Letters from Roma

Story by Natalie Smith
Photo Courtesy of Natalie Smith

I am standing at my regular “Wine Bar” tucked just around the corner of St Peter’s square, jockeying to place my order in choppy Italian “Cappuccino, per favore.” My feet are already killing me, but it is cheaper if you do not sit down and this is how the Italians do it. It is just a minute before my drink arrives on a saucer with a small spoon. I stand and drink it there at the bar, no more than three sips of the best coffee in your life. Then I scoop the delicious foam out like an American, but I do not care because it is the best part.

There are so many new cultural norms to pick up, but if you are willing to watch and listen, you can do it. We’ve been here since the third of October but it feels like much longer with all the new experiences packed into each day. Our very first day here consisted of a 5 a.m. wake-up, while we were still all suffering jet lag, an hour long bus ride, and a Papal Mass inside St. Peter’s. Our motivation to get up at o-dark-thirty was the promise of a cornetto (the best version of what we would call a croissant) or as the seminarians call it “sugar and air”. We were fortunate to have tickets and be able to sit on the aisle so we were literally within arm’s reach of Pope Francis as he walked by.

Every day yields new lessons and memories whether it is which stop not to get off of as we make our way to class at the Angelicum, or that there is an extra charge for putting tables together at a restaurant. I’m working on not tripping over the cobblestones and tiled streets and starting to zone out the constant and most annoying sirens in the world. (Their police actually sound like the bee-do bee-do noise that minions make) It is a trial by fire in the words of an Aquinas senior, Mary Carra, “I’ve never ridden a city bus before. Or train. Or tram. Or anything. And I’ve done it all in the past week.”

Each orange sunrise over the Piazza del Gianicolo brings a fresh day in the eternal city and each day is different. It can be overwhelming at times but in the wise words of Rome program advisor, Dr. Connell: “Semper incipit,” meaning always begin. When you manage to bring that spirit of beginning into your everyday life, wherever you might be, each moment is something treasured, something magical.

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