Gabriella Gonzalez: Italia as Text 2019

Tivoli as Text

Water is Power

As my time exploring Italy continues, it is incredible to see the pride Italians have for their country. The importance of water seems to be the common factor as we visit historical sites, engulfing ourselves in the history of one of the greatest civilizations to ever exist. I find myself admiring the intricacy of the attention to detail Ancient Romans had. Every brick laid, every arch that stood, every marble slab set in place, had a purpose. I will never cease to be amazed by the innovative ideas and engineering of the Romans as they aimed to reach perfection. Among the many great accomplishments the Romans attained during their survival, some of the more obvious ones are a fair/just system of government, outstanding artwork and engineering; but what we often seem to disregard is how important water was to Ancient Rome. Water symbolizes many things from fertility, to fear, and most importantly survival. I always knew water had been important to the Romans in the way that it was important to all civilizations as a result of the existence of structures such as aqueducts intended to transport water to all its people. What I had not considered, however was that water could have a deeper meaning as well.

Our first day of class while walking through Rome, I was pleasantly surprised to know that there were public fountains scattered all over the city in order to provide clean drinking water to all for free. Survival. What an amazing concept! I happily accepted this gift from the Italians and refilled my water bottle multiple times in the days that followed. When it was time to head over to Tivoli, that’s when my perception of water changed significantly. When the class reached the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, we were told not to look out any windows in order to preserve the experience and be surprised once we reached the outside part of the villa. I was speechless at the sight of the numerous fountains and small streams decorated with statues, redistributing the water. The loud roar of the fountains sounded like music to my ears as the mist gently left droplets on my skin. Tranquility. This villa was built as an homage to beauty, pleasure, and the beauty of pleasure; the symbolism of the spewing water representing the interaction of male/female pleasure, combined with the statues of men and women truly highlighted these themes.

Shortly after we continued our excursion as we headed to the Valley of Hell. Fear. At first the scenery seems tranquil and beautiful, begging the question of why this is synonymous to a hellish place. I quickly realized why many Romans feared this place as the steep paths of slippery rock and uneven ground decorate the site while leading to a magnificent waterfall. We learned that this began to be called the Valley of Hell due to the fact that so many had perished in said valley. Although people feared the water when it would flood surrounding infrastructure, it did not stop them from acknowledging the power of this valley. Power. We climbed and climbed (82 flights according to my health app) until finally we reached the entrance to Hell. This cavernous fear monger was petrifying to see. One wrong step and you could fall to your impending doom. But at the same time it was intriguing to explore as we all made our way to the inside of the cave to snap pictures while enjoying the roar of the water in the background.

Water is power. But it is also tranquility, beauty, survival, and fear. Water was extremely important to the Romans and this notion was magnified during our trip to Tivoli. Most importantly it is still important today in these ways and many more. This begs the question of comparison to the United States and how little we seem to value our water. Water is sometimes taken for granted because it always just seems to be available especially living in Miami, but when I think about those who don’t have access to clean water such as residents of Flint. Michigan I am saddened by the government’s disinterest in their well-being. The Romans may have done many controversial things but the government never failed to provide for and consider its people.

Roma as Text

“La Lupa Capitolina” by Gabriella Gonzalez of FIU at Capitoline Museum, Roma.

Lupa

I am Lupa. Over centuries my story has been told and my image has been reproduced. Allow me to tell you what happened on that fateful day when I met the twins.

It was a day like any other; I was scavenging for food for my pack alongside my mate when we separated and I wandered down to the Tiber River to quench my thirst. I heard a sound and my muscles tensed as I thought a predator was lurking about. That’s when I saw the strangest thing – a floating basket. I had seen one of those where the two-legged ones would sometimes dispose of their garbage. I felt a pull in the pit of my stomach and curious to see what was inside, I quickly chased it down as the current continued to carry it. I clamped onto the handle with my teeth and placed it onto the river bank. Soft whimpers echoed in my ears so I quickly nudged the blanket with my nose to see what was inside. Two-legged ones. But very small ones. “They must be pups”, I thought. I turned to leave them in the basket but just as I was going to step back, they locked their eyes with mine and I could not bring myself to do it. I grabbed the basket and took it to the den nearby, where I had suckled my own pups, years before. Now they were fully grown and trying to be like their father, the alpha. It felt nice to care for pups once again as my last litter had already joined the pack.

Clamping onto the scruff of their necks, I removed the two legged pups and set them down on the cool dirt. They scrambled and fussed until I allowed them to suckle on my breasts, hoping this would calm them down. The whimpers seized and I continued to care for them as my own pups. I stayed in that den for what seemed to be hours when I realized I had separated from my pack. I ran out as the small ones slept, and found my mate, telling him what had happened. When we returned to the den with the rest of the pack I saw a two-legged one – Faustulus, I had heard others say – grab the pups. We hid in the bushes as the shepherd Faustulus grabbed them. He had kind eyes. Saddened to see them go, I never forgot about the twin pups. I would not see them again for many years…

The years passed, and I began to deteriorate with age. One day when I was resting near the Tiber River, always reminiscing on the day I found the two-legged pups when I heard rustling in the bushes. I turned around and found two tall and handsome, young two-legged ones facing me. Immediately I recognized their eyes. Those same eyes full of power and strength had stopped me dead in my tracks, years before. They ran to embrace me and said “Lupa, we are Remus and Romulus! We now know who we are and the great favor we owe you. Thank you for saving our lives and for caring for us as your own. We will spend the rest of our lives trying to repay this favor. Please allow us the honor of sharing our story so that everyone can see what you have done.” I smiled weakly and said “My pups, I know you will do many great things in your life and restore things as they must be. I would be honored to be part of your legacy.”

Although centuries have passed, and my physical body is no more, Remus and Romulus have made my memory immortal. My two-legged pups, Remus and Romulus*, the founders of Rome.

Pompeii as Text

“Ruins of Pompeii” by Gabriella Gonzalez of FIU at Pompeii, Italy.

A Letter From a Survivor

My beloved Aurelia,

 It has been five moons since I last saw you. Five moons ago I kissed you and our son goodbye before leaving to work. I was out at sea in Napoli when I saw a plume of smoke coming from the mountain. I was both fascinated at the sight and terrified as I had no idea if this darkness was an omen from the gods or perhaps a hiccup from the earth. My captain redirected us to the nearest island as the wind had begun to carry the smoke towards us, filling our lungs with darkness. It has been four moons since we’ve been on this island hiding away from the thick smoke. We have taken turns heading out to bring supplies to the rest of the crew but I feel numb. Seeing the liquid flames ooze into our city I can only hope that you and our son were able to escape. I tried to search for you when the masses of people began to pour in to the harbor fleeing Pompeii. I am hopeful that you both made it safe and I long for the day that we are able to be reunited. 

Yours truly, 

Quirinus 

When I first entered the city of Pompeii I did not know what to expect. I had spent much of my childhood watching documentaries and listening to my teachers talk about the volcanic eruption and how it was a city trapped in time. Little did I know that it would be an understatement to the reality of this city’s tragic past.

Pompeii was a city ahead of its time that granted women the right to own businesses, to earn money and have rights, much like the rest of Ancient Rome. It had its own amphitheater, luxurious villas, and approximately 140 restaurants, 50 bakeries, and 30 brothels. Pompeii was a social city, if nothing else. It wasn’t as grand as Rome, however the fascination with Pompeii lies in its preservation despite its total destruction. In 79 AD, around the time the Colosseum was finishing its construction, Mount Vesuvius erupted. No Pompeiian knew what this was or even that they lived near a volcano, for that matter, as it had never erupted in their lifetime.
I find it fascinating that we can pinpoint the exact date, down to the month and day, that this tragedy occurred due to Pliny the Younger’s recount of the volcanic eruption.

While walking through the skeletal remains of a great city I couldn’t help but to imagine what life must have been like over 2,000 years ago. Where would I have lived? Who would I have married? What would my occupation have been. As we’ve visited numerous cities and sites of ruins I find myself trying to imagine myself as one of its residents but I sometimes find it hard to connect. The fact that Pompeii was practically left frozen in time so that the way it is now is how it stood in 79 AD, is mind boggling to me but makes it easier to relate to the fragility of life. For this reason I chose to include a fictitious letter from what I can only assume would have been a reality for thousands of families who were separated from their loved ones. Despite being a city of approximately 20,000 people, of which 17,000 were believed to have fled at the first sign of danger, around 3,000 chose to stay. This statistic is hard to wrap my head around because logically one would assume that fight or flight instincts would kick into high gear and everyone would leave. Upon further reflection, however, it would be unfair to assume that those who stayed were dumb or ignorant. As we discussed in class, maybe the ones that remained were unable to leave. Perhaps they were old or ill, or even just unwilling to leave their belongings.

Human nature is a curious thing. Similar to what the Pompeiians may have been forced to do, whenever a hurricane or disaster strikes, an outsider may find it easy to say “just leave your things and run!” This is definitely much easier said than done as people (I’m guilty of this too) find themselves “waiting it out” or not wanting to leave their material objects behind. This becomes more complex when you take into account that the Ancient Romans in their ferocity and intensity also had a longing for the well-being of their loved ones. From elaborate statues commemorating lost ones, or even headstones remembering the lives of their spouses, I think it’s easy to say the Romans were passionate people in all versions of the word.

It begs the question, are we really any different from the people of the past? Or are we just reliving the same lives in a different time? As this class continues I find myself more and more certain that human nature in all its entirety can be flawed and delicate, but resilient and ingenious regardless of where it lies on the universe’s timeline.

Firenze as Text

“Judith slaying Holofernes” by Gabriella Gonzalez of FIU at Uffizi Gallery, Firenze.

Gone But Not Forgotten

As I walked through the streets of Florence, I couldn’t help but to get lost in the rich history. Knowing that so many great artists lived, breathed, and walked the same streets I did, so many years ago, was a chilling thought. Over and over again monuments and businesses were named after the greats of the Renaissance renowned for their intricate artistic styles, skills, and for producing some of the most incredible pieces like the David, the Birth of Venus, as well as architectural structures and designs. “How incredible,” I thought, these are people who are immensely proud of their heritage and of the impact some of the greatest artists to ever exist have contributed to the world. As incredible as it was to see people weeping over magnificent pieces such as the Pieta or the Last Judgment by Michelangelo, I couldn’t help but think about why I hadn’t seen any monuments or rave over any pieces made by women. I held this bitter sentiment until I was both overjoyed and saddened by a piece we saw in the Uffizi Gallery.

We stumbled upon a gut wrenching piece by Artemisia Gentileschi depicting what I learned was the Old Testament biblical story of Judith slaying Holofernes. The intensity of Judith’s gaze as well as the blood splatter that she is unfazed by emanates power. You can see the struggle of Holofernes as he fights for his life in a futile attempt while being pinned down by Judith and her handmaiden. Although I am not familiar with many more of Gentileschi’s art, it is easy to understand that some of her frustrations as a female artist who had gone unrecognized in her life while men with less talent were given incredible opportunities, is translated onto her work. While looking at this piece I learned that some of the proportions of her painting were inaccurate due to the fact that she was not allowed to sit and paint a male model, but her male counterparts had no such limitations.

It wasn’t until recently that Gentileschi’s artwork began to gain recognition particularly due to the feminist movement and women being more recognized in various professions. But is this enough? It makes me think about all the young women and “underprivileged” people who have been silenced and lost throughout time because they weren’t fortunate enough to essentially be sponsored by a Medici or to have society supporting their talent. This saddens me because it happens time and time again and can even be seen today in the United States with the wage gap that affects minorities and that are gender-biased.

Siena as Text

“Allegory of the Hill of Wisdom” by Gabriella Gonzalez of FIU at Siena.

Wisdom

The Cathedral in Siena was by far my favorite church that we have visited so far. The gothic flamboyant façade was the first I had ever seen and it was truly magnificent. The gothic interior flooded with pagan imagery, black and white stripes, gold stars and incredibly intricate marble floors were more than enough to leave me speechless. Although I appreciate the baroque stylistic designs of other churches I have seen, this style was by far the most “me” which is why I found myself trying to absorb all the information around me. Sensory overload. No other words could better describe the experience of walking through the cathedral. I found myself trying to take in all the details and mesmerized by the complexity of the attention to detail in every square foot of marble located on the floor. The black and white stripes that engulfed the interior and exterior of the cathedral also helped make the cathedral seem larger than life almost to the point that I felt like I was being warped into another dimension.

Of all the marble panels covering the floor (and that were open to the public) the Allegory of the Hill of Wisdom was one of my favorite as it depicts Fortune (not pictured) guiding men onto a mountain in which they begin to dispose of their material objects until they reach the top where they are obtaining wisdom. I think this is particularly interesting because often times people lose sight of the important things in life as they become preoccupied with collecting objects with extrinsic value rather than intrinsic value. I personally struggle at times to separate the two at times and this trip is a perfect example. Having to carry the weight of my material objects on my shoulders has a physical toll on my body and focus at times which may be compromising my ability to obtain information that could feed my intellect. Perhaps the men climbing up the mountain have the right idea and made the best decision to leave behind their riches and physical objects. In addition to being a physical burden, sometimes it can become easy to be dependent on these objects and if something were to happen and those objects were no longer in your possession, then what would you have left? At the end of the day are designer brands and objects more fulfilling than wisdom or knowledge?

Cinque Terre as Text

Change

Cinque Terre… what a spectacular place! Italian for Five Lands, Cinque Terre consists of the five main towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Rio Maggiore. Although each town may seem similar at a first glance, each one has unique characteristics. For example, although Cinque Terre as  a whole is famous for its pesto sauce, seafood, and lemons (!!) Vernazza is specifically known for its seafood, while Corniglia is known for its rich wine.

Despite the fact that these towns are fairly similar in demographic, I think it is spectacular that at the same time they share a common identity as residents of Cinque Terre. They are proud of their beaches, their food, and most importantly their history!

During our unfortunately short-lived time staying in Cinque Terre, I learned that the rigorous hike we ventured on, is actually part of the Cinque Terre National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is therefore protected. In addition to this, knowing that Cinque Terre’s residents stand in solidarity to prevent any large corporations from damaging the integrity of this conglomerate of mountain villages, is a heartwarming notion.

On our way to Cinque Terre we were told this was supposed to be a time to reflect and to think about our Grand Tour experience thus far. I don’t know what I thought that meant at the time, but I didn’t expect to actually be immersed in intense moments of reflection and tranquility until I actually began the hike. The hike was no walk in the park. It was challenging, it was painful, and it was spectacular in its raw beauty, the trails left untouched by man (except for the painted indications leading to the trails), allowed me to truly feel like I could have lived there hundreds of years before and as if it was part of my daily routine to walk those mountains.

There were moments when I thought my body would shut down and my legs would just give out but all it took was one look up to the mystifying horizon and glittering yellow wildflowers, and I felt instantly reinvigorated. I realized after the first few hours that this was all part of the reflection process. Everyone experienced this hike differently and was challenged in a unique way whether it was physical, mental, or even emotional; but I think I can speak for my classmates when I say we all changed as a result. This hike felt like the culmination of the grand tour experience and despite the fact that my body was begging me to stop at times, nothing compares to the feeling when I completed the entire hike and ended in Rio Maggiore.

I think this was a learning experience for all, but personally it gave me the chance to push myself to do things I never knew I was capable of. In the United States, I think we are accustomed to living a fast-paced way of life where everyone is on their own and people are generally closed off and just focused on the next task they need to complete. Although I do agree that this is necessary at times in order to increase productivity, this class and this stop at Cinque Terre has allowed me to understand a different perspective as well. One where neighbors are actually neighborly, where people care about their cities and protecting the environment, and one where it’s okay to stop every once in a while and truly admire your surrounding. I have lived in Miami my entire life and I don’t think I have ever felt a connection to my community the way I have seen people in Cinque Terre and other parts of Italy, have for theirs. This is saddening but a wake up call as well.

My generation is often preoccupied with the next trend and whatever gossip is being blasted on media outlets that it becomes easy to lose sight of the more important things in life like family, mental health, the environment, and ultimately our own well-being. I think we should all take a few lessons from Italians and change the way we think about our lives; rather than being just another number, we should value our lives and the lives of those around us. This means taking better care of our bodies and of our minds as well!

Venezia as Text

“Gondolier” by Gabriella Gonzalez of FIU at Grand Canal, Venezia

Spirit

Venezia stole my heart! In all the cities we’ve temporarily resided in or simply passed through in the past month, I’ve noticed how welcoming the people always are. Venice was slightly different however. Our welcome party (Hugues And Fleur) was so gracious as they took the time out of their day to personally direct us to our apartments. I don’t know if Miami has made me a cynic because even the smallest gestures that I’ve noticed in my time here in Italy, genuinely surprise me every time.

The first of many people, Giovanni our gondolier, was a bright sun among shining stars. Just by setting your eyes on his stature you could see that he enjoys his days rowing people across the Grand Canal as he slowly pushed his oar across the water he enriched us with the history of Venice. You could see the pride in his eyes as he described his hometown; I have never see someone enjoying their job the way Giovanni did his. With every question we had about Venice he was happy to answer and give more than what we asked. In the midst of taking pictures with my former Florentine roommates turned friends, I felt compelled to include Giovanni just because of the way he enhanced our experience and gave us a wonderful first impression of the floating city from a different perspective.

I, for one, do not own a car and I generally get around by using Miami’s public transportation so I am well adept with the in’s and out’s of all the routes. Which is why when I arrive in a new city I make it my personal mission to learn the metros, trains, and buses of each location I visit. But when I got to Venezia, I was introduced to a new form of everyday transportation, the vaporetto. In simple terms it was a water bus. With every stop you had a shipmate ready to throw the docking lines to prepare for boarding. I was fascinated by how simplistic it was and how a minimal number of stops could be such a successful means of transportation. It was not only the technicality of the vaporetto but the look of pride that gleamed in the eyes of the workers switching shifts as well as the locals who would pass by on their personal boats and wave at the drivers. Venice is such a small community that even tourists (the good kind of tourists) can feel welcomed by locals as they frequent their establishments during their stay.

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