THOMAS KEATING ’13 | Entertainment Editor
Before I get into this column, I’d just like to say that the seven days I spent in Italy with choir were among the best of my life. Any complaints, gripes or sarcastic remarks should be taken with a grain of salt.
We set off at 12:25 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. The Friday before we left, classes seemed to go on forever. The thought of Italy was on everyone’s minds, the anticipation killing us all. Unfortunately, we still had to, you know, actually get there. That part consisted of ten hours on planes and eight more in layovers.
Just as Columbus sailed the Atlantic in 1492 on three Spanish ships, I crossed it in a German plane. And some exaggerations by some whinier kids revealed quite a few parallels. Like Columbus, we were in cramped conditions for extended periods of time, rife with disease and famine (i.e. economy class). We endured a long journey (a whole eight hours) to a mysterious land (Frankfort International Airport) full of strange people (Germans).
But seriously, the flights were probably the worst part of the trip. The five hour layover in Hamburg didn’t help much either, with 93 jet-lagged choir students laying on seats, tables and mostly floors in front of the gate. I Then, we got on another friggin’ plane so we could go to another friggin’ airport full of more friggin’ tourists so we could spend more friggin’ time waiting for our friggin’ luggage. In the 42 hours between Friday morning and Saturday night, I slept for one and a half hours.
Leaving the Rome airport was the most relieving feeling I have ever had. After nearly 20 hours of friggin’ bull-honkey, we were finally in Italy. We met our tour guides, Edie and Laura, and we were on our way.
After we arrived in Rome, we took a walking tour of an area containing many Roman landmarks. We saw the massive Trevi fountain, the beautiful Piazza Navona and the famous Spanish Steps. Rome is truly a beautiful and fantastic city. Before embarking on this walk, however, our guides emphasized that there were pickpockets “every single where.” This is a good time to talk about the Gypsies, the pickpockets in question.
Gypsies were a constant nuisance in Italy. They would often flash lights and throw things into the air to distract absent-minded tourists, hoping to score someone’s wallet. A group of 93 teenagers probably looked like easy prey to them, so they seemed to follow the choir everywhere we went. At one point they became such a nuisance that our director, Ellen Bowen, slammed one into a wall and yelled “STAY AWAY FROM MY KIDS!” True story.
Anyway, Rome is a fantastic city, full of history, art and culture. I’m a Latin student, so the Roman history and architecture was especially phenomenal to see firsthand. I even picked a piece of Roman cement from a wall in the famous Coliseum.
Since this was a choir trip, we obviously sang quite a bit. Our first venue was St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Even on vacation, I still had to go to church on Sunday. Dang.
All kidding aside, singing at St. Peter’s Basilica was unforgettable.
All kidding aside, singing at St. Peter’s Basilica was unforgettable. There I was, some random kid from Michigan, singing a mass in the most famous church in the entire world. Just walking through the doors was an experience in its own right. The art on the ceilings (courtesy of the Renaissance artist Michelangelo) and the architecture were breathtaking, creating a sense of awe that stayed with me for the entire mass. Naturally, we all sang our little hearts out.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see the Pope, as he only gives masses on Wednesdays (because giving a mass on Sunday would be silly or something). Other than that, the mass couldn’t have gone better. I’m not the most spiritual person, but singing at the Vatican still felt like a religious experience.
On our third day, we visited a high school. The students there were… interesting. The school seemed more like a government-mandated daycare center for meatheads, which makes sense, considering Italian students attend a “technical” high school if they don’t intend to go to college. Some unique features of this school also included a smoke break around noon and several students attempting to sell me marijuana.
The visit was intended to be a cultural exchange, and to a certain degree it was; we exchanged our musical performance for their sexual harassment and homophobic insults. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the guys were basically clones of The Situation. However, the girls were perfectly pleasant and appeared to enjoy our performance.
The next day, we rode our bus up to Florence, stopping for about four hours in Pisa on the way. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was beautiful yet surreal. Naturally, most of the male students got their picture taken with tower, if you catch my drift. Then, some genius decided that we should do an impromptu performance in the church next to the tower without consulting the curator. The guards were not entertained, and we were heavily fined.
This was not the only time we did an impromptu performance. In fact, the choir had learned several a cappella (without music) songs for just that purpose. We learned some classical religious songs, the Italian national anthem, its American counterpart, “Telephone” by Lady Gaga and a medley of Michael Jackson songs. Armed with only our voices, we were amazingly effective at annoying the crap out of random tourists. We would form into a messy group, yell at each other about what song we were singing, organize ourselves into a differently shaped messy group and yell some more, get yelled at by Ellen Bowen, reorganize a third time, get yelled at by Ellen again, and then finally sing the song that it seemed like the rest of the group was probably singing.
From Pisa we headed to Florence, where we sang at another school, this time a prestigious junior college. Suffice to say there were no meatheads. We performed our songs and mingled with the students, who were perfectly pleasant and didn’t try to sell me weed.
The rest of the trip was basically buses and shopping. We had another performance at Padua near Venice in front of some college students in some kind of gym. We spent any remaining money we had from the trip in Venice.
Something else I should discuss is the differences I saw between Italy and the United States. One difference is food. People who say America is a fat country need to look at Italy. Seriously, I don’t think those people know what calories are. At the hotel breakfast buffet, I decided to pour myself some “cioccolato,” or hot chocolate. The thing was, Italians take the term “hot chocolate” in the most literal way possible; I took one sip and realized that I was drinking pure molten chocolate. But, in general, Italian food over there is like Italian food over here—just better.
Another difference could be found in the hotel bathrooms. I don’t know why, but it looks like shower curtain technology hasn’t reached Italy yet. There was also the issue of the bidet, a small, sink-like apparatus next to the toilet. One girl tried to wash her feet in it.
Jokes aside, this trip was one of the best weeks of my life. Singing at the Vatican, seeing history, and hanging out with friends for ten days made this an unforgettable experience.
Ellen Bowen assaulting a Gypsy was also pretty good.