Tivoli as Text
“Body and Venus” by Kamila Etcheverry of FIU at Tivoli, Italy
Walking through Hadrian’s Villa, you will have your attention caught by the statue of a headless, naked Venus. She stands bare, surrounded by columns, broken parts of her very own temple. It will call out to you for neither of those qualities, but rather for the shape of her body instead.
It will remind you of all the time you spent over analyzing every inch of your own,
and of the pressure you and other women your age may feel to be thin,
and how that same pressure landed one of your close friends in a treatment center,
and how for many years, thin felt exactly the same as beautiful, but now Venus was showing you otherwise.
There is confidence and sexuality through her nudity, yet modesty in the way she gracefully covers herself. She is feminine and sensual, her body voluptuous, raw, real. She does not wince at the sight of her own flesh. She does not carry the self-criticism the fuels our friends, our mothers, and our sisters. Her curves are desired and respected, admired enough to hold their own place in history, in the town of Tivoli, in the home of Hadrian, in museums, in books, and for the remainder of time.
I see her surrounded by her own temple in the home of a Roman emperor, with a body that our society may deem imperfect, and it makes me wonder why we ever hold so much self-hatred.
Roma as Text
“Look Up” by Kamila Etcheverry of FIU at Rome, Italy
In Rome, I look down frequently to make sure I’m not tripping over the pavement. If I do fall, my hands will meet the ancient cobblestone and I’ll see S.P.Q.R. inscribed in front of me; an acronym referring to the government of the ancient Roman republic. I’ll pick myself back up, brush the dirt off my knees, and look back up only to find myself in front of the largest amphitheater ever built, or one of the greatest pieces of architecture ever built, or the church that holds the tomb of St. Peter. I might take a walk through the Roman Forum, where I’ll be surrounded by ruins and the temple to one of the most influential leaders of all time, Julius Caesar. I might arrive at the Pantheon and be moved by the perfection of it all and the symmetry that took place way ahead of its time.
The history here is tangible, it’s the ground I walk on and the marble I touch and the sculptures I see. It is a reminder of the way things were and a challenge to the perception of my own purpose in time and history. Capuchin Friars tell me that what I am now, they used to be and what they are now, I will one day be. The skeletons feel like a call to action for a life not free of sin, but free of stagnancy and discontent. The ruins of the city feel like a warning to where things could go wrong and where they could go right. The Colosseum, full of witnesses hungry for entertainment and participants hungry for blood, feels like a reminder of how painfully human we are. That no matter how hard we try to stray away from our instincts, they will always prevail. That entertainment and violence have been two sides of the same coin since the beginning of time and that we are more a part of that past than we think.
I stood in the Colosseum once and imagined it full. I thought about what led me here and how much of a role I played in being there. Was it chance? Or was it meant to be this way, in this moment, long after the years of spectators and gladiators are over?
Pompeii as Text
Over time, routine has seeped its way into my life, making every day a mirror to the next. I used to hate the idea of conformity but now it feels as though the structure is a necessary part of how I function. I plan ahead, I worry about the future, I worry about the past, I feel out of control when things don’t go as intended. I wasn’t always this way though, and every now and then, I get a brief moment where I feel like the version of me that doesn’t care to plan for the future and just lives in the now. Those are the moments I try to hold onto the most.
I thought about this as I walked through Pompeii, an ancient city that was covered in volcanic ash in 79 AD after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Before the eruption, it was a city like any other, with its residents and its brothels and its street food. Pompeii had its children running through the streets and its pregnant mothers awaiting babies of their own. After the eruption, about 2,000 people had died and the ash covering their bodies remained. Archaeologists incorporated plaster in their excavation process and were able to preserve the shapes of those bodies. Today, the plaster casts of these individuals still remain, laying behind glass windows for visitors to see. Tour guides bring their groups around the city, stopping at the bodies and sharing facts about how many died or when or how many got away. By the end of the day, the bodies are reduced to numbers and we forget that each of them were once individuals like you and me, with likes, dislikes, favorite foods, and favorite things to do. They were someone’s mother or father, a sister, a brother, and a friend. In the blink of an eye, they lost their lives and with that, their routines suddenly lost their meaning.
It made me think of how much importance I place on my own routines and how the stress of my own impermanence can either push me to do more or leave me with almost paralyzing anxiety. In reality, I can’t predict the end to my own story. I don’t know when my Mount Vesuvius will erupt but until then, I want to make sure I was present for it all. I want to stop and accept the ebb and flow of things, the unpredictability of life. I want to know that anxiety about the future can still be there, but does not have to be all-consuming. Because if I’m anything like the victims in Pompeii, things can take you by surprise, and the only thing worse than that is knowing you took it for granted.