Gabriela Lastra: Grand Tour Redux 2019

Introduction

Gabriela Lastra in Tivoli (Photo by Liliana Fonte CC BY 4.0)

The Grand Tour is the traditional end of a young, wealthy gentleman’s schooling. I never even dreamed it was something I could do. I am the absolute furthest thing from a typical participant of the grand tour. Rather than wealthy white men, my Grand Tour was a group of low to middle class Latin American women, and a couple of boys for variety. And yet, because of this dichotomy I believe the experience was so much more rewarding for us than it could possibly have been for them. It has been a month of learning and surviving. I have cried and been struck silent, in awe of the absolute beauty human hands have created.

When thinking about my project, it was difficult to structure. How could I choose only one aspect of such incredibly diverse cities to talk about? In the end, I chose one subject per city and still I feel there is too much to say.

Rome: Legacies

What is a legacy? According to the dictionary, it is a gift or a bequest that is handed down, endowed, or conveyed from one person to another. It is something discernible one comes into possession of that is transmitted, inherited or received from a predecessor. A legacy is how you are remembered, the stories and memories left when you are gone. To the ancient Romans, a legacy was everything. Really, we are not so different. As I walked through the streets of Rome, I think of what I have done that matters. I know I am still young, and I have so much time. And yet, Michelangelo was only 24 when he finished the Pieta, widely regarded as one of his best works, and still proudly displayed in the Vatican today. It is intimidating to think how much he accomplished at such a young age. At the start of this trip I was only 18 years old and I am nowhere near accomplishing anything so grand as the Pieta.

What is Rome? Rome was an empire vast and unending and now, a city filled with people who have nothing but a passing resemblance to the Romans of old beyond geographic location. They walk in the ruins of the glistening marble city it was once. And yet Rome is very much alive in the hearts and lives of the people who so casually sit on the chunks of ancient marble and walk past the looming remnants of the great and terrible. There is a sense of connection between the Romans of today and the figures of the past. Julius Cesar, Marc Antony, Hadrian. As I stroll through the charming streets of Trastevere, where the young adults of the city congregate at its many bars and restaurants, I think about the things left of people when they are gone. As the sun neared setting, I followed the sounds of a church bell an came across a rather plain facade that led into a quaint little courtyard with what in Rome is a modest sized church at the end. This is Saint Cecilia in Trastevere. I remembered Saint Cecilia, from a brief mention when exploring the catacombs near the Apia Antica, a Roman martyr who they attempted to execute twice and failed both times before she died slowly of the wound in her neck from when they attempted to decapitate her. Though it is not immediately apparent, the church dates to around 820 A.D. It stands where, supposedly, the house of Saint Cecilia once was. Saint Cecilia stood for her beliefs in the face death and for that she is remembered. Her home has stood for over 1000 years, and that is her legacy. Throughout Rome there are many more examples of people like Saint Cecilia and Michelangelo, who could not have known that their actions would live on, far beyond them.

Firenze: Feminism

Sunset over Florence from Piazza di Michelangelo

Feminism is a topic much discussed in our society but as a woman, and particularly a Latin woman, I believe it bears repeating. When I think of the great people in history, the first 10 names I think of are men. Why is that? Were women not great? Or worthy of being remembered? When I think of the way women are shown in history, I think of Eve and the apple, the Virgin Mary whose great accomplishment was never having sex and yet thousands of temples, like Santa Croce, are erected in her name everywhere we went. So far, in the only culture we have seen where this was not so was in ancient Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire around 476 A.D. the portrayal and role of women changed dramatically. Women were no longer powerful, and their nudity was no longer positive. It was something shameful and sinful. A powerful, confident woman was something dangerous and bad. Walking through Florence, I expected more of the same. I admit that I was taken totally off guard to find that I was wrong. The Renaissance is a period of rebirth, the rebirth of art and science and classical ideas. Like most of the great names of the Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli was Italian and, more specifically, a Florentine. He lived and worked during the early Renaissance, in the late 1400’s. Two of his most well-known pieces are displayed at the Uffizi Gallery, which was once the center of power of the Medici family. The Birth of Venus is a spectacular painting, both for its subject and its composition. I will admit that I’m not much of an art person but seeing the Birth of Venus in person is something I’ll never forget. I can’t imagine what the original participants of the Grand Tour must have felt, seeing her in all her naked glory. Here is a woman like none of them had ever seen, confident and beautiful in her nudity, and more beautiful for it. She is a goddess and she is desirable without it being something vulgar or shameful.

With Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, we saw a change in the representation of women in art, portrayed as they had not been since the fall of Rome. The Renaissance however brought another change which in my opinion is so much more significant, at least to me. As we walked through the Uffizi, we came to a work of art significant not only for its subject but also for its artist. It was Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. This is the only work of art we had seen so far made by a woman. In the class lecture a question was asked which made me stand there and think on the great tragedy no one thinks about. This incredible work of art was made by a woman, despite being told by society that she could not do it because she was born a woman. How many incredible works of art were never made because women were told only men could be artists? How many millions of David’s and Birth of Venus’s did we miss out on because men thought themselves superior?

Women’s rights have come a long way from Artemisia’s time and yet we are still not done. I look around me and I see it. Why must I fight to be treated the same way the men of my family are? Why do I have to work twice as hard to receive the respect for my independence that is so thoughtlessly given to them?

Cinque Terre: Nature

We have seen so much in our time in Italy and learned so much that it is hard to put into words without sounding repetitive. Everything took my breath away. I kept thinking, “This. This is it. Nothing can top this.” And every single time, I was wrong. The Cinque Terre was no exception, though for its rich history or art. Cinque Terre was a pause, a moment to catch our breath an absorb all that we have witnessed. By that point, I’m sure we all needed it. I thought I was prepared but now I realize I had no idea what was coming. The Cinque Terre hike is beyond a shadow of a doubt the hardest thing, physically and mentally, that I have ever had to do. Despite that, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was an experience like nothing else. I’m asthmatic. I have been since birth. The Cinque Terre hike pushed me like nothing else before. There were moments, climbing up those never-ending stairs and feeling my lungs seizing in my chest that I thought I wouldn’t make it. I wasn’t sure I could even make it back. But every single moment was worth it, for that one minute you are at the very top and you can see the Mediterranean glimmering below you, bird song in your ears and the colorful towns of the Cinque Terre nestled like jewels amongst the green at the base of the hills lined with farming terraces.

Venezia: Diversity

The Porta Magna at the Venetian Arsenal in Castello

Venice is a city like none I’ve ever seen. The twisting canals that run all through Venice have given rise to a city unique in its customs and way of life. It is a meeting point of cultures and customs. Being a city on the water, Venice had ongoing trade with all corners of the world, be they Christian or not. Venetian capitalism is famous for a reason. Venice of old was more interested in whether or not you had money than what land you came from or what you did in your spare time. It has made Venice not only unique for its gondolas and waterways, but also infamous for being a place of indulgence and relative freedoms. It’s hard to say if it is the diversity of people that led to the relative tolerance of difference or if the tolerance allowed the diversity.

Leave a Reply