Skip to content

By catrionaschwartz

The Last Supper Part II: My Last Week in Rome

I am now at my final week in Rome. After approximately four months in the Eternal City I barely feel I know it at all. There are bits and pieces—routes I’ve carved out in my mind; the course of the 870 bus up Gianicolo Hill, a thread of direction in the tangled streets of the Centro Storico, between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, the route between restless crowds in Trastevere after nightfall—but Rome was so much bigger than I expected.

There have been other places I’ve touched; Monti with its ivy curtain on the corner of Via Panisperna, Pigneto with its little bungalows and street art and Testaccio, just slightly rough around the edges. It’s not the same as really living somewhere, when you study abroad. It’s a taste of it but four months is just drop in the ocean.

I think I’ve said this before but I’m reminded of the thought now that I’m in my final days here: I could live in Rome a lifetime and never know it fully. To think that four months would suffice—it’s nowhere near enough time. Still I was inspired reading Julia’s blog post about her host brother asking her what she actually liked about Buenos Aires. It made me think about what I really know about Rome, beyond its founding myth and the boundary lines of certain neighborhoods and the price of a ticket to the Vatican Museum.

So I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve come to know about Rome. Some of them are things I’ve loved, and some of them are things I’m ready to be done with, but all of them are tiny facets of my time here. They’re part of this experience here which has been something that I can’t assign any sort of value to, positive or negative, and that can only be remembered in moments rather than with any sort of overarching sentiment or conclusion.

So here it is, Rome, and what I’ve come to know of it:

The confetti that littered the ground around the time of Carnevale.

The aspens and the palm trees and the honeysuckle and purple flowers which came with spring.

The local bars without any of the fuss of cafes back home but with equally good and exponentially cheaper fare. I can’t believe the days of 1 euro cappuccinos are soon to be behind me!

The painful cobblestones. They’re beautiful and I have to believe they’ve made me a stronger person. Or at least my feet.

The old water fountains, at first a mystery to me, and which I’ve finally mastered. Knowing how to use one correctly is a quick and easy way to feel like less of a tourist.

The pain of a 2 euro charge for still water at almost every restaurant in Rome.

The nuns and the priests throughout the city.

Even better: the monks and the friars. Where else in the world would you see Franciscan friars (with their long brown robes and the white rope around their waists) walking down the street as you go to catch the bus home?

The piazzas at night filled with people and bottles of wine, somehow lively and quiet at the same time.

The comparative din around places such as Bar San Calisto where American students, Italian high-schoolers, and locals anywhere from twenty-two to sixty-two will spend an evening drinking and talking to strangers.

Shops and restaurants with no names at all.

The opulent antique stores along Via dei Coronari.

The way the city is filled to the brim for Catholic holidays.

The prevalence of take away pizzerias and gelaterias.

The absence of any other kind of take away.

The utter dearth of food trucks.

The fact that the only people eating in a restaurant before 8:30 are Americans.

A satisfying aperitvo where you can get a whole meal and a drink for under 12 euros if you know the right places to go.

How medicines are all sold at old school pharmacies where almost everything is behind the counter.

The fact that many people dry their clothes on lines and without a dryer.

The way people wear down coats even when it is sixty degrees out because it is still March.

The way you stand out as an American when you wear temperature appropriate, season-inappropriate clothes, or too many bright colors.

The diminutive but welcoming religious minority communities.

The incongruous Egyptian obelisks throughout the city (and the one pyramid).

The Pantheon, a temple which became a church, and then inspired Baroque architects to construct churches that looked like temples.

How easy it is to take a plane to somewhere with a completely different language and culture.

How easy it is to take a train to a quiet medieval fortress town and look out at the iconic Italian countryside.

Having the chance to visit the Forum before the hordes of tourists arrive, when it can feel just a bit more like a ghost town and not a tourist attraction.

The sense of achievement after any successful interaction conducted in Italian, no matter how minor.

The sense of accomplishment at having a list like this, and of being able to write more. Of having some way to account for an experience which was too unwieldy to put any sort of conclusion to.

The next entry I write will be after I’ve been home for a few days. I can’t imagine how I will be feeling then but I know no matter what I’m thankful that I’ve been able to have this experience.

By catrionaschwartz

One of the best things about Rome is how easy it is to leave. An hour and a half journey by train can transport you from the bustling, crowded city to a villa in Tivoli, surrounded by intricate Renaissance gardens and fountains with flowers blooming everywhere. The Italian countryside is famous and you don’t have to go all the way to Tuscany to see why. The rolling hills with their medieval towns perched on top of them, rows of aspens leading to grand homes, orchards with small olive trees—it’s an image that has been co-opted by many artists around the world throughout history.


As much as I love Rome I also relish the opportunity to see these landscapes with my own eyes. Standing in a Renaissance villa, looking out at the hills you can almost imagine that you are in the past, the landscape looks that unchanged.


I felt that way, at least, until I looked down at my feet. I was wearing flip flops and even though I was at a tourist site, I was clearly the only one within a several mile radius wearing them. I asked an Italian friend and she said that while people would sometimes wear flip-flops outside of the city it wasn’t as usual as it was in the U.S. And I definitely stood out like a sore thumb with them on. It didn’t detract from the day—I was comfortable and I was so clearly in a group of Americans that the flip-flops probably didn’t make a difference anyway—but it did make me think twice about my shoe choice. Walking to get a coffee by myself back in Rome, my shoes attracted even more odd looks.

It’s similar to what I noticed in London: people dress more formally, on an informal basis. Just like leggings and Uggs would probably attract some odd looks in London, flip flops and a tank top would stand out here in Rome. Thankfully I have two other pairs of sandals—although the platforms are a bit difficult on the cobblestone—but it is yet another reminder of all the little quirks in Italy that I have yet to discover.

Another has been the appearance of a bright orange cocktail I’ve seen everyone drinking both at restaurants and at the local bars (which in Italy are cafes). My friend and I finally worked up the courage to ask the barista at our local bar and she said it was a Campari spritz. We tried one and to be honest it didn’t taste all that amazing to me but apparently everyone starts drinking them in the summer.

Campari Spritz

It’s really just like the confetti mystery when I first got to Rome. Every morning I’d find colorful confetti on the ground, all around the city but especially in my very residential neighborhood. I’d wondered if there were parades being held while I was at school, or if it was from people celebrating late into the night, but it turned out to celebrations for Carnivale, and it was usually children throwing the confetti not marching band members or late night revelers.

I wonder, if I were staying here longer, what other little mysteries would I discover?


By catrionaschwartz

When you have a limited amount of time to see a place it is easy to take in whatever site it is you are seeing with one glance and move on. Piazza Navona was one of those places for me until I had to do research on the fountain there for an art history class. While even in a cursory glance shows that the Piazza is beautiful it is also one of those sites that will almost always be filled with tourists, day or night. It is in the top 10 of all the Rome: Must See lists because of the massive fountain in the middle, known as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Like the nearby Trevi Fountain, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi draws in major traffic.

Because of this, the piazza bears a painful resemblance to all of the other main tourist sites of Rome, on a surface level anyway. There are a slew of over-priced restaurants around the piazza, men selling bootleg sunglasses and purses and artists selling cartoon drawings of celebrities (lots of Obamas and Angelina Jolies for example) and nameless paintings of Rome. The familiarity of it all can be off-putting. As I said, after I saw the fountain for the first time, I didn’t feel a strong pull to go back and see it again, until I had to do a project on the main fountain. What I found out about it was actually pretty fascinating.

The man who designed the fountain, Bernini, had won the commission for the fountain in a contest held by Pope Innocent X (who had a palazzo on one side of the piazza and a church which he sponsored on the other). The fountain is made up of four male figures, sat on top of realistic rocks and topped with an ancient Egyptian obelisk. The four figures represent the four major rivers of the world in the continents where papal authority had spread. There was the Nile River for Africa, the Ganges River for Asia, the Rio de la Plata for the Americas, and the Danube for Europe. Each of the figures also have smaller details to show an educated viewer which river they represent.

The figure of the Nile has a cloth over its head to represent the fact that no one knew where the source of the Nile was. The figure of the Ganges is holding an oar, to represent how easy it is to navigate the river. The Danube River figure is touching the Pamphili coat of arms since it was Pope Innocent X who had commissioned the fountain and the Danube was the closest to Rome. The last figure, that representing the Rio de la Plata (literally River of Silver), is sitting on a pile of coins to show the wealth that the Americas provided Rome.

The fountain shows what a real presence the pope and the papal state had not just in Europe but in the world. Today the Church is a spiritual authority but in that period it was an earthly, political authority as well. The figure for Rio de la Plata shows this the most clearly, as it obviously references earthly actions of the Church. The Rio de la Plata figure is also cowering—most likely because of the snake (representing loss of wealth) rearing towards it. There is a story however that Bernini placed the cowering Rio de la Plata figure facing the church of Sant’Agnese because Pope Innocent X had given the commission for that church to Bernini’s rival, Borromini. The figure is cowering because it is afraid the church will collapse due to Borromini’s poor design plan.

Finding all of these stories about the fountain made me want to go back and it made me realize that sight-seeing takes effort. Sometimes you have to research and prepare to really get the most out of what you are seeing!

By catrionaschwartz

I’m almost near the end of my time here in Rome. On the one hand I’m excited to go home—I’ve been studying abroad for a year now and there are so many things I miss—but at the same time I’m not ready to leave. Living in Rome has been an adventure. Being able to travel every weekend and to constantly see new things is something I don’t think I’d ever get tired of. Being able to return to a sunny apartment in Rome made the experience even better.

One thing that has been a surprising joy is standing at a bar, drinking a cappuccino in the mornings. It was something I was a bit confused by when I first arrived here. One, that what we would call cafes are called bars, and two, that there are often very few seats in these cafes. Instead you see people lined up at the bar, sipping at on their espressos and macchiato, bags leant against their legs, looking for all intents and purposes completely settled there.

Taking a coffee to go will garner you some odd looks—certainly you’ve clearly marked yourself as a foreigner—because very few Italians drink their coffees outside the bar. For a dyed in the wool Starbucks patron, where almost everyone gets their drinks in paper and plastic to go cups, it all seemed a bit off-putting.

I gave it a try though. Standing by myself, my bag leant against my leg, in comfortable silence with strangers doing the same on either side of me, I realized it wasn’t so bad. And coffee tastes worlds better when it’s not coming out of a paper cup. It’s a way to relax a bit as well, after a stressful morning commute (and public transport in Rome, during rush hour is a trial, a trial of wills, patience, and balance).

It’s such a small thing, but it has made me enjoy coffee in a different, if equally ritualized way. Before living in Rome, coffee meant a to-go iced latte or chai from Starbucks, taken to class, or to drink while studying. It was a way to supplement an experience, or to make it more palatable. In Rome, coffee is the experience, and it’s one I’ve come to love.




By catrionaschwartz

Today I went to the Vatican for the Easter Mass. The mass is held in St. Peter’s Square, not in the actual basilica itself, which means that not only can up to 80,000 people squeeze into the square to watch the mass from there, countless others can watch from beyond the colonnade. My decision to attend the mass was very last minute so I was unfortunately one of the many people standing outside the colonnade but there were big screens and speakers set up so that we could see and here the Pope anyway.

It was completely packed, for a couple of reasons. First of all, this was the new Pope, Pope Francis’ first Easter mass. Second of all Pope Francis (Papa Francesco) has been a very popular pope thus far. And finally, and most importantly, Rome, the Vatican, is the Catholic Capital of the world. Of course people will flock there.
I mentioned in my first about Rome how there were so many nuns and priests and that impression has only be furthered the longer I’ve been here. The neighborhood I live in is full of papal buildings and many orders of nuns and monks. When I take the bus home from school there are always a few nuns that hope on, speaking different languages, wearing slightly different habits, but all there to be in Rome, near the Vatican.

It’s a very interesting contrast from New York and DC, neither of which have extremely strong religious presences, although of course there are many religious people there. It isn’t as likely though to walk down the street and pass two priests and several monks in robes down to their ankles.

It’s so interesting to see such a strong religious community. The fact that Italy has an almost 90% Catholic majority makes that presence even stronger. I loved being able to experience that fervor when I went to the mass today, and to be able to feel everyone’s excitement at seeing this new Pope. Hearing the colonnade echo with music and prayers reminded me that as much as St. Peter’s, and the Vatican as a whole, are major tourist destinations, filled with beautiful art and rich history, they still genuinely serve a religious purpose to millions of people around the world, and have for centuries. Seeing the new Pope there today, I felt like I was experiencing that history myself.


By catrionaschwartz

I am now at the mid-way point of my semester here in Rome. These past two weekends I spent traveling in Italy—the first weekend in Palermo, and this last one in Tuscany—and it has been amazing, but I’m glad I will be in Rome these final few weeks. Palermo was fascinating though. It was very different from Rome. It had ruins of sorts, and while some were created by neglect and decay, many others were remnants of World War II—with whole facades of buildings gone, revealing hallways to bombed out rooms, abandoned chairs and tables—eerie but beautiful. It was also a very diverse city. Some of the street signs had Hebrew and Arabic translations, and there were lots of Indian restaurants and kebab shops which you don’t see as much of in Rome.

That weekend also tested my Italian skills. Most of the waiters and shopkeepers spoke to us solely in Italian which was refreshing as well as challenging. In Rome, people often respond in English once they hear your accent (or pick up on one of the many other innumerable clues that you are in fact American). I try to respond in Italian anyway. I like to think that it gives both myself and the person talking to me a chance to practice our language skills. In Palermo though, 90% of the conversations we had with locals were conducted in Italian. It made me appreciate how far my language skills have come, and how rewarding it was to be able to practice a language with locals while learning (something I hadn’t experienced when I took Spanish and French back in the States).

Still, the dialect in Sicily is quite different. There were a couple times the words they used were completely different from the Italian spoken in Rome. When we went to one of the main street markets for example, the vendors used a different word for ‘bag’ than what I had learned. Not to mention the market itself was so different from the placid farmers’ markets you see in Rome--people were shouting everywhere (“Fragole, belle fragole!”), and I tripped over a fallen fish head trying to avoid a group of boys fighting in the street and it was all a shambolic, wonderful mess.

Tuscany was a completely different experience. First of all it was a trip organized by the program so there was none of the stress of having to figure out the when/where/hows of the trip, we just got on the bus and got off the bus when it stopped. Then there was the fact that Tuscany is more about the sweeping landscapes, and quiet glasses of wine than frantic cityscapes. It was just as much fun though. We stopped in Sienna which was grand and medieval looking, and then Montalcino, which was practically empty which I loved. Montalcino is known for its Brunello wine and there are 210 vineyards in the area. We stayed the night in a 15th century farmhouse and vineyard with views of the rolling hills and it was relaxing and quite.

Rome will be somewhere in between. It’s not quite Palermo levels of chaotic but it is still a loud, frenetic city. The number of tourists is also increasing every day, making the narrow streets feel claustrophobic at certain times of the day. Still, the weather is beautiful and all of the flowers are blooming now. All this time I’ve been gone during the weekends but now I need to focus on Rome—the countless museums, the farther flung neighborhoods, the food and the wine—there’s still so much to see! I can’t believe I only have a few weeks left.

By catrionaschwartz

Before studying abroad I generally assumed that most Europeans had a fairly poor opinion of Americans. Last semester when I was studying in London, I got a mix of reactions, but on the whole a great amount (a surprising amount!) of positivity, especially when I said I was from Brooklyn. In Rome the reaction hasn’t been quite the same. It isn’t that people have the poor opinion of Americans, like I initially expected—more that they are completely used to Americans inundating their city. This past week was my spring break and my friends and I traveled to Budapest, Vienna and Prague and I got to see the perception of Americans outside of Italy.

In Budapest we went to a concert in the big Basilica one night and the man selling the tickets asked if we were students and where were studying—we said Rome, and at first he thought we were Italian. When he realized we were American he told us we didn’t need to be ashamed, continued on to swear a bit about President Bush but then said that President Obama was an alright guy and we looked like we had democratic faces.

It had never really occurred to me before how the U.S. president’s international reputation could personally affect me. Whatever your politics though, it is clear that President Obama is much more internationally popular leader than President Bush was. As silly as it sounds, that has probably, in some small way, made my study abroad experience a bit easier.

In Prague we encountered a man who heard us speaking English and bemoaned the lack of Czech being spoken in the country anymore. It’s true that in all of these cities we went to (not knowing a word of Czech or Hungarian and only a few sparse phrases in German) we were perfectly able to get by only speaking English, even in the less touristed areas. The fact that English is considered a common language in Europe also means that French, German, and other European tourists will also speak in English to waiters and salespeople. It must be very sad for so many people to hear more English being spoken in their cities than their national language, but it is a fact of the globalized world we live in today.

I will say though, that despite these somewhat more mixed reactions to our American and English-speaking selves, we also had a very sweet encounter with a woman working at a coffee shop in Prague. She asked us where we were from and when I said New York she smiled and said New York was her dream. It was so sweet and it made me hope that if she ever did make it to New York, the city would welcome her and really would be the city of her dreams.

By catrionaschwartz

Although I came to Italy a complete beginner, over the past few weeks I’ve able to learn a decent amount of Italian. More often than not I will start a conversation with a local in Italian, and finish it in English, but considering the number of people that speak English here, and the fact that I’ve only taken Italian for a couple of weeks—it isn't too surprising.

There have been a couple little quirks I've learned about the language over the weeks including to pieces of slang that are fun and tell you something about the country. The first is ‘pronto,’ which means ‘ready’ in Italian and is how many people answer the phone here. The origin of the usage is from when all calls had to go through an operator. The operator would ask you if you were ready for them to transfer the call, and you would reply ‘Pronto.’ While Italy isn’t technologically behind, I feel like technology has infiltrated less aspects of daily life in Italy than in the US, and this somewhat antiquated phrase goes along with that idea.

Another fun one is the phrase in bocco al lupo, meaning in the mouth of the wolf. This phrase is basically the Italian equivalent of break a leg! As my Italian teacher said, all Italians are superstitious, even if they say they aren’t. The phrase is meant to avoid jinxing someone by wishing them luck. The proper response is, ‘crepi,’ or ‘crepi il lupo,’ which means: I hope it (the wolf) dies. Considering Rome’s founding story involves a pair of baby twins being suckled by a she-wolf this phrase rings true to Italian culture to me.

This last one isn't a phrase so much as an etymological note. Every day, along with ‘si’ and ‘grazie,’ the word I probably use most is Ciao. Who would've thought though that the origin of this sweet greeting is actually, ‘I am your slave,’ from old Venetian Italian. Apparently such a greeting was so common, the phrase blurred together and came to mean hello. First of all that says a lot about the Roman Empire and Venetian Empire. Second of all, how funny is it to think that everyone walking around, going to the local bar (which is what coffee shops are called here) and saying Ciao, and it actually meaning ‘I am your slave! Good morning!’

Basically Italian is turning out to be pretty fun.

By catrionaschwartz

There is a poem by Elizabeth Bishop called “One Art,” and the repeated line in the poem is “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” This weekend I lost a necklace I’ve had for twelve, nearly thirteen years and that line has been circling through my brain ever since. It was (is) a charm necklace, though it didn’t start out as such. At first it was just a necklace with a crown on it, a souvenir from the Tower of London, bought during my first trip out of the country when I was eight. I wore it constantly, I swear I wore it until it wore itself a groove in my neck.  Over the years my parents gave me charms to add to it—a music note, a cat, a heart, an owl, one of my grandmother’s old subway tokens—it became my lucky necklace.

When we went to visit the ruins and the beach in Ostia this past Saturday, I almost didn’t wear it, but then I saw it curled up on my desk and I put it on with only the briefest of thoughts (“Perfect.”). It was warm at Ostia Antica—an archaeological site outside of Rome, filled with ruins of a former port city—and I still had the necklace, hung carefully (precariously) around my neck. When we got closer to the beach it was breezier, cooler, so I put on my scarf and then my jacket. It wasn’t until I got home much later that night, when I took off my jacket and my scarf, that I felt the nakedness around my neck; that I realized the necklace was gone.

It was with a sort of grim, rising hysteria that I walked back to the bus station, but there was too much ground to cover and it was too dark to fully retrace my steps. We’d taken two buses and two trains to get to the beach alone, it was a good hour and half away from our house and the sun had set. My necklace, the one I’d had for nearly thirteen years—that I wore to auditions, to the SATs, to prom, to the grocery store, to class, at home with my cat—it was gone.

It was so silly, this little amalgamation of silver and gold and alloys had taken on a sort of sentience in my mind, melding itself just the slightest bit into my perception of self. And in a single afternoon, an infinitesimal fraction of its existence, it was gone.

But the art of losing isn’t hard to master.

And though that wasn’t really the point of the poem at all, even if it was just the words ringing in my ears along with the sadness, I know that although I will miss it, this wasn’t such a disaster. I didn’t lose farther or faster, not a house, not a city, not a realm, and most importantly, most essentially, most vitally not a “you.”

And that is why I know that losing my necklace—it wasn’t (Write it!) a disaster.

One Art

By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to visit Venice for Carnivale! This was my first time visiting Venice and going during Carnivale had its pros and cons but all in all it was an amazing trip. As many of you may know, Venice is packed during Carnivale, with people visiting from all over the world to dress up in masks and period costumes with capes and hairstyles to rival those of Marie-Antoinette. My Italian teacher said the city looks like an opera stage during Carnivale—a description which turned out to be very apt. We arrived Friday morning after a train ride through the beautiful Italian country-side, past mountains, and lakes, until we crossed the bridge to Venice. Since I was little the idea of this city on the sea, with streets like small rivers, has intrigued me. As I grew older, seeing paintings by Turner and learning of the city’s rich and risqué history only increased my interest.

The three days we had there were simply not enough. The streets were the most narrow I have ever seen, some covered with wood beams, some tall with tilting buildings looming on either side. We got lost almost every time we left our hotel. In my Literature of the Grand Tour class we read an excerpt from Goethe’s travel accounts in Italy, and even he, so many years ago, remarked on the narrow, maze-like quality of the streets. It is brilliant to see that it is still the same.

At night the streets were wonderfully empty as well and it felt like a fairytale. The utter lack of cars on the street, paired with the 19th century looking street lamps made the city look even more like a portal to the past.

I am far from the first, and certainly not the last person to be so ridiculously charmed by Venice but it is nice to know that even when a city is an inundated with tourism as Venice is, it can still retain its charm.

Aside from the beautiful architecture (I could wax poetic for hours but I’ll spare you) we also had some of the most amazing seafood there. We also took a break from the revelry and pageantry of the first days of Carnivale to take a quick trip to Murano, one of the nearby islands. While Venice was only empty at night, Murano was nearly deserted during the day. The island, which is known for its glass, was like a smaller, less grand and less tourist filled version of Venice. As we walked down the street a party of old men and women thrust wine and frittelle on us and threw confetti over our heads before sending us on our way. We went to a glass blowing demonstration and the artist let us have a go as well (I failed miserably, as did one of my friends). We had amazing food and the waiters gave us two free rounds of Limoncello.

At the end of the day we took a sun-drenched ferry ride back to Venice, which was packed to the brim with tourists for the Carnivale parade, but even the crowds couldn’t shake the blanket of calm our day-trip had brought to the holiday.

In other words it was the perfect antithesis to the dark, mysterious streets of Venice, but equally lovely and beautiful. It was all so wonderful though, I really could go on about it forever—and I’m lucky enough to be returning with my mother in May—but I will spare you all. What this trip has reminded me of though, is how lucky I am to be studying here, and to have the opportunity to travel around Italy, and how diverse the history and architecture is here. It was wonderful to see something that was so different.