Abigail Clark – Sometimes, It’s All About the Bennies

Internship experiences are often practical, pragmatic, and relevant to students’ personal and professional futures. Cultural intelligence is gained and honed in an actual Italian environment and interacting with adults in their offices is invaluable to students’ understanding of the real world. An international internship will look stellar on a résumé.

All of this remains true for my internship during my usual weekly work grind.

But every now and then, I am able to reap the benefits of working for an agency like Context; and those benefits are manifested in the knowledge and inspiration I have gained through following the walking tours that Context offers as a product. This weekend I attended two magnificent walks and both contributed to my ever-lengthening list of priceless Roman moments.

For some background, Context offers two types of “walks”; walks, not tours; either group or private. The group walks are open sign up, but with the maximum occupancy set at six participants. Not exactly a massive group. Private walks are exactly what they sound like, that is reserved for only one client with as many or as few participants as they desire. As an intern I am blessed to have the opportunity to add myself onto any group walk that has not reached the 6 person limit, and this weekend  I was in Rome for once,  and thus was able to place myself on two seminars: “Bernini and Borromini” and “Galleria Borghese”.

If you would like to peruse the official descriptions of these two walks, feel free to glance at Context’s official website, located here (https://www.contexttravel.com/city/rome/all-walking-tours).

If not, I will prepare the prime cuts for you here:

Bernini&Borromini: This walk was all about the competition, contrast, and contempt of these two contemporary masters, and how these emotions manifested themselves in their architecture and art. Bernini the gentleman was all finesse and expression in his works, while the troubled but brilliant Borromini literally drove himself mad with the detail and proportionality of his. We walked all around the Palazzo Barberini area, observing structures and sculpture by the two craftsmen

Galleria Borghese: Instead of wandering the city, an entire two hours are spent inside the Borghese collection. An art historian guides a tour of the amazing display of painting, sculpture, and antiquity that is only a sliver of the original opulence of the great Villa Borghese. Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian; if Baroque or Renaissance art history nerds dream about it, you can bet it’s there.

To give you more of a play by play:

On Saturday morning I met with a wonderful Australian art historian, who has lived in Italy for fifteen years teaching and working for companies like Context, at Sant’Andrea del Quirinale. I was extremely fortunate because three of the walk’s clients had cancelled at the last minute, leaving only myself and one other client present. I might as well have received a free private tour. To boot, the sole client was about half an hour late (because she managed to get lost around Piazza Navona, three separate times), so I had a wonderful chat with Hillary the docent in the meantime.

BY THE WAY: In Context terms, tour guide = docent.  Docents have to be extremely qualified, almost to a ridiculous degree. These people are legitimate, published experts in their subject area.

When our wayward client arrived, all hot and bothered, we entered the church. Cue sculpture, dome, and breathtaking light all crafted by Bernini……all covered by scaffolding. That’s Italy for you. But we still got the idea.

Next, on to a church by Borromini: San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane. The style and feel of the structure was completely different, and in my opinion superior. The day was perfect, the sunlight shone in through the intelligently designed cupola lantern, and my docent Hillary provided us with wonderful insights.   The style is sparse and yet elegant; no meaty marble here. The interior architecture is truly sublime.

Shifting from architecture to sculpture, and making a necessary caffeine pit-stop, we peeked in and saw Bernin’s Santa Teresa in Ecstasy…. Quite inspiring. However,  cheesy organ music and whiny children’s voices were combining into a cacophony capable of annoying the Dalai Lama. Took away from the majesty of the sculpture a tad, but it was still lovely and evocative to an extreme degree

We then proceeded to the Palazzo Barberini, and the majesty of that museum and structure speaks for itself. The opposing staircases of Bernini and Borromini sum up their relationship. I was so honored to follow the walk, and glean knowledge from Hillary. We became fast friends, and I expect to see her soon.

The next day I ventured to Villa Borghese and ambled through the greenery until I came to the Galleria itself. There I met a different, Lauren, and two clients. Luck had struck again; the other clients had missed a flight and were unable to make the walk. What an enchanted weekend! Context also bought my ticket into the gallery… I couldn’t ask for much more.

Two wonderful hours ( the max allowed by the museum officiate) were spent marveling in the splendor of not only the art, but the Villa itself. Galleria Borghese is one place in Rome where if I had come on my time, and dollar, I would not have gotten half the experience that I entertained from the Context walk. Being led around the overwhelming collection by someone who had been teaching there for twenty years really gave me something I could write home about; knowledge that I could hold, discussions that cemented in with my previous knowledge, and the eye that I lack for fine detail in painting.

Rome has truly, unashamedly moved me to tears several times. This walk was one of them. When I laid eyes on Bernini’s Persephone, I was reminded of the identity of that feeling that everyone is always striving for; the thrill of true experience and amazement.

Need I say more? Sometimes, we are given gifts that can only be appreciated in the context of our own personal enjoyment and experience of them. My internship has given me one the finest gifts I have ever received.