The weekend is almost upon us, and I have quite a few things to write about from this week : ) Monday we had a tour of the Senate, which was very similar to the Parliament (I still don't know what the actual difference is...). It was kind of dull, but the building was nice. Afterward while we waited for the buses to start running due to the strike, we walked around and passed by the Area Sacra dell'Argentina, with the remains of four distinctly different temples, all located around a public square. What's more interesting is that it is also the local "cat park". After excavation cats began to take up residence there, protected from traffic since the site sits below street level. Although you can only see a few during the day, it is estimated that hundreds live there. A couple weeks ago we passed it at night and saw at least a hundred cats! We also checked out Chiesa Nuova, the church by our school which our bus stop is named after. It was pretty but nothing special, I just think it's funny that it took me three weeks of seeing it nearly every day to finally go inside! Monday night we had another apartment dinner and Susan cooked an amazing veggie stir fry with eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli and bean sprouts and I made a big pot of rice. She even found soy sauce and sweet and sour sauce! It was delicious and really nice to eat so many veggies, which isn't easy to do in our accomodations.
Tuesday was a pretty long day. We watched the film of the book we're reading, Io Non Ho Paura, and it was exceptional! The cinematography was beautiful, wih rolling, golden hills of wheat and cloud-studded skies; it was like every shot was a photograph. The story is really moving, too. I won't summarize it here, but you should try renting it (you can use subtitles!). Watching the film made me a lot more excited to finish the book, too. After class we had a "Medieval Tour". We met at San Giovanni in Laterano, one of Rome's four major basilicas. First we went to the Sancta Sanctorum with the Scala Sancta. This was a sort of holy chapel, where Christian come on pilgrimages. The Scala Sancta (or "Holy Stairs"), are the first things one sees upon entering, with people crawling to the top on their knees. According to ancient tradition, it was this staircase that Jesus ascended after being beaten by Pontius Pilate. At the top of the stairs there is the chapel known as the Sancta Sanctorum (aka the "Holy of Holies"), which houses a collection of holy relics (supposedly including Christ's foreskin...haha) as well as one of the oldest images of Christ, called the Acheropita, said to have been painted miraculously without human intervention. It is decorated with frescoes of principle saints and an inscription that states "there is no place more holy in the world than this place". An interesting fact is that until the 90's, only Popes and high members of the church could enter this chapel. Even today, you need a special arrangement to go inside...lucky for us, this was included in our tour! It was really cool to sit inside the chapel listening to our guide meanwhile everyone coming up the stairs could only look at it through a small window!
Next we headed to a churched called San Clemente, with a dungeon-like underground level. The church is actually like a 3D timeline of ancient Rome, as it has a church built on an older church built on an even older Imperial building. The current basilica was built in the 12th century and houses some wonderful mosaics and paintings. Above the altar there are sheep painted to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus Christ. From the basilica of top layer, steps lead down to the 4th century basilica underneath. Walls were added to support the church above, but the general outline of the older church is still recognizable. Fading frescoes shows scences from the life of St. Clement, the 4th Pope for whom the church is named after. From here steps take you even further down to the remains of a 2nd century apartment building, with sites devoted to the cult of Mithras (just as popular as Christianity in the Imperial age). At one point, you can hear the water in an ancient sewer line, running to the Tiber.
That was the end of our tour, but since I had really wanted to see San Giovanni, I walked back to check it out. First of all, it is HUGE. Besides the church, it has an octagonal baptistry next to it, built by Constantine, which I checked out first. Both the North and South entrances of the basilica have huge facades (so basically it looked like a church from both sides). The famous front (South) facade of the basilica has 15 huge statues of Christ, the two Johns, and the 12 disciples along the top. The inside is of course very ornate, filled with frescoes, paintings, and sculptures, and some of the design is credited to Borromini. There is also a beautiful cloister within the basilica, which is like an open garden with delicately twisted columns surrounding it. Normally there is a fee to enter the cloister, but I was lucky; it was five minutes til it closed, so the woman let me in for free! The sunlight was hitting the garden and columns at just the right angle so it was truly a beautiful sight. Another bit of luck for me was that I happened to be in the basilica at the same time that a choir concert was going on, so I got to listen to some beautiful music while looking at beautiful things.
And now on to perhaps the most exciting event in the past few days... I finally got my new TATTOO! I have been planning on getting this partcular one in Italy since I decided to study abroad here (so 2 years ago), and I've been reseraching shops lately and finally found one I really liked, so I went for it! The tattoo is the word Principessa, Italian for "princess", and the meaning is twofold. First, it has been my dads nickname for me since I was a little girl (he shortens it to princi...principessa can be quite a mouthful!). And second, it represents my time here in Italy. For location I chose the back of my left leg, down toward the heel (about 4" above the heel tendon) because it is unique, and I don't like to put tattoos in cliche places if I can help it. I found a beautiful font called Scriptina to use, so it is very thin and delicate and loopy. I went to Evil Machines Tattoo Shop, whose artists I had seen at the All American Tattoo Festival in Sacramento last summer. Their portfolios were really impressive, so I felt pretty comfprtable going with this place. Valerio did the tattoo, and he did an exceptional job. Even though it is only a word, keeping the lines straight and smooth can be really difficult, but he was great. The experience was a little anticlimactic though, because it didn't take very long and I was by myself so I had no one to take pics while I was getting it, or anyone to show it to right after : ( Despite that, I think it looks beautiful, and I really do love it. It might be a little tricky keeping it clean walking around the dirty Roman streets, but I'm sure I'll manage. The tattoo is a little hard to see completely in the pics, as it curves a bit with my leg, but you can get the gist of it.
Tomorrow we have our written midterm, which is going to be pretty tough, and then we're also going to finally get our permesso di soggiorno, aka Residence Permits, and Friday we have no class! For the long weekend all my roommates are going on trips to other cities in Italy (most to look for housing in Bologna), so I'm planning a few excursions to hillside towns just outside Rome and possibly the Vatican. Plus, it'll be nice to have the apartment all to myself for once!
p.s. I've never mentioned this, but I was just reminded of it since it's running right now...when our washing machine spins, it literally sounds like an airplane taking off!! The first time I heard it I thought it was about to blow up....and it's so little, too!