Progress?

Most people view growing up as some kind of linear curve where your experiences build upon each other and as such you steadily develop and progress. People forget this development and progression is rooted in context and only when you truly have a goal in mind can you begin to measure and assess this fluid idea of progress. One of the best books I've stumbled through this year is called Essentialism which explores these ideas.


Particularly in these last 7 months I've felt I've made a little progress in several small areas. My italian has improved, I play lacrosse at a competitive level, I've lived more independently than ever before, I've been able to get to know and understand this great city of Rome and I have new appreciation for art and more generally the role of the arts in the world. Despite the above, I feel it pales in comparison to what could be achieved with a clearer goal and direction.

I think my threshold for having a worthy purpose is too high that it can inhibit any kind of action at all. It's reminiscent of Sylvia Plath's haunting novel 'The Bell Jar' where Esther describes a vision of her being caught in a crook of a fig tree unable to choose mutually exclusive journey to take.

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” 

While caught up in the relative structure of university, choice and direction are trammelled and so choices right now are less polarised. On one level, existential questioning is essential otherwise you will be purely a reflection of your environment with no sense of autonomy. Leaning too far the other way harms the prospects of a life rooted in reality. I value proactiveness, initiative and creativity and would want these to firmly accompany any period of thought and reflection.

It's been a couple of months since I last posted on here and in that time I've been fortunate to explore some new parts of Italy and Rome. A little trip to the region of Veneto surpassed expectations and I can see myself returning to Lake Garda many times in the future. Tivoli is one of the most spectacular day trips from Rome with the beautiful Villa D'este, Villa Adriana and the waterfalls at Villa Gregoriana. There's still a couple of things I need to see particularly palazzo valentini and villa Borghese.


Since illness in January and February, I've recovered greatly during March and April and I've appreciated many of my friends coming out to visit during this time. Reflecting back on priorities, maintaining strong relationships with friends is something I always want to prioritise wherever I am in the world and I've enjoyed hosting many people in my little studio flat/

The UK election last week clogged up a lot of my news feed recently and politics is something I like to read about but would hesitantly openly discuss. One of the best articles spawned out of post election mayhem was actually found on The Tab by this years University Challenge hero Ted Loveday. It's natural for people to find difficulty in empathising with an opposing view when each side whips up hyperbole about each other's 'destructive' plans. Despite that difficulty, empathy is essential and tones of self-righteousness are not helpful, particularly in a political sphere

I have just over 6 weeks to go and both exams for uni and the Italian Cup finals for lacrosse are looming large.

A dopo, TJP

Elsewhere:
A piece about my time in Pisco for a friends website
A little review for The Italian Insider
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Cycling, Pizza and Orvieto

In the past three months there were fleeting great moments that I will look back on, immortalised on a polaroid or remembered through the stories of people I have shared my life with here. I was ill for most of January and February, making it hard to write on here or really do anything creative. There were days where I felt like I was getting better before quickly regressing again. 

Last Sunday I traveled to Orvieto with a close friend from home; it is beautiful little village set on a rock cliff looking out over the stretching planes of Umbria. There's a long circular path in the countryside surrounding the village. Walking along this path provided a rare moment of peace that I'm not able to get in the meandering mayhem of Rome. It reminded me of the Camino and I'm thinking of returning to Spain around Easter in a few weeks.

One of the people I meet for Italian tandem said that there is an atmosphere in Rome that is unlike any city in the world and I'd have to agree. It's not been an easy time here but Rome can surprise you with its intrigue and hidden places of beauty. Galleria Colonna is one of the most spectacular palazzos I've seen. Green spaces are rarely found in the centre but the ones that do exist are worth visiting, in particular the gardens of Villa Medici and the open panoramic view from Giardino degli Aranci. 




Having friends visit is a welcome prod to find new places as well as show off the collection of hidden regulars that I go to every week. My list, all within 4 minutes of my flat/pantheon include: 'ciao checca' for a tasty, simple Italian lunch in a vibrant modern setting, 'Fandango Incontro' - a quiet cafe hidden in a little piazza accessed through an innocuous bookshop, Lindt for gelato - guiltily commercial but genuinely the best, 'Caffe Doria' - for a solid afternoon cake choice and 'Alice' - the best Pizza al taglio in Rome.

I watched the lengthy documentary of the National Gallery yesterday and it was a spectacular insight into a place of incredible inspiration and beauty. It was interesting to see how they remove the barriers to entry to their work, whether that be providing interactive seminars for blind people or engaging storytelling for the younger audience. Empathy was encouraged and this allows a subjective appreciation or emotional impact for everybody whether you have a scholastic background in art or not. 




After 6 months of living here I'm starting to appreciate and enjoy the Italian way of cinema which is very different to most of the UK. I have been to 7 of the small cinemas dotted around the centro storico. Most are independently owned and usually have only one or two screens. My current favourite is the Alcazar in Trastevere, its one screen is draped top to bottom in a deep rouge. I watched Whiplash there, brilliant film, brilliant setting.

It's strange how a few little things added together can have a big impact on how you view the world and how you feel. I spent a few days in Hamburg in February and there's this viewpoint that looks like a vast, smokey Isengard alla Lord of the Rings. Just sitting there with a couple of friends from Edinburgh was simply quite life affirming. Spending time with good friends in a strange, interesting place reminiscing on tales from the previous years. Similarly, a few of my friends and I cycled down the Appian Way a couple of weeks ago. The combination of good company, beautiful scenery and great weather made everything seem a little more vibrant and alive.

A dopo, TJP



Update

It's been over a month since I published anything here, I have several unfinished drafts in my dashboard but never quite managed to complete any of them; Probably because they weren't unanimously positive and I maybe haven't got my head around describing something negative unless in a more abstract or nuanced way.

I wrote something for the university paper - The Student - that was a general recap of the last few months and I'm now back in the rolling green countryside of Chester, a world away from the jostling heart of Rome. There's a beautiful walk on the sandstone trail from Beeston Castle to The Pheasant Inn that we went on Sunday afternoon. It was the shortest day of the year so despite our relatively early start the sun was disappearing as we approached the car on the way back.

Beeston - Cheshire
I've lived in Rome for 15 weeks now and I think I only started to finally feel comfortable in my surroundings at the start of December. It has been a long slog till then. I read a quote yesterday that said "The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality" it came from a brilliant Ted talk which is the best I have seen on the subject. I felt sapped of a lot of energy in October/November which makes being proactive particularly difficult. I started reading again in earnest a few weeks ago making up for a slack couple of months with an eclectic selection of modern day fiction 'Any Human Heart' by William Boyd, business/productivity book 'Essentialism', sports strategy focussed 'Pep Confidential' and I've just started 'Brideshead Revisited' by Waugh.

The cinemas in Rome usually churn out one or two hollywood based films a week which is a welcome addition to puerile Italian comedies but is still lacking strong British dramas which they have in abundance in Edinburgh. I can't imagine a city in the world that has a stronger selection of film to Edinburgh. The triangle of Filmhouse, Cameo and Cineworld means just about everything is on show. The Imitation Game lived up to expectations, sad but incredibly inspiring at the same time.

There are some small signs of hope that I might be able to pass university this year. I've started to do several tandems throughout the week which have been a big help and I have a few allies in my various classes. One of my local friends pointed out the senate library which was hidden in a piazza 30 seconds from my flat. To the right of this is my favourite church in Rome - Basilica Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Unlike the majority of churches which have a range of frescoes littering the ceiling, Sopra Minerva has a midnight blue ceiling covered in stars. There was a Christmas service here last week, the church was lit up with hundreds of candles, the choir filled the building with Italian hymns and as you looked up it reflected the night sky outside.

Christmas in Chester, New Year in Edinburgh and back to Rome in early January.

TJP

View of the Vatican

Interstellar

I watched Interstellar last week, a film that takes you away for 3 hours on a journey that combines the epic with the intimate. It's easily one of my favourite films I've seen all year, it leaves you with a raw, invasive feeling of the vast world we live in. It had rained while I was in the cinema as I walked out into the Roman streets at 1am, the cobbles were glistening with the orange glow of the street lamps.

Rome is great to walk around, you have a labyrinth of winding, tiny streets all cramped up in the centre. Enclosed footbridges crossing the street above you, ostentatious sculptures, innocuous entrances leading to hidden, spectacular interiors. Piazza Venezia is more or less the centre of the city. At one end of the square you have the imposing Altare della Patria (Vittorio Emanuele Monument) and at the other Via Del Corso which dissects the city in two with a straight 2 km run all the way to Piazza del Popolo in the northern tip of ancient Rome. The west side of the Corso is where my little flat is, a short walk from the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo di Fiori.Through walking in and out of these winding streets for the past month, this ancient jigsaw is roughly in place while leaving enough room for daily discoveries.

Altare Della Patria - aka the bus stop for lacrosse
The cinema is a 8 minute zig zag north from my flat. I only recently found out that I had been walking past the prime ministers residence (Palazzo Chigi) and parliament which are both fairly indiscreet judging by Roman standards. My life and current world seemed very small on the walk back. The intensity and importance on screen contrasting with the casual comfort and drifting I seem to be doing right now. It was a reminder that life is best lived when chasing the things you are truly passionate about.

I mentioned the above to one of my friends here, about surviving/thriving. Maybe I put too much pressure on doing the latter when in many ways survival here is a big step and something that you would take a lot from, even if from your current perspective it seems like you are running just to stand still. She mentioned how being a tortoise and not a hare is what's needed here. Little steps, building a routine, keeping yourself busy with the daily things.

Lacrosse is one of the things that keeps me going here. Training 3 times a week with a group of 15-20 Italians. It's intense but worth the effort. We are travelling to Belgium in 2 weeks to play a team out there. Then in mid December we travel to Turin for the first game of the Italian Championship.

TJP
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Depth

There's this great Ben Howard song called Depth Over Distance, it has the lines:

"Depth over distance every time, my dear
And this tree of ours may grow tall in the woods
But it's the roots that will bind us here
To the ground"


"hold on, though we may be too young
to know the ride we're on".

You can apply the essence of this to a lot of life. I've chopped and changed my surroundings so many times and at each place you have to start from scratch, trying to build some kind of home and community. Something that stretches beyond a routine and into a way of life that you feel nourishes you and builds you up.

From my experience, community is a rare thing. To find a place where people move beyond being a collection of individuals and into somewhere with a kind of shared, selfless purpose. I've been lucky to find it at PSF and in some of the churches I've attended over the years. It can also be found in more transient environments such as the Camino. The sad thing it is missing from a lot of the world.

When I next get pedantically get asked what I want to do after university with my degree in Philosophy and Italian, I'm tempted to reply to simply base myself in a rewarding community somewhere. The obvious drawback to this is that it would encourage stereotypes and would either entail silence or further irritating questions. It's much easier and socially acceptable to say you want to move to London and work in the city. For a lot of people those answers are mutually exclusive, I don't think they necessarily are if you have a less simplistic view of the world.

I had a good chat this weekend with a New Zealander who spent 5 years living in Amsterdam with his family. We bonded over our shared belief and experience of English being far less proficient than people and the media make it out to be. This is particularly the case in Western Europe where the vast majority of people have mastered surface knowledge language skills and promptly progressed no further. The kind that happily points a tourist in the direction of the Pantheon or enough to survive basic greeting formalities.

True communication stretches far beyond this, particularly if you are staying somewhere long term and not just a weekend visit. You want to be able to share thoughts and opinions in depth. While my Italian skills are working to fill that void in ability, in the short term it can feel a little daunting and alienating not to be able to fully communicate. Not to stretch beyond surface level.

Language even in this day of dictionaries and wikipedia is often so nuanced and subjective. Words don't translate and correspond directly. More than anything, words are often merely trying to describe and paint a picture of something that powerfully exists as a separate tangible thing. When we use words to describe our feelings how can we truly explain what is happening inside our brain. Language is also just a component of community, there are other factors that play important roles too, but it also seems the easiest one I can try and fix.

I'm looking forward to a little trip to London this Friday.

A dopo.
TJP

Roma


Elsewhere:

  • What 3 words is a fun website. You can find my bedroom using 'scoring enforced climate'. Given the breadth of possibility in the English language, I'm fairly happy with my allocation.
  • I mentioned him at the beginning, but Ben Howards new album is incredible. I listened to it start to finish 3 times this weekend. Check it out.
  • I'm in Italy only for a year. This article helps to explain why the novelty of pizza, gelato and old buildings can wear thin for Italians who have their long term future here.
  • Finally, this video will make you want to go to Canada:

Bella Ponza

One of my closest friends came out to stay for 8 days, we went on a little trip to the island of Ponza. In Beautiful Ruins it used a metaphor which went along the lines of people's lives being like walking on your own winding path. Occasionally you find yourself walking with other people but it comes and goes. With Jonnie it was great for us to just click back again, to pick up from where we dropped off in the summer.




We both can be quite deep and intense with what we do, we require a subtle harmony in our lives for us to function on top form. It was great to mutually help prepare for our respective next steps and to return to our adopted new reality's with a renewed sense of focus. 

The few days in Ponza were some of the best I had all year; freedom to explore and experience a different world without any requirements or pressure. Jonnie arrived late Monday evening, with no previous plans and a meagre 30 minute Google search we made our way to the train station early on Tuesday. We picked out Ponza as Google maps made it look intriguing, plus we had never heard of it before which made it consistent with the spontaneous way we wanted the trip to be. After a successful airbnb search on the train and quick wrong detour to a neighbouring port, which was no longer sending out boats, we arrived at the port of Formio and hopped on a little ship heading out across the med.



We set out at late afternoon and caught a spectacular early evening sunset. I missed this view, of being surrounded by water as the sky briefly explodes into colour before descending into the darkness. When I worked in Greece, the staff used to occasionally go sailing after work. You could almost entirely justify living there for this spectacular 45 minutes of sailing, basking in the fading orange glow of the sun.

It was dark when we landed and with only some hazy instructions on my phone from the airbnb host we headed towards the lights on the hill looking over the harbour. The solitary police car on the island spotted our unusual shorts and flip flop appearance and duly questioned our presence. Apparently they personally know everyone on the island so were easy to spot. One of the guys saw that I was from Chester and couldn't hold back his enthusiasm that he too had been there only a few weeks ago. Italian police had a traditional moody appearance to uphold so the uniform clad italian struggled to quickly regain his stern composure.




We wandered to the harbour in the morning and saw a desk with a piece of paper and various images of speed boats for hire. After a quick phone call and the arrival of the daughter of the family business we had our vehicle for the day. I mentioned the golden rule of living in Italy when I first moved here, the combination of one section of society blocking your progress at every opportunity and then the other side with a complete disregard to following the rules. This was one of the beautiful examples of the latter, to let two 21 year old English boys have full control of 140HP speedboat without having to hand over a single document or any kind of money. They had Jonnie's address but compared to the vast amount of health and safety requirements in the UK we couldn't help but think it was too easy to be true.



We spent 6 hours on the boat and did a full circuit of the island. The weather was still great but the combination of it being October and mid week meant that we were practically alone at sea. We spend so much of our lives ticking boxes, even on our moments away from work we put so many obligations on ourselves. Being out there just motoring along was such a freeing, fun time. We had an anchor at the front so we pitched up at an empty beach and swam ashore. The island mostly comprised of dusty cliffs, the occasional intriguing cave and some expansive sandy beaches that were only accessible by boat.



I had some uni things to get back to so it was only a brief visit. Rome fluctuates between being impossible and incredible. I have moved again, I'm now found in a beautiful little studio in the historic centre. Hopefully I will be here for a long term and can make it more of a home as opposed to the last flat which felt like I was merely stopping by.

A dopo.
TJP



Little Adventures

I survived almost a month without wifi in my apartment which is a record that I don't want to break any time soon. People have asked how the experience has compared to previous expectations but I was so focussed on uni and then work that I never really allowed myself to dwell on it. The only real expectation was that it would probably be a volatile but in the end a rewarding adventure. This has been pretty accurate so far with some great moments but also days of frustration when everything in Rome seems to be against you.

Four weeks is enough to feel attached to a place, I have had one of my old friends from Edinburgh staying the last few days and showing him around felt like him a little place on earth that I am familiar with. Rome is best seen on foot, my flat is on the edge of Monti and within minutes you are approaching piazza venezia and the heart of the city.

Marino
I joined the Roma Leones Lacrosse Club a few weeks ago and the routine and Italian interaction from that make going to training one of the highlights of the week. Italians train hard, 2 hours of non-stop work in full lacrosse kit in the evening humidity. Training is usually 3 times a week and that combined with 2/3 gym sessions my lethargic summer in the office is already a distant memory. The Leones play in the Italian league so I will hopefully get to go to some of the away games in cities across Italy in the coming months.

3 weeks ago I made a brief spontaneous trip to Edinburgh. It seems I'm always relearning the lesson of getting perspective, removing myself from one environment to refresh and regain a sense of clarity. It was great to jump into an environment of easy company and familiarity. Rome can sometimes feel like a battle but a sense of routine is already forming and the various quirks of life are slowly being appreciated.

On Sunday multiple buses packed with Erasmus students went to the Festa Del Vino in the once quiet village of Marino. It juxtaposed a mass being played out on speaker to hooking up the fountains with wine and pumping free cups to the merry crowd. It was a fun day.

TJP

La Dolce Vita

Rule 1 of living in Italy: there is this constant, delicate juxtaposition between copious amounts of complicated red tape and then the Italians, who do everything in their power to avoid it.

As a result of this, life here in Rome is an unpredictable journey but one that is captivating and beautiful. As I'm living here and not merely passing through I have had to take a much different approach to travelling and actually try and build roots here; with that in mind I can happily report I have a phone/ matriculated at the university/ made a couple of friends and, as of Friday, found an apartment!


I will be living just next to Santa Maria Maggiore, it's by a metro station but also walkable to pretty much anywhere. Couchsurfing at Pembos is open to business, drop me a line if you want to come out. It was great to see some friends last week and I very much look forward to another impending visit from a friend in October.


Getting a flat fell into the latter part of Rule 1. They have this huge biweekly buy/sell newspaper called Portaportese. In the back they have thousands of little two lined advertisements for people renting rooms of apartments in Rome. I had mentally named Friday as 'Flat Day' and was determined to come away with something. I cold called in Italian about 12 of the numbers, got a couple of viewings and off I went on the bus to have a look. Within 15 minutes of walking into the first one on my list I had keys in my pocket and was free to move in that afternoon. Ideal.


Sorting university out was more the former part of Rule 1. I read before I came out that if you ever had a job to do in Italy, mentally prepare yourself for that task to take about half your day. It could be something  really simple such as going to the post office but you never know what obstacles will be thrown in your way. The main barrier for me is that different organisations are open in different parts of the city on different days at different times. If you thought UK standard Mon-Fri/9-5 business hours were commonplace around the world, think again. Thankfully I was reading The Obstacle is the Way at the same time which encouraged diligent, perseverance until everything got sorted.

I knew I was only the student at my new university from Edinburgh but the helper at the Erasmus office said he had only seen about 10 UK students come to Sapienza in the last 4 years. I'm suddenly very much the minority at Europe's largest university. I'm enjoying this new international atmosphere but maybe I underestimated how different it is from Edinburgh. The uniqueness has also been noted by my fellow Erasmus students with one German friend commenting how I remind her of Harry Potter, this seemed to me like a rather broad generalisation.


Aperitivos are one of the many social/cultural benefits of life in Rome. Last week most of the students from my Italian class descended on a local bar to enjoy what I hope to be a routine added meal time. Italians eat around 9 so this drink/food activity is designed to bridge the waiting time. Basically you typically order some strong alcoholic cocktail and then you get free food either brought to the table or an unlimited buffet by the bar.


The weather helps the above and also encourages exercise, I have particularly enjoyed cycling, skating and running along the tevere. Plans for next week include applying myself to Italian lessons, completing the move from trastevere to the centre and maybe the occasional little adventure.


TJP



_________________

Top quote I read today:

"The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn't live boldly enough, that they didn't invest enough heart, didn't love enough" 
Ted Hughes

Also, I'm going to be tracking progress on books soon. Click back later if you're keen to follow and have any recommendations!

The Big Move

Normality is a subjective thing which has the capability to shift and change. When you do one thing for a continued period of time your perspective on the enormity of potential that exists in our world starts to narrow. Leaping out of the comfortable environment that you settle into is the best way to regain that sense of exhilaration and opportunity. The university lifestyle, camino exploration and work routine were all consuming in their own unique way. I finished work in Edinburgh at 3pm on Thursday and at 1am Friday morning I was still in my suit wheeling a couple of big bags down the windy, cobbled streets of Trastevere. There were hundreds of revellers in the street and I enjoyed this obvious dichotomy between my old existence for the past 10 weeks and the new one that would confront me in the morning.

The basic brief is that I will be studying filosofia at Sapienza, Universita di Roma. My lectures will be in Italian and start in October. My language skills are currently a bit suspect, I don't really know anybody here (apart from the family of one of my good university friends) and I need to find a place to live. All of this provides a series of exciting challenges far beyond anything I have done before. 

I am a big fan of Ryan Holiday, he is proactive and thinks deeply; these are two things that people often don't blend together well. A few people I have met through life/travels have said they wish they could have a year of their life simply to read. While I think ideally you can combine a working existence with regular reading, it is very hard to do. I struggle as well, despite best 'post-camino' intentions I only managed to read about a book every 3 weeks while working over the summer. If I ever I had a year to read this would be it, so starting from today I will aim to finish 100 quality books before I return home next summer. I'm making this relatively public to add a degree of accountability. I want to do something like this too. I have no fixed genre or criteria except they have to be engaging. I have about 20 books waiting on my kindle but if you are reading this and have anything that you personally have found of value then drop me a line!

Anyway, it's day 1 and my first job is to head into central Rome get an Italian number...

A dopo,
TJP