Ashley Rodriguez: Grand Tour Redux 2019

INTRODUCTION

Italy in one word is: enchanting. It is a perfect combination of the past and the present. It’s landscape is versatile in nature. It is magical in the way that it’s deeply cultural landscape allows one to explore the concept of individuality. I personally feel more culturally educated than ever before. This trip has allowed me to explore different aspects of myself. I have cultivated a new sense of identity that does not involve anyone but myself. Let me explain; prior to this trip I identified myself in relation to other people and institutions.  Among other things I typically would identify as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student, and an employee. This trip has allowed me to foster a deeply personal identity. An identity that is solely mine and does not belong to anyone else. I believe that I was able to embark on such a journey of self discovery because of the unique nature of Italy. Italy is a historically and culturally rich country. One must critically examine the past in order to understand the present and the future. To understand the past, one must examine the big pictures and ideas that often go unnoticed. The big ideas that are brought up from studying abroad in Italy opens the mind to explore the uncharted territory of our individual selves. I have identified the big ideas that I found in each major city we explored. These concepts/ideas are humanity, gender, nature, and community. This project will focus on these major concepts and how they are present in Italian and American culture alike.

ROMA: HUMANITY

The Colosseum:

“In the colosseum I see violence, injustice, and pain.

I see men fighting for the opportunity to live.

I see slaves praying to Gods they don’t believe in.

I see innocents being made savages.

Humanity in its rawest form. “

  • Ashley Rodriguez

The above is an excerpt from my Roma as Text and I believe that it perfectly embodies the raw nature of the humanity that can be found while visiting the colosseum. What makes us human? Is it the fact that we all have the same physical characteristics or that we are all classified as homeosapiens? I think that humanity runs a bit deeper than that. Humanity is found in what collectively makes us cringe, cry, laugh and scream.

The Colosseum used to be a community center. It was a place where people gathered to be entertained. The colosseum is comparable to today’s modern stadiums and arenas. The events that took place within the colosseum were often cruel and unjust. The most popular of these events being the gladiator and animal fights. People used to gather and watch men and animals destroy one another. Standing in the exact spot where these ancient spectators stood made me feel guilty. Guilty for the fact that thousands of people died here and yet here I am with my class visiting a tourist site and not a memorial. That is when I realized that it was not a memorial because when it was thriving it brought the community more joy than it did heartbreak. That is when I started to examine humanity.

Do we have an innate desire for violence, bloodshed and tragedy? The ancient Romans sure did. Are we so different? In modern society we still engage in activities that involve violence and tragedy. Visiting the Colosseum allowed me to consider that perhaps humanity is not a beautiful as it seems. It is important to realize that humans thousands of years ago got a thrill out of the same material that gives us a thrill today. If humanity is defined by what collectively makes us feel, are we indeed Rome?

Saint Peter’s Basilica:

Upon walking into Vatican City one feels welcomed by the unique and purposeful architecture. The symmetrical perfection achichived with the placing of the columns invokes a feeling of divinity. St. Peter’s Basilica is a part of Vatican City. It is a magnificent church that is dedicated to Saint Peter and his tomb can be found under the basilica. I was struggling to understand why a church was built for the man that denied Jesus three times. Wouldn’t he be undeserving of such a gesture? I was explained that the reason he was honored with a church was because Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom. Peter was Jesus’s chosen representative on earth and the fact that he denied Jesus three times only lends to further the point that Peter was of this earth. Peter was human and his humanity was showing. Building a church for Peter allows for the followers of Jesus to understand that humans are flawed and that divine perfection only belongs to God himself. Humanity is what makes us desire perfection. Perhaps humanity is the reason that we all need something to believe in. I have always believed that we all need something to believe in, something bigger than us. Understanding why St. Peter’s Basilica was built has helped me to understand why humans have an innate desire for religion.

FIRENZE: GENDER

The Duomo

Being in Firenze made me realize how much of American and Italian history was written by men. It makes me wonder how the course of history would have changed if women were given a chance. When Brunelleschi designed and built the Duomo, it was the first of its kind. It was innovative and was the largest structurally sound dome ever constructed. The Dome is known for its herringbone pattern, which allows for weight to be distributed properly thus ensuring stability. Credit for creating the herringbone pattern is mostly given to Brunelleschi. I began to wonder what if all of this credit is being given to the wrong individual. Perhaps if a woman was given an opportunity to construct a dome, Brunelleschi wouldn’t be credited with creating the largest dome of his time. Maybe the herringbone pattern was already created by a woman who did not have the voice to publicize her discovery. Women are extraordinary beings and I cannot help but wonder these sorts of things. Women in modern times still face struggles, but I am hopeful that more history will be written by women as time goes on.

The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus by Boticelli is no doubt a wonderful piece of art. Seeing it in person was an absolute dream of mine. It marks the start of the renaissance and is viewed as a major stepping stone in the representation of women in art. Prior to this painting women were often depicted as holy and shapeless. It was unheard of for a woman to be painted in a sexually charged way. Standing before this absolute masterpiece got me thinking. Does this painting truly mark the beginning of embracing female sexuality? This painting was done by a man for a man. It is impossible to know Botticelli’s intention for this painting but one can generate their own opinions on this question. I personally think that this painting does not embrace female sexuality. I believe this because of certain features of the painting. On the right of the painting there is a woman bringing a cloth to Venus, symbolizing that her nudity was frowned upon and that she should be covered. If this painting were to be embracing sexuality, it would not be necessary to include the woman with the cloth. I also believe the fact that the woman is covering herself with her hair shows that women can only be moderately sexual beings and that overtly showing the female body is shameful. I believe to embrace sexuality one should do so unabashedly.

CINQUE TERRE: NATURE

Monterosso al Mare

I have never been more connected to nature in my life. CInque Terre is a beautiful place that made up of five towns. Each of these towns has something unique to offer. Vernazza offers fresh fish cones that all my classmates loved. Riomaggiore offers a view of colorful homes stacked upon a mountain. Manarola offers rocks that can be jumped off of. Cornelia offers a local culture that is extremely warm and welcoming. Last but not least Monterosso al Mare offers tourists a place to relax on the sand. Monterosso al mare is the most commercialized town of Cinque Terre. Although it is the most touristy town, it still has been able to maintain its authenticity and culture. There are local restaurants that line the streets just above the water. Most, if not all, of these restaurants are locally owned by Italians. These restaurants have traditional foods and a large selection of seafood. The views at Monterosso al Mare are stunning. While we were hiking down to Monterosso al Mare it was evident that the nature was untouched. While completing the rigorous hike, I felt extremely connected to nature. The sound of the water in the distance, the birds chirping and of the feeling of grass/rocks beneath my feet really allowed me to be one with nature. It is rare to find such a stunning place that has not been industrialized. For that reason, Monterosso al Mare is a true gem.


VENEZIA: COMMUNITY

San Marco East:

What stood out the most to me about Venice was its ability to bring people together. Venice is a town that was literally built from the water up. It was built by people who were tired of being attacked and ransacked. These people banded together and figured out a way to build the city by putting trees underwater and constructing upon them. The trees underwater were the structural support for the whole town. There are no cars in venice, their main source of transportation is by boats. I believe that transportation by boat has helped create a sense of community in Venice. Boats are not as private as cars are and it forces people to interact more with one another. While taking a gondola ride, our gondolier seemed to know everybody in the neighborhood. In the evening, I had the pleasure of going to St. Marks Square. St. Marks Square establishes a strong sense of community. There are bands playing music and couples dancing in front of them. There are students such as myself sitting in groups on the floor drinking wine and having a grand time. There are people from all different countries in St. Marks Square and despite our differences, it feels like a community. It is a group of people collectively enjoying the beauty of the lights and the music that St. Marks Square offers. I enjoy feeling at home when I am thousands of miles away from it.

CONCLUSION

Traveling throughout Italy has changed my life for the better. Being culturally submerged into a community that is so different from my own was an amazing experience. I learned a whole lot about myself and I have a deeper understanding of my identity. I am now a better traveler and I understand how to navigate the unknown. I appreciate that this program focuses on places and activities that are not traditional tourist locations. I appreciate that I was able to explore towns that are untouched by tourists. I was able to truly appreciate local culture and cuisine. This program is also wonderful because it forces students to consider the big ideas. I was able to complete this project by recalling all the discussions that were had about big ideas. I truly believe that this trip opened my mind to explore the unknown. It is easy to look at something and appreciate its beauty, but this class taught me that there is always more to the story. Sometimes the story adds to the beauty and sometimes it takes some away. Regardless of if the truth adds or detracts, it is important. This class taught me to look for the truth even if it is difficult and time consuming. This class pushed me to my limits emotionally and physically, but I wouldn’t change any part of this experience for the world.

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