Inter Versiculos in Sicilia

What a week! Excuse my language but writing in Latin verse is fucking hard. I have so much new respect for Latin poets. It’s agonizing to write one line that makes somewhat sense, I can’t even imagine writing an epic filled with literary elegance. One whole week and I’ve written around 18 lines of poetry, multiple hours everyday have been devoted to verse composition and I have produced 18 metrically correct lines of poetry. I feel so accomplished. I know that having class for four hours in the morning and independent composition for four hours in the afternoon may sound boring but each day has slid past in the blink of an eye. It’s pretty amazing how time seems to speed up when your mind is intensely occupied by a challenge.

Our first day of classes was also my birthday, which to some of you, may sound like a bummer of a day for a birthday but it was honestly one of the best birthdays I’ve ever experienced. We had a delicious breakfast and dived right into verse composition with the introduction of the hendecasyllabic meter. This meter is incredibly restrictive and one of the more difficult ones to work with. I think our teacher, Dr. David Money, wanted to show us how restrictive and difficult poetry writing can be so that we can appreciate the freedom of the hexameter. Whenever he teaches us a new meter, D-Money (as we affectionately call him) presents us lines of some of his favorite poems in that meter. After a brief discussion, we then attempt to do a group composition. His skill in producing decent, quick verse is unparalleled and draw-dropping. On Thursday, he whipped out an Alcaic verse in like 15 minutes. It was mind-blowing.

We also learned about the metrical Haiku as was created by the poet Stephen Coombs. We are having a Haiku competition at the end of the workshop and whoever wins will receive eternal glory. I spent about 3 hours yesterday writing my Haiku. It’s only 17 syllables! WTF. But I’m actually pretty proud of it so I think I’ll share it on this post. It’s called ‘Labans in amorem’ or ‘Falling in Love’.

                                     sicut volucris                       Just like a bird

                                    pervolat aetheria,              soars through the ether,

                                   conscendimus sic                thus we ascend

Yes, it took me three hours to compose that. But I feel very accomplished and satisfied and maybe I’ll even win myself some eternal glory. We also figured out that my name is an anagram with Lesbia, the star of many of Catullus’s poems. It was such a cool revelation moment that I’m honestly thinking about changing my Latin name to Lesbia.

Dinner was the best part, however. They hired a traditional Sicilian singer who serenaded us with traditional Sicilian folksongs! Her voice was absolutely angelic and it was so fun to hear traditional Sicilian, which is very different from Italian. After the secundo course and a couple of glasses of wine, she taught us a dance that used to be popular in Sicilian wedding parties. It was so much fun! She said that every lady needed a knight so we had to pair off and then she taught us the dance through the interpretation of our Italian expert, Kristine. I was even inspired to write a poem about it! Although, I’ve found that my poetic persona is rather dark and tends to send everything down into a dark spiral but nevertheless, I was still inspired by the dancing. Once we had finished dancing, our hosts brought out a magnificent cake and three bottles of prosecco. Thank god I wasn’t the only birthday this week, I don’t think I could have handled all that attention! The three of us blew out the candles together and then opened our bottles at the same time. It was such a fun night and I felt very special to be spending my birthday on an olive farm in Sicily. It’s definitely going to be hard to top in the future.

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The area where my birthday celebration took place at Fontanasalsa

On Monday, we had our first excursion! Before we left, we had a session about the hexameter, the meter that the Aeneid is written in. Although it’s a lot more flexible than the hendecasyllable, it’s still pretty difficult. I don’t know how Virgil wrote so many verses, it’s so amazing. We actually do know how Virgil wrote the Aeneid. He wrote four lines everyday for 7 years, taking a day off every 10 days or so. He also wrote standing up. He sounds like a really weird guy. Our trip was to the island of Mozia, which is located in a small archipelago in a very large bay. It’s a fairly small island that has a museum with 6 rooms and lots of ruins all over the place. It took a leisurely 2 hours to walk around the entire island while also exploring the ruins and sites! It was a really fun but extremely hot day. It felt so good to move around after the massive amounts of food consumed in the past few days. We wandered around the island for a decent amount of time before getting on the ferry back to the mainland. Once we got back to home base, we immediately jumped into the pool, which felt so amazing. It was so refreshing and we soaked for a long time whilst exchanging riddles. Two of the participants are really into the lateral thinking riddles, which take a ridiculous amount of time and are actually rather difficult. Exempla gratia, the riddler would say, “He wouldn’t have died if he saw the dust”, and the participants are supposed to ask questions based on the statement in order to figure out the back story of the statement. As if Latin verse wasn’t enough of a challenge for our brains.

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The Cafe right next to the museum on Mozia

Tuesday was almost identical to Sunday. We had some discussions about how to transform an idea into a comprehensible poem PDM (pretty damn quick). We discussed things like style and word choice, things that were supposed to help us move along quickly in our poetry writing adventure. Most of the day was devoted to poetry composition, however. I think I finished my hendecasyllabic poem and began the one about dancing but I don’t really remember. My hendecasyllabic is about feasting and how the dangerous desire of food consumes us all. We had a tantum Latine prandium (Latin only lunch) and then a some more independent composition. There was also a group of people who were interested in doing a Horace poem set to music. I was planning on sitting and watching them sing because for those of you who know me, I have a terrible fear of singing in front of people and have always believed that I’m tone-deaf. But Eleanor and a new friend, Mikael, coerced me into joining the group and I sang in front of other humans for the first time in my adult memory. It was terrifying but really fun! I couldn’t believe that I made myself do that. I actually rather enjoyed it. We had a rather rowdy dinner because they kept bringing out the wine. We tried to go night swimming but were kicked out of the pool by a seemingly random person, who was also wearing a swim suit so it was very strange.

I stayed up way too late and had to get up early so we could go on our next excursion. But I felt surprising energetic for only getting about 3 hours of sleep and it turned out to be such a fun day! We went to a Ancient quarry site and then to Selinunte, which has one of the largest archaeological parks! It was so awesome. We got to climb all over the ruins of two ancient temples and then walk around a massive acropolis. My friend Eleanor and I captured some great touristy pictures of us looking like we’re leaning on giant pillars. All the stone used to build the temples came from the quarry that we visited right before the archaeology park so it was a cool connection to make! Selinunte is also close to the coast so we got to refresh ourselves with a lovely swim in the sea. Filled with a renewed sense of passion for the water, I even did some laps to the far out buoys! The only downside to the day was that I got slightly burned because all my sunscreen washed off in the water but it was definitely worth it.

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The best preserved temple at Selinunte

On the way home, we stopped at this museum dedicated to the history of trade in Sicily and to the famous dancing Satyr bronze statue. It was a very tiny museum and had a small viewing area so that you could watch a documentary on the restoration of the dancing Satyr. It was probably one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen. They had chosen an ominous, horror-movie, instrumental sound track when the camera panned all over the body of the Satyr. Whenever the music would climax, they would quickly flash the screen to another shot of the satyr’s body, usually a really weird, close-up of some body party. His nates (butt) were definitely the director’s favorite shot and I couldn’t contain myself the entire film. Eleanor and I were red-faced and dying from laughter by the end of the clip. Everyone was incredibly exhausted from the trip so we decided to substitute some rest before dinner instead of a poetry session. We were supposed to be learning about the iambic meter but the long day in the sun had turned everyone’s’ minds away from learning about Latin verse composition.

The next morning, we crammed the iambic meter and two of Horace’s lyric meters into the first class session. Iambic meters are mostly used in Greek tragedy and satirical poems and are rather restrictive. There are only certain feet where you can add variations to the meter, which makes it very uniform. There’s a very popular variation called the Limping Iamb where the last foot is reversed to give the meter a limping feel. It sounds really cool when done correctly but rather hard to do in practice. The other two meters are two of Horace’s favorite lyric meters, the Sapphic stanza and the Alcaic meter. The Sapphic stanza is taken from the Greek poetess, Sappho, and mostly used in lighter subject matters. The Alcaic is used for grand, serious, and public type of things. The Alcaic is definitely one of the toughest meters but David Money whipped out an entire Alcaic stanza in like 15 minutes at the end of class. It was amazing!

D-Money also introduced the inspiration hat during class. With a preamble containing many Harry Potter references, he asked us to all write down one or two concrete ideas for a poem and place them inside a hat. Whoever is lacking inspiration can then reach into the hat and pull out an idea! It’s a really fun resource to have and it’s very exciting to see what everyone’s ideas are. I think my idea was about being in a sunny meadow and smelling the flowers when suddenly a bee flies into your nose. But then you wake up and realize that the whole thing was just a dream. Or something like that.

That night we took a small field trip to Erice, which is a small, medieval mountain town right near Trapani. We drove into Trapani and then took a gondola up the mountain into the town! I thought my friend Evan was lying when he said we were riding up the mountain in a gondola. It was such a cool ride and pretty long too! We went just before sunset so we had about an hour to wander around the small town and then met at Erice’s castle, which overlooks the ocean and the surrounding country side. It was gorgeous, definitely one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. The light was perfect and there was a slight fog over the water and horizon so the whole landscape looked ethereal. It’s almost hard to describe it was so beautiful! We also got to catch the rest of the sunset on the way down in the gondola, which was equally spectacular.

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Castle at Erice at sunset

And then, subito, it was Friday! The last day! The week seemed to flash before my very eyes. I felt both ready and unwilling to depart for home. And then my new friend, Mikael, asked if I wanted to extend my trip and travel around Sicily with him, venturing into Palermo and Messina to see Scylla in the strait of Messina! Despite the fact that I’d already been in Italy for 6 weeks, I had to say yes. Who can refuse traveling around Sicily with a Swedish poet? Plus, I would also be able to hang out with my friends Diego and Eleanor, who were also going to be staying in Palermo. With some deliberation, calls to my parents, and a change of flight, I extended my trip! I’ve never felt more adventurous or spontaneous than in that moment. I almost feel like an entirely different person, which I think is a good thing! I’ve been revived from darkness with the light of travel and pursuit of knowledge and I’ve been renewed a newer and better person. Thank you, Italy!

Anyways, our last day was spent frantically trying to perfect poems to read at our public reading and rehearsing our choral piece for performance. We also had a small discussion about living Latin poet authors and what our next steps should be as Latin poets. It was a rather crazy day. But it was a very special day, culminating with our poetry recitation and a magnificent dinner with musical entertainment. Many of the other guests at Fontanasalsa even came to our performance and got to enjoy the fruits of the kitchen with us! We started off with our choral performance, which I think went pretty well. I was so nervous as I’ve never done any singing in front of people before but I had a lot of fun! My own poetry recitation also went well. I read my hexameter poem about learning how to dance. I’ll include the poem and its translation at the end of this post!

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Me reciting my poem

We had this absolutely amazing classical guitarist performance before dinner, which lasted probably over 30 minutes. It was a long ass concert but the music was absolutely gorgeous. During dinner, the same singer who sang at my birthday celebration came back and performed for us! There was also a chef making dessert right before our very eyes and surprised us all when he began singing with the lady. It was quite a picturesque evening and I was feeling quite emotional and overwhelmed from everything that happened. Many people were gearing up for a boozy night but I decided that I had to have some rest time. I also had to pack and there was no way I wanted to do that the next morning, especially after a late night. I’m so glad I did because my roommates didn’t come back to the room until almost 5am! That’s a late night.

During breakfast, the winners of the haiku contest were announced and I got 4th place! That’s actually slightly impressive because there were a ton of submitted poems so I’m happy with my small slice of eternal glory. With sad goodbyes and hopes of seeing each other in the future, we were off to the airport! I will have to recount my adventures with Mikael in another post, seeing as this one has taken me over a week to write. It’s been quite a busy 2 months for me and I’m starting to feel ready to return home. Although, Europe has taken slices of my soul and I’m not sure if I’ll ever reclaim them. This poetry workshop was absolutely life-changing, the details of which I might get into in the next post. But the last and final priority, my favorite poem that I composed!

Cognosco pedibus saltare et nocte priore

Consumpto vino deducet nunc vehementer                                                                

Musa figuram almam. Mox dulce per alsum

Luminis una hortum lunae florisque salimus.

Quamquam me studium movet, optant acriter artus

Sponte sua iactari quoquo. Nunc turbida fitque

Musa figuram abicit. Subito nunc aura silescit

atque in nigras lux stellae pallescerit umbras.

I learn to dance with my feet and on the prior night,

with wine consumed, the Muse now more vehemently

leads my pleasing form. Soon, through the cool garden of

moonlight and flowers, we dance sweetly together.

Although eagerness moves me, my limbs with to be thrown about

sharply by their own accord. Now, the Muse grows impatient and

abandons my body. Suddenly, the air grows silent

and the light of the stars fades into black shadows.

 

 

 

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A Chapter Ends, A Chapter Begins

Although I safely (but barely) made it to Sicily and have officially turned 20 years old, it’s still hard to believe that my time in Rome, as well as my time as being a teenager, is over. The last few days have been emotionally charged with tear-soaked cups of wine, incredible orations, and a beautiful change of scenery. Five weeks in a new location is just enough time to feel homesick but then conquer it, allowing one to slowly become accustomed to the new way of things. By the last week, I definitely felt myself feeling more comfortable in Rome, almost believing that it would never end. But alas, reality continues! But first, I must recount the tales of the debates in the Colosseum and the Ciceronion oration!

At the end of the program, we finally got to do the most touristy thing there is to do in Rome – go to the Colosseum! It was everything I ever thought it was going to be: packed full of tourists and under appreciated. The Colosseum has been made into a quasi sigil of Rome, an iconic imagine often used to represent the whole city as an idyllic tourist destination. Most people really don’t know why it’s called the Colosseum, how it was built, or what actually went on within its massive walls. It’s called the Colosseum not because of its immense size but because it was built next to a colossal statue of Nero! The infamous emperor Nero, after the great fire of 64, confiscated a large amount of land that had been cleared by the fire so that he could build his own personal palace complex. What a stand up guy.

Understandably, the people were none too happy with this arrangement and the Colosseum was built after the palace was destroyed as a building dedicated to the people. All the events were sponsored by wealthy people so that they could be free for the public, making it an ideal spot for socializing and escaping the drudgery of reality. The funds for actually  building the Colosseum, however, did not come from the government or wealthy citizens. It came from money acquired by conquering peoples and plundering land, particularly the Jews. Not many people realize that this engineering feat was built from blood money. Nor do people realize how many people actually died during the public executions and gladiator fights that were commonly held in the Colosseum. It was a sobering feeling to be in a place that was steeped in so much blood.

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Inside the Colosseum

After a brief tour and history lesson, we separated into reading groups and read some texts about the gladiator fights. And then we had our debate! I originally thought that the debates would be held just between our two classes but they ended up being in front of the whole group. It was nerve-wracking but definitely a good preparation for the next day when we had to perform the Cicero passage. My personal delivery went pretty smoothly! I managed to memorize almost all my lines, although the simplicity and brevity of the passage made it a whole lot easier to commit to memory. Everyone did a really amazing job, though. My round of debates was pretty funny because the rebuttals were perfectly opposite in nature, one outdoing the violence and disregard for slaves while the other went into full ‘love conquers all’ mode. It was the third round of debates that really took the cake when Jacobus (Jack) delivered a jaw-dropping speech entirely from memory. It’s the type of thing that can never be recreated because it was just so amazing. He was renamed Brutus during cena latina that night. This site visit was definitely one of the most fun because all the debates were just so hilarious and amazing.

We had a shorter class, where we went through our Cicero passages and read some texts, followed by a survey of the course. The survey was long and actually kind of hard because there was just so much that I wanted to say! It was really hard to evaluate all the teachers and site visits when everything is so unique and has its own special memory and experience. We also had our last session of sub arboribus, which was particularly fun because we just chatted in Latin. I thought it was going to be difficult to do for an entire hour but it went by surprisingly fast! We talked about our days and what type of house we dreamed of living in. We also tried gossiping in Latin, which is difficult but made it extremely fun. We dubbed it ‘dicens stercum’ or ‘talking shit’. We also had our last cena latina, which was basically a continuation of the sub arboribus.

Thursday was a rather intense day. Emotions already seemed to be running high because of the heat, the exhaustion, and the impending departure from Rome. We switched up the schedule so we had class in the morning and then had to meet at the Roman Forum at 4:30 that afternoon. There was an optional visit earlier in the afternoon at 3, so I decided to go to that. We hadn’t really spent much time in the Forum so it was fun to wander around and read Horace’s poem about walking the Forum, despite the fact that it was so ridiculously hot outside. This poem is particularly funny because Horace is telling a story about how he sees a guy that knows him but he doesn’t recognize him. I feel like we have all had this experience where someone joyfully runs up to us but we have literally no idea what their name is or how we know them. This Horace poem is exactly this experience so it’s pretty funny reading it! We were supposed to do the Cicero oration at 4:30 when everybody arrived but as is typical of Paideia and Romans in general, we didn’t start until well after 5. But it was still awesome, we were just hanging out in the Forum as the Ancient Romans did!

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The Roman Forum: The Ciceronian oration was delivered near the giant pillars in the center of the photo

Declaiming Cicero in the Roman Forum is an experience I’ll never forget. We were steps away from where Cicero himself delivered his third Catilinarian speech! We gathered into a circle, in the order of each passage, and one by one, we would step into the center and declaim our individual part. It was so cool. Everyone worked really hard on their passage and it was so awesome so see everyone’s personality leak into their individual oration. It felt like the culmination of the entire experience and I felt like a badass classicist when I delivered my passage. It’s not often that you get to hear the entire third Catilinarian speech in one sitting. Afterwards, we walked to a theatre where the two high school groups in the LLiR high school program performed in their talent show. It feels like a very long time since I’ve been around high schoolers and I had forgotten how weird they are. I truly hope that I wasn’t that strange as a high schooler but I probably was. After almost every performance, we would look at each other in utter confusion, wondering what we had just witnessed. But they did a pretty good job nonetheless.

We were reward with some gelato after the talent show, probably both for sitting through the show itself and performing our own oration at the Forum. It was spectacular gelato with some very peculiar flavor options. I got a combination of Four Chocolates, Garden Sage and Lavender, and White Chocolate with Basil! It sounds like a weird combo but it was actually spectacular. A group of about 20 of us decided that we should go out for aperitivo to do an early celebration of my birthday as well as finishing Cicero. It was kind of a nightmare because a group of 20 people is actually pretty big. The place we went to was also rather fancy and didn’t explain their aperitivo rules so it ended up being a slight disaster but at least I got a mixed drink.

Friday was ridiculously emotional. It was my last day and I had to do my final exam as well as say goodbye to everyone. We also had to recite a Horace poem from memory, which was learned during the bus ride to the location right after I took my exam. The exam was just sight reading with grammar questions so it wasn’t horrible but I was still nervous for it. It went well though! Or at least I think it did. Our location for the day was spending about an hour in the medieval looking town of License and then walking to the Villa of Horace. This town was absolutely adorable and we got to explore its 3 streets for about an hour. I’m not kidding, this town was really small and had only a few large streets with many small alley ways leading off of them. It was also on a hill and you could take one of the streets all the way to the top! The museum was unfortunately closed but there was also a footpath that snaked around the back of the mountain that had these beautiful views. I definitely hope that I can retire to a medieval town like this once I’m old and grey.

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View from the footpath on the back side of the city

After buying our picnic lunch and hanging out in the town’s only piazza, we began the trek to Horace’s Villa. It was actually rather laborious and sort of long but it’s tradition to walk on the last day to the villa! Apparently this tradition was started by Reggie Foster and so our teachers wanted to maintain it. They said that he also always got off a couple stops early on their return trip because he couldn’t bear to say goodbye. Our site visit here was definitely tinted blue with our knowledge of impending departure. Being with a group of only 36 people for 5 weeks can make you become quite close with each other! Even now it’s strange not to see everyone. We read some Horace in Horace’s Villa before lunch, which was pretty awesome. They don’t know if it’s Horace’s villa for sure but they have pretty strong evidence suggesting that it’s his. After reading we had a picnic lunch at the Fons nearby. It’s a magical waterfall/fountain and it was absolutely gorgeous. The water was frigid and we stuck our jugs of wine right into the stream so it could be chilled! It was definitely one of the most beautiful picnics I’ve ever been to.

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The Beautiful Fons near Horace’s Villa

After our lunch of breads, meats, cheese, and many different types of fruits (including figs!), we let the wine flow freely and recited some Horace poetry. It was a beautiful experience and everyone, although slightly tipsy at this point, did a great job. Even the teachers got up to recite some poetry and then we all recited some poetry together, pouring wine and flowers into the little stream as a tribute to Horace. That was when the tears started flowing as Jason, the leader, gave an emotional speech and started crying after he saw my friend crying. It was simultaneously funny and heart breaking. Then people realized that it was my last day and the round of hugs had to start all over again. It was a perfect last day, a perfect summary of everything that had happened during the program, and it wasn’t goodbyes we said but rather ‘see you later’. I look forward to seeing all these wonderful Classicists again in the future!

I spent the evening packing and went to bed early because I had to get up before the crack of dawn. Even getting up at 5am didn’t give me enough time to barely manage to zip my bag shut and get to the metro. I ended up missing the train I had meant to take to the airport so was set back about 30 minutes, which was incredibly stressful. The lines at the airport were loooonnnggg. Who needs to go to places so badly that early in the morning? I eventually had to skip the line because my flight was boarding! But I made it so everything worked out and now I have a stressful airport experience under my belt.

The flight to Palermo was short and we arrived about 9:30am. We had to wait for everyone to arrive from various airports around the world so we didn’t actually leave until about 12 when we took a few large cars to a site called Segesta. It’s an archaeological site that has a massive Greek temple and theatre with many layers of buildings built on top of one another. It was a very beautiful site! It was a little shocking to do some hard trekking in an ancient site right after getting out from the airport but it was still pretty fun. We got a chance to meet the other participants in the program and everyone seems really amazing! We have someone from Sweden, Germany, and Australia, and a few from England! It’s an entirely different feel from Paideia and it’s very refreshing to be away from the big city and with a smaller group of people. I was filled with excitement, especially when we saw our lodging area and experienced the massive feast that was dinner. We’re staying on an olive farm called Fontanasalsa, which also happens to be a bed and breakfast type of thing for Italian families. It has four swimming pools and massive forests of olive trees. It’s a gorgeous location and our dining room is a very old courtyard, surrounded by a 200-year-old grape-vine. It’s spectacular.

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The Temple at Segesta

I’ll leave my birthday celebration and the details of our first class for another post. So far, this has been an amazing experience and I don’t think I will ever recover from the amazing food that we’ve had here. Thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes!! It still feels weird to be 20 but I honestly don’t feel any older.

 

Recurrens ad Vitam

My illness is finally beginning to subside! It’s been a little over a week since I first began feeling shitty and the past two days have seen some actual improvement. My voice still sounds like I smoke a couple of packs a day but I’m trying to embrace the croaky voice aesthetic. Even though it’s been slightly miserable in both body in spirit, the last few days have been pretty spectacular. We are officially into the last week of the program and everyone seems to have tapped into their last reserves of energy. This week is one of the busiest and most intense but definitely has promise to be one of the best!

Thursday and Friday of last week are rather a blur because that was the height of the cold. The most memorable part of Thursday was our sub arboribus session. Father Dan planned and led a session about Papal tweets and how they are composed in Latin! I believe Father Dan said that the Pope tweets daily in 9 languages. The Latin tweets were created to be an educational tool for Latinists throughout the world who wanted some daily practice and also for teachers who could use them in class. They’re composed in such a way that you can’t use the English version of the tweet to cheat off of, which is pretty cool. That means that each tweet from the Pope is slightly different depending on what language you’re reading!

Our task for this sub arboribus was to try to translate a handful of quotes collected from random sources. There were some puns and quotes from Shakespeare, Gandhi, and even Steve Jobs among others. The goal was to try to translate one or two into a Latin tweet form, as if we were tweeting for the Pope. It was surprisingly difficult! My friend and I attempted to translate the pun, “Everyday is a gift, that’s why they call it the present”. Let me tell you, puns are so hard to translate. This one was actually impossible to translate into Latin because the word pun just doesn’t exist. So we had to change the meaning and choose new words that could actually be considered as a pun. We came up with: Omnis hora minuit, itaque dicunt frui temporis minuta. This means, “Every hour diminishes, and so they say to enjoy the minutes of time”. Like I said, we tried. If you know Latin, you might be able to see some of the cool layers of meaning we were able to capture but it’s difficult to explain to those who only speak linguam Barbaricam.

When I woke up on Friday morning, I thought that a nice shopping trip and some fresh air might help me feel better. And although I was very successful in my shopping spree, which is surprising because I usually don’t like shopping and shopping doesn’t usually like me, I definitely made myself worse. Due to my red and gooey eyes, I realized that I probably had pink eye on top of the cold. Yes, pink eye! Thank goodness it’s a very mild, non-gross case of it. Combined with my low fever and general weakness, I was forced to stay home from all Friday activities, which was very sad. But I was able to rest, talk to my parents, and drink a ton of tea so it was definitely for the best.

I rallied on Saturday afternoon in order to go to a site visit at the Catacombs of Priscilla. It was a pretty cool! Unfortunately, pictures weren’t allowed and they probably wouldn’t have turned out very well seeing as it’s a catacomb, located deep in the bowels of the earth. Maze-like walkways seemed to sprout from every hallway and it was extremely cold in contrast to the brutal heat above. It actually took a few minutes to thaw once we got back to the surface. All the bones had been removed but the spots where people would have been buried were still visible. The complex is so vast that you must have a tour-guide to lead you around. My tour guide happened to conduct the tour entirely in Latin so my recollection of what exactly was talked about is a little foggy. He spoke incredibly fast and no one really knew who he was, so it was pretty miraculous when he appeared, speaking in fast-pace Latin!

Sunday was by far one of the best days yet. We woke up early so we could go to a Latin mass held in St. Peter’s Basilica! The mass itself was led by our teacher, Father Dan, and it was a really amazing experience. I never thought that I would get to walk through the Vatican City and up the Scala Regia again in my lifetime but we walked in and out of that magnificent staircase like we owned it. It was pretty awesome. We claimed a spot at the altar of Leo the Great and Father Dan, dressed in green vestments, began a beautiful mass entirely in Latin. He also choose my friend Lyla to be the altar server, probably making history as the only woman to have altar served at a Latin mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. After mass, Father Dan led us around the Basilica, pointing out cool facts like how perfectly proportioned the entire building is as well as the stone slab where Constantine was crowned King!

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Heavenly light floods into St. Peter’s Basilica

We also got to go to the Tomb of the Popes to see all the monuments dedicated to various Popes who have been buried there. It’s located right under St. Peter’s Basilica and it was pretty crazy to see so many magnificent burial monuments in one area! We were led around by Father Dan, who has all the inside info about the Popes.

The first Sunday of every month is free museum entrance in Rome, which left us with lots of options for Sunday afternoon. My friend Cesca and I decided to go to Castel San’Angelo! I was expecting a huge line but we walked right in with no problem at all. It wasn’t a very good museum itself but the views from the top were spectacular. It was originally constructed as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian but was then used as a fortress for keeping the Pope safe in times of danger. There’s a passageway that goes from the Apostolic Palace to the castle but it’s no longer in use. According to Father Dan, the passageway was accidently left out of the negations when the Vatican City and the Republic of Italy were forming peace treaties and whatnot. Each country assumed that the other country would maintain the passageway so no one ever did anything about it. I think that the Republic of Italy is now trying to restore some of it so it can be opened for the public to walk accross!

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The view from mid-way up the Castle

The Castle had lots of beautiful Imperial style art and some pretty magnificent rooms. It was definitely worth seeing and even better because it was free! After a brief lunch, we went to join a teacher, Capellatus, at the National Museum of Classical Art. This was a gorgeous museum, filled with stunning examples of Imperial Style art. I definitely found some paintings that I like way more than anything else I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure why the style appeals to me so much, maybe because it’s so delicate and light, reminding me of fairies and woodland magic. There were also some beautifully preserved examples of bedroom decorations, which allowed you to get a sense of how big a bedroom would be and what types of decorations would adorn its walls. It was really cool!

After wandering through about two floors of art, however, I started to feel like my soul was being sucked from my body. There’s something so incredibly painful about walking around slowly in a museum for more than two hours. It’s like the brain and the feet can’t handle the art anymore. A few of my classmates decided to leave and seek out a bar so we could get crepes. I’ve been craving crepes for so long and my nutella crepe was one of the most glorious things I’ve ever eaten.

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An example of Imperial Style art

The rest of Sunday was filled with ludus, rest, and aperitivo for dinner, which was amazing. I finally got my mixed drink, an Irish Peach! It was a frozen combination of Bailey’s and peach juice. It was delicious! I feel so inspired to attempt to make mixed drinks now. I have definitely missed the ability to bake and experiment with new recipes during the last month. One of the things I’m most looking forward to when I go home is being able to bake again! I also can’t wait for hearty breakfast food. I’m so done with cereal.

Monday was a rather strange day because it was the 4th of July. It felt so weird because my family has a tradition of going up to Northern Michigan for vacation every year around this time. Normally we spend our 4th of July at my grandpa’s house and it felt so weird to break that tradition. Not just to be away from my grandpa’s house but to be out of the country! We had a free morning so a few of us decided to walk to Trastevere so we could find two English used book stores. It was a long, sweaty walk but well worth it. I ended up purchasing a used, mystery book for 5 euros! It seems pretty good so I’m excited to dive into it. I also got to do my shoe shopping, which was very exciting. My friend Lyla took me to this orthopedic shoe store, which makes high-quality shoes for a decent price. It was a little hard to communicate shoe size to the kind Italian lady who was working there but we got it figured out. I’m a 3.5 in Italian shoe sizes and I got the cutest pair of sandals that matches my Fitbit and my purse, which was totally not intentional. But matching makes me feel pretty special.

We had an early class so we could leave for our 4th of July picnic and celebration. The Paideia staff tried to get Americanized food so we could feel like true Americans. This food only included cherries and watermelon but a dinner of bread, meat, and cheese is always welcome and delicious. There were games of football and frisbee, there was some singing of the national anthem in Latin, and there was plenty of wine for everyone. We claimed our own spot in this weirdly located but beautiful park and the Paideian interns even joined us for the celebration. It was quite fun! I must confess that I did miss my family and our 4th of July tradition. There’s nothing quite like sending off fireworks over Lake Michigan and having a bonfire with s’mores. But I’m in Rome so that really makes up for everything.

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My friend Harrison and I enjoying our 4th of July celebration

As I’m sure you can all understand, Tuesday was a little rough. Everyone was still feeling the celebrations of Monday night and our morning consisted of a museum visit. We went to the Capitoline museums and although it was interesting, it was a little too early to be doing that type of site visit. We had a free reign of the museum with teachers stationed at different points to make sure we saw the most important things with an explanation of its history and importance, offered to us mostly in Latin. One of these things was the famous Capitoline wolf! This wolf is like the mascot of Rome and it’s featured on almost everything. With its depiction of the Lupa, Romulus, and Remus, many people think that it’s an ancient statue and therefore the embodiment of Rome. Immo, the wolf part was actually made sometime in the Middle Ages! The two twins were later inserted because they thought it would be a good idea to turn it into a Romulus and Remus statue. No one actually knows why it was first created. This is almost like breaking the truth about Santa, it seems to be one of the most popularly believed lies out there.

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The Capitoline Wolf Statue

In class, we discovered that there was going to be a debate on Wednesday in the Colosseum about whether Gladiatorial games were beneficial for the city of Rome. And of course it had to be all in Latin. My class had to debate the pro side of this question and I volunteered to be our opening statement orator! My next post will update you on the results of this debate. Thursday also includes more declaiming as we are giving an oration of Cicero’s 3rd Catilinarian in the Roman Forum. That should definitely be interesting, seeing as that speech was given by Cicero himself in the forum itself and in the same spot we’ll be declaiming! I’m excited but a little nervous. As if all this memorization wasn’t enough, we also have to memorize some Horace poems for when we visit his villa on Friday. Like I side before, it’s a busy week.

After class we had a guest lecturer who talked to us about Roman coins and how they were made. It was pretty interesting because we don’t really get to have a lot of interaction with archaeology and material things. As Latinists, we usually focus on only the text and rarely on material items. It was very interesting to learn about how much coins can teach us about antiquity! It was also so much more complicated than I could ever imagine. The woman who gave the talk was really cool although a little hard to understand with her thick, Italian accent.

It’s hard to believe that there are only a few days left in this program! Thursday is our last class, Wednesday our last sub arboribus and cena Latina. It seems so unreal that this is all ending so soon. It also seems unreal that I have an entirely new program, also heavily emphasizing Latin, that I’m attending right after this. My brain is starting to feel slightly overloaded. And my birthday is on the near horizon! How quickly time passes. With the next post, I might possibly be in Sicily as a newly turned 20-year-old and you shall know the results of the debate as well as the declaiming of Cicero in the Forum.

A quick shout out to my father, whose birthday was on the 2nd! And I hope that everyone had a delightful 4th of July celebration, filled with food, family, and good times.

Quis pestem habet?

Cavete pestem!! Hic pestis est!! Plague has struck Rome! The city is crumbling, order succumbing to chaos, everything we know is being destroyed. Just kidding, but there is a pretty bad cold going around the Paideia group this week and I have been brought to my knees by its merciless hand. If there’s one thing worse than having a cold in the summer, it’s having a cold in the summer while traveling abroad in one of the hottest places ever. Yeah, it’s kinda miserable. But does the feeling of knives sliding down ones throat stop a badass classicist from enjoying the secrets of the Eternal City? Minime! 

Although the illness first manifested itself Sunday, I decided that I had to attend the optional trip to the Circus Maximus and the Baths of Caracalla on Monday morning. Our first stop was the Circus Maximus, which was where Romans would gather to watch chariot races. For those of you who don’t know, chariot races were hugely popular in Ancient Rome. Juvenal, in his ‘Satires’, says that whoever once held power and legiones, only wished for two things: bread and circuses. Just like the U.S. and football, the Romans were crazy about their chariot racing. Some of the richest people in Rome were victors of the chariot races because they were so popular and provided such an entertaining sport. Only slaves and freedmen could be charioteers, which made some of the richest guys in the city slaves and freedmen, which is a little mind-boggling for Ancient Rome. There were also factions of chariot races, divided into four different color groups. We read a text about Pliny the Younger and he says that most people attend the races just to support their favorite faction! It sounds a lot like college football to me.

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The Circus Maximus with parts of the Baths of Caracalla behind it

We also read this amazing Ovid passage from his ‘Ars Amatoria’, which is essentially a pick-up guide for men looking for love at the circus. It’s hysterical and after translating, we got to reenact everything he describes. I played the role of leading the divine procession of Venus, scattering wildflowers picked from the ground of the Circus Maximus just like a flower girl in a wedding. It was pretty great. The poem essentially describes, in detail, how to make moves on your special lady when going to the circus. People mostly believe that Ovid is just making fun of how obvious men can be when picking up women and his instructions shouldn’t be followed literally but it was still entertaining to read. Whoever said classics is boring is so very wrong.

Our next stop was the Baths of Caracalla, which are imperial baths, making them larger and more impressive than all the other public baths scattered around Rome. Even though they were Imperial, they were still open to the public. Many people believe that the baths were an attempt to get rid of the class system because everyone looks the same when they’re naked, right? But my teacher, Erin, thinks differently. She believes that public baths were really meant to reinforce differences in class because it was such a social experience. If you were wealthy or well-known, you had to make your appearance in the baths, making it a huge focus of the social scene. There are also examples of logs that suggest that there were certain time slots for different classes. This time also coordinated with the temperature and cleanliness of the water in the baths, meaning that the nobility got the hottest, cleanest water while the slaves got the dirtiest and coldest water.

The Baths of Caracalla had an enormous complex, even including saunas, changing rooms, libraries, wrestling and exercising areas, a swimming pool, hot and cold baths, and a garden! We wandered around the complex, taking pictures in each room to try to accurately represent what it would have been used for. We also read a letter written by Seneca describing how annoying it is to live above baths. He talks about men grunting while exercising, the annoying sound of hands hitting shoulders in a message, and about the guy who likes the sound of his own voice in the baths (i.e. someone liked to sing in the shower!). It was pretty funny to read how annoyed Seneca was by the baths, which is a good indication of how populated they were and what might have gone on inside them!

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Some tourists look into the swimming pool at the Baths of Caracalla

We played a fun game in sub arboribus after class on Monday. Most of you would know it as ‘Apples to Apples’ but we know it as Verba. Although almost all the words were very PG rated, we managed to get some pretty funny rounds. I think I won in the round with the prompt, “When the teacher fell onto the blank, the students laughed”, and I answered “trident”. As usual, anything Roman can get pretty violent.

Tuesday morning was magical, awe-inspiring even, despite the fact that I was silently dying with my illness. We got to have a private tour of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City by our teacher, Father Dan! It was absolutely amazing and probably something that I’ll never experience again in my life. Unless I somehow get invited to see the Pope or end up getting an internship there so there’s always a chance. But our tour was definitely not a typical tour. We walked up the Scala Regia, which was restored by Bernini as an optical illusion. The columns get shorter and closer together towards the stop of the staircase so it looks way longer than it actually is. There are also some casual Bernini statues on this stair case. After climbing another staircase, our teacher opens this random door and tells us to go inside, casually saying, “You might recognize this room”. Boom. The Sistine Chapel. We just casually strolled in and found ourselves in the Sistine Chapel. It was one of many jaw-dropping moments.

From there, we were shown around the palace, witnessing some of the most beautiful paintings on the walls and ceilings that I’ve ever seen. We walked through the Gallery of Maps, which is decorated with large-scale, maps of the world as they understood it in 1580. Most maps even had Latin inscriptions with little descriptions of the land. It was incredible. In the Vatican Library (but not the Vatican Archives) we looked at examples of Papal Bulls, Papal letters, and a birthday poem written to the Pope by Father Dan and his team of Latinists. Vatican City is the only country to still send hand-written letters and entirely in Latin! They have a team of master calligraphers to work with the Latin team making official documents, letters, and ordinations. I think Father Dan said that only The Queen of England the President of Portugal have attempted to respond in Latin.

Father Dan also let us go onto this rooftop terrace where he occasional goes to meditate or have his morning cup of coffee. It was absolutely incredible. 20160628_091320.jpg

Touring the Vatican was an amazing experience. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to see but it definitely wasn’t what I saw. Its beauty is just too incredible to describe or even imagine before you actually see it. I really hope that I can remember it clearly in the future because I feel like my sickness may have impaired my full appreciation of the sights. I was contemplating not going to class but made myself rally in the end. It was worth it because we had a guest lecture after class with Ada Palmer, the professor from University of Chicago that led us around Florence! She gave this really fascinating talk about marginalia in Lucretius. She’s really interested in looking at marginalia to determine how people were reading him during the Renaissance and after it. It was really interesting topic and something that I really had no idea about! She is also an amazing lecturer so I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to see her in the true action of lecturing.

Wednesday was our day trip to Nemi! Nemi is a town about an hour away from Rome is near a lake where the Emperor Caligula built two massive pleasure boats. When I say massive, I mean massive. Suetonious, who wrote about the life of Caligula, describes the boats as having large baths, temples, and even fruit-bearing trees! The poop decks were bejeweled and multi-colored sails hung from the mast. This is just so Caligula. The boats sunk and for centuries, fishermen had been pulling up bits of ancient boat to sell to rich tourists. They were finally recovered in the late 1930’s after they drained the entire lake! A process that spanned a few years. A museum was built right by the lake to accommodate the immense size of the boats but only a few years after the boats had been recovered, WWII happened. There are various arguments about what actually happened, either a wayward artillery shell found its way into the museum and thus destroyed the ships, or German soldiers took the time to burn the ships before they surrendered. Either way, the ships were tragically burned.

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One wing of the museum at Lake Nemi

After reading Suetonious, we walked to have a magnificent lunch in a nearby town. It was a glorious, three-course meal that included ravioli, boar ragu, and a delicious strawberry coconut dessert. And then we got to swim in Lake Nemi! It was a truly wonderful afternoon in a really beautiful place. I think the lake used to be a volcano so the surrounding hills are green and lush. The water was also a nice temperature! I can definitely understand why Caligula would have wanted to have some pleasure boats in this tiny lake.

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Lake Nemi

The bus ride back was very entertaining as I got to discuss historical linguistics with my teacher Eric and listen to some his stories about when he lived in Spain, surfing and teaching English, and learning Bask! He then went on to describe Bask to me and it sounds like an incredibly difficult language. I am now inspired to both learn how to surf and how to speak Bask. In terms of health, I’m feeling about 60%. The busy week continues and I still have to find time to do some shoe shopping!

A Week as Fast as a Bullet Train and a Reunion with an Old Love

The third week of any big change in scenery seems to be the Wednesday of the normal week – the hump week. A period of time where the newness of the experience begins to wear off, leaving you feeling exhausted and like a large brick wall has suddenly presented itself right before your face. You feel as if you have to keep the momentum and energy going but suddenly, the greatest feat becomes waking up at the right time and not being late to your daily activities. This third week has definitely been a mountain of a week. Everyone rages about how amazing the experience of traveling is and I agree with them wholeheartedly. But no one ever seems to tell you about the exhaustion, the ups and downs of emotional fatgue, and the crushing feeling of obligation and duty to see anything and everything with absolutely no breaks. One feels extraordinarily guilty for taking a day, or even an afternoon, to relax. I’ve come to realize that travel should never be about how much you see in one place during a short amount of time. The best way to travel, at least in my opinion after this experience in Rome, is to stay in one area for a decent amount of time, allowing you to truly soak in the culture and the sights.

Despite the feelings of guilt, the free times given to us on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday mornings were glorious and allowed for a temporary feeling of semi-recoveredness. I was even feeling energized for class on Monday! And then crushed with sub arboribus. For those of you who don’t know, I am a terrible singer. I have a fear of singing, even. It’s partly the fear of being terrible at something and mostly self-consciousness. This year’s Paideia group seems to have been endowed with many, extremely talented singers. It’s actually kind of ridiculous. My heart sank a little bit when I discovered that it was Gregorian chant week, meaning that there was singing literally almost everyday. Now that I reflect upon it, it’s kind of funny but when I was first standing in the blistering heat of the courtyard, forced to sing a capella Gregorian chant and surrounded by glorious voices, it was not so funny.

On Tuesday morning, we had a site visit to the Basilica of San Clemente, which is a gorgeous church with some surprises. The current Basilica was built in the 11th century and is now cared for by Irish Dominicans. I say the current Basilica because there are actually three layers to this magnificent church. The 11th century building is built on top of a 4th century church. After walking into the modern church, you can descend into what used to be the 4th century church, right underneath the floors of the current one. It’s really quite amazing. You can literally descend through time. And you can go even further into the past because the 4th century church is built on top of two ancient Roman buildings, including an ancient Mithraeum! The two buildings are thought to have been destroyed in the Great Fire of 64 but that fact is still disputed. Both buildings are massive and one is thought to be an industrial type of building because of its lack of windows and large rooms, too big for a typical Roman House. The Mithraeum is also very unusual because it seems to have been built in the courtyard of a house with a vault-like ceiling artifically constructed on top of it. Mithraeums are generally found in caves or in basements of houses so it’s unusual and very mysterious to see one built in the courtyard of a house.

Pictures were forbidden so I was unable to capture the beauty of both the church and the descent into time. Although, I highly doubt that a camera could adequately capture an experience like that. The singing for Tuesday took place at the grave of the Vatican Library’s director, who was a friend of some of the Paideia leaders. It’s a Paideia tradition to sing at his grave every year. Although I don’t really like singing, it was a beautiful experience. We had to sing again during class but had a really cool lecture about meter from our teacher, Jason. He talked about how to pronounce words and how to know where the stress on the word is – something that is actually kind of hard to keep straight – and went through a couple of different meters used in poetry and epics. I particularly enjoyed this lecture because of my Poetry workshop that takes place after this program ends. It was quite helpful and interesting!

Wednesday was a long site visit day and was devoted to Thomas Aquinas. We went to Fossa Nova, where he died, and to Monte Cassino, the monastery where he was raised. Both locations were stunning. At Fossa Nova, we read about the death of Thomas, how he was called to Rome but fell ill on the journey there and was forced to choose a place where he could rest until he either got better or died. He apparently prophesied that he would die at this monastery and was given the Abbot’s large room, which still exists as a small chapel! The text we read about his death was very beautiful and it was really amazing to be in the room where he died. We also sung a hymn that he composed in the old Abbot’s room.

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View of the Courtyard at Fossa Nova

In the church at Fossa Nova, which is built in the Romanesque style and absolutely gorgeous. I’m not very religious but there was something particularly magical about this cathedral-esque church. First of all, it reminded me of my favorite book ‘Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follet, which is about the building of a cathedral. It was also empty of tourists, which made it quiet and somehow more special, like only we knew it existed. A group of our best singers had also been preparing this absolutely ethereal hymn, which they sang while we wandered around the church. The building, with its white stone and simple yet elegant appearance, seemed to exude a sense of peace. It caused me much contemplation about religion. I tried to take some pictures of the church but there’s no way that a picture can capture such beauty and the experience of the moment.

We had a pizza feast after Fossa Nova and before our drive to Monte Cassino, which involved a terrifying trip up a mountain. The monastery at Monte Cassino was also pretty amazing, with some gorgeous views over the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, lunch took longer than we anticipated so we didn’t have very much time to luxuriate in its courtyards. It was completely destroyed in WWII but rebuilt to look exactly what it would have looked like when it was first renovated from the original Benedictine monastery built around 529. I didn’t realize it at the time but this is the mother house for the entire Benedictine order! Mirabile visu, as they say. It also had this gift shop where you could buy homemade chocolate, soaps, alcohol, and biscotti. I purchased some homemade chocolate – some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had – and some liquor recommended by one of our teachers, Father Dan. One of which is 90% alcohol volume and used for a digestive, after-dinner drink. Pro tip: add water or it will scorch your throat and mouth.

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View from the top of the stairs overlooking the main courtyard at Monte Cassino

Thursday was a pretty awesome day. I got to do a workout, put some clothes in the wash, and explore the old Jewish Ghetto with two of my roommates! It was a lovely walk and a great opportunity to explore Rome more in-depth. We found this really cool hot pepper store and sampled the very popular Jewish neighborhood delicacy of fried artichoke. It was a culinary adventure that was well worth it! If anyone goes to Rome, get the fried artichokes because they are out of this world.

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Picture of the outside of the hot pepper shop in the Old Jewish Neighborhood 

Following class, we had a very interesting sub arboribus, which was held at the American Academy. We were specially invited to hold our sub arboribus so that their summer program for high school Latin teachers could have the Paideia Institute experience. We travelled around to different stations set up around the garden, with a teacher placed at each station. In the Academy’s garden, we talked about different plants. At Galileo’s workshop/house, we talked about how Galileo first proved that his telescope worked. In a spot near the Aurelian wall, we talked about why there are so many different walls in Rome. And of course this was all entirely in Latin. It was a fun change of pace! We all walked down the Janiculum hill together to a piazza where our leader Jason had planned a get together with the Paideian interns. We grabbed some delicious pizza and beer from a nearby bar and sat on the steps of a fountain, talking, meeting new people, and enjoying the atmosphere! It was really fun and I’ve never felt more Roman than that night. We sang a song in Latin to conclude the night and eventually were forced to walk all the way back home because the metro had stopped running. It was a really great night with some really great bonding and a Fitbit shattering number of steps!

Friday was when the typical Roman summer heat decided to grace us with its presence. It was like living in purgatory and a day that shall probably live in a little bit of infamy because its brutal heat. Although we did get to see the Ara Pacis, which was made by Augustus as propaganda for his Augustan peace. It was a pretty beautiful monument that only had representations of fertility, growth, and life. Later in the day, we had a lecture by Johannes Rex in preparation for our trip to Florence the next day in replacement of class. It was mostly about Renaissance latin rather than the history but it was still pretty interesting. We read texts from Petrarch, Poliziano, and others, including a guy named Poggio Bracciolini, who wrote a book of jokes! It was a fun substitute for class.

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The Ara Pacis

Florence was a dream come true, despite having to get up at 6am. Despite the merciless sun and overpowering heat, stepping out from the train into the city was like walking into the arms of family. It felt exactly the same as when I stepped out of the train three years ago! For me, it was a really incredible experience to be back in Florence, to reflect on how much has changed in my life since I was last there and to have so many fond memories flooding back whenever I saw a familiar place. Shout out to Sophie and Abby if you are reading this! Our backpacking trip was one of the best experiences of my life and I’m so glad that we could share that together. Anyways, it was also extraordinary to learn so much about the Renaissance in Florence and about its history in general, which was like seeing the city in a whole new perspective. Another really important part of travelling, at least in my opinion, is to learn about the history of the place. It really opens up your eyes to the wonders and beauties of the city, it’s akin to going on a treasure hunt and discovering secrets around every corner. I feel like my mouth was agape almost at every minute of our walking tour.

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Picture of the Duomo

We began by reading some texts about why Florence is called Florence. It was originally called Fluentia because it was built between two rivers. It was then changed to Florentia because it become a flourishing city of success, according to the author, Leonardo Bruni. I think Florence originally started out as a military post, the evidence of which can still be seen by looking at a bird’s-eye view of the city. You can clearly see a dark outline of a square, which would have been the old confines of the Roman city, with the right angles being a trademark sign of a Roman built complex. We learned about how Italy dissolved into Republic states after the fall of the Roman Empire, with Florence being the longest standing republic of them all. They were terrified of becoming a monarchy so there was a massacre of everyone with noble blood, with the purpose of eradicating any possibility of someone with noble blood taking over the city. It’s actually quite remarkable how steeped in blood Florence is. We had a visiting professor from the University of Chicago, Ada Palmer, who helped us with our walking tour. She said that almost every church, piazza, and beautiful building had been built with some relation to blood shed. She told us a great deal about the warring families of Florence and how the power soon became held by major banking families like the Medici.

We also learned about why the Renaissance was so big in Florence. It used to be a place of debauchery and filth, a qualifying factor in a trial about someone’s bad character was to note that they had visited Florence. Life expectancy used to be 18! They were descending into chaos and it appeared to people like Petrarch that Florence was enterning its own apocalypse. They literally had no other option than to turn to Classical education, hoping that the knowledge of their ancestors would pull them back up from hell. And it worked superbly! Florence soon became one of the most beautiful, learned, and wealthiest cities in all of Italy. Families like the Medici became patrons of the arts and some of the most learned people in all of history. The education and revival of the arts allowed for Florence to begin to make itself known to countries like France, Britain, and Germany, who had their eyes on conquering the deteriorating Italy. Once they saw how learned and artful the city was becoming, they decided that they would rather have them flourish and spread the culture than destroy them and eradicate all Classical knowledge. It’s some pretty amazing stuff!

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Looking out over the Piazza by building where the Florentine Republican government used to be housed

After the walking tour, we had a lunch and gelato break and then some of us gathered together to explore the Duomo, the Bell Tower, the Baptistery, and its museum. This was a treat for me because I didn’t get to actually go into the Duomo or climb the Bell Tower!! In the Duomo, we read this riveting Latin text about the assassination of Giuliano and Lorenzo de’ Medici. It was quite fabulous to read because it happened right in the Duomo itself in 1478! Climbing the Bell Tower was another incredible experience. It was absolutely gorgeous, even though the 412 steps up to the top were rather terrifying.

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View of Florence from the top of the Bell Tower

Towards the end of the evening, we had to book it across the river the church at the far right of the picture above, situated on top of the green mountain. That was such a sweaty and exhausting hike but the view was fantastic and we managed to arrive in time to watch Vespers. Pizza was provided for dinner while we overlooked this piazza with an amazing view of the sunset over Florence. It was a magnificent conclusion to the day and it was such an wonderful opportunity to have been able to go to Florence. I know that I’ll be returning to this blessed city in the future because it’s one of the few places in the world that I feel so at home.

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Sunset behind my favorite bridge in Florence

There is some type of bug going around and I have been taking advantage of a relaxing Sunday to stay inside and rest. I got to sleep in for the first time since arriving in Italy and it felt pretty good! I look forward to the following week, although I lament because there are only two weeks remaining in the program! Ahh. May all your Sundays be as glorious as mine.

 

Vacation from the Vacation

I don’t think I’ve ever been more physically and mentally tired than how I feel at this moment. Well, that’s not entirely true, I can think of plenty of times that I’ve felt more tired than this but the point is, I’m pretty tired. But it’s not a ‘I absolutely despise life’ type of exhaustion, it’s more of a satisfied, fulfilled  kind of exhaustion. Since my last post, I have seen the secret gardens of the Knights of Malta, walked around the Gallery Borghese, entered a chill inducing bone crypt, and survived a weekend trip to Naples! For viewer comfort, the following post will be formatted to fit the tastes for shorter, less flowery information. Plus I don’t feel like writing about every last detail. Therefore, this post will concentrate on the debauchery of Naples, the physical exertion of both Mt. Vesuvius and Paideian feasts, the mental and emotional journey of Pompeii, and finally, the zombie wandering in Neapolitan museums. The trip to Naples, the vacation from the vacation, was an experience I will probably always remember. I feasted like I’ve never feasted before and bonded with my teachers and peers like I’ve never bonded with people in such a short amount of time. It was absolutely incredible!

We began the trip with an early morning and a long bus ride from Rome to Naples, lasting about 3.5 hours and a quick pit stop at Autogrill, an amazing combination of cafe/restaurant/supermarket/gas station/rest area commonly found on the highways of Italy. I had to do an intense soul-searching to recall to my morning skills learned from morning swim practice in high school. All discomfort was worth it, however, when we learned about the feast awaiting us in Naples. Gene, one of our staff members, is also a foodie. He loves planning magnificent feasts and has completely changed my view on what feasting should be like. In the past, the buffet at the University Club where my family goes for Mother’s Day Brunch was my definition of a feast. The feast held at this Mediterranean-esque restaurant overlooking the bay of Naples has decimated my previously held beliefs.

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One of 4 appetizers filled with fruits of the sea 

This meal lasted almost 4 hours. 4 HOURS. It was glorious. I sat at one of the smaller tables with a good group of people and one of the co-founders of the Paideia Institute, Jason Pedicone. During lunch, we discussed philosophy, theology, our lives, our dreams, literally anything and everything. It was quite amazing. I won’t go into too much detail on the food consumed but as Gene lovingly called it, it was a feast of from the fruits of the sea.

We were able to walk off some of our newly acquired bulk at Cumae where the Cave of the Sybil is located. It’s a beautiful location where we got to read some Latin text discussing some prophecies made by the Sybil. It has amazing views over both the ocean and the surrounding land. There were also some great ruins to climb on! The fresh air combined with mild physical exercise helped to digest the massive amount of food and many glasses of wine consumed during the feast. It was also a nice reminder that we’re in a Latin program and need to actually read some Latin.

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Parts of the Cave of the Sybil

After our romp in Cumae, we headed to the villa where we would stay for the next two nights. Called Villa Virgiliarum, it was set up sometime in the 70’s or 80’s to allow students to study Classics in Naples and its surrounding area. It’s filled with rooms and has a magnificent library, a large dining facility, a beautiful balcony overlooking an ancient theatre, and even a roof top area where you can enjoy the view over the bay! It was pretty amazing. What was even more amazing was that they had food waiting for us when we arrived. Gene said that he begged them to only serve us salad for dinner but they refused. Instead, we had salad with a special type of mozzarella made from Italian water buffalo milk. This was hands down the best cheese I’ve ever eaten in my life and for those of you who know my love for cheese, this is really saying something.

I took advantage of the lingering light in the evening to adventure into the backyard so that I could explore the half-buried theatre. Apparently, they try to excavate it every year and then give up, letting nature take over again and again. It was pretty cool to go down into the theatre and walk around where the stage might have been. The atmosphere created by twilight and a couple of shining stars created a somewhat magical experience. After that small adventure, many of us went up to the roof to listen to our teacher Andrew give a small talk about the island of Ischia, which is just off the coast of the Bay of Naples. This is an amazing little island that happens to have many bizarre things going on. According to many historians, this island is the first Greek colony in the region once called Magna Graeca, which is the Naples area. In Ancient Rome, this region was inhabited mostly by Greeks and still maintains a heavy Mediterranean/Greeky influence. It also is said to be the home of the famous Cup of Nestor, whose reference is found in Homer’s Iliad. We believe that this is the famous cup because it has an inscription on it saying: ‘I am Nestor’s Cup, good to drink from’. No, I’m not joking and this is a real ancient inscription. Ischia also has some really interesting biological things going on because of its proximity to volcanic activity and amount of sulphur/carbon monoxide in its waters. I’m not the best with recounting biological facts so I would suggest looking it up! We spent the rest of the night gallivanting on the roof, bonding with our peers and some bottles of wine. Waking up at 6:30 the next morning was not so easy.

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View of the theatre from the roof of the Villa Virgiliarum

Our first and only full day in Naples was incredible. Even though waking up so early was painful, we had an amazing breakfast awaiting us and a decent bus ride to nap before hiking up Mt. Vesuvius. Hiking up the full mountain probably would have taken the full day so the bus drove up a fair amount of it. It was a terrifying ride and whoever was sleepy before was definitely awake and worshiping solid ground by the time the bus stopped. It was also a great bus ride because I got to talk with another one of my teachers named John, also known as Capellatus in Latin (I’m not sure exactly how that’s spelled). He’s a pretty incredible person, waiting until the last 2 weeks to write his thesis and then composed it in Latin! He also decided to include a page of absolute nonsense to see if his thesis was actually read before he had to defend it. No one actually read it, probably because it was written in Latin. That should tell you something about the genius this man has.  He is also the designated sub arboribus extraordinaire, coming up with lots of really fun games for us to play.

The hike up Vesuvius was stunning. It’s a little more than 4,000 feet above sea level and our ascent up was steep and dusty. There was not a cloud to be seen so the sun was beating down hard on our backs but it was so worth it. It was cool and breezy at the summit and you could hardly tell where the sea met the horizon. We broke up into reading groups and read Pliny the Younger’s letter to Tacitus describing how his uncle, Pliny the Elder, attempted to save people from the eruption in 79 AD. It’s a pretty marvelous letter that details the mushroom cloud after the explosion and how Pliny the Younger was offered the chance to go but decided that he wanted to stay home and study. What a wimp. Although, due to his cowardice, we now have this amazing letter so I guess that counts for something. We’re not exactly sure how he got all of this detail because the entire fleet that his uncle took with him on the rescue mission was killed. It was a little mind boggling to be standing on top of the volcano that simultaneously completely decimated and perfectly preserved an entire city. It was an amazing experience.

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View from the summit of Mt. Vesuvius 

The hike down was not as strenuous, thankfully. And I spent a nice time with some of my new friends discussing singing and language. Once we got to the bottom, we took a bus to Pompeii and commenced with a second Paideian feast. Gene has a good friend named Roberto who owns a restaurant near Pompeii that hosted us for lunch. It was incredibly delicious. In the past, this lunch as taken so long that some groups actually missed their time in Pompeii so Gene had to scale it back this year. It was still a three course meal with a toast of limoncello at the end. It was spectacular and another work of culinary art. This Italian food is absolutely blowing my stomach and mind away.

Having been adequately stuffed, we entered Pompeii! As we entered its gates, we had to swear an oath to only speak in Latin for the first two hours of our tour. We split into groups and Erin, or Hibernia, led ours. The difference that I’ve seen in my spoken and auditory Latin skills since last week is incredible. I understood essentially everything that was said during the Latin portion of the tour. I was able to sufficiently explain myself and ask questions. We even traded jokes in Latin! We had so many laughs, which made me feel both awesome and nerdy because it was all in Latin. We were speaking the original language of this magnificent city. It was like walking through a ghost town but seeing the ghosts come to life in front of your eyes. It was one of the most amazing experiences. It made the city feel more alive and real and it was almost difficult to fully grasp the magnitude of what happened in 79 AD. Seeing everything so amazingly preserved and walking along these amazing streets and alley ways was almost like walking through a neighborhood of Rome! It was incredible. Its beauty was stunning and its memories were almost palpable. 20160617_181741.jpg

I was able to buy my first touristy purchase – an ashtray (I thought it was kind of ironic seeing that Pompeii was covered in ash) – before we headed back to Villa Virgiliarum. We had a good meal and I was able to seek some solitude on the roof from the crowded quarters down below. I was also able to claim a shower and wash away the sweat and dirt of the day! It felt magnificent. Many members were participating in hardcore bonding, breaking into the two cases of wine given to us by Gene’s friend Roberto (only four bottles survived the night out of 24!). I didn’t feel like participating, mostly because they had gotten out their Latin karaoke books and because I was exhausted. But I was able to bond with more people over our mutual hatred of karaoke and loud, drunken singing. I also got to talk to another staff member, Claire, about how awesome it is to nerd out with the super nerds that populate this program. She told me that one of the teachers actually wrote a paper about Lord of the Rings in Elvish. You really can’t get much more awesome/nerdy than that.

As I was explaining to her, it’s one of the most wonderful opportunities to be in a group of people with extremely similar interests. We’re all super nerds and it’s perfectly awesome. Everyone is so passionate about what they’re studying and so eager to learn from each other! It’s such a nurturing and encouraging atmosphere and I feel like I’ve really bonded with some people even though it’s only been two weeks. This is especially amazing for me because I have a hard time opening up to people and making friends in short amounts of time. But there’s something about this program and these experiences that we’re sharing that fosters an environment where everyone is eager to become close with one another. It’s really quite amazing.

Our last afternoon in Naples consisted of an early morning, a 3 hour visit to the Naples Archaeological Museum, and a taste of true Neopolitan pizza. The museum was amazing and held some spectacular frescoes and statues. Because of my exhaustion and the length of the museum time, I ended up walking around like a zombie for most of it. A lot of the time was unstructured so we could wander through at our leisure, which was both nice but also difficult. It’s difficult to keep on going when there’s no one to make you move. A lot of the art in the museum was found in Pompeii so it was a really cool opportunity to connect the dots!

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One of the massive statues found in the museum – made from just one block of marble!

We walked around Naples for awhile before sitting down to eat pizza. It was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life. The crust was someone thin yet perfectly doughy. The cheese was somehow sparse yet rich. It was perfect. Everyone should have the experience of eating Neopolitan pizza at least once in their lives. Naples has an incredibly different feel to it than Rome, which was interesting to see. Its streets are more narrow and clogged with people, clothing hanging out from the windows everywhere you look. There are many more tourist shops and it felt more condensed than Rome. My experience of Naples is very narrow, seeing that we only walked up and down one of the streets for about an hour. We did get to go instead this amazing church, however. The art was stunning and I was reminded of how much I love church architecture. We finally left around 3:30 pm and began the journey back to Rome! It felt pretty great to be back in a familiar city. It felt even better to plop down in my quiet apartment!

There was an optional trip to walk on the Via Appia, the most ancient road to Rome, on Sunday afternoon. I did a great workout that morning and then my apartment mates and I arrived late to the gathering spot after getting lost and having to speed walk for about 30 minutes. I got my steps in to say the least. The Via Appia is beautiful. It’s a straight road leading to and from Rome, used by merchants and pilgrims alike. Many of the ancient road stones are still there and it’s pretty funny to watch people bumping up and down on their bikes. We had a lovely picnic on the side of the road and read some Seneca, who lived near the Via Appia and is said to be buried close by. It was a lovely Sunday and now it’s back to daily grind!

Happy Father’s Day to my wonderful father and to all the fathers out there in the world.

 

Episode 6: The Badass Classicists and the Obelisk Odyssey

Imagine this: a smallish coastal town bustling with life. For those of you familiar with Michigan geography, picture a town slightly larger and more condensed than Traverse City, a town where families go to escape the summer heat and party near the water. Imagine that this town was abandoned around 400 AD and beautifully preserved in silt until a mass excavation in the 1930’s. This is what Ostia (Antica) feels like. This absolutely massive city is beautifully, even eerily, preserved, giving an almost unparalleled look at what ancient Roman life would have been like. A cobblestone (original!!) path with chariot and cart grooves leads you from the train station into the city. We entered through the theatre where we performed our Plautine play! 20160611_112811.jpg

The three performances will both hilarious and amazing – the other tourists thought so too! We actually accumulated a large, extremely interested crowd during our performances. It was so much fun and one of our compatriots did some stand-up comedy, fulfilling her dream of doing stand-up in the birth place of comedy itself. That’s pretty awesome; let’s call it badass act number one.

After our performances, we had a brief history lesson of Ostia, which was pretty incredible. It used to be a port town, Ostia meaning ‘mouths’ in Latin. It was named this because the mouths of the Tiber used to be a stone’s throw away in antiquity! They have since moved because of flooding and through the injury of time (Obelisk language – to be explained). Many wealthy families used to vacation at Ostia in order to escape the heat of Rome. It used to also be a huge tourist town for those coming to Rome from North Africa because of its proximity to the shores of the Mediterranean. Its main disadvantage is that it got continuously sacked by pirates until they were eradicated by one of the Roman Emperors (I can’t remember who). It was a thriving town (it even had 3-4 story tall apartment buildings!) until a new port, named Portus, was built by the Emperor Claudius and then renovated by the Emperor Trajan in 113 A.D. And because the new port was so successful, trade began to decline in Ostia making the population decline with it. It was finally abandoned around the 400’s and preserved remarkably well. One of the most amazing things about Ostia is how open it is. You can literally wander through the whole city, often being able to go inside houses and climb stairs to the roof. You can walk the streets and browse through what once was a market street. You can see the ancient mosaic floors still visible and many still walkable. You can also see amazing stucco walls and the remnants of paints. 20160611_151922.jpg

After a quiet picnic in a few of the empty houses, we split off into groups to read some Latin. We read St. Augustine, who is an absolutely beautiful writer. He grew up somewhere in North Africa so Latin wasn’t his first language. He uses words in a very peculiar way so you don’t really know what he’s trying to say but it’s still really quite moving. What made it even more powerful was the passage that we read. In his ‘Confessions’, he recounts a conversation that he held with his mom at Ostia! She died 9 days after this conversation and he gives a detailed description of where they were at the time of the conversation and her death. The original Paideian teacher, Reginald Foster, thinks that he actually located the exact house where she may have died. We got to read this incredible passage in the courtyard of the house where she may have died. How cool is that?! Let’s call this badass act number 2. But badassery aside, it was a very powerful moment and walking through the town after that felt like ambling through a ghost town.

After our official time was over, I decided to stay behind in Ostia with one of our teachers and a few other students. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made because it was one of the best experiences I have ever had. This is where the term ‘badass classicists’ was coined. Our teacher, Jon Meyer a.k.a. Iohannes Rex, told us not to be afraid of fences at archaeological sites and to view them more like convenient fences. He makes a pretty good point to this effect. Archaeological sites are being preserved for posterity but aren’t we the posterity? Our generation, which is the future generation, is what these magnificent sites have been preserved for! And who can better appreciate the treasures they hold more than Latinists and Classicists? Therefore, he says, jump any and every fence you can. And that’s exactly what we did. We started our illegal activities in the Baths of the Seven Sages. 20160611_162051

The main point of hopping the fence for the baths was to see the absolutely ridiculous inscriptions in the room where this picture was taken out of. I honestly could not stop laughing as we translated some of these inscriptions, potty humor making itself known even in Ancient Rome.20160611_161850.jpg

After safely returning from the baths, we continued our journey in search of Mithraeum. These are secret cult meeting places for the Cult of Mithras, which was a super secret cult during the Roman Empire. Not much is known about what went on in these places but they’re scattered all over the Roman Empire! They’re often found in the basements of buildings and houses. Classicists vaguely know who Mithras was and that there were 7 levels of membership in the cult. It also seemed to be a primarily male religion, more commonly found in the military. I would encourage you to look it up on the Internet! It’s really fascinating stuff. In order to get to some of the Mithraeum in Ostia, we had to climb walls not meant to be climbed and open doors that were twist-tied shut. Yes, they thought a twist-tie could keep us out and they thought wrong. That was also a pretty incredible experience. I didn’t know what Mithraeum were until we set foot into one and it was a magical moment. We got to sit down where cult members would have sat and looked at a statue of Mithras slaughtering his bull. 20160611_155152

They think that the cult of Mithras might have something to do with Astrology and the Mithraeum that we went to that was twist-tied shut had lots of astrological signs and symbology, which was really cool. It was also much more fun because Iohannes had never been inside of it so it was a new experience for all of us! We all felt like badasses; let’s call this badass act number 3.

That evening, Paideia had reserved an entire night a night club/ bar in order to do some Latin karaoke. Yes, that actually happened. We got song books full of both classical and pop songs like “Hot n Cold” by Katy Perry, “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” (author unknown to me), and “Sweet Caroline”, just to name a few! A few drinks and a plate full of food into the night started our group singing-extravaganza, which lasted quite a long time. There we discovered that Iohannes has an amazing singing voice and thus was called Iohannes Rex, which means King Jon in Latin. It was such a fun night and the party continued at one of our apartments. It was a great way to unwind/keep up the badass streak we had going!

So that was our Saturday. Sunday was another insane journey. There was a challenge to see all 13 obelisks of Rome in one day, which I couldn’t pass up. We met around 10 am and saw 4 that morning and then reconvened at 6  pm that night to see the other 9. There were only about 7 or 8 of us that took on the challenge and I must say that I felt incredibly accomplished by the end of the day. Not to mention that I had walked almost 12 miles! I took a picture in front of every obelisk and I think I’m going to compile them into one picture and submit it to my Classics Department’s photo competition! It’ll be great. 20160612_185844

The Obelisk Odyssey was really pretty fun though. We read all the inscriptions on each obelisk and learned about its history as well. It’s really amazing to believe that these obelisks, mostly taken from Egypt, were considered ancient when they were taken and that was in Ancient Rome!! They also had the ability to transport, set up, and even move these incredibly heavy obelisks. It’s just crazy to think about. The obelisk at the Vatican actually required a special ship to be built because of its weight and height. This ship was then sunk in the harbor near Ostia that was mentioned before! The sunken ship actually enabled them to build the new harbor, which is pretty cool. By the end of the Odyssey, we became very familiar with obelisk language (often to do with falling over and suffering the injury of time) and how popes love to dedicate them to stuff. Although an awesome experience, seeing 13 obelisks in one day is rather tiresome. But this was the first time in Paideian history that all 13 had been seen in one day! And 9 by the whole group together! The original Obelisk Odyssey conducted by Reggie Foster was held at night where you had to drink a beer at each obelisk. They encouraged us to attempt that on our own time.

I also had a very lovely conversation with my parents before evening odyssey and it was really nice to hear their voices. One is so busy here that you forget to miss home! Combined with exhaustion and frustration over ludus domestici (domestic play or homework), I could feel myself yearning for home. But this next week is extremely busy and should keep me occupied until next Sunday’s conversation. Today, Monday, was a busy day but it’ll have to wait seeing as I have an early morning tomorrow and this blog post is already becoming a novel.

We had a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando shooting today in class. It was a really sobering moment because we were also in a nightclub the same day that the shooting happened. It’s just unimaginable. The cruelty and tragedy of this is unthinkable and as my teacher Jason Pedicone beautifully articulated in class, it really inspires him, as well as me, to become more involved with humanistic studies, which promotes nothing but love, knowledge, wisdom, and inclusivity in the world. My heart goes out to all the victims and their families! It seems tragic to say this but may you all be safe tonight and every night.  Until next time!