Just Think of That Man Who Danced with His Wife

September 30, 2012

My mom and I went to Chicago yesterday. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of what was called the Loyola University Chicago Rome Center for Liberal Arts when I went there but has since been renamed the John Felice Rome Center (JFRC for short) in honor of its founder. I talk a lot about Rome and the Rome Center. I talk so much about it that it probably comes off as braggy. “Oh, look at me! I lived in Rome! I’m so much better than you peons!” But that’s not why I talk about Rome so much. For one thing, I have some awesome Rome stories.

Like the time I was trying to get back to Rome from London in time to go to the Christmas Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s and I was delayed at Heathrow and again at Charles de Gaulle and when we finally took off, they made an announcement, and I thought, “No, my French is really rusty, I must not have understood that” but when they repeated it in English, I discovered that my French really wasn’t that rusty and we really were going to be landing at Charles de Gaulle in about ten minutes and by the time we finally got back to Rome the last train had left so I was going to have to take the bus but I didn’t have the right change to buy a ticket and then the people who’d been sitting next to me on the plane offered to give me a ride, and I thought, “What the hell?” and they drove me right to my door and my friend James had long since given up on waiting for me so he left a note on my door saying he had our tickets and he’d see me in the morning. Yeah, there are sooooo many details I’ve left out in that telling. Like the Air France employee who was trying to get me rebooked in London and then wished me luck. Or the fact that the people I got the ride from didn’t actually know their way around Rome and were relying on my backseat driving to get us to Monte Mario.

So, I have some just-plain-good stories. So that’s one reason I have a tendency to talk about Rome. I’m a storyteller.

I also talk about Rome because I know that living there really helped shape my world view. It was the late ’90s. A certain William Jefferson Clinton couldn’t keep it in his pants. And all of us American students had to explain to our Italian friends why this had become an impeachable offense. (It was around then that my mom suggested I say that I’m from “near Windsor” and not mention that it was the American side of the border. See! I can’t stop with the Rome stories!) We could lie in the courtyard and watch planes flying overhead. Not commercial jetliners. F-16s on their way to Kosovo. Loyola is a Jesuit school. We believe in service. We helped out at the Jesuit mission helping Afghanis taking refuge from the Taliban who had recently taken over their country. Watching CNN, we learned of the death of King Hussein of Jordan before his own people had been informed.

And what’s kind of funny about that is that I wrote my application essay about how I wanted to be a student of the world. We all said that. You don’t have to be a Loyola student to go to the Rome Center, which means even Loyola students have to apply and be accepted. But we also knew that we were pretty much shoo-ins because the university had already accepted us. We all wrote that essay. We all BS’ed our way through it. And it turned out we’d all become what we joked about. None of us were the same when we got back.

So, yeah, I talk about this place. A lot. And ten years ago, they held an all-class reunion in Rome. There was no way I was going to miss that. There was only one other student from my class, and she was on the reunion committee, so we hardly got to see each other anyway. One night, after our after-hours tour of the Vatican Museums, four of us went to a trattoria for dinner. We were well into the meal when one of us pointed out that we’d all gone to the Rome Center in different decades. But there was something about that place that unified us, that blasted away the fact that we were of different generations. You could ask any of our friends or family members, and they all would have said the same thing. “She talks about Rome all the time. And when she does, there’s this light in her eyes…”

And that’s why I was going to Chicago yesterday. And my mom asked if she could come, too, so she did.

I love going to Chicago in general for three reasons. One, I get to see my friends who live there. Two, Giordano’s pizza. Three, hello! It’s Chicago! Do I really need more reason than that? Didn’t have Giordano’s on this trip, but I did get to see my dear friend Maria. When we were emailing back and forth to make sure she was free and to figure out where and when we should meet, she asked if there was anything in particular I wanted to do. My response was, nah, not really, wander around Water Tower, hang out with you…

And that’s what we did. She met me at my hotel, and we wandered down Michigan Avenue. We briefly meandered through the Loyola bookstore, but since all of the JFRC gear is at the Lake Shore Campus in Rogers Park, we didn’t need to look for long. We checked out the new student union and perused the latest Loyola Phoenix. (Apparently the Loyola El stop is being redone. I’m sure it will be a pain for students while construction is in process, but the renderings look really nice! Nothing like the ghetto feel that stop had when we were students!) And we talked. We talked about babies and hormones and doctors. We talked about our jobs and our siblings and our parents. We talked about American Girl dolls (okay, we went to the American Girl Place) and sang along with Carly Rae Jepson (how could you miss someone before you met them?) and talked about Arrested Development (because one of my friends posted that the first time she heard that song she thought it was referring to the character Maeby and we all were just a little jealous that we hadn’t thought of that first). And we especially agreed that we really needed to see each other more frequently because it’s not like Kalamazoo and Chicago are that far apart. And it felt really good to just hang out and talk.

And then it was time for her to go to a meeting and for me to get ready for the reunion.

Every time I watch My Best Friend’s Wedding (a movie which I love, “What the World Needs Now” is the most awesome pick for a chase song EVER), there’s one thing that annoys me. They wind up at Union Station. But it’s not. I went to school in Chicago. I took the train back to Kalamazoo many times in the three years I lived there. (‘Cause I spent my junior year in Rome, remember?) And that’s not what Union Station looks like.

Well, the reunion/anniversary party was to be held at Union Station. My mom and I were both trying to figure out how this would work. She, too, has taken the train from Kalamazoo to Chicago and back many times.

Yeah. It was in old Union Station. The Union Station they wind up at in My Best Friend’s Wedding? Also old Union Station. (Which I still can’t forgive them for because by the time the movie takes place, they still would have gone to the new Union Station to catch Amtrak.) That big room with the Corinthian columns? Yeah, that’s where the reunion was held. O. M. G. That place is magnificent. It is gorgeous. A man might dance with his own wife there. (There actually wasn’t any dancing.)

The reunion itself was meh. One of the best parts was discovering that one of my second cousins (our grandfathers were brothers) who I’d had as an eighth grader for both religion and geometry when I was still teaching (that’s right, I taught my cousins, two of them to be exact). I knew that she’d gone to Loyola, but I didn’t know she’d gone to Rome. I’m sure her mom must have mentioned that I’d gone to Loyola, but she’d forgotten that, and she didn’t know that I’d gone to Rome either. And she recognized me from behind AND told her friends she had to go say hi to her cousin. She was definitely raised up right! The caramelized prosciutto was also pretty awesome.

On the train ride back to Michigan City this morning, my mom and I figured out why neither of us enjoyed this dinner as much as the last all-class reunion in Rome (two years ago). At those reunions, you spend a lot of intense time with other attendees. There are walking tours around the city. (We call it going to class. Art in Rome, anyone?) There are day trips. (Who’s up for Pompeii?) So by the time you get to the fancy dinner on the last night, it doesn’t matter if you didn’t know anyone on the first day of the reunion; you know plenty of people now! This party in Chicago skipped the first part. My mom and I are both introverts. We’re okay with crowds when we know people. This time we knew each other. The same classmate who was at the first reunion was there, but she and her husband spent the night talking to students from another class who happen to be their next-door neighbors and go to the same parish as them. So, um, yeah…

And this afternoon, Mary spoiled me thoroughly once more. I have a feeling I’ll notice the massage she gave my diaphragm for a while. Have you ever had your diaphragm massaged? It’s a little disconcerting because, of course, you can’t breathe while it’s happening. Literally. If someone is pushing up on your diaphragm, it makes it really difficult to move that muscle down and inhale.

Fingers crossed for tomorrow!

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