I’d heard all about Professoressa Iamurri when still in Edinburgh, with the prospect of Rome seeming like a world away. Zoe, a very kind former-exchange student took Sophia and I under her wing to advise us about the emphatically difficult challenge of navigating Rome Tre’s administration processes and appeasing the fearsome Art History department.
“Don’t take anything with Professoressa Iamurri! She failed me”, Zoe warned, proceeding to describe a nightmare scenario when an oral examination on Modern French Art descended into a battle of wills between a scornful professor, appalled at her mis-pronunciation, and a desperate student, begging to be passed.
Scribbling notes furiously, I underlined her advice to avoid any encounter with this anti-exchange-student figure.
As it turned out, fate was not going to allow us to elude each other. And I was to have my first encounter with Iamurri a few weeks into term, having been assigned to her as the power who needed to approve of my course choices.
An email sent in advance was abruptly responded to with her open-office hours. And I arrived at the advised hour to the tall old building which looks over Piazza della Repubblica, oft the scene of military and protest marches on the way to the government seat, and an odd setting for the art history offices, so far away from the rest of the university.
I found the office to be a shared one, with several desks and two female professoressas at work.
Poking my head in and edging over the precipice, I attempted to alert them to my presence…”Buongiorno!”
The one at the far side of the room jerked her neck in my direction and then gestured for me to come over: “Vieni”. Before returning her attention to her computer screen. Uncertain I was in the right place, I approached guardedly.
Ok. “Mi chiamo Louisa Clarence-Smith..” I ventured wimpishly. “I’m here to confirm my course choices?”
The twiggy, oak-brown, bug-eyed woman returned a blank look through over-sized spectacles. Then looked down at my shabby A4 sheet of paper. It all looked ok, she concluded, except one which was a masters course, for which I needed to change the code.
This was useful information but I knew there must be more to be resolved. I returned her blank gaze, suddenly self-aware that in my rush to tick-off an endless list of bureaucratic appointments, I’d arrived with little clue of what I was actually there for.
She had to know. But her obstinately closed expression made it clear that there was no way in hell she was going to help me out.
“So is that all I need to do?” I ventured.
“I have to sign something” she responded.
Right…not having a clue what this thing was she needed to sign I nodded in mock-understanding and scurried out to the computer room to investigate. Oh yes, the infamous (to all attentive erasmus students) Learning Agreement. An hour later I returned with the form in hand, all smiles, as if I had everything absolutely under control…
I scuttled over, “Ecco..” And victoriously presented the corrected and printed form.
Surveying my satisfied relief at this small accomplishment, she looked over at her colleague and shared a mutual mocking giggle at my expense.
She did then consent to signing the form though thank goodness.
I expressed my utmost thanks. And laughed too, to show her that I was equally amused at my hopeless inadequacy. Which put a stop to her joy and my final impression was one of bare-faced disdain.
This was all a very long time ago. But it stands out as an experience which well defines the power-orientated structure of the University’s prestigious Art History department. And has been recalled to mind as I have to go back and see her next week so that she can look over and hopefully approve of the changes I’ve made to my course selections. Up until now I’ve managed to avoid a further face-to-face encounter. But she hasn’t been forgotten – with fear-inducing stories circulating of pupils leaving her exam (which I face this summer) in tears. Oh well, at least there is always much satisfaction to be had from getting through one little bit more of Italian bureaucracy. Eh, Iamurri?!