An American In Italy

A semester spent in Europe... Rome, specifically.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

De Felici Culpae Asperges Me, Domine, cum Acqua Viventia

Theology paper

On the apse of S. Giovanni in Laterano

Though the basilica form existed in pre-Christian times, Constantine converted the Roman design into a place intended for Christian worship, meant to convey the truths of the faith; indeed, a simple mosaic in St. John Lateran uses a few images to speak volumes to us about the mystery of the Incarnation, of baptism and salvation history.

St. John Lateran was built with a transept added on to the standard Roman basilica to form a cross. At the far end of the nave (the middle aisle of the basilica), Constantine added a semi-circular element called an apse. In late Roman housing architecture, the apse functioned as a sort of throne room – or at least a special area for the chair of the master of the house. The combined effect of these elements was such that, upon entering the church, one would recognize being in a cross-shaped building, entering into a place of unity with Christ on the cross. The physical entrance into the physical church would remind one of entering the Church at one’s baptism. The place where the transept crossed the nave would be the place where the attention of the church was directed: towards the altar. Behind this, the apse marked the kathedra [chair] of the master, the clear authority. As religious art developed over the Early Christian and Medieval period, the apse became the site of the art intended mainly to make a theological point.

The mosaic in the apse of St. John Lateran, a copy of the 13th century original, depicts Christ the Savior of the world in the firmament of heaven, surrounded by nine angels. Below him, a dove – the Holy Spirit – pours forth water over the image of a jeweled cross with the figures of Adam and Eve at the center of it. From the cross, streams of heavenly water flow forth to refresh the earth; flocks of lambs and deer come to drink from it.

The water which flows over the central cross comes from an image of the Holy Spirit. In the mosaic, this is the tie between Christ in the firmament of heaven and the physical world, because it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Mary conceived (Lk 1:35). Further, the Holy Spirit’s tie with baptismal waters comes in part from John’s gospel (Jn 1:32-34), and is prefigured in the Old Testament with the crossing of the Red sea, from which the Israelites are purged of Egyptian slavery and can begin a new life (Ex. 14:10-15:21), and in the flood which destroyed the sinful Ninehvites while the ark (an image of the Church) rescued Noah and his family (Gen 9:1-17). There are a multiplicity of New Testament references to the Living Water (i.e., Jn 7:37-39), and in the very beginning of the account of creation, it is the Spirit of God that “hovered over the waters” (Gen 1:2).

The depiction of the water is inspired by Rev 22:1 – “Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” It is this water that “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5) – as shown by the abundance of living things the earth brings forth by its watering. Two deer drink from the water, representing the deer in psalm 42: “as the deer long for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Ps 42:1). A “dry, weary land without water” (Ps 63:2) is the soul without God.

But one might be surprised to notice that, below Christ, the central figures of the mosaic are the diminutive figures of Adam and Eve in the middle of the jeweled cross. However, their placement is neither symbolically nor theologically surprising in terms of salvation history.

God, the creator ex nihilo, created man as the most important and privileged of creatures, because he breathed into him His own life, giving him His own Image and Likeness, and invited them into the Sabbath (see Genesis 2). Indeed, man is the only creation with whom God himself converses.

But because man’s will is free, the first man chose transgression and “[came] inevitably under the law of death… the presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore, when they lost the knowledge of God, the lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good” (Athanasius, De Incarnatione §4). By tending towards non-existence, evil was beginning to remove God’s image, “man, who was created in God’s image and in his possession of reason reflected the very Word Himself, was disappearing,” Athanasius says (§5). But God had given them a very direct commandment: if they eat of the fruit of the tree, they will die. How could God, the Father of Truth, go back on his word? Yet how could sin triumph over his Image?

But it is this fault which the Easter Exsultet calls a felix culpa, the “happy fault which gains for us so great a Redeemer.” An anonymous homily from the 2nd century narrates the harrowing of Hell with Christ speaking to Adam: “I now command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.”

In the mosaic, it is upon our first parents that the water of baptism pours first, the water of redemption in which we die with Christ and rise to new life with him; with the cross they, as we, are bound as one, and cannot be separated from it. “We were indeed buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in the newness of life… our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin” (Rom 6:4, 6).

But the cross is no longer an instrument of death – for death has no more victory, and the grave has no more sting – but it is the glorious instrument of the salvation of man, a sign of victory and utter triumph. Thus, the mosaic portrays a beautiful jeweled cross, a cross of heavenly riches.

Because Christ is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:7-18), he leads his flock beside still waters (Ps 23:2), and so we, Christ’s flock, drink abundantly from the waters of life from which we will never thirst again, of his grace, of the waters of baptism.

Thus, the image of saving and life-giving waters culminates in our baptism. This water and the image of our first parents – the central theme of the apse of St. John Lateran – expresses the triumph of the cross, made necessary by the felix culpa, in Christ’s resurrection. It is his resurrection that we share in when we are baptized, dying to ourselves and rising to new life with Christ.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

How not to look like an American in Italy

Stats counter have said I've gotten a few hits searching for this very thing. And so I'll offer my suggestions:

1. Don't be blonde. Physically or mentally. The physically part you mightn't be able to help, but the mental part you can; just be smart.
(My friend in Rome Zadok can't help that he's Irish, straight from the rock, and looks it. On the other hand, my grandfather is Sicilian and I've inherited a good bit of the Meditterranean look. My Italian is basic but better pronounced, and Zadok's much more comprehensive but accented. Whenever in situations where someone was addressing us in Italian, they addressed me instead of him, not knowing how absolutely rock-dumb I was; there was occasional surprise when he gave the intelligible answer whilst I stood dumbly by. But it goes to show you, the look works. I sure fooled them. [G])
2. Observe people around you. Italians are crazy, but they do different crazy things than Americans. For example, if you notice that nobody is standing in the middle of the Piazza Barberini playing a bagpipe, you probably shouldn't do it either. (However, I have observed this phenomenon. It was bizzarre.)
3. Keep it down. Americans have a reputation for being really loud.
4. Don't drink anything out of bottles or eat things on the street; "fast food" is not really a concept over there. Straws and glasses are your best friends, drinking from the beer bottle or the coke can is considered crude and gross.
5. Don't stare at people. I mean, duh. They can stare at you okay, but if a girl looks back it's a come-on.
6. Make it at least look like you're making an effort to use their language. You can not know a word of the language, but if you pretend like you do but you've just forgotten it, I've found people are a lot nicer. (Believe it or not, this also worked in France.)
7. No shorts. EvereverevereverevereverEVER. I don't care how hot it is -- NO! Along the same line are t-shirts. Don't pack 'em.
8. No sneakers. This is more forgiveable, especially if they're colored sneakers (black, red, baby blue). Sneakers that don't look like sneakers, in other words, I have seen Italians wearing.
9. Don't do the jeans thing, Americans can't do it right. I was there in the winter and I found that black pants not only went with everything, but they blended in nicely with everybody else.
10. Pretend you know what's going on. Just fake it and eventually you'll figure it out.
11. Be polite -- say "buon giorno" when you go into a shop, and "arrivederci" when you leave, and "grazie" for anything.

#11, I think, is the most important one, and one that people forget. Being in another person's country is like being a guest in someone else's house. You don't walk in the door and put your muddy shoes on the furniture (*shudder*). Some of the customs (for example, the not-drinking-from-the-bottle thing) seem totally arational, but it doesn't matter... don't make a spectacle of yourself, just follow the customs; it's polite. Mind you, don't let people walk all over you, either. Italian men especially like to be very, erm, friendly to women. Know when to say "basta cosi!" ("enough! quit it!") In other words, make sure your head is screwed firmly upon your shoulders and you've packed your common sense.

One of the searches asked how not to dress like an American in Italy. Well, following the above tips should be a start. The advice I was given was just to dress up generally, as in a dress-casual senss. That should be enough.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I Remember Rome ...

I was dumb and silent, I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse,
my heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue:
"Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is!
Behold, thou hast made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in thy sight. Surely every man stands as a mere breath!

~Psalm 39:2-5

Concentrate, Lauren, concentraaaaate ....

I didn’t realize how quickly spring break is coming up – just at the beginning of March, nearish to two weeks away! Holy cow, and just last night I had a very vivid dream about Rome, involving a rare peaceful moment just outside the city. It may have had something to do with the fact that I watched Roman Holiday the other night, and that I’m convinced I’m Audrey Hepburn. But how fun!! Running around Rome on a moterino with Gregory Peck sitting behind you – who could ask for more? Well, aside from jumping into the Tiber .... that was gross. If you’ve seen the Tiber, that’s a “bleeeeeegh!” scene.

Where does the time go?

Dude, I don’t know.

I didn’t think I’d be getting nostalgic until much later. Of course, I also didn’t think I’d be antsy for spring break, yet I, fully intending to do my next week’s worth of homework tonight (as I’m going away for the weekend next weekend) in addition to translating some more Aquinas (dream on, Lauren), have done next to nothing today. I’ve got four lines of translation on the Synod of Constantinople, and I’ve kind of thought about reading Bernard of Clairvaux. I looked at my Medieval Europe syllabus to realize that I’m actually a week behind instead of actually on schedule. And didn’t Dr. S say something about midterms coming up?

Doing school in Rome was fun, because I actually didn’t do much of anything. ;D I was fortunate in having already read all or most of the stuff we were assigned to read. If I read it, fine; if I didn’t, I could make-do (except when I got deathly ill around the time we were studying Aquinas on pre-ordination, and though I’ve read it a million times, I got a terrible grade on that quiz, having missed the finer points of it). Who wanted to do school anyway when one had Rome at one’s feet? Well.... I did, for the first half of it. :P I was a positive recluse. I have no idea what was wrong with me. Well, wait, yes I do – with a few exceptions, I really didn’t connect very well with my peers, as most of the like-minded majors (classics, English, philosophy, theology, etc) go to Rome in the spring shift. I considered it a good weekend if I woke up early, cleaned the room, and curled up on the windowsill exactly like I wasn’t supposed to to read homework for the upcoming week (we had a beautiful view out our window, as partially seen in
this picture
.... lovely view of a vineyard out the window).

“Rome?” thought I at the outset. “Too many nasty Italian men.”

In fact, digging through my old journal entries, I just found a particularly virulent rant against the same ....

If I hear “bella, bella, bellina” ONE more time, I am going to SCREAM.

Ugh! These Italian men! I can’t stand them! .... Do Italian women just take it [their grossness]? One doesn’t want to cause a scene....

Not only are the men insufferable, but the sheer lackadaisicalness of this country. Bus and train times seem to be merely suggestions of when the driver might feel like moseying on over to the stop.

Also, the strange social customs – drinking from a bottle is apparently taboo. This makes little sense to the efficient American mind, but being in a country that considers this The Most Disgusting Thing, one must comply, lest we be like the annoying house-guest who comes into one’s nice, clean house only to put their muddy feet all over the furniture.
Che schifo!

Italians, Italians, Italians! When they speak, the shout; when they’re angry, they shout; when they’re happy, they shout; when they’re trying to be extra nice, they shout. Romans are also fairly brusque in their speech. Approached by a gypsy selling some utterly useless and over-priced dust-collector, I replied with a sharp “
no, grazie; vae via.” [“No, thank you.... go away!”] When he wouldn’t leave, I added “basta così!” Adopting the best Italian manner and accent I am capable of changes my speech pattern almost entirely. Usually fairly quiet and polite, one of my Australian friends with me seemed shocked at my address. “You come off as almost.... rude,” he said. “But, but....” I stammered, “the Italians do it!”

Do they? Are they just annoyed all the time?
Was I being rude?

I don’t know! Stupid country.

In hindsight, it’s funny. At the time, it’s not, really.

But that was the thing that kept me from going into Rome a lot until about halfway through the semester. I usually went by myself – everybody else had plans, and nobody liked to go church-hopping as much as I.

It wasn’t until I met a like-minded individual who not only knew all the good churches and strange relics the Eternal City had to offer that I was able to brave the metro system alone at rush hour.

And what fun .... I can see it all in my mind as clearly as if it were yesterday. The gurgling of Trevi fountain, along with the chatter of the tourists, the shouts of little kids, the calls of the gypsies selling really annoying stuff you don’t need.... if I close my eyes it’s there. Not to mention the fabulous gelato shop across the street and to the right some, and the antiques shop on the Via Umilita where I found a 16th century illustrated breviary for 600 Euro (I was sorely tempted).

And, my most secret of pleasures, the Angelicum. Across from the Trevi fountain, straight, to the left, cross the street and it’s just right there on the left. The trick is not getting run over by Italian drivers on the way. It’s the one thing I loved secretly and went back to when I was alone. There was not a whole lot to see there – and unfortunately the church was never open when I was around – but .... but .... it was the Angelicum! The Infidels just don’t understand. If the name “Thomas Aquinas” didn’t send a person into raptures, I didn't want to take them there. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva I would share, Santa Sabina I’d consider sharing, but people wouldn’t Understand the Angelicum. It’s a Deep Thing. It’s a Dominican Thing.

Thinking back on it, I don’t really know what other people went to go see when they went into Rome. I had a day at the Piazza Del Popolo going into nearly every church on the Via del Corso, and praying at the relic of the heart of St. Charles Borromeo in Ss. Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso. That was a busy evening, and though crowds and crowds of people pressed in around all sides, somehow they weren’t as threatening as they were at the beginning of the semester. I had learned something .... if only how to deal with crowds. Maybe I learned the secret to world peace.

Either way, I had just seen the heart of St. Charles Borromeo, and that was Cool.

At the time, I thought the baroque churches of Rome a bit over done. There was just way too much to absorb. Walking into church was a sensory-overload and, though I professed to dislike it for numerous years, I developed quite a liking to the gothic style. But every day when I sit inside the Eucharistic chapel here – a small box of a chapel with walls made of brick, an entirely unadorned Tabernacle cube and a Persian rug on the floor and little else to be told – I remember the graceful columns (like the daughters of Israel) and the billowing frescoes with their painted explosions of light and holiness, the elegance of the solid marble and the exuberant use of gold leafing. This was kingly stuff.

But it wasn’t just the art, it was the Vision, how everything meant something and it meant something profound. Angels supported altars and held monstrances, saints bowed in worship before tabernacles, Our Lady welcomed pilgrims with dirty feet and St. Lawrence ignores his searing martyrdom while the martyred St. Cecilia holds her fingers thus to signify three persons in one God.

I say this in present tense and without reference to the veil of paintings and statues through which we see and know the saints, and I say this for the reason that the saints are there, really there! One can go calling upon saints like old friends, face-to-face, even. In Cascia, I saw St. Rita face-to-face, and on a lucky day near S. Maria Sopra Mierva I literally walked into St. Catherine of Siena’s parlor (or, her bedroom). One could just .... sit down and have a cup of tea with them while chatting about Things.

And so one does – at the kneelers of their side chapels.

I’m sad that it took me half my semester to discover this. By the time I came back from Greece (where I really learned how to travel on my own), the semester was half-gone. By the time I came back from 10-day (at which point I was going into Rome only every other day), it was two and a half weeks from being over. Then my mother came. We had 10 more days – 10 days seems like such a long time when packing for it – and then they were gone in a moment. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of the Irish college Monday morning with my mom and our luggage, saying goodbye to, aside from the saints, some of the dearest friends I’d met in my whole stay, whom I wouldn’t see for at least a year, if not more, if ever again.

When I returned home, it took me a long time to stop waking up in a panic trying to catch mass at St. John Lateran’s or Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (where, unfortunately, I never did make it to mass). In certain moments I’m back there again, but only in my mind’s eye. That remembrance always has a stab of the bittersweet in its remembrance, but at the same time it makes me grateful for having experienced it, and reminds me to appreciate the moment and to seize the day. Even though these grey, flat, freezing, rainy days seem miserable, annoying, and crammed with way too much Greek homework, they’ll never come again. One day I’ll look back on this era of my college life, like I look back on those warm, meditative spring days of high school home school where I could do my homework in the shade of our potted hibiscus with the sound of the fountain in the background. I’ll think of how great it was to be able to study what I like, and take out time for contemplation. And I’ll rebuke myself for being so foolish in my youth as not to appreciate it like I appreciate the memory of it now.

Had we but world enough, and time .... !

But the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Miss Lizzy --

Thank you for posting on my blog and if you can find my book int he Louvre or discover its whereabouts and in some way return it to me dead or alive, I would be unspeakably greatful and fast and offer prayers for three straight weeks for you.

This. Book. Is. Of. Massive. Importance. To. Me. Seeeeriously. Hence you get a whole post in response to your comment, because I want to make sure you see it. ;)

Thank you SO, SO much. Drop me an email -- my email's somewhere on my other blog.

(P.s. I'm coming back to Paris with my mother somewhere betwen Dec 13th and 19th)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Pictures from 10-day!

I have pages and pages of notes, MOST OF WHICH WERE LOST WHEN I LOST MY LITTLE NOTEBOOK IN THE LOVRE! *weeps* Mourn, ye Graces and Loves...

Anyway. But here are some pictures!!!

St. Dominic Drawing -- So we sat in Ciampino airport for a while and I got bored, so I started doodling...
Me and my drawing -- I don't wear glasses, I borrowed them for the picture to look Smart.
Santa Maria del Mar Interior -- Then we went to Barcelona, and here's a cool but dark picture from the interior of the Castilian Gothic church, Santa Maria del Mar. (I'm informed that St. Ignatius of Loyola used to beg on the steps of the church.)
Some piazza somewhere in Barcelona somewhere had some fountain so some person took a picture of some other person (me) in front of this ... somewhere.. place...
Then we went to Madrid. To save you a bunch of building facades (which I found really interesting in Spain), here's a picture of something more important -- me -- in the Plaza del Sol, the exact center of all of Spain.
BUT THEN THE REALLY EXCITING PART. WE went to FRAAAAAAANCE, we went to PAAAAAAARIS!!! I have tons more pictures and stories of Paris, but here are a very few just for now. ME AND THE EIFFEL TOWER!!! I called everybody whose number I had memorized from beneath the Eiffel Tower just to say I'M STANDING UNDERNEATH THE EIFFEL TOWER!!! *hyperventilate*
I'll bet the Whapsters thought they were at Notre Dame. Well they're wrong -- it's an impostor!! :O
And then the next morning I rose bright and early (thought I was going to London -- those plans fell through) and instead, wound up wandering Monmarte... and here is the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. Wonder why it's pinkish? ...
This is why.
And further I went into the basilica just in time to catch the sisters at their morning prayer, sung in beautiful, almost tangible four-part harmony (female voices!). Think Messe Besse by Faure, but lovelier. (Anybody know what order the sisters are? There's one in the picture, way down there...)
The next day we went to the Louvre and guess who I saw there! ;)
I met another one of my Favorites there, though this time I was more familiar with the subject than the painter.
A lesson I learned in France, which must have been taken from the The Scarlet Pimpernel -- no limp cravats. Not one. Anywhere! I took a page out of the Frenchies' book. "They seek him here," wot. (What is that you Frenchies say? Touche? You see I'm a bit of a poet, and you did not know it, wot!) Try to pretend I don't look blah. Zadok prefers to call it "18th century French Statue", but I got "eeewww"
The altarpiece of Francizkanerkirche.
THE BEST beer you will EVER have you will find at Augustinerbrau! There's no gas in it, and it's very strong and made by Augustinian monks! Huzzah, almost ousts Guinness as a favorite beer, even though I can see though it. (Augustiner, that is. Not Guinness, certes) These are two of my three companions Claire and Dan.

And that's all I have right now. Stories later!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Quick! Quick!! Domincan Stuff in Spain/France

O Fratres,

We're planning our 10-day break right now. I've been absorbed in absolutely everything eXCEPT this, and so I have little idea of real actual places to go. I was really hoping to do something Dominican, seeing as our Holy Father Dominic was born in Caleruega. There's not a whooole lot to see there, but it's a Dominican pilgrimage site!

The point being, I'm having a hard time finding information -- and, erm, I started looking about an hour ago -- finding information on Dominican stuff in Spain/France, and a way to go from Madrid to Caleruega.

Can anyone help me out here?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Vir Italicus

If one spends five minutes around me, one will probably be accosted with my rant against the Italian man. Passed along to me by Zadok, this unposed photo by Ruth Orkin (called "An American Girl in Italy") shows that the staring and leering has apparently been around since at least 1951.

Bleeeeh, Italian men!