As promised, here’s my weekly update. I will say: this week seemed to zoom by and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow we begin the last five days of the program. We’ve already started to feel sad!
It was hard to top our weekend in Naples – quite a challenge for me to think of something for Monday that would measure up. But I think I managed it: I arranged for the students to view a new NOVA documentary produced by some friends of mine – in fact, the idea for the documentary was cooked up at my house during a dinner party a few years ago – and then I brought in the film’s location manager and chief engineer to talk about what they had accomplished: building a life-sized replica in situ of one of the lifts that raised wild animals to the floor of the Colosseum. It was an incredible feat, really, from conceptualization, to working all the legal angles involved, to lifting the incredibly heavy machine into place with a huge crane, to releasing a live wolf onto the Colosseum floor. The students all seemed to enjoy the documentary and the Q and A with the people involved. And after lunch we got a VIP tour from the director of the Colosseum, Dr. Barbara Nazzarro. As the “key holder” of the site, she took our students on a very special tour of all the places off-limits to tourists, from the very top of the Colosseum to its subterranean depths. To me, anyway, there were two highlights. The first was walking out onto the main floor of the Colosseum (closed to the public) with the class, to the roar of jealousy from all the hot tourists in the galleries wondering how the heck we got to be out on the Colosseum floor. I found it pretty amazing — moving, even — to walk through the narrow entryway to emerge on the main floor; I thought of the many many thousands of gladiators and “criminals” who had walked the same path to stand at the mercy of wild beasts, expert fighters, and the baying crowds. The second highlight was entering the bottom level of the amphitheater (called the hypogeum) to meet the lift’s engineer standing in front of his creation, and having our students work together to turn the cogwheel to raise the lift toward the amphitheater floor! A unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience for our Brown Pre-College Program. They did a great job!
You’ve already read the students’ blogs, so I’ll add just a few of my own highlights:
- The curator of the American Academy in Rome’s museum collection got called away for a family emergency the night before our session, but the Director of the AAR herself, Kim Bowes, was kind enough to step in an run an amazing session. The students got to touch and hold 2,000-year-old objects, which I think really made the past come alive. Since the museum seminar room was so tiny, Kim and I divided the group into two, and while she led a mini-seminar in the museum, we got some strong men to open a manhole cover in the basement of the building to let us down a rickety iron ladder into a two-millennia-old aqueduct. I’d never been down there before, so it was as nifty to me as it was to them. They had a blast exploring! Plus it was a great respite from the 100 degree heat!
- The Pantheon is always magical. The students were quite in awe. Afterward we decided they could choose between gelato or iced espresso with whipped cream – a specialty of a café nearby. I apologize for having created any coffee addicts 🙂
- We left antiquity behind this week, moving into late antique, medieval, and baroque Rome. Students got to see lots of Caravaggio paintings, and Bernini sculptures, and had their first experience in Rome’s most beautiful churches.
- On Friday we spent most of the day at St. Peter’s basilica. Everyone climbed up the 531 steps of Michelangelo’s majestic dome for a splendid view over the city. Friday afternoon we went to Galleria Borghese for more baroque art and a silly kids’ train ride through the Villa Borghese park to save a long walk (legs tired after all those stairs!). And Friday night we were in the Vatican Museums where students marveled over their first viewing of the Sistine Chapel in a special night-time museum opening. Even with the train ride, we logged a pretty amazing nine miles of walking! Don’t worry about all that gelato, parents…your kids are now all athletes!
- Yesterday (Saturday) we took a road trip to one of my favorite places in Italy: the medieval pink and white city of Assisi. We visited the basilica where Saint Francis of Assisi is buried in a simple stone sarcophagus. I wanted students to experience Assisi after their exposure to the (perhaps overdone) splendor of the Renaissance Roman papacy – that helps to put Francis and his legendary preaching to the birds into context. We didn’t get to spend enough time in the old city, though, because I had arranged for us to have a feast of a lunch at one of my favorite secret spots: a thirteenth-century fortress in the Umbrian countryside, which is now a small hotel with a fabulous terrace restaurant. Everyone ate their fill of delicious Umbrian specialties until the skies grew dark and we saw the first drops of rain that we’ve seen for this entire trip. Didn’t stop the kids from jumping in the hotel pool or just lounging beneath the pines cooling off, though. They all sang loudly and lustily in the bus on the way home until they all dropped off to sleep happy and with bellies full.
On to Week Three!
Selfie with some of the crew on the kiddie train at Villa Borghese park: Peter Hoffman (trusty RA) on the left, Fidelia, Nouf, James, Evan, Ben’s hand (yes, he’s still wearing the splint), Hunter, and Alyssa.
What a whirlwind! On to Week Three!