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Posts Tagged ‘rome’

(Editor’s Note: WordPress has been acting up lately. I have notified customer service, but until they can fix the strange editing mis-haps that I cannot, you may find some unusual things in the posts, such as periods to separate paragraphs that are otherwise insisting on bunching together. My apologies!)

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It was night in Rome. The stars were shining in the sky above, the air was cool and crisp, my i-Pod was singing sweetly to me alone, and the sparkling water of the Tiber was running ever onwards to the sea. As I made my way across the famous Bridge of Angels, the illuminated Vatican glowing in the distance, I felt at peace and deeply happy.
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Pausing on the cobbled pavement of the famous bridge, I gazed up at the angelic figure who so kindly gazed back at me. The soft white of the wings against the twinkling stars and romantic black sky made me almost feel as if I was gazing upon a real angel who had traversed the universe just to be here tonight. The moment seemed surreal, like something out of a dream or a fantasy (and this was a bridge I have crossed many times in the 10 years I have been visiting Rome). Tonight was different in some way.
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I passed the angels one by one, contemplating the treasures that they held. They seemed to be imploring for me to consider what each one meant; to unlock the symbolism before me.

The first angel on the left holds the whips

First the pillar of Christ’s passion on the right, and the whips used at the scourging on the left. I smiled at the angels and silently replied, “yes, I see what you are suggesting.” I responded to their call by contemplating the scourging of Christ, particulary in the items represented.

Next, two angels on each side displayed the crown of thorns and Veronica’s veil. I nodded in understanding; “I am moving along through the passion of Christ.” I considered the sufferings from the crown and the bloody results that would have left him barely able to see until Veronica so kindly wiped his face.
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Stepping to the third pair of angels hovering over me on the moon-lit bridge, my eyes fall upon two more items to consider. One was the nails. Another was the clothing that was stripped from Christ before the crucifixion and the dice that the soldiers used to roll for the fabric. The angels were leading me through time, asking me to meditate upon the moments before Christ was crucified.
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Further along the bridge, the next set of angelic figures presented the cross and the sign that read “Jesus, King of the Jews” which was nailed to the top of the beams. Now I was mentally at the crucifixion, through the items that were used in those hours.

The last angel on the right holds the lance that was used to pierce Christ's side after his death

Nearing the end of the bridge, I gazed up at the last pair. On one side, an angel held the sponge tainted with vinegar that was pressed to Christ’s lips when he cried out in thirst. On the other side, an angel held the lance that had pierced his side after he had passed away.  These were the final cruel instruments used against him, in his final moments and even after his death. The journey was complete; both of his passion and life, and mine across the bridge.

The angels all smiled at me in silent witness. They joyfully knew that I was about to know what they knew…

I stepped onto the northern bank of the Tiber, and in the cool night air I gazed back at where I had journeyed from and what I had journeyed through. Turning, I looked at the direction ahead; Saint Peter’s basilica glowing in the distance. That was when I realized something I had never caught before.
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I had just journeyed through time. What now lay behind me was the foundation of what lay before me, both physically and historically. All that Christ had suffered during his sorrowful passion, as represented by the items that the angels carried, had provided a bridge across time to a new civilization and a new faith. St. Peter’s Basilica standing triumphantly in the distance was the physical manifestation of the goal Christ had achieved; the Church of Christ on earth. The Roman Catholic faith. Christianity. Salvation from destruction through suffering.
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It was a physical journey accompanied by a historical one all via the angels gently calling upon the viewer to remember…just to remember.
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It was brilliant! I hurried back to the beginning of the bridge. Who was there, guarding the way? Saints Peter and Paul! The very same saints who stand in the same positions before St. Peter’s Basilica! They greet and guard the beginning of the journey across the bridge and to the Vatican, and welcome home at the end, for they are the first great protectors of the faith who gave their lives so that it would not be forgotten.
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Now I understood how this would have all played out centuries before. When instead of tourists snapping too many photos there would have been devout pilgrims in prayer, and this was the route that would have been laid out for them to cross.

View of the Bridge of Angels from across the street. Saint Peter is on the left and Saint Paul is on the right.

As they approached the Bridge of Angels, they would have seen Peter and Paul greeting them while guarding the path. The great gatekeepers of the message of Christianity had something to tell them, something they wanted them to consider and see. It was the message of Christ that lead to the Church that they  helped establish.

Stepping onto the bridge, the pilgrims would have passed the five sets of angels, two by two, and perhaps meditated on the passion of Christ through the instruments of the passion that the angels carried, just as I had. Crossing the river, they would have perhaps also felt the sense of crossing through the passion, through time, to the other side where the present glory awaited. The glory of the Church, of their faith.
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Arriving at Saint Peters, would they have thought, as I did, “yes, all that suffering grew into something so great! And here is the witness before me!”?
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How would they have felt about their own sufferings, seeing first hand what had grown in splendor from those of one man who bore his own sufferings in simple love and humility?
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As I walked towards the Vatican that night, under the beautifully clear Roman night sky, I felt as though my journey was suddenly enriched. I was not just walking across a bridge with pretty angels and then heading down a street to an amazing basilica, but if I listened, I was journeying across time. From the Passion of Christ and the guardians of his message to the triumph of that passion and those who had protected it; this was the deep message I had discovered on one famous bridge.
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And my simple walks to Saint Peter’s Basilica have never been the same again.

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Taking the step and journeying abroad can be challenging. My biggest fear in transitioning from a digital nomad in the states to a digital nomad abroad was the internet, or lack of it.

Dreaming of the streets of Rome is one thing, but as a digital nomad your dream depends on one source: the internet

Having lived in Italy before, I was very well aware that my expectations of the internet were not the same as an Italians, and that the reality of a bad connection could easily open the door to potentially disastrous results. If I could not work, I would risk upsetting my employers and loosing a significant portion of income only to end up back home at square one. It was a situational red flag that had “stop!” written all over it.

After months of mental debates and endless considerations, I found myself in Rome one beautiful Monday morning, riding the Leonardo da Vinci express into the city center. With the time difference, I knew I would be able to get to my apartment, unpack, shower and rest before “heading” to work (my long three-foot journey to my desk).

Before laying down to ease my jet lag, I popped open my laptop and briefly tested the connection. All seemed well on the digital front, and so I happily dozed off. I had no idea what was awaiting me.

Some hours later, I lazily rolled out of bed, shuffled over to the simple wooden desk, opened my laptop and waited for the magic of the internet to transfer me at the speed of light across the ocean, linking me to my company.

Nothing.

Taking a deep breath, I remained calm. Having travelled and used the internet from different locations in the past, I knew that it could sometimes take a few tries to establish a connection. But an hour later, still staring at a blank screen, I felt like my entire world was sinking around me.

With the clock ticking, I knew that I could no longer cross my fingers and hope for the best of the web, and so I crossed the hall to my landlord’s flat and rang the shrill buzzer. Explaining to her in broken Italian my life and death situation, she kindly took an interest and attempted to help. Unfortunately, nothing could be done. She suggested that I wait a few hours and perhaps her son could be of more assistance when he returned home.

A public phone in Rome much like the one I used that night

Grabbing my purse and coat, I headed out to find a “Tabacchi” (a little Italian shop where you can buy lottery tickets, cigarettes, etc.). For five euros I was handed an international calling card, which I promptly carried to the very first pay phone I could find. As my luck would have it, I ended up standing on the busy corner of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the road that leads to the Coliseum, engaged in a semi-tearful phone call to my family back home. (Standing on a street corner looking distraught while holding the glaring red receiver of a public phone to your head is probably not the most pleasant way to kickstart a journey.)

With the promise of prayers from the states, I said goodbye to the familiar voice, buried my hands deep in my coat pockets and wandered aimlessly through the darkening streets. Falling away from the beaten path, I came across the large, looming facade of a church, it’s doors still hanging wide open. Feeling like this was something of an invitation, I crossed the narrow street and wandered into the mysterious space.

It was dark, dimly lit and I was all alone, sheltered by the 500-year-old arms of a building that had seen many more souls desperate than mine. I stared forlornly at the flicking candles that whispered prayers to ancient saints, and gazed in sadness at the painted icon above the altar. Step by slow step I made my way down the aisle, passing rows of abandoned pews, until I could walk no more and simply sank down on one of the narrow wooden benches.

Santa Maria dei Monti in Rome, the church that welcomed me that first night

That was when I began to silently talk. To God. In the private corners of my mind I whispered my concerns, and the more I spoke the more distraught I became. Sheltered by the privacy of the semi-darkness, the only eyes to gaze upon me the centuries old statues and paintings of holy men and women, a need began to take over me. It was a need so deep I had not even realized how strong and powerful it was, for it had never emerged in such a way. When the container holding it finally cracked, I was overwhelmed at what poured out.

Sometimes we do not realize just how much we truly want something until the recognition that it could be lost is most tangibly felt. That is how it was for me, and in those moments the tears that poured forth were of an intensity that I had never known while sitting in a church. I even stopped caring if anyone saw me or what they would think. I simply could not and did not want to stop the force of longing from breaking through the suddenly frail container of my humanity.

I talked, prayed and cried until people filed in, lights went up, mass was said, people filed out, and the lights went down again. I sat until only the loving eyes of the ancient statues and paintings remained to gaze tenderly upon me. Only then did I leave.

Santa Maria dei Monti, much brighter when pictured on a sunny day

Hoping that somehow the echoes of my being splitting in two by the force of desire had been heard, I stepped out into the cool night air and made my way back along the busy road. Turning down the little quiet medieval street, I hurried to my flat where with my landlord and her son we tried every option we could think of until we were all exhausted from so much effort and so few results. Perhaps the force of desire had not split loudly enough as I had hoped.

Pinned to a wall and with no other options, the next evening I found myself at a local internet cafe. Wired in and uncomfortably seated in a hard metal chair, flourescent green walls screaming at me from every angle, I logged on and went to work. Later that night, I sleepily wandered down the little medieval street to my flat, climbed the 7 flights, and lay across my bed staring at the darkened ceiling. I talked to God a lot during that time.

Some friends back home had suggested that the problem was just temporary, and that perhaps the internet would resume functioning again. I put a little hope into this suggestion, but it did not take me long to recognize the true source of the problem.

Staying in the flat next to mine, and renting from the same landlord, was a group of young girls who were studying abroad. As the days passed, I quickly began to notice that when they went out in the morning, the internet suddenly came alive. I could surf for hours and utilize all my programs without a glitch. But the moment I heard their door unlock and the sounds of furniture moving on the other side of the wall, I came to recognize that within 10 minutes or less the internet would disappear for the entire night. All night. Into the early hours of the morning. My problem was not the internet, but bandwith-sapping neighbors who were using the internet for some unknown but clearly intense purposes.

To my dismay, I learned that they were scheduled to remain there for many months and so I finally knew I had no choice. The internet would never be reliable as long as they were “sharing” (hogging?) it. I had to either find another flat in Rome, or quickly purchase a plane ticket back home.

Deciding that after all my trials option B was the most desirable choice, I began contacting prospective apartment owners zealously. I parked myself on my sofa for days (during the hours the girls were away), sending e-mail replies to every internet add, signing up with every apartment finder service, and clogging my account with reply after reply in the negative. “Sorry, we do not have internet.” “We have internet – want to go in debt to live here?” “We are connected, but nothing is available for another 3 months. Your request is too last-minute.” “We have a nice place with a great connection and it is available – if you take a train for 45 minutes outside of Rome and walk another twenty you can come see it.” It seemed hopeless, and time was ticking.

In those questionable hours of my life, I kept returning in my mind to the church I had sat in on the first night. In the little chapel of my thoughts, I spoke at length with God about everything I felt and feared. I threw all of my trust into His hands, telling Him time and time again that I was certain He would not abandon me. I threw my faith into overdrive and dwelt on one thought alone; that I trusted in Him.

But time was growing too long, and I had to make a radical decision. Either move somewhere far on the outskirts, go broke living in a place beyond my means (but stay in Rome, where I truly longed to be), or purchase a ticket home. Spun into a world of uncertainty, I was amazed when I came home Sunday evening and found a little blue paper that my landlord had slid under my door.

Picking it up, my eyes widened as I read the letters inked upon the unlined page, “the girls are moving out.”

I stood there, still weighed down by my bags and coat, half out of breath from the seven flight climb, and just starred in what could only be understood as joy and shock all rolled into one. In my hand I was holding a little piece of paper with words that would literally save my Roman dreams. My gratitude was enormous, and all that echoed inside my head were the two words “thank you” over and over. The force of desire and longing that had split my heart so powerfully that first night, and all the prayers after it, had somehow been heard.

A few days later, the girls did indeed relocate to another flat in Rome. And that evening I happily shuffled to work in pink flip-flops, turned on my computer, and peacefully went to work. It was as if nothing had ever happened.

Yet something had happened. I had not only discovered the force of my desire to be in Rome, which I had never truly known until the moment I realized it cold be taken away from me, but I had also been given a glimpse into the power of faith. While I will never know what would have happened if I had not poured out my heart to God in those moments, and turned to him in my little trust, I do know what happened when I did.

Travel showed me a side of my own heart that I had not known and the kindness of God to my simple human desires. And chapter one of my life as a digital nomad abroad ended with a challenge presented, and a priceless lesson learned.

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It was a perfect night to be back in Rome. Cool, moonlit, and still February – i.e.  few foreign travellers. Rome at its most authentic. Perfecto!

After a long day that had commenced at 6 am sharp, and included a delightful but challenging trip to the medieval hill town of Todi (the small train service to Todi had stopped connecting to my layover train station for one day only, and so I unexpectedly had to rely on my little Italian to find an alternate route), I could not help but smile as the train rolled in to Termini station in Rome.

Popping my i-Pod earphones into my ears, I zipped up my coat and was out the train door in no time. Maneuvering around the first-timers and the crowds of travellers, I knew exactly where to head and it felt good. Like being home again.

Stepping out onto the Piazza dei Cinquecento, the large, busy piazza in front of Rome’s bustling Termini station, I dodged busses, gypsies, nuns, and a wide variety of visitors and locals. Saturday night in Rome – a great time for re-exploring a favorite city!

I literally bounced with enthusiasm down Via Nazionale, with all its traffic and evening shoppers, to the little meandering streets. Lost in my own casual world I made the rounds to some of the classic top sights. Politely excusing myself from the advances of cute Italians who can smell an American from a mile away, I tossed a coin in the gushing Trevi fountain, illuminated by the dazzling glow of  blue-green lights (I have myself convinced I must do this every time I even pass by the Trevi fountain and somehow I keep coming back to Rome!), admired some very good street art, and continued on my way to the Pantheon.

The hustle and bustle in Rome on a Saturday night in winter is perfect. Crowded enough to be interesting, but not too crowded to be frustrating. The voices around you are generally soft and Italian, so you feel more like one of the locals. No shrill tourists distracting you from the ambience. Just perfect, and I was enjoying every moment.

As I entered the square where the Pantheon has proudly stood for millenia, I could hear the sounds of a talented Opera singer softly drifting across the piazza from a distance. Under the moonlight, I curiously circled the fountain in the center of the square and came upon a rather large group of people gathered in a semi-circle, applauding the talent of a young Italian Opera singer.

My interest piqued, I slowly made my way through the crowd. Like a scene in a movie, the unknown faces drifted past, one by one. The center of their attention, the young Italian, was making adjustments to a small CD player that was connected to a speaker system. Was he really singing, I wondered? What I had heard from a distance seemed extremely good.

Satisfied with his CD player, he gently set  it down, stepped back, stood tall and proud, and expectantly waited with all of us as the music began to fill the square once more. To hear such beautiful tones of violins, persuasively drawing towards a full orchestra of sound was, without a doubt, a very pleasant surprise on an evening stroll.

Finding a good position in the front of the crowd, I watched as he extended his arms and music began to flow from his lips. This was definitely real and he was not improvising. And he was good, very good!

After all, for good entertainment in Rome you could easily pay more than would leave you smiling, but here was the option to enjoy completely free, quality entertainment with a legendary backdrop.

Standing under the stars, the warmly glowing Pantheon directly behind him, encircled by a crowd of admirers, and gesturing with Operatic fervor, this was definitely a moment to be thankful for.

He sang famous numbers, such as “Nessun Dorma,” earning the eager applause of those around him. Families took pictures, couples lingered, it was an enchanting moment under the magical Roman nite sky.

After his performance, the people flocked to him for CD’s, to shake his hand, share opinions, etc. I waited with the masses until I could obtain his card.

And he was as sweet as could be. When I spoke to him, he was so polite and turned down the music that had continued playing in the background to listen to my request. He obligingly rummaged for a card and I walked away with a new delightful memory of another Saturday night in Rome. (And yes, I did tip him! 😉

Next time you are going to be in Rome, send Antonio Nicolosi an e-mail at antoniocantante@yahoo.it and see if he has any plans to be performing on one of the many piazzas at night. If so, you will be one of the blessed few to enjoy a warm performance against a spectacular backdrop for nothing more than the tips you may wish to contribute. And tell him Alexandra sent you 😉

He also does events for parties and ceremonies, so if you are planning a special get together or even a wedding you may want to be in touch.

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Bonjourno!

A lot has changed in the years since I first created this blog, and I have to admit that my poor blog has suffered greatly. (“Terribly sorry love – spot of tea?”)

I began the blog in the summer of 2007, before I moved to London, England to work on my second advanced degree at the University of London. At the time I thought that my blog’s focus would be on the inherent dignity of women, a subject which is very important to me and which I am sure will come up throughout this blog.

However, life got busy – and after graduation I worked at a museum for awhile before moving to New York City. I then thought that now I would have time to write – after all, I was in New York! The city that never sleeps! And certainly, after a long day, I would have the time to sit down and blog! After all, I did not need sleep! Who did? (Muffles long yawn.) This was Ne…w….Y…o…..r……k…….. (I am going to wake up with keyboard impressions on my face, aren’t I?)

Ok, so granted that did not exactly work out…

After living and working in Manhattan for a time, I decided to move back to the beach and just relax on the seashore for awhile – which I did. And as wonderful as it was to wake up every morning to ocean views and stunning sunrises, there just really is not that much to say about sitting on the ocean day after day.

“Day 275 – still on ocean – still beautiful. There goes a crab! Haven’t seen one of those in a while! Maybe I will go for a walk – if I ever get up off this lounge chair. Really should get something to eat….” Not exactly the essence of a great blog!

That was when Italy fever began to kick back in.

In the fall I came to Rome to “test drive” a flat that I had found online over the summer. And it worked great! It is a rather small flat in a 500 year old building, down a quiet medieval street (queit and medieval in noisy, Baroque Rome – thank you, thank you, thank you!) on the very top floor, with a huge terrace right outside my door. (And the tiniest washing machine I have ever seen! I mean tiny – remember Sylvanian Families? I think they donated this…)

The landlord was fabulous – a retired school teacher who lives on the other side of the top floor (7th floor – no elevatar – all winding marble steps with romantic candle-imitation lights on each floor). Her son lives in the unit above me (ok, so there is one more floor – but not really. His is a “fire escape” attic flat – out to the porch, then up some rickety iron stairs.)

Through my windows, I could look out over the rooftops (and church tops) and when the wind blew, try to pretend that the clanking shutters in a unit that forgot to secure their windows is really a romantic and authentic sound of the real Italia (a little delusion never hurts!).

Back home on the ocean, I was grateful to have all of my American ammenities back, but by the New Year I was restless as always. After being proposed to, and then entering into a long debate on the possible joys of marriage, I shook the rocks in my head out, went to see the movie “The Tourist” twice, became obsessed, and e-mailed the real estate agent in Rome who had helped me first find the flat back in the summer. “I am ready!” was my battle cry on the pleasantly stagnant seashore of my life. (I think I scared a crab.)

What is it that always calls me back? Despite all the great ammenities that I loose, the thrill of adventure and living in new places always pulls me on. But not any adventure – the story book kind. The kind with great challenges and trials, and thrilling rewards. The kind with windows into other places, times, and most of all, ways of viewing life.

These journeys are what I wanted to find. I have found them before, here and there, but now I want to set out to find them full force. This is what I was born to do.

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