest collection in the world.

I had never been in a museum when it was closed. Without the tourists and general crowds the place was transformed and held almost a sacred quality. Our footsteps resonated through the ancient halls with nothing but statues and pieces of antiquity to muffle them. Dr. Bender explained statue after statue and again we were teleported back to a time even more ancient then the Caesars.

We were introduced to Romulus and Remus, twin brothers who were abandoned then taken in by a she-wolf who fed them and kept them alive. Romulus would later found the city of Rome. We had studied this ancient bronze back in our classroom at St. Joe’s. Now we were standing in front of it looking it at with our own eyes, connecting with a part of history that was older than time itself. As had already happened several times since arriving in Rome, I was overcome with emotion and an incredible sense of how immensely lucky I was to be standing here in this moment creating my own memories and my own history.

As Dr. Bender led us back out to the main entrance we passed a lone security guard huddled around a black and white TV set. Italy was playing Team USA that night at the Stadio Olimpico here in Rome. No wonder Dr. Bender had been given permission to let us in the museum that night. No one would be out on the streets. Every single person in Rome would be at the stadium, which holds 80,000 people or glued to a TV set or in one of the many piazzas that was showing the game on huge screens set up for the occasion. Rome’s antiquities were in no danger of being compromised that night. Our guard was so caught up in the game he did not even realize that we had left the building.

The outside space in between the museums is called the Campidoglio and was designed by Michelangelo himself. Dr. Bender led the group to the top of the courtyard. As we looked over the railing the Roman Forum sprawled out before us. It was dusk and the soft purple light made the ancient ruins look enchanted. We were all silenced by this magic and as we looked over the timeless columns and stones, we allowed what Dr. Bender had been telling us all week to just sink in.

Suddenly a collective cry arose from across the city of Rome. It started out softly but immediately grew into a loud and joyful noise. Startled my classmates looked at each other. I smiled. What else could possibly wake the Eternal City from its slumber?

“Gooooooooaaaaaaaallllllll” screamed the security guard running out the door of the museum and in our direction. We were the only ones around for him to share his excitement with. It did not hurt that Italy had scored against Team USA a fact that I am sure was not lost on the security guard that had the bad luck of having to baby sit a bunch of American students on the night of a world cup game.

Knowing the chaos that would ensue if Italy won the game, Dr. Bender wisely corralled us back to the hotel with strict instructions not to wander outside. Luckily for me our room faced the Via della Conciliazione, a huge main street in Rome which leads to St Peter’s Basilica. I invited a bunch of the guys back to our room and from our open window my classmates and I were able to celebrate Italy’s victory from a safe distance. It had been an incredible few days and in the morning we would be leaving for Campania where the next phase of our trip would begin.

When all was said and done I was escorted to my prom by one of my SCP classmates. The trip had not produced the boyfriend I had so desperately wanted. Instead it gave me the gift of a best friend, Ed, who in the end was gracious enough to escort me to my senior prom when no other prospects were in sight. Ed and I lost touch after college but I will always fondly remember those two weeks in Italy where as Natalie Merchant in her song Verdi Cries so wisely sang “All is memory, taken home with me.”

Eva and Paola, Rome, Coloseum, June 11, 1990

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