I have the incredible privilege of spending four weeks at the American Academy in Rome as an Affiliate Fellow, representing the IMA. From time to time I hope to post some of my adventures and discoveries here. What a ride! (To read the rest of the posts in this series, click here.)
For me, life at the Academy settled into a rhythm that included some or all of these each day:
A morning jog in the amazing park of Villa Doria Pamphili;
Catching up on IMA-related business via email;
Audio-recording interviews for my project and conscientiously downloading these to more than one storage device;
Writing a crude attempt to outline ideas about thinking, language and sensory experience triggered by the interviews; and
Visits to the AAR library on deliberate quests, sometimes spiced up by fortuitous discoveries of books related to the ideas mentioned in the previous item.
The daily rhythm is regularly punctuated by the Academy mealtimes – gatherings of people who are deeply engaged in their own individual quests. These include not only the scholarly and artistic endeavors of the Fellows, Visiting Scholars and Visiting Artists, but also the quests of “Fellow Travellers,” the Academy’s term for companions of Fellows and Visitors who are sometimes partners caring for young children. The adventures and discoveries of these residents, very often artists and scholars themselves, are often ingeniously integrated with the rhythm of naps and school hours. So when all gather in the dining room, there seems to me to be a sense of adventure. The meals function not simply as social times, but also as super-colliders where ideas get knocked against one another, tested and potentially changed. I continue to be impressed by the way the quality and artistry, really, of the kitchen staff contributes to these gatherings. Each meal is obviously prepared with care and served with considerable generosity on the parts of both cooks and dining room staff. I sense that we residents all leave the dining room loved and fortified to return to our work and our various solitary explorations. This may sound over-blown, but the meals feel like good-natured and very informal blessings.
On weekends or when interviews are unlikely and meals are not served, long exploratory walks to historic sights are the things. Walking the streets of Rome on a Sunday is a delight, as my IMA colleague, Daniel Incandela, recently commented. Families, couples young and old, groups of friends: it’s good to just be outdoors, strolling or perhaps stopping for a gelato or an espresso.
This week my Academy routine was interrupted by a nasty cold or flu of some sort. I felt ill for several days, finally surrendering to complete bed rest for two full days. The prospect of walking down several flights of stairs (and back up) and of meeting people was too much in my weakened condition. I had to forego a scheduled Academy walk through some nearby ruins. The Italian language felt overwhelming. I was sick.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that sometimes illness is an opportunity, except in the sense that all experiences are opportunities. But perhaps it’s worth saying that there are moments when the opportunities of experience coincide with an openness or a readiness to take advantage of particular features of experience. What I’m trying to say is that I got sick and, yes, there was some discomfort involved (the fear that can flare up when it’s the middle of the night and you’re having trouble breathing and you’re alone, for example), but that it was not an entirely bad experience. As far as my intention to think about thinking, knowing, language, aesthetic experience, and the realm of the visual while at the Academy, the interlude of being sick, especially during that post-acute-misery time of weakness and recovery, provided some valuable time for reading, writing and sorting through perspectives.