Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Rhapsody Post

For just about a year now I have been avoiding the posting a retrospective post about my time in York’s a cappella group, Rhapsody. Part of the reason for that was just because I had no real context to do so, not having been back to see the group in over a year. Mostly, though, I just didn't want to rush into a nostalgia piece that at least I would consider near and dear without really grasping the context of my life without it. I realize that’s not necessarily the clearest sentence.
 I guess the best kind of analogy I can come up with is when Vh1 tried to capitalize on the success of their “I Love the (Insert Decade Here)” by doing one that focused on the early 2000s some years back. The show rang as pretty stupid because they were referring to things and trends in pop culture and world events that were still a bit too fresh to really pass judgment on. If someone graduated from high school and one month later said, “I can’t believe the person I was in high school,” unless that person has a heck of a story behind their lives, you’re going to be secretly rolling you’re eyes at them.

Anyway, in the wake of a splendid weekend catching up with good friends and Rhapsody alums and seeing one incredible Rhapsody show, the timing at last feels right to scribe somewhat of a Rhapsody Reflection. (Here comes the thesis statement) In this post I’m going to REALLY BRIEFLY describe the show and what it was like to be back and whatnot, but no one would want read me spilling my guts about that (for too long anyway). The primary purpose of this post will be to list, in no particular order, my top 10 favorite Rhapsody moments of all time. I feel like this is a much more fitting tribute to my four years than me blathering on and on about how much people and the experience meant to me. Only an absolute sentimental fool would write about that.
The people and experience of Rhapsody mean the world to me (hopefully you laughed at that). I would hope that goes without saying. I arrived in York pretty much just on time for the show and I was pleasantly surprised by just how many alumni made the trip. You all know whom you are, and me attempting to run down the list of who was there and just how great it was to see them would be a paragraph in and of itself. The three things I will say are that you would never know Emily was there because she didn't have her ID on her, I’m fairly certain Allison and I have planned for ourselves a very lucrative career in show business, and I still find Jaci insufferable.

The group sounds incredible. It’s just that simple. A bunch of new arrangements and a ton of talent in the group, to say the least.  The group has grown quite a bit since when I was a part of it, which was the long term goal, of course. (I won’t get into the ins and outs of this.). It is great to see the changes that both Jaci and Tyler and other e-board members have made to keep the group active and growing in the right direction. The numbers have greatly increased and you can just hear the difference in the layers, and admittedly in a couple cases, quality of the sound. One comment I made to the one and only Greg “Poppyseed” Sullivan post-show is just to take the time to imagine how awesome we could have made the already quality “In the Air Tonight” sound if we had 8 to 10 male voices instead of 5 to 6. It was really eye-opening and the whole experience blew me away.
The arrangements were far and away some of the most high quality and complex I’ve ever heard and the group handled them wonderfully. The buzz word of the night was “layers.” I can’t stress enough the quality of the sound.  The group even had a couple of scatters among them, which, of course, got me incredibly hyped and longing to hop up there and trade some fours with them. I feel like when the first cat started scatting, I felt the eyes of just about every alumnus in attendance dart to me to see my reaction. I dug it. I dug it.
Like I said, the sound was incredible and I know the word choice is strong, but I really felt blessed to be there with good friends and a great group. I mean, it may be all in my head, but I swear when I saw them perform and some of the things they were doing musically, I could almost pick out where members past and song renditions past kind of influenced a song’s sound and feel. Maybe I’m being a little too romantic about it, but I really don’t think so. I really picked on a sort of ripple effect of generations. Shout out to Greg for having two arrangements withstand the test of time.  With that behind us, let’s get to the list.
The following list consists of my favorite Rhapsody memories. With a couple of exceptions, I wanted to limit this list to group events and milestones. Lord knows, if narrowed it down to memories with individual members of Rhapsody and the inside jokes and whatnot we’ve shared, this list would go on forever. Also note, for the 10 memories I’m about to list there is about another 100 that make honorable mention and another thousand great moments that I’ll never remember. Simply impossible to do justice in a blog post all of the gifts this group has given me.

Again, in no particular order:
It only seems appropriate to begin the list with the way I heard of the group. Not as serendipitous as you might think. Incidentally, this story also serves as the first time I ever spoke to Addy DiFabio, who wound up being a good friend indeed. This is a story that I’m sure haunts me much more than it does her. Anyway, here it goes: It was my first semester of college of college and I was walking into my first or second day of Opera Theatre Workshop, my one musical elective at the time that I picked to break up the monotony of common core courses that were not even yet focused on my major. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever been one to be stuck in shell since about sophomore year of high school, but nonetheless, I was still very much in a reserved feeling everyone out mode socially and the only person in the class I really opened up to at all early on was a sweet girl named Raisa that sadly enough I don’t think I’ve spoken to since the class wrapped up. (Looking back I laugh at how much time Sharnell and I spent in the class without saying a word to each other. We missed some golden opportunities.) Anyway, one of the group’s leaders at the time (I’ll leave out the name because it’s not the most flattering story.) was talking to someone else about how Rhapsody was hurting for some male voices and saying things akin to “I would take any guy with a pulse and so on and so forth. I was pretty cool with the rhetoric at first. I mean, I appreciated the honesty. It’s not so much the desperation of the group that turned me off. What turned me off was moments later when she came up to me and said, “Hey kid (not asking for my name), you should sing for Rhapsody, we need guys and at this point we’re willing to take anybody with a penis (Yesternow milestone: First use of the word “penis.” Take note.) She carried on her sales pitch of sorts and, while I’m not necessarily one who needs to be wooed, it was just a really abrasive and condescending invite to join the group and frankly, if that was any indication of what the group was like, I wanted nothing to do with it. I came up with some excuse about how I couldn’t read music and was borderline tone deaf (a stupid move in hindsight because over the course of the class I would eventually have to sing) and I was here more for the acting training. She eventually backed down and moved off and I leaned over to Addy, to whom I had never spoken a word and said, “Between you and me, I actually can read music.” Addy replied, “Oh yeah? Why did you say you couldn’t?” I said unabashedly, “I don’t know her too well, but that was pretty obnoxious. That group sounds like an absolute shit time. (I would pick this moment to be one of the 20 times I cursed in my four years of college.) For a good 15 seconds, Addy says nothing. After the silence that I didn’t realize was awkward elapsed, she said very calmly, “Well I’m in it, so…” At that point I wished I had a literal shell to crawl into and immediately thought, “Way to go, Tom. That’s one friendship you’ve ruined off the bat.” Pretty comical to look back on that now and remember just how vehemently against joining Rhapsody I was for a while. It was my roommate, Steve, who wound up joining and changing my perspective on the group. Among the many things in college that wouldn’t have happened were Steve not my roommate, try to imagine four years of college where I never set foot in a Rhapsody rehearsal. Madness.
The “Large Hat” theme for a concert, as much as it was my half-baked brainchild, really was more of an intentionally bad idea that took on a life of its own. With varying degrees seriousness, for three and a half years I stood on my soapbox calling for large hats, easily the silliest thought I could come up with. I was shocked when the group actually elected to run with this idea, given how I was the idea’s biggest supporter and even I went back and forth on just how seriously to take the idea. If we had the time and skills, I wanted to build a giant hat above the stage that Rhapsody could collectively be under as we performed. Sadly that never came to fruition, but it was a great time nonetheless. I’ve got to believe the group threw me a bone there to get that theme selected, since it was my final gig and all, but I’d like to believe they had a great time with it, too.

3.       As much as the Large Hat theme was kind of my own little piece of satire on the idea of a concert theme, the Clue Theme was indeed a true masterpiece. Creating our own little murder mystery on stage was one of Rhapsody’s first forays into the idea of having a show within a show (a mantle which the group has taken on quite aptly I must say). We used the board game/movies’ classic characters, along with a few others we made up along the way (Agent Orange being my personal favorite) to create a pretty legitimate storyline that involved candlesticks, rope, revolvers, and even some audience participation. The original plan was to have the entire event result in a one-song “Hodge” *cough* Hodge reunion, but unfortunately some of the original Hodge members were a little touchy about that, which you have to respect. It was easily the most legit theme ever, I don’t mind being immodest about that. I do, in hindsight kind of regret that we didn’t take some photos in costume to include in the program instead of just a name listing and introducing ourselves at the start of the show, but other than that it was straight up sweet and I’m glad we saw the idea through and did it justice.
Ah, but alas, not all of my exploits resulted in triumph. I’ve had a great many lowlights that while in the moment felt excruciating, have shaped some of the funniest memories I’ll ever have in general, not just in this group. If you thought the story with Addy was bad, never have I ever shoved my foot in my mouth as deep or as hard as the following moment…  Rhapsody was in the midst of auditioning solos for the Michael Jackson Medley. Now, chances are if you’re reading this, you’re quite familiar with the audition process; everyone tries out, the group votes, the top two vote getters go out in the hall, the remaining members discuss the two options, everyone votes again. Well, with this particular tune, there were multiple solos up for grabs and instead of treating them all like individual solo auditions, which would have taken forever, and would have kind of eliminated the opportunity for a member who got one solo to try out for another, (I realize that sentence might not make any sense. You’re going to have to take my word on that one. It would have been tricky.) we kind of let everyone sing for anything and everything they could want at the same time and selected based on that big picture sample size. As a result, we were sending out two people at a time for solo deliberations while other solos were still undecided even though people had auditioned for them already and the final two were listed on the board. Essentially, we narrowed down the final two in every solo and then started to send those duos out to deliberate one at a time. That hodgepodge of a backstory that nearly does justice to just how messy that audition process was, leads us to a point where Courtney and someone else are out in the hall and we, as the remainder of the group, were left to decide who would have the solo. We went back and forth for a while and whathaveyou and at last, Renee definitively states, “I liked Courtney, I think overall she nailed it.” I, with no inhibitions whatsoever, jumped right in and said something to the tune of, “Yeah, I feel you, but did you hear her on that ‘Billie Jean’ solo (a solo we hadn’t decided yet)? She absolutely killed it. It wasn’t even close.” Now for a split second I’m wondering why Renee suddenly looks crestfallen. Then, for another split second, I’m wondering why the room suddenly fell silent. Then for yet a third split second, I’m wondering why absolutely no one other than Renee is looking me in the eye. As a matter of fact, Sharnell and Nate were freaking me out with how intensely they were looking STRAIGHT AHEAD with this kind of spaced out expressions on their face (I later learned they were trying not to laugh.) I used my fourth split second to look at the blackboard behind me to notice that the second name listed under Courtney’s on the “Billie Jean” solo was none other than Renee Murray. To say my blood ran cold would be the world’s largest understatement, as I immediately felt like a horse’s ass as I apologized profusely and muttered more expletives to myself than I ever had before. Renee, of course, was a class act about it, although I’m sure part of that had to with the fact that I was likely as red as a fire engine. Eventually, the group kind of sputters back to somewhat normalcy, but I’m still pretty distraught. Tyler eventually leans over and says, “It’s okay,” to which I say, “I just feel like that was one of the rudest things you could ever do to someone.” Tyler, keeping things in perspective and being a realist says, “Oh no, it was… but you didn’t mean it, so there’s nothing to be said really.” From that point on, the wounds began to heal.

My history with arranging tunes is that of crests and troughs. Over the course of my tenure, I took the time to arrange three tunes, Portugal The Man's "Colors," which came out pretty poorly, The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" which I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt and call a solid "average" arrangement, considering everything I every arranged was all by ear and involved less formal looking up of chords than they probably should have in hindsight, and The Police's "Walking on the Moon," a number which sputtered out of the gate, because the arrangement was a pretty simple one in the first place, and plus a lot of my musical philosophy was to say "Here's the arrangement, this will give you idea of what we're shooting for, but I don't want to put the song in a cage, so just kind of have fun and do what you feel." That kind of generalization about an arrangement while still calling for a quality sound (That is to say that my/our standards for the sound of the piece were not as passive they sound.) was a bit of an adjustment for some of the members of the group and I give them all the credit in the world for continuing to work at it and eventually nailing it. This favorite memory pays tribute to the first time it finally clicked and an otherwise very repetitive and basic arrangement finally hit its potential. I remember being in the middle of the track and thinking, "Holy Christmas, this is actually swinging." The truth is, I very nearly forgot to jump in on the fade out part just because I was so lost in the rest of the tune. I remember reaching the end of the tune and hearing some murmurs of approval from the group and Diane, as she often did, said aloud what everyone else was thinking: "That sounded different this time. That sounded awesome, I get it now. POY everybody!" Really validating and just plain cool. I suppose I'm as biased as a guy can get, but while it was nowhere near our most consistent song, when that song was on point, I genuinely believe it was the most underrated track in our set. 

6 One place where picking up arrangements by feel was never a problem was in the guys rehearsal room when the guys and girls split off for their gender specific tunes. I recall with great fondness how hard the girls worked as they pounded away gathered at the piano to crank out an arrangement which, don't get me wrong, always wound up sounding incredible, but the male portion of our group, which I labeled "Zoop" ( a moniker nobody but myself actually stuck to) about 11 out of 14 times just kind of hopped into a piano room, came up with a general idea, kind of said "Yeah that's a good base, and then we're just kind of going to see where the music takes us. Against all odds, this philosophy worked like a dream, as we casually cranked out solid renditions of tons of tunes with a little bit of musical intuition, a ton of creative liberties, and just the desire to have a good time singing with each other. That kind of attitude was contageous. I remember one of the eleven times thinking, "Well that wasn't very good after all," but even so, you've gotta love that percentage. One of our more formal song sessions came I believe my freshman year, when we were to nail down a version of "In the Still of the Night." Let's be clear, I couldn't be the musical director of a kazoo choir, so I give Greg all the credit in the world for taking it upon himself to lead us. With that said, this was in 4/4 and the bass part opened up on beat 3. Now, instead of counting us in like "1-2-3-4 1-2 *Begin*" Greg kept counting like 4 to 5 full measures aloud before giving us the 1-2 *begin* and unintentionally faking us all out and frankly wasting a lot of time. This became as entertaining as it was annoying, as I've never seen so many people genuinely annoyed at someone without being able to stop smiling. On top of that, there was a point of the song where the tempo dropped suddenly and Greg very dramatically called our attention to this by flailing his arms, holding them out in front of himself a la Frankenstein and saying on pitch with a wild look in his eye: "Watch me. Watch the ritard." We all know what word that sounds like and we all know that not very PC, but I can also tell you that we meant nothing malicious. We laughed for the better part of five minutes. "One cannot help but smile when Greg is musical director."

7. Tis the season for freezing cold weather. There have been three very generous people who, over the course of their time in Rhapsody, were kind enough to drive me back to my respective dorm/house after nearly every rehearsal, a service which value spoke for itself in the winter time. Those people who deserve my utmost thanks are Aimee, Jade, and dare I say it, Jaci. Jaci's wheels were extra special because, quite simply, the car was a tiny, tiny little blue vehicle that could barely fit a driver inside much less passengers. Yet, day after day, week after week, Jaci Sharnell and I crammed into that glorified clown car. Believe me, a warm, albeit cramped, two minute ride home was always better than a 15 minute frigid walk home with plenty of leg room. I more so felt bad as Jaci apologized on behalf of her car on a nightly basis. Good times. I miss those rides. Anyway, this care was a very distinct dull blue color and one day I happened to pick up on the fact that Jaci was dressed head to foot in the very same color of her car. Knowing me in general, especially given the nature of Jaci's and my friendship, I leaped at the opportunity to make a snide comment about the coincidence. However, I then noticed that I, too, was dressed to the toe in the very same hue. At that point our wheels started turning and we came up with the plan to take a photo of ourselves seamlessly camouflaged on the hood and in the car. To this day, it remains one of my favorite snapshots. 

9. Speaking automobile travel and finely crafted and effortless (Jade slips). One year, Rhapsody had this idea to wear our Rhapsody shirts, which read, "YCP Rhapsody" (we're a creative bunch) every day for five days leading up to the concert. Needless to say, Friday was a little rank. Anyway, the reason I bring up the occasion is to explain why Sharnell, Aimee, and I were all wearing the same shirt when we rolled up to a thrift store trying to find some secondhand items for our concert costumes. All is going well and we're actually all set to leave, waiting on line to check out, when we're approached by a very curious and pleasant woman who notes our matching shirts and asks what they are all about. We mention that we're a singing group and I guess we kind of took it for granted that we looked like college students. She then asked, "Are you guys from the prison?" At that point I think we all thought she was messing with us. I mean, these shirts weren't the most stylish, I guess, but they sure as heck didn't look like orange jumpsuit equivalents. Now, thankfully none of us laughed all that hard at the idea and we just kind of chuckled and said no. She insisted noting the YCP and thinking it stood for York County Prison. She then said that her husband was in the jail (I want to emphasize there's nothing wrong or funny about that), but then she asked if we knew her husband even though I think we made it clear we were from the college. At this point all three of us are in a weird, is she messing with us, or is she serious kind of mindset. One of the most entertainingly confusing exchanges I've ever had. 

9. On our way to a Rhapsody Halloween party, I'll never forget poor Aimee running a stop sign and getting pulled over by campus police. Fortunately no one in the car had sipped a drop of alcohol (yet), so other than the inconvenience of getting our night held up some, there was no real negative to the situation. What was awesome about the situation is that there were several people crammed in a car dressed in Halloween costumes. I couldn't help but smile as Aimee, dressed as Lucille Ball, handed over her ID, and I smiled even wider as one of the public safety officers leaned into the car and said aloud referring to my costume, "Oh, he's Two-Face, awesome." (Much more than a guy in a suit, Steve.) And truthfully, I just about lost it fantasizing about the scenerio of one of the officers speaking to Sharnell, who was dressed as a male pimp, complete with fake facial hair.

10. No Rhapsody post (at least one written by me) would be complete without the mention of one simple syllable, which, from very literally nothing, came to certain define my time with Rhapsody and also somewhat of an era of the group. That syllable being: Ants. Never has a song had such a tangible impact on my life, as even just about a decade before I ever set foot on the York College campus the music of Dave Matthews Band shaped my beliefs and attitudes on music and life about as much as a bit of pop culture can. I remember kind of passively mentioning to Brett one of my first couple rehearsals that a lot of these songs we were singing were decidedly pop based. I just kind of posed to him that we should start working on some getting some different, but still recognizable songs and genres into our repertoire. Brett agreed and mentioned that there were more songs in the now infamous file cabinet and on a break during rehearsal I dropped in to see what I could find. Now, just so you know that this wasn’t the perfect fairy tale finding, the first song I found that struck a chord with me was Aeroplane by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was told that arrangement was a bit more whack than it seemed. (I wish I wasn’t paraphrasing… “whack” needs to make a comeback) I then found Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” and was told that the key was never quite right and that they’ve tried a couple of times to get it going, but it always failed. Now, admittedly if you told me that two years in, I probably would have lobbied for it harder, but this is about my fourth rehearsal with the group, and I don’t even know the songs in the existing catalogue yet, so I set it down and don’t ruffle any feathers. Then I see it and did about a triple take. I ask the group about that song and again it is more-or-less quashed, although less vehemently than the other two. Probably foolishly, I push the issue asking why it’s so bad. The arrangement looked pretty clean to me.  At this point Caitlyn makes it clear that it’s not so much the arrangement that stinks, it just kind of always sounds lame with the solo. At this point I know in my head that one way or another we’re going to sing this tune. I again say that we should give it a try and am not meant with any enthusiasm for yay or nay votes. It is at that point that Dennis “Gloves” Madden (Yes, that Dennis “Gloves” Madden) sees what I’m holding and lobbies for the track as well. Two passionate yeses versus 13 or so indifferent shrugs had us auditioning the track a couple weeks later. The rest, as they say, is history. I take great pride in the fact that I was a big part of bringing a song back to life.  And I’m flattered and amazed that the song kind of precedes my reputation well after I’m gone. I’m even more flattered that most Rhapsodians seemed content to retire the song with me. I hope that’s not the case, though, I would love to hear someone else’s take on it. The only thing that I admit sounds kind of cool is if the song remains dormant as an homage (again, an homage I’m not worthy of in the first place) until no one in the group has even heard of me, only to be found by some other kid who pushes for it like I did, and I get to see it as an alumni five years from. That’s what Rhapsody is all about. The sum being greater than the whole and a never ending cycle of good times, good people, good music, and great memories. Thank you to everyone I’ve met over the years. I hold you very dear (except Jaci), it was a once in a lifetime experience I was proud to be a part of.   

Two honorable mentions to the time we visited E-Town for a take a stand against violence against women fundraiser and that guest speaker said something amiss. I'm sorry to be vague here, but I don't want my words taken out of context, so I'm going to settle for a subtle nod to those who know to what I'm referring. Also, to the time I was in the house of person A and person B, both female, and Person A and I were assigned the task to find Catchphrase in Person B's room. I said aloud that I was not comfortable just rifling through a girl's belongings. Person A said, "Relax, it's Person B we're talking about here. She has nothing to hide!" As she said this Person A opened a dresser drawer to reveal a box of pregnancy tests. "Except that" said Person B, as I excused myself from the room.

Song of the Day: Dumpster World- Band of Horses
Jazz Song of the Day: Just For The Record- Dave Weckl Band



Sunday, December 1, 2013

When In Rome, Avoid the Use of Cliches, Off Kilter Jokes About Pisa, And Quoting Your Own Tweets From Weeks Earlier

Earlier in November, a ten day stint abroad in the "Eternal City" brought about the culmination of months of hard work and headaches as the much ballyhooed (I feel like that word was invented for this very event) Celebration of Success finally took place. 500 plus of our company's finest descended upon Rome, Italy and I don't doubt that the city will never again be the same, I know I won't.

Before we even set foot on Italian soil, I must make mention of one brief note concerning our inbound flight. Now, me being as well versed in travel and sarcasm as I am, I was in awe of the fact that there were individual television screens in the back of each of the airplane seats. I went in expecting nothing but a bag of peanuts and was holding out hope for the complimentary cocktail, but of course had to keep my poker face intact as the wonders of technology again eclipsed my wildest expectations. The only reason I bring up the silly televisions on the plane is for the following story to have some context.

Being that I was flying on an Air Italia flight, it should be no surprise that was seated next to an Italian guy around my age that I had the pleasure of speaking to a bit (years of high school Italian paying immediate dividends) and he was watching "The Shawshank Redemption." At first, I, much like you never gave it a second thought, until I suddenly had a though occur to me that soon consumed the entirety of my attention. Bear in mind that on a nine hour flight you have some time to dwell on the little things...

What exactly does Morgan's Freeman's voice sound like dubbed over in another language?

I implore you to halt your reading for a moment and really let this idea sink in. For in Morgan Freeman we have an actor whose voice has become as distinct and embedded in pop culture as the very roles he portrays. For a spell I toiled with the idea that Morgan Freeman was secretly the most multi-lingual man in the world and simply provided his own voice overs in a very "Inception-esque" kind of way. I think we can all agree that in a perfect world that's the way it should be. Anyway, as much as this may disappoint a few of you, I couldn't bring myself to spoil that fantasy and figured I could only be let down by the reality of the situation. I never did listen to Morgan Freeman in Italian. Ignorance is bliss; smooth, velvety, dulcet toned bliss.

Fear not, I'm not going to over-generalize here, but Rome was/is a wonderful place. The business aspect of the trip was indeed a bunch of hard work, but it was also largely considered a resounding success. I met some wonderful people over the course of the trip that I can't wait to see again and a couple people I'm really relieved I only have to work with once or twice a year. The plus side of the trip was that when you were working you were really working your tail off, but when the group had downtime, you had downtime, provided you didn't run off to Venice for the day. I got the chance to see all of the sights Rome had to offer, including the Trevi Fountain, Keats Museum, and Colosseum, among other things. With that said, oddly enough I never got a photo of  the Colosseum, as I kind of assumed I would get the chance to get my Kodak on during one of the couple of tours we'd planned for the group. Lo and behold, both times the tours came about, I found myself busy with something work related and unable to attend. A shame, but although a picture is worth a thousand words, the memory is worth a lifetime.

I made it a point not to look like a tourist as much as possible and refused to walk around with a map in hand. On one occassion, this resulted in me walking from the front door of my hotel, getting somewhat (quite) turned around and somehow winding up at the Colosseum. There was the most fleeting of moments where I was thrilled at my serendipity of stumbling across one of Italy's wonders of history and archetecture, but no sooner was I crushed by the latent realization that I had really strayed from the beaten path and had an eternity's walk before me to get back where I needed to be.

The way ancient history and modern metropolis collided in Rome has to be one of a kind. It's wild to see ancient ruins across from a main street and H&M store and some of the worst parking situations you've ever seen. Seriously, I think you were better off in a horse and chariot in certain areas than trying to zip around in these mini-cars they had rolling around over there. The food spoke for itself. I'm not going to turn this into a culinary blog, but let's just say everything was fresh and put all Italian food I've ever had to shame. It was great to speak Italian again for the first time in years. It certainly came in handy when speaking to locals and the bus drivers. After about a week I was starting to really get back in the habit, but I can't lie, a lot of my communication (with the exception of three notable instances) consisted of me choking out hackneyed Italian and being greeted with polite smiles saying "I know what you're trying to say, we can speak English now, if you want." Grazie.

This next bit I seem to have a hard time putting into words, because in print it sounds like the most obvious statement...ever. Brace yourself...

The Pope is a big deal in Rome.

There, I said it, it's out on the table. To clarify, obviously the domicile of the leader of all of Catholicism is anything but inconspicuous. I expected a great deal of religious gravity and whathaveyou in the area, but I guess what took me by surprise is how the papal presence seemed more like the Beatles rolling through town than the figurative right hand man of a deity. Seeing Pope calendars, hats, posters, key rings etc. didn't necessarily offend me, but it certainly took me aback. When I was outside the walls of the Vatican, I felt more like I was outside of a sports stadium. Totally surreal feeling. I will say, seeing/hearing about people clawing over each other trying to get a good look at Pope Francis, while babies were handed off like footballs to get blessed by the man did seem a little juxtaposed to his teachings. Wild stuff.

For anyone making their own travel plans to the area, for what my opinion is worth, I really fell in love with the Piazza Navona area. A little expensive, but some great shops, cafes, and street performers in the area. Beautiful fountains and just a great vibe in the spot as well. An underrated Russian population in the area, too.

Overall an exhausting but rewarding time in Rome. As fun as it was, I'm happy to have it in my rear-view mirror. The nightlife was solid, too, but I'll save those stories for when I see you in person. Great to get to know our people.

Song of the Day: Schism-Tool
Jazz Song of the Day- Truth is I've been scouring YouTube for jazz renditions of "Pure Imagination" of Wonka fame and have been ensnared by a few of them. These versions are my collective song of the day.