Ashley Rodriguez: Grand Tour Redux 2019


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Ashley Rodriguez: Italia as Text 2019

Tivoli as Text

Green by Ashley Rodriguez of FIU at Tivoli, Italia.


As far as the eye can see

There is no end, no limit

To what could and could not

Be done.

The landscape at Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli

Humbles even the most ostentatious.

There is so much more than

One’s own existence.

We often assume our existence is the center of the universe.

The truth is that our existence is solely the center of OUR universe.   

There is no end in sight, just


Our minds wander to answer the burning question,

What awaits at the end of the landscape?

Perhaps this wandering imagination

Allowed the Romans to be free.

Free to embrace other cultures.

Free to love who you love.

You see Romans were not concerned

With conforming to sexual and societal norms

Romans were interested in ethereal pleasure

If we were more like the Romans in this way

Perhaps we would be substantially more content

With our lives.

Perhaps love would indeed win.

I imagine Hadrian stood where I stood,

possibly with his wife.

And dreamed a great dream

A dream where he had never fallen

Into the Nile river that day and that his great

Love story was still alive.

A dream where he could look

Into his lovers eyes one last time

and admire the way the green reflects

In them.

A dream where at the end of all of the green

Stood the great love of his life, Antinous

With a beating heart and life in his eyes.

Rome as Text

Destruction by Ashley Rodriguez of FIU at Roma, Italia.

The most beautiful things are found in destruction.

Destruction unearths the humanity hidden beneath the surface.

Through the cracks one can see what once was.

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.

I also see joy, laughter and love.

I see the crowds full of glee when a life is lost.

I see laughs being shared amongst friends.

I see a widow sob when her love takes his last breath.

These cracks give us insight into the truth about you and I.

Allows us to see what has stood the test of time.

Humanity has shown its ugly face time and time again.

We have not made much progress.

I turn on the TV.

I see the highlights of a boxing match.

I see bulls being made savages by humans.

I see a mother sob as she is separated from her child at an immigration camp.

Again I see violence, injustice, and pain.

Human nature is not always what it seems to be.

It is often just too painful to realize.

Millions travel to visit this wonder of the world.

They see an architectural marvel.

They see a community center.

Sure, they also see the destruction.

They see the building under construction and the caution tape.

One must look with a critical eye to truly see through the cracks.

Pompeii as Text

18 hours by Ashley Rodriguez of FIU at Pompeii, Italy.

I thought I knew pain.

When it comes it is all consuming,

overwhelms one’s senses.

Takes control.

Ones heart grows heavy.

I thought I knew pain, until Pompeii.

The people of Pompeii knew more pain than I will know in a lifetime.

The clay figures above give off an aura of indescribable loss.

I will never forget.

These figures seem like parent and child.

Their whole world was up in flames in a matter of 18 hours.

Imagine that.

The day before life was as usual.

18 hours later their souls reached their destinations.

I wonder what they were doing 18 hours earlier.

Were they cooking,walking home, or visiting neighbors?

I like to think they were dancing under the moonlight,

Blissfully unaware that it was their last night on this earth.

I also wonder how they ended up there.

Why didn’t they leave when they had the chance?

Maybe they were trying to flee, but knew it was too late.

They decided to spend their last moments in each other’s embrace.

Human touch is the remedy for most pain.

Perhaps they thought the same.

Parents should never have to watch their child take their last breath.

That’s not the way life is set up.

It is unnatural.

I cannot fathom the pain the parent was feeling knowing

there was nothing left.

Now that I have seen the face of true pain,

I pray that I never get the opportunity to meet it myself.

18 hours was all it took.

Siena as Text

Piazza Del Campo by Ashley Rodriguez of FIU at Siena, Italia.

The Piazza Del Campo is easily my favorite piazza in all of Italy. It‘s exquisite beauty stems from the natural colors that make up the buildings surrounding it. It is warm and welcoming even on cold days. The piazza is easily identifiable because it is a vast area of empty space. This piazza is different because it is designed in a way that is meant to be relaxed in. It is inclined and allows for one to simply bend their knees and meet the ground. The piazza has entrances all throughout the city. The narrow streets open and once again invite you to indulge in the city’s great traditions. In this piazza, the people of Siena are able to create a sense of community. There are several activities that take place in Piazza Del Campo ranging from lounging to protesting and to even horse racing. It is interesting to note that although Siena is composed of different rival towns, the Piazza is still able to unify the city. Perhaps if the United States adopted the camaraderie found in Siena many of the nations political problems could be solved. The Piazza is also known to host gatherings of college students in the late afternoon and early evening. I had the privilege of engaging in that tradition with my class. The Piazza is also a tourist site and it is a wonderful sight to see people from all over the world taking a moment to appreciate their surroundings. The Piazza Del Campo is a place that fosters community and inclusivity and I admire that.

Florence as Text

Bruised by Ashley Rodriguez of FIU in Florence, Italy.

My sweetest David

Oh how you have been beaten and bruised.

You came to existence after being hammered from a marble slab.

A slab that no one wanted.

With a combination of precision and skill you were  chiseled to perfection.

Your 17 foot body demands attention.

The uneasy look on your face demands empathy.

Did you already slay Goliath or were you about to face him?

These are questions that will never be answered.

You are the sweetest mystery.  

The position of your body keeps you in constant motion.

The contrapposto adds to your intimidating demeanor.

Michelangelo surely knew a person who is constantly in motion couldn’t possibly be defeated.

Once you were put on display, you were stoned.

In 1527, you were assaulted with a bench and it cost you an arm.

Finally, you were moved to a museum and were assumed to be safe.

You were then attacked by a man with a hammer.

Despite it all, there you stand.

Towering over those who doubt your resilience.

You have stood the test of time and are still one of the greatest works of art ever made.

You are the epitome of male beauty and forever will be.

You are the product of genius and love.

You are such a marvel because your creator loved your form dearly and used his genius to bring you to life.

I am not sure why people harm you.

Perhaps people have difficulty accepting the perfection that was achieved with your creation.

Until we meet again. Be good.

Cinque Terre as Text

Vernazza by Ashley Rodriguez of FIU in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Imagine a place that is as magical as it is resilient.  A place that is as simple as it is grand. Vernazza in Cinque terre is exactly that. Vernazza is one of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre in Italy. It is a small village with a vibrant personality. It is made up of cobblestone alleys that lead to colorful houses and shops. The most prominent feature of Vernazza is the stunning coastal views it offers. These coastal views are powerful. Since there is no end in sight, one begins to contemplate if there truly is an end. If there is one thing that I am certain of it is that Vernazza will have no end. A treacherous mudslide destroyed the village in 2011 and today it stands with grace. This village can inspire even the most hopeless of people. There is something about its ability to build itself from the ground up. Vernazza allows one to appreciate the past while keeping a hopeful eye on the future. Looking upon the town from the mountains gave me a sense of peace. Being unable to differentiate the ocean from the sky allows the mind to wander. A wandering mind allows one to complete the mission of visiting cinque terre on the Grand Tour.  A wandering mind allows for thoughts to flow freely and for complex ideas to process. Moments such as the one I experienced looking over the town of Vernazza don’t happen often and for that I will be forever grateful.


Life by Ashley Rodriguez of FIU at Venezia, Italia.

Venezia is a town that is full of life. It is bustling with locals and with tourists. There are displays of life on every corner. There is art, poetry, and music throughout the entire city. There is an abundance of life on the water. Everybody’s favorite mode of transportation is through boats. When crossing a bridge over a small canal you can see the locals interacting with one another on their boats. They use vocal signals to let each other know when one is turning the corner on a boat. They have created a language that allows them to navigate through the narrow canals safely. The grand canal is a different story. The grand canal is full of water taxis, ferries, and gondolas! All of these boats communicate with one another and are able to coexist without a problem. There is life in the color choices of buildings. All the buildings are colors that invoke a brightness and light. There is life in the small alleyways. In these small alleyways you will find multiple shops selling Murano glass and you will stumble across several small bakeries. There is also so much life in St. Mark’s Square. During the day it is bustling with tourists trying to get the perfect picture of the cathedral. In the evening, you will find groups of people hanging around listening to the live music that is playing. Venezia seems to have the most life out of all of the cities I’ve visited. Perhaps this is because it was built by people who were looking to have a better life. Venezia, you are so full of life. Please don’t ever change.