Meily De Leon: Italia as Text 2019

Tivoli as Text

“Above Science” by Meily De Leon of FIU

History is the bridge that interlocks the past and present, while simultaneously molding the future. The Romans were and still are considered a civilization ahead of their era. Strong evidence of the forward thinking and innovative concepts that they contributed to modern day society can be found via ancient Roman ruins. In particular, Hadrian’s Villa built approximately between 117-136 CE, impressively portrays the emphasis on personal health from the perspective of a time where knowledge of medicine was not widespread. Moreover, a primitive understanding of the physical observable ailments that plagued Romans existed. In spite of this, divine beliefs of the gods did influence the understanding of inexplicable conditions. Usually the miasma theory was at work, which is now rejected and replaced with the concept of contagious disease not fumes alone. Doctors of the time used physically distinguishable characteristics to give any prognosis for a Roman, for example the level of fitness of a person, was an easily identifiable quality at first glance. Therefore, Hadrian’s villa contained a large spacious rectangular structure called a gymnasium. This allowed Romans to exercise not only physically, but culturally as well. Since, their social lives revolved around dominance shown through brute strength, as a result gymnasium became essential in aiding Romans in their pursuit of praise from the emperor. In this case, emperor Hadrian was not one to shy away from ostentatious displays of wealth and power by permitting others to enjoy the wealth of the latest technological advances in his home.

In Addition to the gymnasium, elaborately large baths with intricate designs and decorations were present immediately next to the gym. The bathhouse has several baths that were of different temperatures. It was believed that changes in temperature from hot to cold served to improve a person’s circulation and close the pores of the skin, which does hold true to this day. Also, the expansive 300 acres of Hadrian’s Villa contributed to the active lifestyle Romans held, hence the lagoon at the entrance of the villa served as the measured distance that an individual was recommended to walk daily after having a meal; about 2-3 times were suggested by doctors. Other structures on the premises, such as the fishing pond pictured above, demonstrated the intertwining of entertainment and personal health through social activities.

Thus, the fact that these deductions were made without solidified scientific approaches and that a majority of the world still abides by these principles of personal health, reinforces the concept of “Everyone is a Roman” and how Romans have paved the way for architecture that serves purposes beyond the primitive need for shelter and survival. �

Roma As Text

“indescribable” by Meily De Leon of FIU

The city of Rome is a culmination of history and culture experienced through architecture. Its people are welcoming and carry an atmosphere of familial unity.  To recap,  the start of my journey caused me to feel a sense of unease in combination with an anxious perspective which hindered me from assimilating the scope of the city’s wonders. Inhibited by clouded judgement, I was unable to appreciate the uniquenes that Rome offered initially. This began to change as I was exposed to the diverse history that the ancient city holds. The forum, a Roman treasure, was the epitome of classical Roman life. Standing at the center of all its glory immersed me in a different era, with every step I slowly outgrew the cautious nature that had consumed me. The forum was the birthplace of the Republic and of civic relations: politically, socially, and religiously. During the 500 year rise of the Roman empire, this location was the foundation for their society as a whole, portraying deeply rooted cultural values, beliefs, and traditions. These Roman traditons are still, to a lesser degree, exercised today across the world. For instance, the Vestal Virgins were a strong indication of misogyny that has contributed to the taboo topic of female virginity in various cultures, such as my cultual background. Carrying my hispanic culture with me to Rome has helped me envision how life was lived here, as I continue to draw parallels.

Ultimately, the idea of traveling not as a tourist, but rather embodying an italian civilian has fostered independence within me.  I’ve developed an independent nature that I would have never believed I could harness in the time span of a week. Personally, I did not come on this trip for a religious endeavor or spiritual awakening, but I have gained empowerment from the freedom to do as I please without the fear and pressure to conform to the standards of a certain culture.

Ancient Rome, like the modern United States, was a hub for diversity in terms of people and cultures. It was a harsh place, but ultimately accepting, and I have found that the city’s culture remains largely the same. After some trial and error, I have truly begun to feel at home, and I believe that when I leave Rome to see more of the country and perhaps the rest of the world I will more readily integrate myself and find the beauty in my surroundings. Once a victim of culture shock, but never again.

Pompeii as Text

“Despair” by Meily De Leon of FIU

The concept of the unknown is often an ominous thought. A state of unfamiliarity is accompanied by paralyzing fear; therefore, it is no surprise that the people of Pompeii did not all flee the city, out of an approximate population of 20,000 citizens 2,000 perished. In 79 A.D Mount Vesuvius erupted, and annihilated the Pompeian way of life, the remaining ruins symbolically tell the history of its people. The recounts of witnesses that managed to escape death conveyed despair and helplessness as the darkness of the ashes consumed the sky. The well-preserved bodies of adults, children, and pets, alike, were impactful and evoked melancholia, while reinforcing that above all nature is the determining factor for any civilization’s reign. The positions of the bodies frozen in time revealed the universality of human emotions in a regretful manner.  As a result, the eruption caused the city’s treasures to be buried with it until rediscovered about 1900 years later, consequently the uncovering of the city influenced the European world and mirrored modern-day way of life. For instance, the idea of fast food, private homes, and separation of street lanes were clearly emphasized around the city. The excavations are evidence of how ancient Roman ideals are interwoven in everyday routines and architectural layouts that have become social norms. The present is indubitably a reflection of the past, which is a strong indication that our roots all have an origin regardless of the location or the cultural heritage behind the peoples. Another important detail that should be highlighted in the Pompeian ruins

is the fresco paintings in the Villa of mysteries

that elucidate the cult-like hierarchy that existed depicting women as sexual symbols. The Dionysiac fresco, in my perspective, represented women of the time as critical of other women of lesser social ranking, whom were subject to punishment when not conforming to patriarchal standards. However, it could be viewed as a liberation of women in the sense that paintings of nude women, such as the Birth of Venus, commemorated the sexuality of women. Rather the deeper meaning seemed oppressive, as the women are pictured toiling away unclothed. The vague nature of the painting keeps the mysterious  aura of Pompeii alive, and reminds us that humans are all connected to each other through similar sentiments, tragedy is the most relatable emotion as proved by the end of the Pompeian civilization .

Florence as text

“Good Values?” by Meily De Leon

Florence marks the awakening of the renaissance. A city that has witnessed countless innovative minds audaciously leave their legacies and sign their names proudly. Amongst the greatest feats in science and art architecturally, there are many that deserve commemoration, such as The David, The Pitti Palace, The Bargello, The Birth of Venus, Basilica of Santa Croce, etc… However, having taken 140 years to complete construction, The Duomo asserts its dominance over Florence. Its integration of religion, physics, and art in one structure. The analytical thinking that was required to accomplish this present-day Dome without the use of wooden framework or support of any kind is an impressive notion; considering the time of its creation in the 1400s. Brunelleschi was driven by ambition and a sense of pride to out perform his rival Ghiberti rather than solely for the purpose of creating a magnificent structure for the cathedral underneath or merely the people of Florence. Human nature is the driving force behind greed for fame and recognition. The transition from other worldly beings without set identities in the Medieval Gothic era to the rightful possession and humanizing of artwork, plus religious icons, has caused a ripple in the value of such grand accomplishments. It is now widely accepted to proclaim works, whether religiously affiliated or not, but during the time it was highly controversial and  considered a vanity. Physical ties to the earth hindered a being from reaching self-actualization. Despite, the ingenious design of the oculus redistributing weight around and herring bone that shifts the weight between the ribs of the sides of the dome; the underlying motivation is not a passionate one, rather than coming from a secular mindset the strong sentiments stemmed from a selfish motive. Often, a majority of the architectural and artistic feats accomplished surface from similar sentiments of greed and ambition to outdo others. Perhaps, the movement from gothic to renaissance allowed the progression of society, while sacrificing humility and moral values. As Machiavelli states “ It is not titles that honor men, but men that honor titles” insinuating that self-proclamation is the successful manner in which to metaphorically rule, in this case achieve progress in society.  

Pisa as Text

“Beauty” by Meily De Leon

The white pillars arranged harmoniously within the simplistic concave insides of the baptistry radiate a positive aura, while the plain nature of the building’s interior provides a dash of elegance. The darker lines riding up the Roman columns elude to a higher ceiling. These characteristics embody the architectural style called Pisan Romanesque, unique to Pisa it originated around the 11th century. The same Baptistry that Galileo Galilei was baptized in, as a result submerges myself in history that has shaped lives and continues to. A standstill moment overtakes you when the guards of the Baptistry of Pisa, also known as the Pulpit, sing notes that amplify throughout the dome as the sound waves travel upward. The ingenious design by Nicola Pisano was a combination of the aesthetic elements and practicality of the alters placement. Pisan Romanesque is a combination of various eras with a lack of symmetry and logical order, for instance there is specifically only one stained glass window transformed into a sculpture, which represents their victory over pagan ideals, in the Roman era. Two entirely different concepts, yet both placed in the same building. The mysterious factor surrounding Pisan Romanesque is what truly makes it interesting because in a sense the disorganized nature of the style seems vaguely similar to modern art and its lack of an overall message. Furthermore, the vague nature of the baptistry leads into the unknown, or poorly understood insights that circulated throughout the time period. The modestly decorated baptistry allows for visitors and worshippers alike to focus on the religion at hand, rather than the political or social economic factors otherwise involved in Baroque structures. The Medici family guild was successful at utilizing mostly religion, to silence their skeptics by exercising power discreetly and selectively. The simplicity and confusing nature of Pisan Romanesque is captivating since it has no set direction and can be interpreted fairly based on personal interests, unlike having a set-in stone depiction of Christ. The ability to decide, given information, what the differing icons and architectural styles are attempting to portray to us is a priority, then fear is no longer the limiting factor.

Cinque Terre as Text

“Catharsis” by Meily De Leon

Expectations are sources of self-disappointment. The human mind is capable of withstanding pressure and stress induced mental strain to a certain extent. As a labyrinth of chaos, it is often rendered a nuisance when uncertainty about what lies ahead exists. Dread of the unknown. The satisfaction associated with accomplishing menial daily tasks is temporary gratification. The realization that our struggles impact us greater than our triumphs alone is a concept that fosters the resilience for discovery and knowledge. Considering that the pursuit of knowledge requires exposure to diverse cultures and   incorporation into real world experiences, it is no surprise that natural expeditions are undertaken; Hiking was a main method used for reflection of life in of itself during the Grand Tour. A primary aim of the endeavor was to promote cultural awareness and education through the art and history Italy has to offer. The hike through all five Terre’s was exhilarating, but it focused heavily on a survival perspective rather than self-insight. In addition, the trail was not solitary and did not create an ambiance conducive to reflecting upon the previous weeks’ sensory overloads. The idea of backpacking through Europe is similar to the Cinque Terre hike, however, the hike to Levanto was a challenge that simultaneously allowed for the assimilation of the forest’s stillness and beauty.

As I climbed the steep ledges and felt the gravel slide below the soles of my shoes, only heavy breaths remained and the sun rose overhead warming the goosebumps on my arms. The atmosphere heavy with scents of pine, flower, and crisp ocean air coerced an epiphany within me. In the 17th century, right about now a typical white wealthy male would have been hiking Monterosso, seemed like an impossible feat for women. Here I am, lucky to have had the privilege to experience this. On the contrary to the old norm, the experience contradicted greatly from the original Grand Tour demographic of the time, now a Hispanic woman has been able to participate on this journey to self-discovery. Strength is found within one’s mindset, and personal experience is either the limiting or promoting factor in an individual’s growth as a functional member of society.

Furthermore, the Grand Tour has served as a way to purge forms of repressed conflicting notions of the world by expanding both social and cultural horizons; which will ultimately serve as learned techniques and skills that will be pertinent across other countries. Cultural competency is  valuable and should be advocated for vehemently, especially amongst the five historically and culturally diverse villages of Cinque Terre.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Venezia as Text

“Righteous Intentions” by Meily De Leon 

The simple Venetian lifestyle is far from the hectic tourism that bombards the city daily. Leaving a wake of trash behind. The anomaly of the city on water continues to draw visitors worldwide, despite the mustiness of seafood and foul odor of the high tides, it proceeds to be a popular destination. Although, it is no longer a basin for trading between the west and east, its historical significance lives on through its architecture. A city whose distance from land created a source of protection for its original colonizers, now serves a different purpose for its descendants of which thrive from tourist revenue. St. Mark’s Square is an architectural masterpiece that is representative of the communal Venetian lifestyle. The vastness of the present-day square, expanded in the year 1177, serves to convey the emphasis that was placed on Venice’s political dealings. It was utilized as an area of conference  As the most powerful City-state, the separation of Church and State was not a priority and morality was brushed aside in exchange for the political success of Venice. This unearths hypocrisy circulating the ideals of the church, the Catholic church was a strong political power for centuries using religious ideals as a form of justification rather than a guide. People who identified with differing gender identities and other religions were not persecuted, but not due to acceptance or tolerance on behalf of the Venetians; it was mainly associated with the need for power and wealth that consumed their society. Moreover, in that sense their obsession with political power can be viewed as a positive aspect. The progression of Venice’s power was not obstructed by moral values and the right of passage was allegedly granted to those aiding the economic strength of the City-state. Piazza San Marco illustrates those corrupted ideals, despite the fact that it has been repurposed for tourism and home to fearless pigeons. 

Italia as Text 2019
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