Letter from Rome

Published 10:24 pm Wednesday, April 20, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Her first letter from Rome began, "It's about 10:30 here and I am about to go to bed. I'm not really homesick. I just miss ya."
Jessica Murphy, a 17-year-old student at Niles High School, is an active member of the Cassopolis FFA, helps her aunt and uncle raise cattle which she shows and sells at fairs.
Her dream is to attend Michigan State University in East Lansing, majoring in agricultural education. She would like to eventually take over the family's cattle farm and start an FFA chapter in Niles.
Last October, Murphy decided to travel to Italy to see her cousin's family. She had no idea when she purchased her airline tickets she would be arriving between two momentous events in history: the passing of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
Her letter home continued, "Laura (her cousin) and I are going shopping tomorrow and we are going to see if we can find me a dress for prom.
According to Murphy who is back in Niles now, her plans to take the "Scavi Tour" and see the pope's crypt didn't turn out exactly as planned, but she was able to visit the site later in the week before she left for home.
Among the many sites Murphy visited, one of her favorites was the pope's crypt, which she said was lighted in such a way that the crypt seemed to glow. When she was finally able to see the crypt, the line had only a 20 minute wait. But she was not able to stop in passing by it because the line moved so quickly. The tour took her past most of the tombs of former popes.
A Brazilian reporter asked her after visiting the pope's crypt if she felt anything unusual while she was there. She said, "I didn't when I saw it, but after thinking about it, I thought of all the people who would love to be standing there in my shoes and what a chance of a lifetime it was."
Another of Murphy's favorite sites was a structure called "the Spanish Steps", which has an tall obelisk at the center with a railing around it and many rows of stairs leading up to it. The steps are a gathering place for teens and for special occasions like weddings.
Murphy was also fascinated with the Grotti del Teatro de Pompeo, whose floor marks the spot where Caesar was supposedly stabbed by his close friend Brutus and Brutus' fellow conspirators.
Murphy found the Borghese home amazing, as well. "Cardinal Borghese lived there. The house was as big as our White House in Washinton D.C.. There are artworks everywhere and lots of sculptures. It was amazing. I think there might have been some of Michaelangelo's work on the ceiling, too," she said.
In addition to the city of Rome itself, Murphy was able to visit the Amalfi Coast, which she found stunningly beautiful. "In Positano, the houses are built right into the cliff. The streets are very narrow and have sharp curves. It's a long way down the mountain side from that road," she said.
When asked about the traffic in Italy, she replied, "The right of way is whoever shows up first and drives the fastest. We think people in America drive badly; I wouldn't think of sitting behind a steering wheel over there."
According to Murphy, the decor for homes in Italy is a little different than American styles. "All the floors, ceilings, and walls seem to be tiled. And the chairs and beds are closer to the ground. They don't like big kitchens over there, either," she said.
As for the cuisine, Murphy said, "Everywhere you go, they bring out fresh mozzarella as an appetizer, which is a little different from ours, with fresh tomatoes and olive oil, and salt and pepper. The best Italian dish I had was called 'pasta pesto'. They made it kind of sweet."
However, Murphy's taste for American food won out. "By the end of the trip, I was dying for a steak. They don't eat that much meat in Italy. Before I left, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for steaks. Those steaks tasted even better than ours, although I don't know if it was because I was so hungry for one or if it was really, really good," she said.
The meat she did find was in the grocery store and was mostly horse meat and rabbits. "They eat a lot of veal, too," she said. "I didn't see much seafood."
As for the prom dress she went shopping to find, Murphy said, "We went to a "List" store. The first room we went in had older ladies' dresses. After three hours of shopping, we were ready to give up. Then we went into a room upstairs. All the clothes in that room were some kind of pink. It was awful. In the next room, the clothes were all purple. Finally, in the last room, everything was in black and white. I found a spaghetti strap black straight gown that is really nice."
The prom dress and the girl arrived home safely. Murphy said, "On the trip home, it was mind boggling. I had a four hour wait in the Cincinnati airport. Seeing so many people there from all over the world, I thought 'At 17, how many students get a chance like this to travel to and from a foreign country by themselves?'" The memories she has of Italy and the crowds gathered in Rome for the burial of a pope will last her a lifetime.