the smell of gelato in the air

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  Turns out, Dictionary.com actually has a definition for that phrase, simply stating, “When visiting a foreign land, follow the customs of those who live in it. It can also mean that when you are in an unfamiliar situation, you should follow the lead of those who know the ropes.”  Honestly, I did not expect the phrase to so closely parallel the “downside-up” approach to learning our CR group will strive to exercise while traveling, which emphasizes influence and participation at all levels of exploration.  Not surprisingly, we are asked to immerse ourselves into the forthcoming experiences in an attempt to develop a working understanding of the buildings, behaviors, and lifestyle in each of the locations we visit.  At the last CR meeting, I unknowingly chose a cookie with the word “Rome” written in frosting on the top.  We were asked to first reflect on our preconceived notions of the city and then research to uncover some general information about the location.  Here it goes:

When I think about my preconceptions about Italy in general, three main sceneries appear in my mind.  First, I see the iconic postcard picture of Italy: Cinque Terre with the hill of colorful buildings placed on the edge of land overlooking the ocean.  Next, I envision gondolas floating across the calm water canals of Venice (please forgive me for my ignorance).  Lastly, I visualize the Colosseum and an architecture style made up of domes, pillars, and arches that I believe pervades the city of Rome.  Behaviorally, I imagine a laid-back lifestyle, perhaps because of my perception of people leisurely floating across the canals of Venice.  With Rome’s excessive ancient relics, I imagine tourists routinely fill the city, which probably influences the culture by creating a unique blend of people and ideas.  

After doing a little research about the city, the depth of information available highlights Rome’s rich ancient history, thriving art and architecture, and importance as a cultural and religious center in the past and today.  In agreement with my perception about the tourist culture of Rome, it was ranked in the top 20 most-visited cities in the world.  Containing the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, Pantheon, Roman Forum and many more significant structures and locations, Rome unsurprisingly attracts millions of worldwide visitors annually.  Not only does the city contain unique art and history, it also plays an important role in the governance of Italy, being the largest and most populated comune as well as being the country’s capital.  

Interestingly, Vatican City, the smallest country in the world, is located within the boundaries of Rome. Growing up, I heard about Vatican City and knew it was located around Italy, but I never knew that it was actually located inside Rome.  As the home of the Pope and the Roman Curia, Rome remains a religious center for millions of Catholics.  Despite its extremely small area, and therefore miniscule reign of control, the influence of Roman Catholic church still influences everyday life in most of Italy and many parts of the world.  Even though Italy declares no statewide religion, a majority of people follow the Roman Catholic church and religion seems to pervade almost all aspects of the city.  Constantly, the Italian public is getting updated with information released by the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.  Religion even invades on the politics of Italy.  Many laws reflect the viewpoints and practices of the Vatican and trying to pass laws opposing the views of the church (such as divorce which wasn’t allowed until 1970) can prove exceedingly difficult.

As we go through Rome, I hope to investigate the pervasiveness of religion in the everyday lives of the people.  Do the people pray each time before they eat?  How do people interact with the churches as they walk past?  Are there other public regulations of the church for which people have to obey?  To discover the answers, I must watch how people interact with their environment, especially with the churches and other people throughout the day.  Furthermore, speaking with natives could help uncover how central religion is to Roman society and their perspective on its influence on culture.  As I find answers to these questions, I undoubtedly will develop more that hopefully allow me to gain a greater understanding about Rome and its people.

– Christian