Today is the 4th of July but I'm going to start with Friday the 2nd, or Fulbright Day. The morning program was quite disappointing. It was at a fancy hotel and was a program for three different groups: 1) the Classics seminar people (us), 2) Italians who are going to study and/or teach in America and 3) the Contemporary Italian seminar people (a new program for American Italian teachers). I'd say we were an afterthought, because it was really for the contemporary seminar folk. However, we did get these cool little briefcases with our names on them, and some neat Fulbright gear (a pin, a pen, paper, lots of info) and our CHECKS (we had to pay for our travel and they reimbursed us in one lump sum of 1600 euro, about $1900). Then they had a bunch of speeches, in Italian, which I understood about 1/5 of. Then a coffee break with good Italian pastries. Well, during the break they had a bus for the Contemporary people so they could all go to the bank (it had to be a specific bank) and cash their checks, but there was no room for us. This was a bit annoying, and although they had lunch at 1:30, I decided to get myself to the bank because if not then, when? We all know there's no time in The Program. So I was walking around Rome with all that money in my purse, took myself out to a nice lunch and gelato near the Pantheon, and then came home and got ready for dinner. Dinner was an entirely different story. As I have said, it was at the Hotel Minerva, one of the swankiest hotels in Rome (it has 5 euro signs next to it in the guidebooks), which is right behind the Pantheon. The lobby was simply gorgeous, with a huge statue of Minerva and beautiful mosaic floors. The dinner was on the rooftop garden, with an amazing view of the Pantheon, as well as all of Rome and the sunset. Cocktail hour started at eight, with free-flowing prosecco (ITalian version of champagne) and hors d'oeuvres. Then we sat at our dinner places and there was a souvenir menu for all of us. We had a five-course meal and the waiters were really on top of things, the minute you emptied your glass, it was re-filled! We were there until almost midnight when they brought us home on a bus just for us Classics people. Fabulous! Yesterday we had an all-day field trip. We started at the Ponte di Nona, an ancient bridge, and we had to jump a fence to get in to see it better. That was fun (can you hear the sarcasm?) Then we went to the ancient site of Praeneste (modern-day Palestrina), a terraced town built into a hill starting around the 7th century BC. It had a spectacular shrine to the goddess Fortuna which has since been made into a museum, which was found by accident when a bomb hit the area in 1944. One amazing find was the Nile Mosaic, which was simply gorgeous. We all laid down on our backs on the floor of the museum to enjoy its beauty. It is one of the oldest large mosaics preserved from the ancient world, and it has marvelous scenes from Egypt, including several different animals from Egypt which are labelled in Greek letters. It was the most amazing mosaic I have ever seen, even better than the one of Alexander the Great that is in the national museum in Naples. The scenery from the museum/sanctuary was beautiful as well. We had lunch at a restaurant outside of town, and Myles and Justin even ate with us and ordered wine for everyone! It was a good time, and a nice bonding experience. We also went to a town called Gabii where the earliest known inscription in Italy was found, dating to 770 BC, but they think it's in Greek letters and no one is really sure what it says. But that brings up a whole other set of problems, like if it IS Greek, why was it found in Italy? Interestingly enough, the earliest Greek writing that they're a bit more sure of dates back to 725 BC and was also found in Italy. Makes you go hmmmmmm.... Maybe there's a dissertation lurking in there somewhere, just kidding!!! Then we ended the day at the Parco della Acquedotto, or Park of Aqueducts. This is an area just outside of the city where a lot of the aqueducts kind of met up to bring water into the city. We saw the above-ground section of the Aqua Claudia which is the one we were climbing in the other day (in the underground part). A bunch of us went to dinner in the neighborhood (I had pizza quattro formaggio that was yum!) and then into Rome to get good gelato at Giolitti's (they gave us bus passes for the month of July so the world is ours!!!). Today is the 4th and we have managed to organize an all-American BBQ here in the garden of the Centro. We even bought hamburgers and we are all quite excited (we haven't had beef since we got here!). Other than that, today I plan to do a lot of reading. This week's topic is Augustan Rome and that, as many of you know, is my favorite!!!
Happy 4th and ciao!!! Don't forget about me!!!