Question: First Experiences can be defining. Cite a first experience and its impact on you.
I fell in love with Rome long before I ever arrived there. In the third grade, I read DAulaires oversized, dayglo yellow Book of Myths until the book fell apart from overuse. By middle school, being the dork that I was, I was relentlessly playing those city-building computer games where you build ancient Roman cities and rule them. Eventually I read I, Claudius and discovered Steven Saylors murder mystery novels set in Rome. Upon hearing about my interest in Italian culture, my eighth grade Latin teacher recommended Renaissance books such as The Prince and William Manchesters A World Lit Only by Fire. Over the next few years, I became increasingly fascinated with Renaissance and 19th century Italy. I eventually decided to try my skills at the language and signed up for Italian 101 at the local community college. Finally, in my junior year of high school, I got my chance to visit the country. My Latin class was traveling from Sicily to Rome for ten days over spring break. I jumped at the opportunity, still mystified by the magical hold Italy had over me.
The whole tour of Sicily and southern Italy was amazing. But for me, nothing could compare to our three days in Rome. The one moment in Rome I experienced most profoundly was our night in the Piazza Navona. Our group wound its way through sinewy alleys at sunset. When we finally broke through the labyrinth of buildings into the vast open space, I was stunned. The subtle lighting over the piazza brightened the two majestic fountains and the fasade of the church. Our tour guide beckoned us over to Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. The light, bouncing off the cool, blue waters, mesmerized me. The curves of the figures and the folds of the statues coaxed the water and stone to meld in a way I had never imagined possible. The rock itself seemed to become fluid. It twisted and curved gracefully around the water and into the evening air. The streaming water caressed the creases of the statue in such an intricate, organic way, that one would think it had taken a hundred years of nature to craft, rather than just three years of human endeavor. Each figure on the sculpture represented a river in a different part of the world. The Nile, Danube, Ganges, and the Rio della Plata all converged in this magnificent square. Symbols of each region splayed out over the water in the fountain, ascending in tribute to the grand obelisk above them. Atop these dramatic, intense figures, the obelisk levitated weightlessly as it extended upward from the fountain into the night sky.
The rest of the piazza mirrored the fountain. People flowed over cobblestone streets. Figures and limbs curled around cafes, street artists, and flower merchants. Men and women from all over the world merged together with the symbols of their homelands. They gazed upward at the obelisk, just as Berninis statues did. I realized that the genius of Romes monuments was not simply in its architectural techniques, but more importantly, in how attuned the statues were with human life and nature. After experiencing that fountain, I knew I could not possibly live anywhere but Rome. I had developed a passion for its graceful, curving cathedrals and its limestone piazzas, pulsing with history.
Before that night, I thought I had learned so much from all the books I had read. I realized in Italy that fountains and piazzas offered me more visceral lessons than my books and computer games. The Piazza Navona inspired me to go back to the Eternal City and experience my education, using the world as my classroom. That fountain made me reconsider the course of my life. I now want to walk those ancient roads every day and stroll next to Bernini fountains every night. The history that lives in those statues and cobblestones is the force that draws me back to the city. Rome was the center of the ancient world over two thousand years ago, but that night in the Piazza Navona placed Rome in the center of my world for years to come.