Tivoli As Text
Mozelle Garcia of FIU at Tivoli Italia, Instagram @mozelleg99
I hear the birds on the summer breeze, picturing a life of leisure and ease
philosophy by day, debauchery at night
who could possibly stop me? my soldiers win every fight.
But judge me they may, judge me they do;
those pesky native Romans, the ones who
do not dare to see beyond their gleaming white city,
do not care to accept those from different places.
Even if for them I’ve battled and gotten my hands dirty,
a Spaniard like me could never have their good graces.
So here I’ll live, here I’ll stay
In my brilliant villa far away.
Where I can read on my own and narrow my guests to
those who love the same pleasures that I do.
Exercise and bathing,
fishing and star-gazing.
And a view from atop the hill
where I can see the city which I must visit,
take my place for which many would kill.
Being Emperor of Rome won’t be all bad, will it?
The issue of a leader not being accepted by much of his or her people has not gone away in civilized society. We need only look to the many Americans who continued to question President Barack Obama’s birthplace even after proof of his natural born status was publicized, and of course how many people were doubtful of his competency because of his race. With this they allowed their prejudices to impede them from forming opinions that were actually based on the quality of his leadership.
The Big Ideas
Hadrian ruled after Trajan, during the “Pax Romana,” a period of peace which lasted 200 years. During this time Roman citizenship was granted to more and more people, increasing opportunities for trade and the connectedness of the empire as a whole. Instead of making new conquests, Hadrian toured the empire and learned from the different cultures within it. This can be seen by the various different architectural styles that made up his villa in Tivoli. While Hadrian may have had his flaws, his place of birth should not have been used to drive him away from the people he meant to rule over. Still, the result of that was a gorgeous and unique residence with features that exemplify the best of ancient Roman utilities. After having the opportunity to tour the villa, who can complain?
Rome as Text
Nothing Gold Can Stay – Colosseum
Mozelle Garcia of FIU at Rome Italia, Instagram @mozelleg99
Knowledge of works like the Flavian Amphitheater, called “Colosseum” by the public who associated it with a colossal sculpture that used to be just outside of it, has fluctuated through history. The Romans in 79 CE certainly knew where it came from and what it was for – the Emperors Vespasian and Titus wanted to give back to the people part of the pleasures which the overly lavish Emperor Nero had reserved for himself. The Colosseum was a place where Roman citizens could gather to watch gory spectacles. Wild animals tearing at each other, feral with fear and goaded on by the roar of 50,000 or more people stomping, clapping, shouting. Men would be thrown to the animals too, condemned prisoners with nothing left but the right to die. Not to be forgotten are the Gladiators, not quite like the modern celebrities of today who are idolized for their artistic pursuits, rather they were more like the animals, made famous by their actions when they were cornered with no choice but to fight. And fight they did; battles that ended with blood soaking into the sand of the arena.
And suddenly there I was, the only battle raging seemingly a fight for a space to take pictures. Many people visit wonders like this just to check them off a list, but while at the Colosseum I had a battle within myself to see past the magnificence of the architecture and rather consider the price it cost. To capture this I chose a picture from outside the Colosseum, taken from high up in the Roman forum where one can see that I wear a bronze ring bought in the gift shop. It shines in the sun, like I imagine the real thing once did when it was covered with polished white marble. This visit was one of the first excursions of our entire trip, and so with this ring I will carry the Colosseum with me everywhere we go. It’s metallic glaze has already begun to rub off, staining my hands dark green with tarnish. It’s transformation reflects that of the real thing perfectly, as the words of Robert Frost prove true once again; nothing gold can stay.
The ring will be a reminder of the roots of all Rome, a place built on war and conquest, run by political masterminds who transformed the republic into an empire. They did this by distracting the public from the real problems by providing something cool to look at. We can call them masterminds, because their goals are still accomplished today. Witnessing the Colosseum is overpowering, and it is what many people imagine when they think of Rome. It gives the people today the impression that the Romans likely would have wanted it to give, that they were a powerful and advanced people capable of great feats. But it’s our job to remember that everything is not always what it seems, and that’s the mindset we must have even when contemplating less famous works moving on.
Pompeii As Text
WITH A WHIMPER
Mozelle Garcia of FIU at Pompeii Italia, Instagram @mozelleg99
This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper – T.S. Eliot.
When people think of a volcano they think of lava flowing, rampant and out of control, burning the trees and covering the earth in hard new rock. But it wasn’t like that in Pompeii. The eruption there was not sudden, but slow and deceptive. Everyone pictures volcanoes exploding with a bang, but in Pompeii the estimated 2,000 people who stayed behind as the rocks rained from the grey sky were killed in a much slower way. The most striking image in my exploration of Pompeii was that of the ancient man who sat down and tried to cover his face as the fumes cut off his breathing forever. Or perhaps he prayed in vain, wondering what he and his people had done to offend Vulcan, the Roman god of volcanoes, but then again most of them hadn’t even known that Mt. Vesuvius held that heated fury within it before it was too late. I imagine that the people felt the effects of the fumes before they hit fully – giving them just enough time to know they messed up by staying, just enough time to panic and feel the fear. They perished not with a bang, but with a whimper.
It was hard walking through Pompeii and seeing all of the places people used to live. Seeing animals and little children frozen in time was one of the hardest parts as well – they had no choice but to stay. We look at Pompeii and we can appreciate the historical value of the perfectly preserved city, with the paintings and mosaics of many houses and villas intact, and the evidence of the civilized society rampant in all the fast food places and chariot traffic regulations. At the same time we sympathize with the dead, but we cannot speak badly on their behalf when really, we haven’t gotten much better. It’s so easy to see people’s mistakes in retrospect. Every time a disaster occurs today people come out with claims of what they would’ve done differently. But it’s no help after the fact.
The decimation at Pompeii occurred 1,940 years ago, and we’ve come a long way since then, like how we can monitor seismic activity and offer faster transportation. Still, that doesn’t change the fact many people today can try as much as they like to be proactive with natural disasters, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. 14 years ago Hurricane Katrina ravaged all of New Orleans and it was the low income individuals with no place to go and no possibility of finding another future if they left their only properties and possessions behind, that suffered the most. The city is still not fully rebuilt. Pompeii was forgotten through the years after it was destroyed, only the records of Pliny the Younger who saw the destruction himself can help us to know what happened. The same thing occurs in developed countries all the time where the media will cover an event nonstop until the next one comes along, no one pays any more mind, but the issues persist there. I think that the history of Pompeii should serve as a lesson to the people today of the importance of taking the wrath of nature seriously, but also of having sympathy for victims with no control, and enough compassion to follow up and be certain that no city is forgotten. We can do better than that.
Firenze As Text
THE HALL OF WOMEN vs THE DAVID
Mozelle Garcia of FIU at Firenze Italia – Uffizi Gallery, Instagram @mozelleg99
The David is praised and singled out for the distinct and immaculate way that it captures humanity. The tension of the young man’s body and the look of doubt in his eyes in combination with the aura of confidence and bravery that exudes from him all the same and makes the viewer appreciate their own humanity and potential. What could be more impressive than the David? Brunelleschi’s Dome? Giotto’s tower? Well, impressive is a relative term, and so is impactful, but from my experience the hall adjacent to the gallery leading up to the David was more impactful than the David himself. I explored this wing alone after sifting through the trinkets in the gift shop, somewhat bored and not expecting to be moved so much once again farted having seen the David for the first time. This wing contained rows and rows of sculptures and busts of mostly women, along with children and animals. I had not seen anything like this in all of my time traveling through Italy. Most were nameless, made by unknown artists most likely for familial commissions. But as unimpressive as these marble and plaster sculptures – most of them partially reconstructed – may be by themselves, all together they made me feel like I was walking through a happier side of history. The David celebrates courage and masculinity. All it takes is one gigantic 17 foot sculpture made by the renaissance master Michelangelo in the early 1500s to overpower one’s senses, but the hall will all the women overpowered me in a different way. It just made me happy and relieved in a way to see that some fraction of ancient art was devoted to the everyday women, not even necessarily deities. While the David is undeniably humanistic and empathetic I can’t quite call him warm, not in the way that the women in this hall are. A picture can’t capture the feeling of walking through and seeing all of the hairstyles and expressions of maternity and gentle in interacting with children and dogs. The hall of women easily emits warmth. I feel that it is important to represent historic moments and religious stories in art, but the purity of celebrating everyday moments brings a different sense of peace and inspiration to me. The final sentiment that I had when leaving the little gallery and glimpsing the David again was that perhaps one man may be very strong, but while one woman can do the same, many women coming together can do even more.
Pisa as Text
Calls to Heaven
Mozelle Garcia of FIU at Pisa, Italia. Instagram @mozelleg99
Quite often throughout our study abroad journey we have been truly surprised. Our calendar and syllabus only reveal so much, but in the moment when we are finally experiencing the things that our grand tour has built up to, there are always amazing details to blow us away. The demonstration of the acoustics inside of the Pisa Baptistery of St John was one of the most pleasant surprises of its kind. A unique architectural style termed Pisan-Romanesque – for the Romanesque influences are apparent in the heavyset structure and the simplicity of the colors and designs – the Baptistry connects to the gentler side of Heaven in what is personally my favorite way.
The dome in this Baptistry from 1363 is nothing to boast of, and the oculus isn’t even open, but nonetheless it is full of light, and with a single call for silence and a few moments of vocalisations a simple guard turned the bland space into a capsule for the voices of the heavens. I loved this feature of the Baptistry so intensely because I think it highlights how beauty is not only present in a visual sense, but through other medeis as well. In the digital age we live in, pictures are taken, crafted, shared, picked apart until they emulate perfection in the eyes of their creator. But just looking at pictures can’t compare to witnessing the total beauty of a place which in my opinion should account for sounds, smells, even the temperature of the air within it. The emphasis on sound within this Baptistry shows that the Pisan people were more interested in their connection with God than with opulent beauty on earth. I think that learning of places like this can help people to realize that there are more ways of connecting to spirituality, to other people, and to feelings in general than just through visual media. It’s no wonder that the Baptistry is located in the Piazza dei Miracoli (the Plaza of Miracles), it doesn’t get as much love as the famous leaning bell tower, but from my experience it has even more heart.
Cinque Terre as Text
A Place For Reflection
Mozelle Garcia of FIU at Cinque Terre, Italia Instagram @mozelleg99
As a member of generation Z, I naturally am influence by the trends and stereotypes of young people’s intimacy with technology. The prospect of hiking for 18 miles and nearly 8 hours seemed rather daunting to me before I had to opportunity to embark on the journey. These days, people can’t be bored at all. They don’t know how to deal with it. They desire content stimulation of the mind, or at least what passes as stimulation. A lot of it is oftentimes really just a simulation, as one treks mountains and explores ancient cities through a digital screen. When these coastal towns were built, some during the Ancient Roman era, the people never expected it to grow to the desirable tourist destination it is today. Their trails were functional, not scenic. That part came as a bonus, possible because of the natural beauty and wonders present in the landscapes of Liguria, the region of Italia where Cinque Terre is located. To be honest, I was tempted to fill the silence with some music such as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” to keep me going through the endless expanses of stairs and steps along the way. (I also assigned the same title to the stairway pictured above as it lead right to a gorgeous panoramic view of the sea and of Manarola). I held back from listening to music however, electing to remain alert in case there was an issue along the trail.
We were told that Cinque Terre was a place for reflection, but at the times I was not slowing down or stopping to take a photo I was staring at my worn down sneakers and trying very hard not to fall off the side of the trail to my certain doom. I didn’t quite reflect on my life or my decisions, but rather focused on on the challenge before me, “just get to the end and think about it later” was the mentality. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as I imagine it was the one that the ancient people had when traveling from town to town in such a laborious manner. We are so used to convenience today that we can’t be bored and we can’t enjoy the simple things in life because we don’t know how to face them. I certainly tried; I kept a slower pace, smelling flowers and taking useless photographs. They’re useless because they could never capture the real scenery with all its depth, it’s perfection in color tones and imperfections in power lines and fleeing figures intruding on the scene. We were told that Cinque Terre was a place where we should reflect. The peace of the mountain sanctuary, with the warm atmosphere stomping out the cold air, helped me to do just that after our long hike, and so I saw how I can change to live more for the moment rather than to pass the time.
Venezia As Text
The Flower in Adveristy
Mozelle Garcia of FIU at Venezia, Italia. Instagram @mozelleg99
“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all”
It was not a great poet who said that, this quote actually comes from a Disney Movie of all places. They are the words spoken by the Emperor of China in the film “Mulan,” and they were the words that came to mind on several occasions during my time in Venice, as no volume of incidences could take away my wonder when I would see little flowers blooming in the most improbable places.
I’m no scientist or biologist, so I can’t know the technicalities of it all, but to me it’s amazing and beautiful how a seed can end up in a place as remote as a pillar above the Bridge of Sighs and find the means to grow into a flower. I don’t have a picture, but try and imagine it; an open window leaving the courtroom in the Doge’s palace, a view of the bridge from very close, and to the left on a rooftop above, a little flower. It was a beautiful moment, enough for even a picture-happy Generation-Z like me to forget to whip out her phone. But you know, there were flowers like that blooming all around the city, and in the cells of the prisoners there was no exception. I was very struck by the art on display in one of the ancient jail cells now open to the public. Many of the prisoners drew women – what they missed in jail I suppose – but one prisoner, well, they doodled the same basic little flower that adorns the margins of every schoolgirl’s notebook.
I don’t know exactly why it struck me so. Without being educated about history, we feel a bit disconnected from the people in the past. It was during the Grand Tour that I learned for the first time that while society’s practices and the way we do things with the aid of technology may evolve, people are largely the same, with the same talents, interests, concerns, etc. I think that this doodle on the prison wall captures that well. It captures feeling trapped, longing to see green, or maybe just passing the time. Just like a schoolgirl with her notebook. All over Venice is evidence of the shared humanity we have with the people of the past. I believe that it is only right to have felt more connected with the city than any other as this was our final destination on the Grand Tour.
Venice may not have as much in the way of churches and historical wonders as other places I’ve been, but the lack of automotive traffic or modernized constructions along with the romantic, almost mystical energy that fills the city as the night falls and the tourists ship off altogether provided a feeling of authenticity surpassing all others. Looking at the past as if it were disconnected from the present is a mistake that is made all too often. Perhaps it is that we are used to seeing movies that tell legends of the past, and at the end of them always remind ourselves that they aren’t real. While much of the history we say may be fictionalized or exaggerated, it is important to never forget that the stories come from true events and involve real people with real emotions.
Going through the prison cells was an odd experience. One thinks that surely the people kept in here were for the most part criminals that had done bad things, but the conditions in which they were kept, and the distinct justice system under which they were prosecuted left me feeling like it may all have been far too harsh. The ancient world may have been harder, but that doesn’t mean that people were innately stronger. I feel that it is important to keep in mind the perspective of the oppressed, of the peasant, and even of the prisoner as we explore great ancient cities like these where the wealthy and the poor lived as neighbors but yet in different worlds. Venice itself was relatively good about that, making all nobles wear black and have black gondolas, for example, in order to prevent them from flaunting their wealth. But still, it is important to once again see the similarities in people then and today and to learn about the importance of these kinds of cautions, and of preventing disparities that border on the unjust from being so rampant.