Imperial Empericism

by Berck

Nothing new and terribly exciting is happening, at least not compared to the last letter. I’m doing my best to enjoy myself here and learn what I can.

I’m in Rome this afternoon because Professor Gish was giving a talk about Imperial Rome, its architecture, and so on. It wasn’t really a talk, more of a tour, but of places we’d already been. We were supposed to meet him at 3pm at the Colloseo metro stop, only I was running late because I was talking to the dean of the Rome program, Dr. Ambler, about a certain really frustrating Theology professor, so I got there at about 3:15. I managed to guess his route, and caught up with them at the Fora Imperiali. There were about 20 of us that decided to go (UD Romers don’t seem too thrilled about optional lectures in general) and along the way some guy with long curly hair just sort of started tagging along. Professor Gish handed him handouts as well, and he seemed thoroughly engrossed in what he had to say. Thinking about it, a university professor makes an excellent tour guide. Turns out the guy that joined us is an electrical engineer from Boulder Colorado. Lucky for him, he got a good tour. Even had intelligent questions to ask at the end, which is more than I can say for certain members of the UD group.

It’s 7pm, so I guess I won’t make it back in time for dinner at 7.30… Good, because I’m in the mood for some good food. There was a Chinese place with a menu outside that said �15.000 for a full meal, and a decent menu. It’s been a long time since I’ve had any Chinese…

A couple of days ago I was talking to Jon Bird while he was painting on some Shakespeare characters that he’s doing sort of mural style underneath the theatre in a little passageway between the Capp Bar and the dorm lounge. I asked him if he’d teach me to paint some day, and somehow I’ve gotten stuck with painting Cordelia from King Lear. (I haven’t read King Lear yet, but will in a couple of weeks.) He’s sketched all the characters quite roughly with charcoal, and I was fascinated with the way Bird had drawn a really deep expression on Cordelia’s face with just a few strokes of charcoal. So now I get to paint it. It’s all being done in greyscale which is appropriate for its location. Also makes it easier for me, since colors scare me. At first I refused to help him on the grounds that I liked her too much and didn’t want to mess her up. He promised I wouldn’t, and taught me how to paint her face. In just a little over four hours, I found myself looking at a face with real depth. that I’D given depth. Something VERY fascinating. Her lips weren’t really drawn, and I more or less did them myself. Bird remarked that they were some of the most kissable lips he’d ever seen. Yay! I’ve done her hair too, and that took forever. I think I painted it 3 times before I got it even close. Good thing about paint that I’d never really realized is that you can’t really mess up, you can always paint over it. I’m currently fighting with her clothes, which I can’t seem to make look ANYTHING like clothes. Oh well. I’ve got the rest of the semester….. It’s been a cool experience, I never thought painting was something I’d ever be able to do. I still don’t think I could without serious guidance, but its fun while it lasts.

The semester is really moving along. We’ve moved into Christian architecture in Art, finally gotten out of Greece in Western Civ, have gone absolutely nowhere in Theology, doing Augustine’s confessions in Philosophy (Augustine is frustrating), and are still doing endless Greek tragedies in “Roman and Greek Tragedy and Comedy”. After I thought it couldn’t get more tragic than Oedipus the King, we read Oedipus at Collonus and then Antigone for next class. Sophocles is amazing and wretched. Next comes the Bachae and Lysistrata–our first comedy. We’re supposed to get to Shakespeare eventually.

The Greece trip. Next Wednesday we pile into buses and head for Greece. (I’m assuming the buses don’t float, despite Marcello’s skill and that we’ll hop onto a boat sooner or later…)

On a less happy tone, I present the following series of events…

Dr. Crider, our literature professor, maintains that the theme behind our course work this semester is that we’re limited, we suffer, and we die. Nah, not depressing at all. In class on Friday, he was discussing Aristotle’s Poetics, specifically what the word Tragedy means in an Aristotilian sense. As in illustration, he mentioned a story about driving to the train station on the Via Appia Nuova, which is (and always has been) one of the major roads into Rome. He claims that the International Tribune called the Via Appia the most dangerous road in Europe. One out of every four collisions are fatal. This, I think, is more a testament to Italian driving than anything about the road itself. The road is straight, four lanes wide for the most part, and fast. I’ve never noticed anything particularly dangerous about it, especially compared to some really harry roads in the states. The Italians, it seems, don’t get into collisions very often, but when they do, there isn’t much left. They all drive little boxes here, (every time I see a Miata, I’m amazed at how big it looks here), and drive them very rapidly. Dr. Crider said he saw a wreck on the Appia that was particularly bad, and judging by the size of the cars left on the side of the road, not much left the wreck alive. This, he said, is shocking, but not tragic. Similarly, he said, if one of us were to step off the curb on the Appia and get hit by a car and paralyzed for life it wouldn’t be tragic, not in the Aristotelean sense.

Friday afternoon I left with about 35 other guys to go on a “silent retreat”. This is apparently a common thing UDers do, they all get together and go off somewhere, don’t talk for a weekend and pray and listen to religious lectures and go to mass and so on. I wasn’t going to go, but Joe Weinpel talked me into it, promising good food and lots of sleep, and said he wouldn’t make me pay for it. It was relaxing, but the place was run by a bunch of nuns who, as Deacon Bill said, “Aren’t German, but they act like it.” That and we got to ask all sorts of fun questions at the end that the Catholics frequently couldn’t answer. It was worth going for the decent food anyway.

On Friday evening, they told us that two UD girls were crossing the Appia, and somehow didn’t see a motorcycle that was traveling very fast and hit them. One of them only had some cuts and bruises and was released from the hospital with a few stitches. The other is still in the Hospital, her 5th and 6th Vertebrae are fractured. They’ve got one of those fun halos on her and have her in traction, her parents have flown up from the states. They said she doesn’t have any spinal cord damage and the risk of paralysis is almost nonexistent. Coincidentally, another student’s father is a neurosurgeon and happened to be in town visiting and has been helping advise her and her parents. Italian medical care isn’t exactly the best, we hear. Latest is that instead of letting the doctor here operate on her, they’re going to put her in some sort of halo jacket and ship her back to the states for further evaluation and may or may not operate on her there. Needless to say, it had been rather glum about campus of late, but everyone seems to be getting over it. It seems to be a better realization of our own mortality than I think even Dr. Crider could have recognized, Aristotelean tragedy or not.

I hate to end a letter talking about such things, but I’m running out of things to talk about and my stomach is growling. I’ve got a midterm on Friday for Western Civ that’s going to kill me, and then a paper on Augustine’s confessions due on Monday. Tuesday is a day of festivities of some sort with Greek olympics and other things before we leave for Greece on Wednesday.

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