roadside shot in flaminio area

three months have really just flown past, and now i have with me a crummy certificate telling me that i have ‘graduated’ from the beginner Italian class from my language school, along with a handful of broken italian phrases and a genuine steely determination to speak better italian. =)

i think learning a language is so essentially to understanding another person’s culture, because you start to understand how people think and how they process information. case in point, i was casually commenting to my colleague how i found it interesting they essentially said “take a coffee” and “make a break” because essentially thats how its translated in italian.

language is so powerful because it constrains how one can express oneself — its like how in japanese one becomes ultra polite and starts learning all about kinship and “amae“, or the feeling of contentment one gets when he feels like he is exactly where he needs to be in life. i think in an american context the term would be “underachieving” or “easily contented“.

some other interesting titbits from my 3 months of language course:

– my sis mentioned how certain words are hyper-conscious within one’s culture, citing examples of like freedom and self-expression in an American context. in italy, i seem to be bombarded with words of “lavoro” (work) and “sciopero” (strike), which is a scary reflection of the current sentiments in Italy where unemployment is sky high. and coincidentally, there seems to be a sciopero planned tomorrow. -_-

– ya know how its wierd when you start frequenting a new place because of class and you tell yourself you will start exploring the nearby area after lessons and find some nice food but it somehow never works out? well, true enough, i ended up rushing home everytime after class to eat near my place and it was only today that i chanced upon a (finally!) healthy salads, sandwiches and fruit juice bar that doesn’t burn a whole through my wallet!

called Fa-Bio, it’s at Via Germanico 43 and sandwiches go for 4 euroes whilst fresh fruit juices go for 2.50 euroes! and what’s cool is that whilst i was there, there was a english-speaking tour guide chattering excitedly to the server (i think tour-guides frequented areas counts as a badge of good-food in its own right) and i was soon involved in the discussion as well, talking about.. well.. how rome is like. =) its gonna be such a waste that i won’t be heading back to the area that often anymore. =(

– and incidentally, the discussion was about the difficulties living in Rome. simply put it, my best advice to expats coming to Rome?

learn. the frigging. language.

then go make italian friends and see all the doors unlock for you. rome doesn’t work by accessing online blogs and recommendations (despite me wishing it would be) but rather through recommendations of friends who frequent so-and-so’s store and knows so-and-so.

yup. that’s the way it works.


beyond the rose wall.

there’s many things about rome that makes me shake my head. the utterly horrible public transport for one. or how touristy it gets once you step within the roman walls. or how cafes here generally don’t have a sitting culture — people imbibe their espresso shots standing up and then dash off. i still don’t understand the last point to be honest.. and it really gets on my nerves especially when all i want to do is to sit at a nice coffee place and read a book to while time away. *sadz*

anyways, that being said, there’s still many nooks and crannies of rome that fascinates me and makes me really cherish my time here. last weekend, the place i explored was the aventino hill, close by to circo massimo. i was drawn to it by an off-the-beaten path article mentioning a really special view of the vatican dome from atop aventino hill – you apparently have to peer through a keyhole, and will see the vatican dome perfectly centered and framed by a beautiful row of garden shrub arches, which is in turn framed by the circular apeture of the keyhole. this curious place is at the gate leading to the gardens of the Knights of Malta (I Cavalieri di Malta).

wonder why people are congregating at this gate?

it’s a real pity that the gardens aren’t open to public, because i can imagine just how more breathtaking the view would be if one were actually inside the garden. and it reaffirms that fact that the garden planners had a terrific eye for beauty and an innate understanding of perspective. and if you’re wondering whether i managed to snap a shot through the keyhole, well.. the answer is a sad no. i reached the hilltop around 3pm and it was still way too bright for me to capture the dome. (you can google the knights of malta for the keyhole shot) photography aficionados, you need to come to this place possibly when the light contrast between the dark garden shrubs and the surrounding sky is much less.

i settled for a much easier shot.

i mean, i wasn’t going to return empty handed was i? this shot was taken at the nearby giardno degli aranci (orange garden) and it actually reminded me of an interesting psychology/perspective theory. cornell peeps, remember maas’ 101 where he mentioned about the how the moon seems to look larger at certain incidences? well, for me, this was the exact case for the Vatican Dome. in the shot above, framed by dark trees in the garden, and devoid of any other surrounding buildings to give you any visual cues of the actual distance, the Vatican Dome seems to loom at you and seem much closer.

yet when i went up close to snap a paranomic shot, i was utterly disappointed and deleted my shot after a few failed tries. the problem? the Vatican Dome “shrinks” to its original size when placed against buildings close by to it (which is what you see at the edge of the garden). and it is actually really darn far away. cool stuff eh? makes me appreciate a little better, why Rome officials have refused to allow buildings to be built taller than the Vatican Dome – any building within view would dispel the illusion immediately.

i think people like getting married here.

anyways, do come up to the aventino hill if you have time to spare in rome. it’s a pretty nice walk round a quiet, non-touristy residential district, with a nice rose garden along the way up (see first picture), as well as a pretty stoic church (Santa Sabina) near the keyhole. the church has an impressive interior consisting of 24 majestic marble columns that were originally from a nearby temple of Juno Regina. (yeah that was the era where stuff from the past were often re-used. at least in this case it forms the centerpiece in a church — some sculptures were found to be used as filler material for renaissance palazzos. -_-)

the colloseum is pretty photogenic regardless of the angle eh?

i think i once commented that i had pretty much snapped the colloseum at every single possible angle and under every single light condition (yeah i’ve been there that many times). and i suppose it’s no surprise, since the gargantuan monument is pretty much 4 train stations away from my house with a direct line.

then i headed in for the first time.

view from the ground level (gladiator level)

now to be honest, i was never really interested in entering the colloseum. i mean, its just a pile of rocks and crumbling structures right? i’m the sort of geeky arts/history guy that would rather spend time gazing at bernini statues or catching that elusive caravaggio painting and hence I had always passed up the opportunity to get in.

thankfully, i was notified that parts of the colloseum that were closed for renovation works for a long time were recently re-opened – this included the underground level, the gladiator (ground) level as well as the uppermost deck of the colloseum. you can’t access these parts normally, but had to register for one of three tours, as mentioned in of course, me being the cheapskate, opted for the cheapest option (which was still darn expensive!) which was to buy tickets granting a colloseum-only one hour tour (covering those re-opened special levels), as well as entry to not only the colloseum, but the palatine hill and foro romano grounds (but to be honest, you do need a guide for the latter two as well, else you would be staring at a pile of rocks). this costs roughly 21euro per person and you need to call Rome’s cultural association, Pierecci at +39 06 39967700. i’ve tested it and it works – though they require you to pay via credit card through the phone, which was kind of annoying.

still, once you’ve chosen a timeslot and booked your tickets, things will be a breeze on the actual day as you saunter past the normal ticket queue and head direct to the “tours/bookings” counter and tell them you booking code. easy does it.

and the tour is really decent and imo, pretty worthwhile. the structure really does come to life under the masterful storytelling of the tour guide and its a thrill to somewhat re-enact scenes of the past, to envision how the gladiators fought and how the entire structure worked as a whole. (i’m not gonna spoil it for you guys). yup, they do answer questions like (i) why are there so many holes on the exterior of the colloseum? (ii) did they really flood the colloseum to engage in naval battles before? (iii) what happened to the one entire part of the exterior segment of the colloseum?

and really, i think what makes the tour worthwhile is also access to the top floor (third level) of the colloseum, where you get a commanding view of not only the entire colloseum, but also of the surrounding cityscape – a rare vantage point in a city so skyscraper-scarce where no buildings can exceed the height of the Vatican dome.

view from the third level

so yeah, go for it. i’ll recommend some restaurants/cafes nearby in the upcoming posts. =)