March 26, 2019

A humorous look at life in Amelia from the eyes of a former participant

A medieval town & its secret passageways
by Summer Clowers, ARCA Alumna

WARNING: this essay is a work of satire.  It will be best understood if read in the voice of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, from Downton Abbey.

As an ARCA alumna, I have come to warn you about all of the things that you will hate about this small program on art crime. In that vein, I here offer you a list of the woes of living in a small Umbrian town the likes of which will keep you up at night as you scroll through old Facebook photos.  A letter of warning, if you will, to all prospective ARCA-ites. Should you choose to ignore my advice, I cannot be responsible for the consequences.

Your first few days in Amelia will leave you with an intense urge to explore and make friends.  The town is ancient, surrounded on most sides by a Neolithic wall with even more history buried beneath it.  There are secret passages and hidden rooms and you’re going to want to grab a new-found buddy and sneak through every one of them.  DON’T.  The more you explore, the more you will love the town, and it will make it that much harder to leave.  Yes, there are three secret Roman cellars to be discovered as well as an ancient Roman cistern.  Yes, the town’s people do scatter the roads with rose petals in the shape of angels once each summer.  All of these things are beside the point.  Walk steady on the path and avoid all temptations to adventure.

As for friends, stick with people that live near to you back in the real world.  I know Papa Di Stefano is fantastic, and yes, he will befriend you in a way that transcends language, but do you really want to miss him when you’ve gone?  And your fellow students?  Well, most of them are going to live nowhere near you.  Do you really need to have contacts in Lisbon and Melbourne and New York and Amsterdam?  No, you don’t.  It’s so damp in the Netherlands and we all know London is just atrocious.  I mean really, all those people. Take my advice, ignore anyone that lives far away from you.  You are here to learn and leave, not make connections that will last you the rest of forever.

You will also want to avoid the town’s locals.  Amelia is tiny, so getting to know most of its shopkeepers and inhabitants will not be very hard, but you must resist the urge to do so.  It’s true that Massimo will know your coffee order before you get fully through his door, and the Count will open his home with a smile to show you around his gorgeous palazzo, and Titi will make you the best surprise sandwich, but these things are not proper.  Do not mistake their overflowing kindness and warmth for anything other than good breeding.  And when you find yourself sobbing at the thought of saying goodbye to Monica, you can just blame your tears on the pollen like the rest of us.

Your instructors are going to be just as big of a challenge.  The professor’s are really too friendly.  I know that Noah Charney says that he’s available for lunch and the founder of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques squad, Dick Ellis, will happily have a beer with you, but is getting to know your professor socially really appropriate?  I mean, we’ve all attended seminars where you barely see the speaker outside of stolen moments during coffee breaks, and that’s the best way for things to go, isn’t it?  Sterile classroom experience with little to no professorial interactions is the way academic things should run.  I know I never saw any of my professor’s outside of class.  And I certainly don’t keep up with Judge Tompkins' travels through his prosaic emails; that would just be inappropriate.

And then there’s the conference.  It lasts an entire weekend.  Why would I want to attend a weekend long event where powerhouses in the field open up their brains for poor plebeians?  I mean honestly, meeting Christos Tsirogiannis at the conference will be a high point in your year, and it will be too difficult to control your nerdy spasms when Toby Bull sits down next to you at dinner.  And then, when you find out that Christos joined ARCA's teaching team in 2014, you’ll find yourself scrambling to come up with a way to take the program a second time just so you can pick his brain. Think about how much work that will be.  They aim to make this an easy experience where you rarely have to use powers of higher thinking.  This should be like the grand tour, a comfortable time away from home so that you can tell others that you simply summered in Italy. 

And the program would be so much better served in Rome.  I mean, just think on it.  You would never have to learn Italian because you’d be in a city full of tourists.  You’d get to pay three times as much for an apartment a third of the size of the one you rent in Amelia, and you wouldn’t have to live near any of your classmates.  A city the size of Rome is big enough that a half hour metro ride to each other’s places would be pretty much de rigueur.  This means you wouldn’t have to deal with any of those impromptu dinner/study salons at one another's apartments.  And there certainly wouldn’t be random class-wide wine tastings at the Palazzo Venturelli. That’s just too much socializing anyway.  It’s unseemly.

And finally, let’s talk about the classes.  Do we really care about art crime? Sure, Dick Drent is pretty much the coolest human you’ll ever meet and you will never look at a museum the same way again, and Dorit Straus somehow manages to make art insurance spectacularly interesting, but really, do we care?  Isn’t that better left to one’s financial advisor?  And the secret porchetta truck that the interns will show you as you study the intricacies of art law, could surely be found on one’s own.  Couldn’t it?  I think we would all be much better served by just watching that terrible Monuments Men movie, fawning over George Clooney and Matt Damon, and thinking about the things we could be doing all from the safety and comfort of our own homes.  I do so hate leaving home.  The ARCA program involves work, and eleven courses with fifteen different professors, and classmates that will quickly become family, well it's all so exhausting.  I mean really, tell me, does this sound like the program for you?

ARCA Editorial Note:  Late applications are still being accepted.  If you would like more information on ARCA's 2019 program please write to education (at) artcrimeresearch.org for a copy of this year's prospectus and application materials. 

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