Archive for the ‘Eric in Rome’ Category

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Eric: Excerpt from Italian Media assignment

April 14, 2011

Here is a typical weekly essay that I have been writing for Italian Media. This one happened to turn out pretty good, so I hope you enjoy:

QUESTION: How has Silvio Berlusconi used his media model to create the same pop culture that now sustains him?

Silvio Berlusconi is what Italians love about Italy, but are ashamed to admit.  Italian history, at least the interesting bits, is consumed by conflict.  Fame, fortune, sex, glamour, mystery, extravagance, and controversy are things that have fueled the Italian political opera since the Romans, therefore Silvio is simply playing the role he was assigned.  So, when I attempt to understand how Silvio remains in office despite his shortcomings, I remember why I like Shakespeare or why I like the Romans.

Sure Silvio brought smut to the 21st century here in Italy, sure he has figured out ways to become untouchable, but this is what Italy needs.  Italians are a people who like to live a life that is stable, but spicy, and this is what Silvio does.  Silvio is a tabloid hero, and he gives people something to talk about.  Newspapers, water cooler conversations, the democratic opposition would become insipid without Berlusconi, and I think Italians all know this.  Sure, if you own the news you can influence people’s opinions, but there comes a limit.  I do not feel that people are being brainwashed by a neo form of yellow journalism, but simply succumbing to the carnal thirst for conflict.

I feel that Berlusconi’s media model that promotes himself as one who is a lively, likable, and unbecoming of a politician is something that has kept him riding the wave of power for so long.  Italians honor their history, they are proud of it and in a way wish to embody it.  Romans in particular have this connection to their past and it is through this connection that Berlusconi is allowed to get away with his behaviors.  Every great politician in the ancient times, from what we know, was a narcissistic, sexually explorative, and corrupt.  We do not come to Rome to see the works of great humanitarians, but we come to Rome to see the works of great emperors and gladiators.  Humans are obsessed and accepting of a culture that is not outright evil, Nazi’s, but not exactly perfect either.

Life can be much simpler than we live it, but is a simple life even worth living?  If Italy had a leader who fixed all of its problems I feel that Italy would lose its charm.  There is something appealing about the unpredictability that life in Italy awards its residents.  This sence of unpredictability is what remains constant in Italian pop culture, and this is what Berlusconi based his media empire upon.  Berlusconi created a name for himself in the entertainment industry by allowing people the option to watch shows that amused, captivated, and angered any and all viewers.  What he offered to viewers was something that they could not refuse: excitement.

Although Silvio may do some questionable things, he has the power to do them, and to do them well.  Silvio gives us a reason to turn on the news, or open a paper.  What Silvio gives us is pop culture.  Silvio offers liberals a scapegoat, and conservatives a work horse.  Silvio serves as role model and bad example, in unison.  What Berlusconi has done is rejuvenate the poetic tragedy that begs one to pay attention.

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Eric: Classes and Profs at Accent in Rome

March 14, 2011

So I was finally able to speak to my mom over Google calling, which was completely free and functioned very well despite cutting out every once in a while. She requested that I talk about my professors here in Rome and go in depth on the nature of my scholastic experience.  I agree and cannot believe that I have neglected to write about this very important part of the journey.  So here it goes.

I am enrolled in four courses and an internship.  I am taking a marketing course, made in Italy, a course on sustainability, Italy a case for sustainability, a communications course, Italian media, and last but certainly not least an Italian language course. All of my classes are in the same room, which is a smaller classroom and features a white board, a LCD projector, a laptop, a space heater, 15 desks, and a window that overlooks the atrium.  The school is housed in a building that was built in the 15th century and was intended to be used by the Vatican.  The building is old, but feels light and fresh.  The administration part of Accent is housed in a different part of the building down the hall from the UofM classroom building.

The plaza that our school is in is piazza l’orologio which houses a church that has a wonderful clock that faces a clearing that is cobbled over and a common meeting area for students.

My teachers are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met.  All of my professors are fluent in several languages and teach at the center part time. I will begin discussing my Profs in order that I meet with them through the week.

First there is Fabianna who is a typical Italian working professional.  She is beautiful, stylish, intelligent and kind.  She frequents class with thousand dollar purses, fantastic scarves and footwear.  She has tan olive skin and wears tasteful makeup.  Her full time job is for Salvatore Ferigamo as a marketing liaison for the US markets.  She has worked in the United States in Florida, New York, and California.  Fabianna also has extremely important and noteworthy personal connections such as Luis Vuitton, executives in Prada, Gucci and I am sure many other important luxury brands that do business in Italy that she has not mentioned.  Her class is as interesting as she is.  She also invites her friends to come give guest lectures about doing business in Italy and reinforce the “Made in Italy” reputation.  There are no tests, and no official homework or essays.  The grade will be completely based upon a final project in which the class was split into pairs to complete.  The projects is to create a product idea and develop a business plan in which the groundwork for launching the brand in a US market with limited startup capital is available to synthesize a common situation that new Italian brands a faces with.  The project will be graded on originality, innovation, presentation, timeliness and respect for the 50,000 euro budget.  In the project detail there is talk of a “lucky winner” which I am thinking might be an opportunity to turn the business plan into a business reality which would be incredible.  I am partnered with a friend and likeminded student and have developed a plan that we think is likely to be successful, in which case we are determined to win and hopefully be aided in turning our dreams into reality which could change my life drastically.

My Italian professor is a man of the world who speaks English, Italian, French, Spanish and Arabic.  He is full of energy and absolutely hilarious. I cannot say enough nice things about this man! The class size is small with only six of us in the classroom so there is no way to blend in and not be persuaded to learn the language.  In addition to our classroom practice we have gone to the coffee shop near our school. Bar Amore¸ and a fruit and vegetable market in Campo Di Fiori.  At the coffee shop we were treated to a coffee as long as we ordered in Italian which was really fun, albeit something that I do on a daily basis.  At the fruit market we were given the task of asking vendors how much ten items cost per kilo in Italian.  In order to accomplish this feat we needed to use our salutations, knowledge of different fruits and veggies, numbers and any other niceties that were thrown to us.  Read the rest of this entry ?

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Eric: Salve!

March 6, 2011

So I have been sort of lazy recently and fallen into a routine here in Rome, but finally with a couple days worth of rest I am back and have some catching up do.  So I suppose I can start where I left off.  So Marley and I went to our interview and got the job!  Alessandro is our immediate boss and contact, and he is incredible!  He is only 29, but has accomplished quite a bit in his lifetime.  He studied law and practiced business law for a while until he came to the conclusion that as a lawyer you have to be, uh, devoid of morals to put it politely.  So he and his best friends Mateo and Antonio decided to open up a magazine that is geared toward English speaking tourists, students and expats.  The magazine is meant to highlight lesser known parts of the city, and help people unravel the tight knit roman “underground” social events.

Marley and I so far have spent most of our time developing a survey with Alessandro in order to gather information on the development and improvement of the magazine as well as demographic information to be used in ad space sales.  We work for three hours on Mondays and Thursdays at the Romeing office on the Northern edge of the city, but we have fun and get into lively discussions about people, music, and life.  In addition to discussing the survey we were given the opportunity to write a restaurant overview that will be featured in the March issue.  We were treated to dinner at Antica Taverna, a classic Italian restaurant near our school, and had to write a short blurb about the food and ambiance of the location.

Our group also did a weekend trip to Barcelona, Spain which was fun, but sort of set me back in my Italian studies.  The trip was sort of a blur because we only had half Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and half of Sunday to see Barcelona.  Thursday when we got off the plane it was raining and cold and it stayed that way the whole day.  We went for a walking tour in the rain which was interesting, but the weather prevented us from being fully engaged when we had our introduction to the city.  On the first day we saw some of Gaudi’s best works and went for a tapas dinner after the tour at around nine which was pretty incredible!  Some of the highlight dishes were the seared potatoes with aioli and the calamari. Before the dinner we had a guest speaker from the Cataluña separatist movement. He gave us an overview of the political situation in Barcelona which is exceptionally complicated even if the turmoil is undetectable to the casual tourist.  The feud between Catalonians and Spanish is a delicate issue involving a historical tradition of racism against the Catalan people who retain a culture of their own despite being technically speaking Spanish.  The feud is ultimately about finances and language.  The Spanish is apparently taxing the economically advantaged Catalan region in order to subsidize other regions in which the local economies are not as developed.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Eric: Excerpt from reflection essay

February 8, 2011

So I have not really been out and about all the much recently due to my studies occupying much of my time, but I feel that this essay would be appropriate to include here in my blog.  The essay is a reflection paper in which the assignment is to relate a song to your experiences.  The song that I chose is an amazing instrumental piece by Rodrigo Y Gabriella called “Tamacun.” Here’s a link to the Youtube page where you can listen to the song if you want to read the entry while you listen to it.

“This song is fast pace and melodic.  The two guitarists play Spanish style scales at break neck speed in perfect harmony.  Gabriella plays rhythm while Rodrigo plucks the melody.  When I listen to this song I feel as I am a water droplet coursing through the Tiber River on my way to the sea.  The pace of Rome also pulses in harmony while retaining a calming quality through laughter and warmth.  Children play with confetti in preparation for Carnival as loving parents look on in admiration of a life they created.  Scooters, cars, busses and cyclists vie for position on the many streets as pedestrians navigate them with cautious confidence.  The song is instrumental devoid of lyrics, but it is able to convey a message that is felt rather than said.  I am not an experienced Italian speaker therefore most of my interactions with the Roman residence have been non verbal.  Although I have not been able to convey my message concisely though an exchange of dialogue I am able to hint at my meaning though gesture.   At times it can be frustrating to be unable to say what I feel and ask for things that I need, but this frustration motivates me to push my limits in order to quickly learn a new language and culture.  I have only been in the country for a few weeks now but with the help of my host family and the friends I have met through the program I feel that I am adapting well to the escalating pace of my life in a land that I am not native to.  I find myself wondering how I am viewed by the locals that I meet and am forced to interact with.  It is easy to feel ostracized due to the fact that I am unable to fully understand the conversations I overhear, but I try to remind myself that this is natural and to relax while enjoying my experiences for what they are.  The song “Tamacun” is a reminder to me that there are no short cuts in life.  I understand that if Rodrigo and Gabriella got frustrated while they were learning to play the guita  and simply gave up, the beautiful piece of music I am relating my experiences to would not exist.  With practice comes perfection, and I am determined to take this semester in stride in order to grow slowly and without frustration.”

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Eric: Primo giorno Febbraio

February 1, 2011
So I have been living in Rome for twelve days now, and I am starting to fall into a routine. Shower, bus, class, coffee, class, bus, home, dinner, homework, sleep.

During a meal with the family we were discussing sites in Rome and Valentino, my host dad, mentioned that he sometimes feels like a tourist in Rome because he rarely visits, or even pays much attention to the wondrous sites that surround him.  I am finding myself already falling into a pattern of daily life, and I need to break this before it becomes habitual. I am studying in Rome not just to add the experience to a resume, but to experience a city that lives eternally.

There are two things that are keeping me from experiencing Rome to its fullest at the moment. One, I am having some allergy issues with my eyes that are irritating my vision and two, I am having to work on my Italian studies heavily which is easier when done in the silence of my room. I am planning on going to the pharmacy to buy some allergy medicine, but have been hesitating due to my unfamiliarity with the Italian language. Catch-22.
I do not have much time to write now, but it has been a few days since I posted, so I figured I should post a quick update. Last weekend I attended the side trips to Orvieto and Bomarzo. Both cities are north of Rome and significantly colder. In Orvieto the main attraction is a Piazza Duomo, a fantastic cathedral built upon a Medievil hill town. The other is Bomarzo, the main attraction is a park that is filled with faux Aztec-ish statues. The English name for the park is “monster park” and it was quite fun to walk around snapping photos of us with these iconic statues.

I have an interview with Romeing magazine tomorrow for an internship that would put me inside a small magazine geared towards American visitors in Rome. The magazine has a wide distribution and a small staff so if I am selected it would be a great learning experience. Off to bed, got to rest these sore eyes of mine for tomorrow.

Ciao al tutti!!
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Eric: primo giorno di lezione

January 24, 2011

Yesterday, the group met for breakfast and then trekked off to the Trastevere Sunday flea market. For as far as the eye can see down a backstreet that flows southwest of the Tiber were tents and people crowded shoulder to shoulder in-between them. The attitude was relaxed and chaotic all at the same time with thousands of people browsing imitation designer clothes, shoes, boots and everything else that could possibly be replicated and sold at bottom barrel prices. The smell of pork wafted through the alley and beckoned for you to come get a Chicare sandwich.

There were several shops selling kitchenware, and I kept my eyes open searching them all for a thermos to replace the one that broke. Spatulas, spoons, Tupperware, espresso makers, colanders etc. but no Thermos. At the point in which I was about to give up I saw one gleaming like an obelisk from underneath a small stand of assorted goods. Excited, I bee-lined for it and gave it a look. It was time to barter. I asked how much to the Chinese woman behind the table, but I could not understand her response. I countered whatever she said with an initial bid of 6 euro, she looked to her right and caught glances with her husband and my offer was denied with a counter offer of 8 euro. I attempted to offer 7, but I could tell that she was not in the mood to haggle on the item so I paid the 8.

Later, we all decided to head off to a pizza place that my host family had recommended. Although we had a map on the back of the business card we were lost in piazza so cossimato. Skateboarders shooting a part rolled around skating the benches, concrete embankments and rails scattered infront of renaissance cathedrals. I spotted a fellow American and asked if he might know where this place was, but he seemed unsure and as we all tried to orient our current location to map I caught the name of the restaurant staring back at me from a non-descript window in front of us. Lunch was awesome!  We shared two bottles of wine, two bottles of water and each had their own 10″ thin crust pizza for 10 euro.

Later that evening we went to a Pub named Scholars where every American student seemed to have crowded into in order to watch the Green Bay Packers beat the Bears. The oak walls seemed to flex as we maxed out the place with cheering Wisconsin co-eds reconnecting with a culture that they had exchanged for a more reserved nothing in excess except laughs type of people.

So anyway…back to this morning!

I opened my eyes to cerulean blue light peeking through my blinds reminding me it is morning again in the Eternal city.  Pushing off the cover I rolled out of bed eager to have another espresso and some breakfast pastry. Like clockwork, as I opened my bedroom door to exit into the hallway, Valentino entered the apartment with a silver thermos of coffee. As delighted as I was to see the coffee I came to the realization that they already had the exact same thermos that I had purchased from the Trastevere Sunday market to replace the one I had accidentally broken. I figured it was the thought that counted, and I handed the thermos I had purchased to him who promptly refused. Valentino understood my intentions and brought the vessel down to Marina. As I set down to coffee and screwed off the lid of the thermos I realized that the one that I had given to Marina as a replacement was a fake of the one that she already had.

As I hit the pavement I was met with a sunny brisk Roman morning. We took the 870 to Poana which drops off a few blocks from the center. Today was the first day of class, which started with Made in Italy taught by a brilliant woman who is fluent in three languages and has lived on three continents. The class seems extremely engaging and we may even score some free passes to a fashion show that features an all-star class of Italian fashion designers unleashing next seasons garments later this spring. After another quick coffee break it was time for my first Italian course. Our teacher Mario is fantastic! I do not think that I have laughed so hard in my life when we were paired up and attempted to work on our pronunciation. Mario kept an open ear to our conversations and butted in to offer suggestions and crack the occasional pun which had all of in smiles for the hour. Following class me and Mike did the Caesar shuffle back to his apartment in the Monte Esquilino district of town to get his money to pay for our side excursions and so he could grab his running gear so we could go for an evening jog in the Villa Panfili park.

I was able to put my iPod into my back pocket, crank up the internal speaker and hit the trails with Mike.  The trail starts out by entering a non-descript gateway covered in graffiti.  The true magic of the park lies about 3/4 mile up the 20% grade hill that rises above Rome onto a hilltop crested by decaying fountains, beheaded statues, and a pristine villa with immaculate hedge garden.

After working up a sweat, we decided it was time for an apertivo and headed off in search of a café near by.  We eventually found a spot that seemed worth entering where we were served peanuts, chips, and a glass of Chianti apiece.  As we sipped our wine and talked about life my phone rang, and it was Marina. Tempo per la cena!!  Not looking to upset our hosts we rushed back to the homestay just in time to be served oriacceli with broccoli for first course along with a sparkling red wine that is popular in this region. Second course was sautéed beef served with insilata.  The meal was rounded out with a shot of grappa and sugar cookies.

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Eric: Roma, day 3

January 22, 2011

Sooo I set my alarm last night for this morning at 7 o’clock to make sure I had plenty of time to get ready to hop on the bus at 8, but I did not set the time on my phone correctly!  My house mate instead woke me up at 8. My host dad had already brought up the espresso, and I slammed two quick shots and decided I would be nice and rinse out the thermos, but I did not realize that it was lined with fragile glass!  needless to say the instant I added cold tap water to the thermos the thing exploded. Great! I hoped to just leave some Euro underneath the broken thermos and run to the bus stop, but Valentino came to the door before we left and wanted to get more information from me and Brian in order to fill out his paperwork for hosting us.

The morning was dreary with light showers and stayed overcast most of the day. Considering we would have been really late for school if we had taken the bus Valentino drove us to school in his Focus. I was sort of looking forward to riding the bus again, but it was a really nice gesture and we got to school right on time.

When everyone arrived at the ACCENT center we headed off to Emporium alla Pace, which is a cute little coffee bar a block or so from the center. There were newspapers all around and a book shelf with several Italian cookbooks. The clientele was comprised by single ladies attempting to enjoy a peaceful morning, but we packed the place to the brim with our group of 20. From the bar we walked through some side streets and loaded into taxi’s aimed at the Villa Borghese. As the Taxi zipped through the city a blur of designer shops, restaurants, fountains, sculptures and Ferraris shone through the windows of the quick little Puegot.

The Villa Borghese is beyond words. We were given what was similar to a phone that you were able to punch numbers into the digital pad and synch up different rooms and particular pieces of art in order to get an exciting description and meaning behind each work of art. We were able to roam free and explore and get intimate with Bernini’s finest works which were simply amazing. Micro mosaics, incredible frescoes, oil paintings oh my! I am going to return and spend all day there. From the Villa we walked the grounds to the Spanish steps which overlook the chic district where every designer has a only buyers welcome type of shop.  After doing some window ogling of the seasons fashions we split for lunch.

Me and a few of the fellow students found a little gem on a corner named, Café terra forno which is owned and operated by a father-son team. The make excellent espresso, fantastic sandwiches, hearty salads and aperativo. I personally had an espresso to start, followed by a pancetta and mozzarella penino and a aperativo made with orange juice with gran marnier and schnapps.

After lunch we met up with our guide who teaches a class on modernism. She is a fashionable five foot powerhouse of Rome. We went to check out the Hotel Art, a chic boutique hotel and a store called Tad which sold all things high end. I was not really impressed with the hotel or the shop, but they are both very popular in the city. From there we strolled to a few more destinations and ended up at Santa Maria church. The church has been remolded and a chic bar is perched above and overlooking a fresco by Rafael. We all had a glass of wine and enjoyed some friendly banter before heading off to enjoy a five course meal at a restaurant. The program paid for our meals which would have been around 50 per person not including wine. After dinner everyone retreated back to their houses to get some rest after another full day of sightseeing.

I went back to the ACCENT center with Steven to get an extra cell phone that he had to use for the trip. I am able to receive international calls for free (caller pays), but international sms texts cost 50 cents each and Int calling can be quite expensive. Phone cards are available, but I think that I am going to rely on SMS, email and Skype for the duration of the trip.

When I left ACCENT I took my first bus alone, at night, in the rain. It was a short walk to a busy bus stop servicing an endless parade of busses scurrying off to different destinations. I had never taken the 870, but I was able to print out a route plan at the center and it got me home quickly with a great view on the way of illuminated Rome at night from a hill on the west bank of the Tiber.

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