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Thinking about Thinking in Rome: part four

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.

AAR dinner

AAR dinner

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.

a street café outside the Pantheon

a street café outside the Pantheon

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.

Filed under: Education, Travel

3 Responses to “Thinking about Thinking in Rome: part four”

  • avatar
    eric fulford Says:

    LINDA, LINDA, LINDA………thanks for sharing your recent experience in Rome. You may have forgotten but Ann, my son and I spent an incredible year at the AAR in Rome. Would love to share some thots related to the stated goal of your project. Hopefully we’ll talk later, but I will leave you with a quote from my presentation to the AAR Board.
    “With these words comes the recognition that I will no longer be in Rome. It will be a little like losing a part of myself, but it also will be about finding myself with a new voice, a new expression, astounded by the beauty witnessed. In the end, I imagine it will not only be the monuments to man or church, or the grand piazzas, or the marble or bronze statues that will endure, but also the richness of the earth that has sustained such vanities for so long, still producing in its fertile fields and hillsides, grapes, olives, fruits and vegetables in a purposeful beauty that enthralls.” ERIC FULFORD

  • avatar
    Linda Says:

    I do remember that you went to the AAR, Eric, but don’t believe we ever got a chance to discuss. The quote from your presentation is right-on. A sense of the beauty and fertility of the earth was ever-present with me during my time there – and it’s interesting to consider multiple cultural and situational reasons why that sense was heightened. I wrote a kind of diary entry on this after my first week in Rome:

    5 October, 2009
    I’ve been thinking about how my body feels, and how it is to be in this environment. I’m not sure if it is the radically different diet – organic, seasonal, local to Rome, hugely varied with small amounts of dozens of foods each day – but something has changed in the way my insides relate to the outside world. I feel as though my body energetically interacts with the environment, as though I am engaged in an on-going physical and biological conversation with this place. In truth it feels a little overwhelming! I was used to experiencing my body as more-or-less a constant entity, and the food I eat as fuel that maintains that constant state. Lately I feel less constant and life feels a bit more intense. Inside and outside, myself and this place: these don’t seem to have such defined boundaries. Ah, Roma!

    Thanks for sharing your reflection, Eric.

  • avatar
    Eric Fulford Says:

    Ah Roma….We feel it’s presence,perhaps less intensely,in the smallest expressions of our everyday life and work. Yet when I spoke of experiences similar to yours when recently interviewed by Landscape Architecture Magazine about the Rome Prize I got the distinct impression of a lack of interest, which was later reflected in their article. Though our experience was uncommon, a family living in the city, shopping for food everyday establishing relationships with our local street market vendors, bakers, sweet shops, it was what defined our year.

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