Rome Journal

Andrew moves to Italy. Hilarity ensues.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

visa blues

I've always said that it's nice, every once in a while, to have your stereotypes confirmed; it makes you not feel like such an ass for having them.

In this case, the stereotypes are about consular officials and Italian bureaucrats. I tried to get my visa for Italy today: according to the Italian embassy website and the Centro, I needed a research visa. The reaction I got at the consulate, maybe not surprisingly, was lodged somewhere between disbelief and contempt: research visa? No such thing; you need a student visa, and I'm sure you don't have the right materials anyway.

Well, I did have the right materials (including a note from the Centro in Italian, which seemed to impress her a little). But she parried by refusing to accept them: too early! Come back in June.

Feh. Two hours out of my life...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


I've been reading Petrarch's Rerum Familiarum 6.2 as part of putting together the syllabus for an advanced Latin class. That's the famous letter in which he describes to his friend the days which they spent wandering through the city of Rome. Everything they saw, says Petrarch, reminded them of events in Roman history and letters: the palace of Evander, the death of Lucretia, the triumph and death of Caesar. Petrarch goes on for pages listing all these things, and concludes this section by asking his friend,

Sed quo pergo? possum ne tibi in hac parva papiro Romam designare? profecto, si possim, non oportet; nosti omnia, non quia Romanus civis, sed quia talium in primis rerum curiosissimus ab adolescentia fuisti. Qui enim hodie magis ignari rerum Romanarum sunt, quam Romani cives? Invitus dico: nusquam minus Roma cognoscitur quam Romae. Qua in re non ignorantiam solam fleo—quamquam quid ignorantia peius est? – sed virtutum fugam exiliumque multarum. Quis enim dubitare potest quin illico surrectura sit, si ceperit se Roma cognoscere? sed haec alterius temporis altera querela.

But where am I going here? Can I describe all of Rome in this short letter? Really, even if I could, it would be a bad idea; for you know everything, not because you're a Roman citizen, but because since your childhood, you've been so interested in the origins of such things. For who today are more ignorant of Roman matters, than Roman citizens? I hate to say it, but nowhere is Rome known less than at Rome. I'm not just sad about this sort of ignorance-- although what is worse than ignorance?-- but about the flight and exile of many virtues. For who can doubt that if Rome began to know itself, it would rise again on the spot? But that's a complaint for another time.

What I like about this quote, and why I find it useful, is the idea of Rome as a sort of virtual city. Petrarch and his friend are Roman citizens by virtue of their love of and interest in the city. It's that love that lets them summon up past events from their memory: first, on their walks around the city, and now as Petrarch writes this letter. He's able to do that, he says later, even now that mutata sunt omnia; locus abest, dies abiit, otium periit, pro facie tua mutas litteras aspicio, "everything has changed: the place is far off, the day has passed, our leisure has evaporated, and instead of your face I look on mute letters." Petrarch's Rome, in other words, is as much about memory, writing and friendship as it is a city of brick or marble.