Gaby Lastra: Italia as Text 2019

Roma as Text

eternal empire

Gabriela Lastra of FIU at Rome

Rome is a city of ancient Kings and abundant legends. The founding of Rome is said to have been around 753 B.C.E. by fierce Romulus, who was in turn raised by the she-wolf Lupa. Over the ancient stones of the Via Appia Antica have walked millions of people on their way into Rome and along its beautiful, scenic pasture lands the dead are buried deep under the earth. Rome is packed and overflowing with history, dazzling in its splendor and importance. Some of the greatest artists that ever lived were inspired by and shaped it into the Rome we see today. So many people flock from the world over to marvel at the wonders of Rome, to stand in awe of the Flavian Amphitheater’s colossal shadow and gawk at its architectural brilliance. It is incredible but what is even more incredible is how people come here and fail to realize the very real tragedies behind these marvels. How could they have built something so massive with the limited technology they had? Slaves. How could the Colosseum be finished so quickly, in only 10 years? Slaves. It is easy to be grand and impressive when your success is built on the exploitation and enslavement of others. It is easy to build massive temples and blood sport arenas when the people whose blood, sweat, and tears being spilled for it have no choice but to keep working at the will of their oppressors. The part that truly amazes me most is how when people do think on this they fail to consider that it is not a phenomenon exclusive to the ancient world. 2,000 years apart and rich important men continue building their success on the backs of exploited workers while everyone carries on and think themselves better than the cruel, arrogant Romans who once ruled the known world. The oppression is no longer as blatant or easy to spot in this world of media coverage and constant entertainment, but as long as we have ostentatious displays of wealth, we must also have those exploited to maintain it.

Tivoli as Text

The Pool of Lost Love

Gabriela Lastra of FIU at Tivoli

Tivoli was like a dream I couldn’t believe I was having. From the moment we arrived in Hadrian’s Villa, built a little under 2000 years ago in the hills overlooking Rome, I knew it would be something I’d not soon forget. The Roman Empire has long been known to have mixed and appropriated cultures and beliefs as its vast reach expanded. Hadrian’s Villa was a display of this Roman practice, with its acres of land featuring buildings inspired by the different parts of the Roman Empire Emperor Hadrian visited during his reign. The area of the Villa that stunned me the most by far was the large reflection pool inspired by the Nile. It is neither the most elaborate nor is it the most outstanding feature, but the story connected to the inspiration of the pool is one that is deeply striking, at least to me. Hadrian was a man in love, devastated by the loss of his lover Antinous. He loved him to such an extent that he had statues of him built, and no one thought twice on the fact that they were both men. Now, 2000 years later the world has regressed and yet Hadrian’s love for the beautiful Antinous is famous worldwide. For people who have been oppressed and told that their love is not morally acceptable, people who have died and been imprisoned for their love, the story of Antinous who was so loved that after he died Hadrian made him a god in spite of how it would be seen negatively by the other Romana is heartening. Seeing the Villa Adriana in person and learning of their tragic story more in depth was profoundly affecting and I could not help but cry. 

Pompeii as Text

Loss

Gabriela Lastra of FIU at Pompeii

Pompeii was shocking. It was coming face to face with something I have known most of my life but never truly understood. Walking through a city nearly frozen in time, seeing what remains of a once forgotten people was viscerally horrifying. Looking at the looming shadow of Mount Vesuvius in the distant skyline, it seems almost antithetic to me that something that looks so beautiful and harmless could be responsible for the death of 1,000 to 2,000 people. From that tragedy stem some of the most well-preserved remains of the Roman Empire. When Pompeii was buried under meters of volcanic ash in 79 A.D., it buried and preserved what was left standing of the city and the mosaics and frescos on the walls. To walk through Pompeii now is to walk through a living monument of the lives of all those who lived there so long ago. We see them as they truly were, from their fast food stands scattered around the city to their 30 brothels with their rather graphic image menus painted along the walls. Pompeii is unique and incredible. As you walk through you may even forget that although it is a remarkable archeological find, it is also a massive grave. People come from thousands of miles to gawk at the bodies of those who could not escape, preserved after 2,000 years in their final fear filled moments. As I look at a figured, curled up in terror, covering its face, I feel shivers crawl up my spine. A huge part of what draws people to Pompeii is not the fascinating history it illuminates, but morbid curiosity. They come to see the remains of the tragedy, to stand at the base of a volcano and feel that thrill of fear. People post smiling pictures and mock those who lived in Pompeii at the foot of an active volcano but all I feel now, after having seen it with my own eyes, is sadness and loss.