Friday, November 9, 2012

il finale

My time here in Rome has come and gone just as I had imagined it would: slowly at the beginning and speedy at the end.

Hard to believe this (above) picture was from back in August, when Virgi and I would often spend afternoons cooking upstairs in my room. I'm not feeling quite as anxious as I would have expected at this point, perhaps partly because I can easily imagine returning this spring. Here's how I've been filling up my final fall days in the ancient city.

You might remember I'd started a pseudo job--specifically teaching English to a young Brazilian woman twice a week. What I failed to mention was that those lessons have been done almost entirely in Italian. Admittedly, I hadn't really thought this one through, but of course only makes sense given her level in English, which is just about zilch. Imagine for a moment, trying to explain English grammar rules to a US immigrant. Now imagine teaching those lessons in a foreign language. O
f course, Italian is neither her native tongue nor mine, so we had quite the eclectic international exchange going on. These sessions offered me an exciting challenge and were surprisingly successful, all things considered.

Halloween in Rome. While it's a US holiday through and through, a select few Italians do try to get in the spirit. An excuse to dress up and eat candy is reason enough in my opinion. Unfortunately, the children were unable to go around the neighborhood for dolcetto o scherzetto (trick-or-treating) due to stormy weather, which made for a particularly sulky, whiny evening. This said, it didn't stop Virginia from donning her little devil costume, throwing back the sweets, and even writing a vampire short story. Here's her tribute to Halloween on the back of the front door.

Friday was All Saint's Day and so the children enjoyed a four-day weekend from school. On Thursday, we went to visit Le Catacombe (catacombs) di San Sebastian. According to ancient Roman tradition, all burials were to be outside the city walls. Land was also expensive and so it was typically the poor that were buried in a sort of labyrinth of caverns, or catacombs. There are upwards of forty known catacombs around Rome today, but it's likely that there are yet many more. Le Catacombe di San Sebastian, for instance, consists of 3 distinct levels, covers an area of 12 km, and holds 40,000 tombs (although the bones were removed years ago). This is not even close to the largest catacomb either. 

We joined an Italian group and lucked out with a fabulous tour guide. I loved learning about all the symbolism still very apparent on the walls and above many of the grave plots. And if this experience wasn't already cool enough, the excavation site was on THE APPIAN WAY, one of the oldest and strategically significant roads of the ancient Roman world. I swear I've been living in a history book this fall.

In other news, we've been on something of a baking rampage recently. Giovanna loves everything lemon and has been craving a sweet citrusy dessert to pair with her tea on chilly afternoons. I knew my mom's lemon bars recipe would be perfect. I was right. We made them on Friday and those gooey tarts barely made it through the weekend. So what did Gio and I do Sunday night? Make chocolate caprese cake and chocolate chip cookies of course! Holiday season has officially begun.

Other savory favorites Giulio and Virginia have enjoyed are "birdy in a basket" (fried egg bullseye on toast) and popcorn. And I mean the REAL popcorn too: cooked on the stovetop with plenty of salt and butter drizzled on top. It's a wonder to me that most Italian food can thrive without these two magical ingredients. And if eating eggs for breakfast wasn't enough, these Romanettes have merited a true American baptism through sampling (and LOVING) candy corn, thanks to a box my mom sent me...almost 6 weeks ago. Just in time to pack it up and bring back with me to the States. Piano piano, Italia.

Famous words: "Sah-rah, I help you?" Couldn't ask for a better little helper in the kitchen.

My final Italian class began with a dictation exercise, led by yours truly. Having shared a plate full of homemade chocolate chip cookies the lesson before, classmates and teacher alike had made me promise to bring the recipe on Wednesday. Well, this turned out to be quite the homework assignment for me--not just in terms of translating, but also in converting standard measurements to metric. Yikes, let's just hope everything was correct! And so our Wednesday lesson commenced, teacher Antonella took out her notebook, assumed her seat as a student, and pushed me forward to the front of the room. Our dictation exercise? Sarah would read her recipe as the class records it in their notebooks. It concluded with with a rousing applause and several announcements of parties and events where they planned to bake their own American chocolate chip cookies. I will miss this class more than words can say. For me, it's the bizarre, awkward, and unique situations like this one that infuse the richness into travel and make it all worthwhile. 

Aaaand not so sweet, but alarmingly edible: boiled octopus. Oh and that yellowish sphere to the right...that's its head. MMMMMmmmmmmMMMMmm dinner is served ;)

Here are a few fun pictures from our trip to the neighborhood "McDonald's park" on Saturday. It's a large shopping center with soccer fields, jungle gym and mini fair rides. McDonald's happens to be there too.

I love this picture of Virginia! That's my Italian little sister in a nutshell. Going to miss this girl, a lot a lot. Currently, her top right tooth is incredibly wiggly and holding on for dear life (although to be sure it's been dead for some time now). Italians call baby teeth denti da latte or "milk teeth," which of course makes sense too. 

This household loves Violetta! It's essentially a Spanish soap opera for tweens and we've been faithful viewers most week nights since September. I think it started out as something of a joke, with only Virginia taking it seriously. However, as time went on, the rest of us became fairly invested in the characters and plot line. Giulio swears he hates everything Violetta (because well, she's a girl, duh), but I've caught him watching intently on more than a few occasions. It's a topic you can bring up with Virginia at any time. And I mean ANY time. The problem is getting her to stop talking about her little Spanish teen idol. She proudly carries her Violetta journal to school each day and even recorded her very own Violetta music video--one I'm under oath not to post. This is how she got her nickname Virginia Violetta Vitolo, or simply "Triple V."

Always picture ready.

I often tell Virginia she is beautiful. It was probably one of the very first English words she learned. Whether it's once I've done her hair for school in the morning or after successes during English lessons, she is quite accustomed to hearing, "beautiful, Virginia!" And I nearly always know what she'll be saying next. "No Sah-rah! YOU is beautiful!" I simply don't have the heart to correct her grammar here. And so we enjoy a mini argument of flattery instead. 

Below is a picture I took while playing soccer with Giulio and Benito. I always have more to report on Virginia because she is my little leech after all. I am never wondering where she is because, if home, she is usually talking or playing with me, or physically on top of me, or all of the above. Giulio is almost the exact opposite, but in the best way possible. He seems much older for his maturity, manners, and overall consideration of others. Giulio is very bright and never ceases to amaze me with the kind of things he remembers from one English lesson to the next. He's way too much fun to tease and is quick with the sarcasm. G is, hands down, the coolest 10-year-old I know.

Since returning from Venice, the city has been repeatedly on the news for even MORE flooding, apparently the worst it's seen in two years. If you're interested, check it out online! The pictures are absolutely unbelievable. With acqua alta rising past knee-level in some areas, it's been difficult to distinguish between the canal and walkways. Never thought I'd say this, but it makes me thankful for the mid-calf acqua alta I experienced during my trip two weeks ago!

And now, news from Rome. Last week, Benito read reports that the Sistine Chapel will be allowing FAR fewer visitors from now on. Apparently, the volume of people that file through the site each year, and even each day pose a threat to the artworks' preservation. While it won't be impossible to visit the Chapel in the future, it will certainly be more difficult, perhaps requiring a reservation far in advance. I am officially even more thankful that I had the chance to see it when I did!

I took these last two pictures on Thursday while walking back from my last English lesson with my Brazilian student. While most of my favorite summertime bars had already closed for the season, I never tire of this coastal walk (or more often, run). How wonderful to live in a place where you can dip your feet in the water during the month of November!

People have asked how I've been feeling during my last days in Rome and, quite honestly, I am at peace because I have no regrets from my time here. I've done everything that I really wanted to do and more, both in Rome and around the country, which I realize is a huge blessing. It's been a very full 3 months and I've learned SO much about myself, God, and His world. For me, extended travel alone makes for challenging and stretching periods, but I'm always better for it on the other side. 

I'm so looking forward to spending the holidays back in the motherland with all the people I love most. A presto, USA! (see you soon!)

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