Happy Stupid Birthday to Me

I had big plans: my birthday was the first Friday in Rome, and there was no class and no other orientation obligations of any sort. So what if an 8am class was scheduled for Saturday? My grand plan looked something like this: go into Rome for a morning run with one of my guy friends (who’s a part of the running club back at school), freshen up back at campus, then head out to take Rome by storm.

Remember what I said about flexibility…first, a scavenger hunt was reschedule to Friday afternoon because of weather. I quote myself: “I’m not doing some stupid scavenger hunt on my stupid birthday.” Then, class was rescheduled to Friday morning.

Okay, cool. Guess I’ll just go into Rome, convince people to hang out with me instead of scavenging, and stay in the city later. Nope. The Roman transportation workers go on strike every once in a while, just to remind everyone what would happen if they aren’t paid or whatever. And they decided Friday, January 25, was the day to do just that.

So, great. At least school was providing transportation in and out of the city for the scavenger hunt. My team was easily persuaded to go off and not scavenge; I tried gelato and saw St. Peter’s with my glasses. I did the whole look at the ground until you get to the middle, which was fantastic. St. Peter’s in detail. For my birthday. What.

St. Peter's: Please note the glasses.

St. Peter’s: Please note the glasses.

We explored some more churches along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, including Santa Maria in Vallicella, Sant’ Andrea della Valle, and Il Gesu.

Barocci's The Visitation. My art history professor is cited on the Wikipedia page for Barocci, and I saw her exhibit on the altar piece painter at the St. Louis Art Museum over winter break, where my Barocci obsession was ignited.

Barocci’s The Visitation. My art history professor is cited on the Wikipedia page for Barocci, and I saw her exhibit on the altar piece painter at the St. Louis Art Museum over winter break, where my Barocci obsession was ignited.

Basilica di Sant' Andrea delle Valle has my favorite altar pieces so far, depicting the martyrdom of the apostle Andrew. He's being crucified on the left, his death is the center, and on the right he is being taken down. Expect to see a lot of altar pieces here...it just blows my mind how someone can paint something in a space so big.

Basilica di Sant’ Andrea delle Valle has my favorite altar pieces so far, depicting the martyrdom of the apostle Andrew. He’s being crucified on the left, his death is the center, and on the right he is being taken down. Expect to see a lot of altar pieces here…it just blows my mind how someone can paint something in a space so big.

A beautiful image of our Lady I found in Sant' Andrea della Valle, called "Madonna della Purità." It's a copy of another painting that can be found in Naples.

A beautiful image of our Lady I found in Sant’ Andrea della Valle, called “Madonna della Purità.” It’s a copy of another painting that can be found in Naples.

The ceiling of Il Gesu is so detailed they have a mirror so you can study it better. It was pretty dark, so I'm planning on coming back during the day.

The ceiling of Il Gesu is so detailed they have a mirror so you can study it better. It was pretty dark, so I’m planning on coming back during the day.

I did get to go on the first run of the semester, too, early in the morning before class. The run up the hill was awful. My stomach was complaining (probably all the celebratory brie cheese from the night before), and the road was not built for pedestrians: no shoulder, no sidewalk, and uneven ground. It ended up being more of a walk. On the way back down, though, the sun streamed over our shoulders, lighting up the valley below. The running felt like flying instead.

I love how much light matters. I’ve seen the Colosseum and St. Peter’s by both day and night, and that got me thinking about how other sights change depending on the lighting. I can’t wait to start studying paintings in art history, how the masters play with light, and to see Il Gesu by day,  and the Trevi Fountain by night.

I ended the day with an Italian beer, sitting in the lounge of the dorm. It was a little stupid, but mostly good. Most things are, I guess. The day, not the beer. The beer was all good.

The First Few Days

It’s been over a week since I packed up my bags, following the most meticulously made (mmm, alliteration) packing list I’ve ever created and hopped a flight to Rome. The packing list paid off: I was ten pounds under on my checked bag. Running every day leading up to the flight paid off: my restless legs didn’t show up. Normal legs all the way. Even the best laid plans, however, have a funny habit of falling through, and that has been the number one lesson of the first few days: flexibility. Perhaps not one of the virtues named by Aristotle, but a virtue nevertheless.

Ten pounds under, baby!

Ten pounds under, baby!

The first 24 hours went without a hitch. I slept through most of the flight, my slumber only being punctuated by short periods of wakefulness which only lasted long enough to see someone really liked Liam Neeson; every single movie featured him. Jet lag didn’t hit all that hard, and I spent the first day in Rome alert and excited. I say “in Rome”, but the campus is technically ten some-odd miles south of the city of Rome. We tell taxi cabs “Due Santi”, meaning “Two Saints” because there’s this well dating back to the time of the apostles on campus in the vineyard. The story goes that Saints Peter and Paul met here on their respective ways into Rome. The well is this large mouth interrupting the rows of grapevines, and reminds me of the treasure cave in Aladdin. Y’know, with the tiger opening his mouth and to get to Robin Williams, Aladdin just strolls right in?

The location has its pros and cons. Pros: the peacefulness of a more rural campus, amazing vistas from the vantage point of my room. Cons: We arrived on Saturday morning. I didn’t get into Rome itself until Sunday morning.

View from my dorm window

View from my dorm window

The wait was worth it. Sunday morning broke early and chilly and rainy, and we were up before the sun was up to get breakfast and bus into the city for mass at St. Peter’s. Unfortunately, this is where we get to the best laid plans fall through part. The early morning departure meant I didn’t have the presence of mind to remember my glasses, and I experienced a slightly blurred first impression of St. Peter’s that, while being impressive, awe-inspiring, and all the rest, was still slightly disappointing.

St. Peter's in the morning

St. Peter’s in the morning

Then we were led on our first walking tour. We stood outside the Pantheon, but couldn’t get inside because of mass. Also, this group of men dressed in military-style clothing was jumping about outside the entrance, playing a variety of instruments. Someone said it was a procession, some people said protest, so I’m still not sure. If it was a protest, it was a very happy sounding protest. Trevi Fountain was more impressive than I was expecting, especially considering the sheer number of fountains you see on in a traipse about Rome lasting a few hours. For the Romans, it was a sign of power to show their ability to waste water, so they built lots of fountains. Because of time constraints, we couldn’t throw our coins over our shoulders. The Roman Forum was my favorite part, because our tour guide, a priest living and teaching in Rome, told us all these stories about the different ruins.

Protestors? Procession? They just woke up and felt like playing in front of the Pantheon?

Protestors? Procession? They just woke up and felt like playing in front of the Pantheon?

A small part of the crazy Roman forum

A small part of the crazy Roman forum

So goes the first few days. I hope I never get used to this.

Rome Eve

As a Catholic, Eves are a big deal. Some feast days command so much importance they consume part of the previous day. As a kid, eves mean anticipation. It’s almost Christmas! It’s time to hold candles at the Easter Vigil! As myself, eves are the point at which everything that is about to happen starts to wash over me. I’m last-minute like that.

Papa

On Christmas Eve 2008, my grandfather, affectionately called “Papa” (that’s him above), passed away after a brief battle with cancer. Christmas Day, I made a very important decision regarding my vocation and the bigger picture of my life. I am convinced that Papa had something to do with it…he gained graces through his suffering, or he had a word with God on heaven’s doorstep, I don’t know.

Fast-forward to Rome Eve 2013, my great aunt passed away. Great aunt Kate, if you’re reading this, please have a word with God. I’m not making any huge decisions tomorrow, but I am embarking upon something I know must be desperately important, and I don’t want to miss anything. I want all these events, people, places, adventures, & misadventures about to take place to take a hold of me and possess me with all their truths.

I recently finished reading John Green’s Paper Towns, and I still haven’t had time to process it, but what kept ringing through my head was this thought: Please don’t let this not change me. This is too important a thing to just be consumed; it demands that I grapple with it. So it goes with Rome. Now I have this image of myself in a boxing ring, under the spotlight, circling the center, eyes locked with a three dimensional Italy.

Please keep my Great Aunt Kate & my family in your prayers. Me too, seeing as I’ll be spending some time flying over a rather vast body of water.

Edit: I say tomorrow, but I am writing this so late that it’s already The Big Day.

A Letter of Intent

I, Maria Buckner, am embarking upon my first international adventure in a week. When I say study abroad, people ask the courtesy question of where? and I say, Rome, and I gush about how excited I am, and then I make some vague claim that I will try to keep in touch.

This is where the magic, I hope, will happen. In order to soak up the world, and squeeze every last drop out of my semester in Rome as I can, I need to write, and this is where I will do a majority of it. So, welcome, welcome to all newcomers to Climb Ev’ry Mountain. I’ve been here since April of 2012, off and on, quietly, anonymously soaking in the world.

Now, as you can see from the first line, I have gone public. And my intention is to post once a week. I followed a lot of the blogs of classmates who went last semester, and posting was sparse. Understandably so, seeing as the University of Dallas Rome program does not have time or room for fluff. My schedule involves 15 credit hours, a volunteering gig tutoring Italian schoolchildren in English, and a work-study job. Other priorities include running/hiking/walking/generally moving, deepening my interior life & growing in my faith, and being a good friend. Actually climbing a mountain over there might be cool, too. But this blog isn’t fluff, and hopefully my roommate & fellow blogger, Allie Sue Goes Abroad, will help hold each other somewhat accountable.