Greetings from Rome. The lack of updates was less a result of lack of thought or reflection but more the physical inability to drag oneself to sit in front of the computer for the lack of alertness (for a start) and lack of energy (for the moment). But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. As the title says (A week in Rome), it’s been a week since I’ve arrived in Rome and I finally feel like I’ve got over the jet lag and am truly living in Roman time. The first few days were a blur of activity, meeting people in the community here and trying to figure out where my room is in this huge Harry Potter-esqe building that is the Collegio Bellarmino. As soon as the jet lag issue was resolved, the Italian language started. Crash courses in language are like their name suggests, things that make one feel like one has run into a brick wall every morning. Even as I struggle to keep up with the ever increasing vocabulary and greatly confusing grammar, there is the feeling that one’s brain is slowly liquefying and leaking out of one’s ears with each new conjugation that one tries quite unsuccessfully to remember. Everyone tells me that it gets better later – I do believe them but it’s sometimes hard to believe that when all that’s left of our once-proud self is a pool of quasi-Italian speaking brain.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy here. In fact, the past days have been a good flurry of activity and classes but even as one tries to ease into the place and the language, one cannot help but feel a little overwhelmed at times, like a little fish in an ocean that just got that big larger. If feeling like a stranger in one’s own home was strange, imagine being one here, in one of the centres of western history. I shan’t belabour that point but would just like to share four things that I’ve noticed about the place and myself over the past week.
Punto Uno. Rome feels like the centre of western civilisation and is the centre of the church.
It’s very strange to have the ruins of an ancient Roman market as well as the mother church of the Universal Roman Catholic church on one’s morning jogging route but such is life in Rome. Reminders that Rome is so steeped in the history of western civilisation are everywhere and it feels like one’s living in a history textbook. The city looks old but in a grand stately way. The roads and pavements are a little messy and in disarray sometimes but there’s a sense of it being sufficiently proud of itself and its heritage to be able to know that the mess can sometimes be overlooked for what it truly stands for. I’ve not had a chance to walk through all the major sights but it’s quite exciting to know that I’m here where it all happened before. Now all I need to do is to make sure I learn enough to get myself in one piece.
Punto Due. Summer is hot. Truly.
People talk about the Mediterranean summer as being pleasantly sultry. I think not. Rome, like most European cities, is built with a decided solidity to withstand the winters. Buildings have heavy walls that keep the heat in during the winter but do the same thing in the summer. While some rooms are still pleasantly cool in even in the afternoons, most of the other rooms (like my present one) are baking hot in the afternoon. Not the best of places to try to memorise nouns and adjectives. The heat which strangely brings hordes of tourists to Rome discourages me from even wanting to venture out in the afternoons. Can’t wait for the weather to turn and things can feel like it’s air-conditioned once again.
Punto Tre. The international Society.
I’m not talking about society at large but the Society of Jesus in particular. The house that I’ve found myself in reflects the international nature of the Society at it’s best and also most confusing. At lunch yesterday, there were people from 4 different continents at the same table speaking two different languages that most of us didn’t quite speak so well. It was interesting but a little confusing at the same time as many of us are still new to Italian while some others don’t quite use English as their first language. However, just listening to what others do and how they are reminds one of the international nature of our apostolate and how we’re all so different in so many ways yet one in our greater mission to serve the Lord and the church.
Punto Quattro. New languages are not walks in parks.
Didn’t expect them to be but being face to face with a new language can be a little daunting for a start. However, good advice from companions around, patient teachers and an encouraging community make for a pretty good environment to learn. Being at the receiving end of teaching makes me appreciate the difficulties all students face and reminds me of how I might need to be in the future when helping others in this situation. Humility is perhaps the greatest virtue at the moment – to be humble enough to realise that we’re not in control and that it’s ok to look and sound foolish because that makes our learning of the language better.
Thus ends the first post from Rome. More to come as they come.