Category Archives: Rome

a love story of cities.

“It would be a long while because, quite simply, I was in love with [the city]. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.” -Joan Didion

There’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for the past 10 years or so–ever since I left my first year of summer camp in North Carolina–and is this question of how to be present in one place when your heart is so fully entrenched in another. How can I be present to the moment and and place in front of me while still honoring what has affected me deeply? Last year, this was a constant struggle in Boston, and this year, I am facing the same problem but in reverse this time.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve picked up this image of leaving pieces of my heart in the places that I’ve loved, that have felt like home. Some of these places are unspeakably grand and famous–St. Peter’s Square, for instance–while others are much more humble: my grandparent’s lake, my family’s farm, the football field I spent so many Friday nights at back in high school.

As happy and grateful as I am to be back in Missouri, I feel different here… I am not always as willing to make mistakes. This place is mine because I grew up here, first in my hometown for 18 years and then at college. They belong to me because of choices that were not mine to make (well, I did choose SLU, but less so). They belong to me in an effortless sort of way, my default almost. This doesn’t diminish the love that I feel for them at all, but it’s a different kind of love.

Rome was my choice. Boston was my choice. They belong to me because I made them mine. I chose them–and they choose me. I pulled out maps and took it upon myself to explore new neighborhoods. I found my favorite places and spaces not because I always knew them, but because I discovered them.

Last year, I belonged in Boston. That is a certainty in my life full of questions. And while I still have my moments where I wonder why I ever left, my heart and my head knows it was the right choice. Even though, for awhile after leaving, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.

St. Louis will always have a place in my heart as the first city I ever called home, the first city I ever loved as mine. For that reason, it will always have a sense of comfort to me, the sense of “I knew you when you were just becoming who you are. My love has shaped you in a different way than any other.” They say you never get over your first love–maybe cities are that way, too.

(Also, if St. Louis is my first love, my hometown is the next store neighbor, who you grow up with. Practically speaking, they should fit you because of all of your history, but they ultimately just end up being the wrong fit, as your lives grow in different directions. While I still love that little town, it’s not where I belong anymore.)

And then came Rome. Rome was a brief, passionate love affair that I knew from the beginning would never last, but savored every moment all the same. It’s the intoxicating feeling you can’t drag yourself away from, free falling and loving every second of it. Leaving them is over-dramatic and irrational, and you almost have to be pulled away kicking and screaming because you can hardly bear the thought of life afterward. Walking away feels like something you might never get over, but after you’ve gone, you’ve left, and it’s done, you smile and treasure every moment with nothing but the fondest memories.

And Boston? I think Boston was the first city I ever learned to love in an adult–a mixture of all of the love that came before. The comfort and ease of St. Louis with a dash of the passion of Rome, and the sense of belonging that I can’t quite put my finger on. I don’t know when I felt that for the first time. It was fast, but it wasn’t dramatic. It was just natural, effortless, matter of fact. Like, of course I’m in love with Boston, of course I fit here, hasn’t it always been that way? Boston felt real in a way that Rome never could. While leaving Boston was easily one of the most emotional things I’ve ever done, it was not like leaving Rome.

Leaving Boston was like a progression into adulthood–still very difficult, but also resigned. Because by that point, I knew that for me, it was absolutely what I needed to do. Boston taught me how to love people well, as an adult; and ultimately, that love meant learning when to walk away even when everything looks perfect, if you know in your heart of hearts that it isn’t quite right for you. And maybe it’s just a simple matter of bad timing. Or distance. Or the first love beckoning you back in the distance. Or a combination of all of the above.

I’m still trying to figure that out.

But in the meantime, here I am back in St. Louis, learning to love this city and make it mine in a way that I never could in college because so much of surroundings were chosen for me. Even though I’m still only a few minutes away from SLU’s campus, it feels different knowing that I chose this neighborhood, I chose my coffee shops (and chocolate shops) to frequent, and I can go beyond the SLU bubble (although I rarely make it beyond the South City bubble these days, let’s be honest). I’m relearning this love, and I think St. Louis and I are better together now because of the distance than we would have been otherwise.

Maybe this love can grow and develop into something completely different; I think it’s already on it’s way to doing so. While leaving St. Louis is never easy, I keep coming back again and again because somehow it finds ways to grow with me. That ability to keep growing with me? That might make it my forever.

Or maybe someday again, the timing will be right for Boston, and I’ll get to relearn Boston as an FJV. Or maybe another city will sneak it’s way onto this list; jump right in and surprise me.

I’m just learning to live in love, no matter where I am.

“Just blame Rome…”

Rome, you’re no good for me.

You make me crazy, make me laugh hysterically one minute and want to cry hysterically the next. I make decisions that don’t make sense to me, do ridiculous and impractical things, and when I wonder “why?” out loud, all I’m told is to blame you.

You–with all of your inconsistency, your chaos, your completely disarming and yet charming sense of beauty. There is no place like here, no place like you, and you know it. You are proud, but not cocky; regal and majestic; ancient and full of wisdom–wisdom you don’t share easily. You know what’s gone on before, and you know that it’s not worth the trouble to deal with it again. You don’t even have to try; you are content to exist, to just be. You understand that being is an art grander than the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, or even St. Peter’s. Rome, you know how to live.

Rome, you’re no good for me; you make me weak, lower my defenses, let me stumble, leave me exhausted. You push me around, and when that’s not enough for you, you knock me down on my face. You shape me; you make me. I get sucked in by your mystery and your romance, and you spit me back out laughing, making me stand up on my own two feet again. You have taught me passion, to live in the moment, to seize adventure with both hands and take off running.

Oh, Rome, we’ve had less than four months together, but a lifetime wouldn’t be enough for you. After all, you’re the Eternal City–you’ve been here for thousands of years before me, and you’ll still be here after me. In a city of this scale, I never thought I’d really get my hands on you, but I’ve made pieces of you my own. And I haven’t left yet, but before I do, I’m leaving a piece of myself here too. I’ll be the girl in the dress sitting on the cobblestones of St. Peter’s Square, gazing up at the Basilica with a cone of gelato in my hand, still as completely in awe of you as I was my first night here back in August. Others may not see me, but a memory of me will always remain; you’ll know I’m there, and that’s enough.

Oh, Rome, you’re no good for me, but I’ve loved you relentlessly all the same. I’ve defended you, and I keep coming back to you over and over again. You’re intoxicating, and you draw me back in every time–from the alleys of Trastevere to Via del Corso and back to Monte Mario. Somehow my roads have led me to you, and I can’t escape–and I don’t want to.

You have given me everything, but you’ve taken all of me too. I can’t get enough of you because there will never be enough. You’re everything, and you’re definitely too much for me.

Oh, Rome, you have been so good for me.

-megan

“… Each, in its own way, was unforgettable. It would be difficult to – Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.” –Roman Holiday

Even the smallest things.

“When I told someone that I was from Rome / it didn’t feel like a slip of the tongue.”
–from the student farewell speech at the end of the semester banquet

This semester has changed me, shaped me, and reminded me who I am—but that’s all underneath the surface. On the most basic level, this semester has also taken a toll physically on me.
I’ve been sore, beaten, and bruised. I’ve walked miles around Europe’s most famous cities, hiked trails linking the tiny towns of Italy’s coast, climbed a volcano, and even walked a mile just to go to the supermercato. I’ve acquired strange bruises of mysterious origins. I’ve tripped and fallen on the cobblestones of Rome more often than I care to admit. I now bear a scar on my left knee from tripping while playing calcio in the rain—a scar I hope doesn’t fade anytime soon because it serves as a physical reminder of my time at the J-Force. My feet are still sore from wearing heels to last night’s end of the semester banquet downtown (not the smartest idea I’ve ever had).
I’ve gotten knocked to the ground while trying to board the train back to Rome after a wine festival, squeezed onto the crowded 913 bus on the way to on site class, and generally forgotten about having any sense of personal space. Living, eating, studying, and constantly being in one building with the same 150 people will also do that to you.
I’ve woken up at 1:30am to catch a flight and almost as early for trains, napped on more train rides than I can count on two hands, considered six hours of sleep more than adequate, and generally grew to view late nights followed by early mornings as normal. Weekend mornings where I slept in until 11:ooam have been non-existent this semester, in exchange for exploring some of the world’s most fascinating cities. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I slept until 11, but I can remember waking up at 7am yesterday morning after going to bed at 2:30am.
I’ve eaten more train station sandwiches than I can count, bought over-priced muffins from Rome’s Termini train station on numerous occasions, feasted on McDonald’s at the end of many trips, and considered beginning to drink coffee more than once. I’ve also snacked on trains, not ordered water, and eaten sandwiches instead of full meals to save money. I’ve learned to love olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, and olives, and I can at least sound like I know what I’m talking about when it comes to wine. My main food groups have become pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and gelato, and that has probably had an effect on the way that my clothes fit, but it was worth every bite, every meal, every 60 Euro cent cornetto from Rinaldo’s. I’ll start running again once I’m back in Missouri (where flat ground does occasionally exist).
I suffered through the heat of Rome in August without air conditioning, the days when our window was always kept open in hopes of a breeze and we would shower right before going out just so we would at least feel presentable. Some people here didn’t see any sites in Rome during the day until we’d been here for a month because we never went out in the city when the sun was out. Then, two months later, I slept in layers of clothes before the heat was turned on at the J-Force. I’ve stood in the rain at Auschwitz, frolicked in the snow of Salzburg, and had shoes full of sand in Egypt. Just last week, I walked across the bridge in front of the Eiffel Tower with my best friend in the world in the pouring rain as we both got soaked. Standing and watching the Eiffel Tower light show afterwards with our respective umbrellas is one of my favorite memories of that entire week.
There’s been other things too—I’ve skipped showering more often than I care to admit (usually in favor of sleeping), my hair has grown at least 2-3 inches, and I think I even dress a little bit differently. New clothing has crept into my wardrobe, from scarves from Cinque Terre, Cairo, and Florence to the purple coat I bought yesterday at the Roman clothes market.
But I’ve adapted to this physical change. All of the behavior I’ve just mentioned somehow became normal to me over the course of the last 3 months. I been so conditioned to a certain sort of behavior that it’s hard to imagine how I’m going to go back to the way I was before, although I suppose the short answer is that I’m not, but that’s the point. I have changed, and it will leave effects on me, even though I will probably go back to sleeping in until 11 pretty soon.
And I’ve loved every minute of it; I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I’m going to miss it more than I can express.
-megan

The real lessons are outside the classroom.

Oh, Roma. I can’t leave you. I can’t let you go.

Final week of class. Last Theology class yesterday. Last Italian class tomorrow. Calcio championships/last night at BP tomorrow night. Last paper due Thursday. Final day of class Thursday. End of the semester banquet Thursday night. Study day Friday. Finals starting Saturday afternoon. Last night out in Rome Saturday night. Last Sunday Mass at the JFRC chapel. Finals Monday and Tuesday. Packing, packing, packing Wednesday. “See you later’s” and then Germany on Thursday.

It’s coming too soon, especially finals. I am so bitter that my last real week in Rome is mainly being spent in the JFRC library, tucked away with notebooks and textbooks by myself, rather than out exploring the city with my friends for one last time. It has been unanimously agreed upon that we have learned exponentially more on the weekends than during the week anyway, so why are my final days in this wonderful city being ruined by something as trivial as exams? In the end, what is really more important?

While I’ve never ever been someone that has blown off school (and I’m still not), I think that one of the most important lessons I have learned while studying abroad is that there are so many things that are far more important than school. And what matters now, in these final, fleeting moments, is Rome, with all of it’s inconsistency, all of its chaotic beauty, all of its passion, all of the lessons I have learned and have yet to learn.

Oh, Roma. I have to leave you, but I won’t let you go.

-megan

All good things must come to end.

Unfortunately, it is always true that “all good things must come to an end,” whether it’s a cone of the best gelato I’ve ever tasted, the Pink team’s Calcio season, or even this semester in Rome.

This past Wednesday evening was the beginning of Calcio playoffs. The top 8 teams were matched up, and only the four winning teams continue on to the next week. Unfortunately, although the Pink team played a great game, we had a round of bad luck and ended up losing. Therefore, for the pink team at least, the calcio season is now over. And the most ironic thing about the end of the Calcio season is that I never realized how much I enjoyed it until it was over.
I’ve fallen into a routine over the course of this semester, where Wednesday nights automatically equal Calcio matches and going out for beer and pizza afterwards. While we still have one more week left, I will just be standing on the outside, which is so strange.
Let’s be honest: frankly, I was a bit freaked out about playing Calcio in the beginning, and I wasn’t much better at the end. My roommate/teammate, Beth, informed me that every time someone asked me if I wanted to go in, I looked terrified, which I fully believe. However, underneath all of that, I genuinely did enjoy a lot of things about Calcio; it really was a great bonding experience.
Much scarier than trying to play defense against boys a foot taller than me though is realizing that I’m never going to do it again. Never again will I stand with those people on that field, chanting for the pink team, and being amazed at my more talented teammates Calcio abilities.
However, this all just brings me to the scariest realization of all: understanding that this ending is only the first of many that I will have to see through in the next month. And when I say month, that’s an exact number. I fly back to Chicago (and then St. Louis) on December 20th.
With every passing day, I’m becoming more aware of the other endings I’m going to have to face (including the dreaded final exams). I don’t think I’ve ever really handled endings well. I’m far too nostalgic of a person. Beginnings are exciting, but they make me nervous. Middles are comfortable, but they don’t last.
Endings are so bittersweet—weve learned to love Rome, the J-Force, Europe, gelato, and (perhaps most importantly) each other over the past few months. Soon we will be forced to leave it all behind, as we return to our normal lives and seek to understand the many ways that this semester has changed us with only a few cheesy souvenirs, greatly depleted bank accounts, and our memories to show for it.
We will always have our memories though, and perhaps they will be enough. I certainly know that they will be counted among my most treasured. All I can do now is be thankful that I was blessed enough to be able to have such a wonderful opportunity.
-megan

airports, see it all the time
where someone’s last goodbye
blends in with someone’s sigh
’cause someone’s coming home

you can’t build a house of leaves
and live like it’s an evergreen
it’s just a season thing
it’s just this thing that seasons do

and if you never stop when you wave goodbye
you just might find if you give it time
you will wave hello again
you just might wave hello again”
–john mayer

buon appetite.

I am a little bit obsessed with the way that Italians eat. I’ve never known a group of people that are so dedicated to food.

To eat dinner the Italian way, most people won’t go out until at least 8:00. They will eat several courses (antipasti, primo, secondo, etc). They’ll linger for hours over a meal, drinking wine, and enjoying conversation. Unlike in US, no one rushes you away from your table. Waiters expect you to stay for at least a couple of hours.

Everything here is so fresh. Even the simplest things are so good; I end up eating tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella almost everyday, just because it’s that good.

Everywhere in Italy and especially in Rome, there’s so many good restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. And everything is [almost always] excellent.

Other people have been complaining about becoming sick of pasta since the beginning of the semester, but I’m not. At all. And frankly, I’m not looking forward to going back to American food. I feel like food here is a lot healthier here and better tasting.

Yes, the food is definitely going to be one of the hardest things to give up. I will miss it so much.

“It started feeling like October.”

I can’t believe we’re already a week into October. I’m already almost to the halfway point of my time here. Ironically enough, I feel like I’ve just really started to get the hang of being here over the past couple weeks.

I’ve been staying pretty busy lately (which accounts for my lack of updates). My parents were here last week, and it was wonderful to see them! They were in Rome Sunday through Wednesday, so I spent a lot of time with them. Having them here and being able to show them around is one of the things that really made me feel at home here.
On Friday, I went on an adventure to Assisi with my friend Carly! We took and train there early in the morning, and came back the same night. I went to Assisi the first time when I was in Italy a few years ago, and I loved it so much that I desperately wanted to go back. Thankfully, Assisi did not disappoint on the second visit! We had a pretty relaxing day, just walking around and visiting some of the of the churches. Ironically enough, St. Francis’s feast day was actually on Sunday, which we didn’t even realize while we were there!
On Saturday, I went to the Catacombs, which I loved, naturally. They were just so interesting, but I am definitely glad that we had a guide to take us through them because I can understand how people would get lost in them! They were super confusing.
On Sunday, I went to nearby town with a few friends to a wine festival (sagra del vino). It was a lot of fun, but super crowded. The only thing I know how to compare it to is an Italian version of Octoberfest, except with wine instead of beer. They even had a fountain with wine flowing out of it instead of water!
This past week has been pretty busy with schoolwork and other activities. Calcio update: after losing our first match, and tying last week, the Pink Team prevailed for our first win last night! It was pretty epic with a final score of 5-1.
Now I am done with classes for the week, and fall break has officially started! I leave bright and early tomorrow morning to fly to Krakow and get started on my adventure in Eastern Europe! I will be gone for about 9 days (coming back next Saturday), and it should be a fantastic trip!
Wish me luck!
-megan