Meily De Leon: Grand Tour Redux 2019

First Glance

The anxious and nerve-racking nature of being alone would have been enough to deter me from such a trip, especially thousands of miles away from the societal norms you have known your entire life. An abrupt change of scenery is all it takes to realize how small your world truly is. As a result, the first week abroad was comparable to a moving train with no brakes, surrounded by people but the lingering feeling of solitude remained. By the second week the fear subsided significantly and by the third it had virtually disappeared. Near the Closing of the trip, the final hike I went on in Cinque Terre from the Sanctuary of Soviore to Levanto confirmed the realization that I was comfortable being alone in my thoughts away from the influence or dependency of the comfort of others. Ultimately, the trip was a learning experience that has impacted me profoundly and allowed me to mature not only as a student, but also as an individual in the face of adversity. Culture shock is a very real occurrence that once seemed preposterous due to the overconfident nature I had with living in Miami. While it is true that Miami is frequented and home to a diverse cultural spectrum, we tend to surround ourselves with comfort therefore cushioning the blow.

Roma: Termini

The Termini train station resembled a mall more closely, called the recreational “Coin” shopping mall found in Rome. The warnings of pickpockets kept me cautious and alert with each visit. Ironically, until I found myself back in the same train station with all of my belongings idly strolling searching for souvenirs. It was an unfamiliar place, yet it felt comforting due to the fact that it resembled Dadeland mall’s layout. Fortunately, I was not a victim of Pickpocketing or if I was I did not lose anything valuable enough to notice. In comparison to the Ancient Roman Ruins, a short distance from the station, Termini is a hub of commercialization and economic prosperity. The sudden transition from traditional culture to modern culture is the result of the incorporation of both globalization and western culture. Consumerism moves away from the traditional significance of the city of Rome and it is a luxury that overshadows history. Technology is an important aspect of the modern world and also the rival to the ancient as seen through the newer generations of children who have progressively shorter attention spans. On the contrary, Italians have demonstrated prowess at integrating the old with the new, for example the McDonald’s banner pictured below states the word Forum on it; which could serve to promote visits to the forum or consider Termini as a modern Forum of sorts; By definition is a large safe space that contains the major conveniences of a civilization, including the exchange of political ideas. Today, the station does not precisely mirror the purpose of the Roman Forum. Instead it serves as a communal center where one could not only enjoy leisure time, but also have all possible amenities readily accessible. Thus, the concept of a forum is used throughout the globe and the sense of familiarity I had within the Termini train station was no coincidence; This invention of Roman origin leads us back to the idea that “We are all Roman.”

The tourist crowded Termini Train Station

Firenze: Oltrarno

At first glance it appears to be a woman who has decapitated a man, but upon research it is a biblical tale that elucidates the righteousness involved when breaking free of oppression, in this case her lover’s grasp.

According to several sources, the Oltrarno district was established around the year 1333 when the finalization of the walls indicated a new neighborhood. The Pitti palace captivated me the moment I caught glimpse of it, this was during the class break for the best gelato in Pitti. Luca Pitti chose to build the Palazzo, in order to compete against the wealthy Medici’s. Ultimately resulting in bankruptcy of Luca Pitti, the palace was sold to the Medicis who then requested to expand the building structurally with Vasari’s expertise.

Later that same week I purchased an entry ticket to the immense palace, which was commissioned for construction by Luca Pitti, to my surprise the mansion was filled to the brim with paintings and sculptures focusing on women and their involvement in society. Originally, I had assumed the artwork to be more recent and was unaware that exclusive paintings by Raphael resided there; amongst other pertinent artists such as Caravaggio. The famous artist attached to the artwork becomes irrelevant rather admiring the quality of the work is satisfying. It was actually the first museum, thus far, that contained such an emphasis on the female perspective and evoked various conflicting emotions within me. The manner in which most women were bare was a norm for the era, honestly speaking there were various sculptures that depicted women carrying children celebrating motherhood and those were wonderful. The feminist movement is not the simple act of striving to do what differing societies deem as a “man’s job”, it is also supporting women who do want to remain under societal roles and raise a family over studying. There were paintings depicting mothers and daughters reading books in a library setting and others where women were being forced to perform sexual acts. The spectrum was wide and offense should not ever be taken to those portrayals of women because they depict a historical truth. Although, it is possible that some of those paintings were done by men with a mentality that encompassed inferiority of women ( which I strongly disagree with). Overall, it was quite fascinating. Utterly mesmerizing to walk through the palace attempting to dissect the meanings behind paintings that caught my attention, and it was equally as rewarding to wander aimlessly appreciating the artwork without too much thought.

Sant’ Agata had been recurring theme throughout the museum, in my perspective it symbolized the sexualized viewpoint men had towards women of the time. The saint seems to be handing over a platter of breasts willingly to someone of higher power, hence her expression facing upward.
Area outside The Pitti Palace, Palazzo block. A serene uncrowded place. I intended to sit and read a book here, but the weather was not favorable

Cinque Terre: Manarola

Cinque Terre, also known as Liguria, was by far the most serene and fulfilling of housing locations on the trip. The five villages are considered culturally and traditionally rich communities. The purpose of the housing was to provide us with a mental escape from the technological world and be able to reflect on our livelihoods at home. In the hopes of evoking thought about the paths in life we have chosen up until this point and further reinforcing the fact that no path is predestined. I personally endorse the idea of change; it is achievable if strived for. This is a major part of self identity.

The small population of 1700 living in Manarola have a strong sense of community, considering their population is one fourth of the student population from any public Miami high school. There was one pharmacy, a couple restaurants that the locals probably do not frequent, one gelato shop, one church, and no schools at a walking distance away. Schools are a little ways outside of Cinque Terre.

Furthermore, while exploring the more residential areas of Manarola I stumbled upon a cat that I followed up winding steps for some time. The bottom right picture of the home under renovation would not be the typical scenery for a tourist. Unexpectedly along the cobble stone steps piles of debris and dumpsters began to emerge. A typical neighborhood has its fair share of unattractive sights and I admired those in particular for the purpose of realism. Capturing a reality is far more exciting than painting a picture of our own interpretation. I say this because an interpretation is based upon preexisting knowledge that we each possess. Potentially skewing our perception of reality.

La vida no es color de rosa- a saying my mother recited to me once

That gist of the statement: most things in life will rarely come to you on their on accord, it can be utilized as a reminder that easy should never be the best bet.

There are countless lessons in life that can only be truly assimilated when experienced firsthand, and as much as some individuals claim to know societal issues/ realities there are no books, news channels, or social media platforms that convey the raw sentiment of those same moments in person.

Venezia: San Polo

The smallest sestiere of Venice, and containing the second grandest campo, San Polo appeared to steer clear from hectic tourism. I previously believed that the kind of congestion seen at the Rialto Bridge was a foreign concept there, yet it is known to be busy due to the numerous shops and restaurants. In my experience, it was fairly empty most likely a result of the cruise collision and a decrease in tourists arriving to the ports via ship. It was quaint and very lovely in nature. A few of my peers and I rode a Gondola in San Polo and we were able to catch a glimpse of daily life through our gondolier. We did not get his name, but he was very kind and willing to answer any inquiries we had on San Polo, despite his “low education” as he jokingly said to us. A 36 year old gondolier with 15 years of experience under his belt and an optimistic attitude. He told us he lived 7 minutes away from El Campo San Polo and while on our tour his two small sons were over a bridge waving at him; Watching this man speak to his sons as the gondola passed under the bridge felt like a scene from a movie. Human emotions are a universal language that is something we as people can relate to . A final question presented to the gondolier was “ what do you do for fun?” he answered with “visit the fish market” in a rather sarcastic tone. According to locals, the most thrilling night activity would be St. Mark’s square’s outdoor musical ensemble. The man then continued to tell us about his extensive world travels and how fortunate enough we were to live in Miami. The cliché’s hold some truth to them, you never know what you until it’s gone. 

The Campo San Polo was significantly less crowded ad touristy. I specifically remember an awkward situation where my roommates and I asked to pet a dog, but as we were petting the couple was having an intense argument in Italian. In fact, that event caused me to realize that there is a distinct difference between St. Mark’s Square and San Polo Square. One lacks family dynamic, while the other, Campo San Polo, runs rampant with children and local families that gather there for a nice bonding time. The traditional male head of the family makes decisions and it is rare to ever hear a child erupt into a tantrum; Thus reinforcing the traditional respect for elders that Italian children embody. A closely bound nuclear circle is an ideal that is stressed by the church. As has been established already, the Italians are deeply rooted in their traditions to the extent to which no food alterations in restaurants cannot be made. I both admire and respect their efforts to preserve their culture, not solely behavioral wise, but also the buildings that speak volumes about their past identity as a people. Identity is a reoccurring theme in Venice due to their history regarding the protection and prosperity of the City-State above all costs.

The Town of Assisi

The stillness of the half empty paths winding down the corridors. Silence, tranquility, the air heavy with a religious aura that one could feel, but not pinpoint. Gazing as surprisingly handsome Franciscans zoomed by in a hurry, where to? Perhaps there was a sight left unblessed somewhere. The simple nature of the town of Assisi immediately clenched my gut, leaving butterflies in its wake. The quaint town did not have much to offer, however, surprisingly, there were amenities easily attainable. My preconceived notions of small isolated towns clashed with what was before me. St. Francis’ Church was an admirable building, surrounded by armed guards who wave if you bid them ciao, the gothic fresco paintings that both welcome and overwhelm are truly magnificent. The earliest forms of Jesus painted on the cross can be found here. In addition, the church itself radiates a magical feeling, almost indescribable, an emotion that is closely related to the earth. In contrast to other gothic churches, there was no ominous atmosphere that is usually brought upon via the forboding frescos of Christ. The central connection that simplistic gothic churches provide is imperative, in my opinion, in order to sense a more human experience with the relics. Rather than an ostentatious display of wealth within a baroque church that emphasizes wealth and power more than the religious aspect of the relationship an individual should have the pleasure of experiencing. The Gothic era strongly supported the ideology of separation of man from early vanities that fostered selfishness and self ambitions. Aside from war and political power, the Catholic church has been a symbol of stability and a beacon of hope for the general public for centuries. It might come as a shock that I am actually not religiously affiliated with the church, I recognize that it is a beautiful concept and being able to experience St. Francis has motivated me to explore the depths of religious sanctity. The Franciscan way of life is a reserved and strict one consisting of men who devote their lives to charity and aiding the less fortunate, following in the footsteps of St. Francis himself. As everything in this world nothing is truly pure and corruption seeps into the weak points of these men who fall astray to temptations.

To further elaborate, Assisi is a very antiquated town both structurally and in ideology. It is prohibited to alter any building because the people of Assisi wish to preserve their traditions, cultural roots, and their ancestral way of life. In all honesty, if you are not a senior citizen searching for a quiet retirement home or a person of any age looking for religious enlightenment there is not much to do.

The tower of Paradise, representing both the Italian and European Union flags

The Grand Tour was the most unique traveling experience I know that I will have ever received, barely two weeks have gone by and I already feel it slipping away. Living as a local, more or less, for one month has demonstrated a new perception of the world that I did not know of. I don’t remember the hardships and uncomforting situations, what I do recall are the moments where we beat the odds; Keeping up with the class’s physical rigger, now that was on a good day. I am eternally grateful to this experience. “The original Grand Tour demographic of the time is no longer viable, now a Hispanic woman has been able to participate on this journey to self-discovery” – Cinque Terre as Text by Meily De Leon

La vida no es color de rosa.

Sources:

“About the Franciscan Friars.” Ordo Fratrum Minorum, ofm.org/about/.

“Agatha of Sicily.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_of_Sicily.

Editors, History.com. “Roman Forum.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 8 Mar. 2018, www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/roman-forum.

“Judith with the Head of Holofernes.” Artworks | Uffizi Galleries, www.uffizi.it/en/artworks/judith-with-the-head-of-holofernes.

Niji.Net. “History of Oltrarno’s Quarters of Florence.” Firenze, www.firenze-oltrarno.net/english/vita/storia-oltrarno.php.

“Pitti Palace Inferno: Florence, Italy.” Florence Inferno, 12 June 2019, www.florenceinferno.com/pitti-palace/.

San Polo, www.aloverofvenice.com/HiddenCorners/SanPolo/SanPolo.html.

“Welcome to Our Parish Website.” St Francis of Assisi Church & School, stfoa.org/.

Leave a Reply