Sebastian Cajamarca: España as Text 2019

My name is Sebastian Cajamarca. I am an undergrad student at Florida International University purposing a bachelor’s degree in psychology. I am a junior in the honors college currently on the honors program for Spain Study Abroad 2019.

Complete Silence by Sebastian Cajamarca of FIU at Madrid, Spain (Plaza De Toros) 

In a stadium full of thousands of people screaming and shouting, the only thing that stood out was the silence. In a very spontaneous and fun day, our class decided to participate in one of Spain’s most viscous sports: Bullfighting. 

As a tourist, I didn’t know much about Spain, much less Madrid. The only things I knew about this country were the stereotypical Spain traditions that are known by many Americans. Such as flamingo dancing, party life in Madrid, and bullfights. Therefore, I had a preconceived idea of what I wanted to experience here. 

 Next thing you know, the first bull appears. It was a viscous and dangerous round. Somehow, the first bull survived. Cows come into the arena signifying victory for the bull. Thankfully, we learned that in class and I was able to figure it out. Otherwise, I would still be wondering about the cows! However, the remaining bulls did not have the same luck. Bull after bull kept coming in and the matadors, with the help of their assistant, kept killing the bulls. Slowly but shortly the bulls started to die. It was gruesome and merciless the way each dead bull was dragged outside of the stadium. However, there was one bull performance that highlighted my experience. 

During the third round or so, the whole stadium went silent as a matador was trying to stab a bull in neck. I had never experienced such goosebumps when that stadium went completely silent. That was the last time I heard that silence. The matador was gored in the leg. This had to be the most amazing thing I had ever witness. People were screaming, crying, and cheering. I had never seen a man be lift by a bull’s horn so viciously. They never did tell us what happened to the matador or his leg. They just kept the show going. I’ll never forget it.

The View by Sebastian Cajamarca of FIU at Toledo, Spain

The city of Toledo, its food, and people have been my favorite experience in Spain yet. We had an unforgettable experience in Toledo. Our tour guide, Juan showed and taught us about the historic churches and religious cultural norms that the city has been following since its beginnings. Right after our tour, a couple of us went to eat at a local restaurant in the city. I ordered the best burger I’ve had in Spain yet! After our meal, we all came to a consensus that Toledo had really good food to offer. Almost better than most place we have been too! After we ate, the real excitement began. 

Our class’ objective was to get the full view of Toledo. To do this, we hiked up mountains and rocks. It was a tricky, fun, and dangerous task for me because I had never gone hiking before. It was a full day of physical activities that was all new to me. As someone who lives in Miami, I don’t have the opportunity to hike. Much less, being able to have such glorious views from up a mountain. Throughout this experience, I learned that I like to take some risks in my life and go out in to the world. More importantly, the point of hiking wasn’t for us to lose weight or be in shape but to be able to witness the city of Toledo how is was meant to be seen. I am looking forward to do more activities like these during the summer and for the rest of my life.

“My Head is Still Buzzing” by Sebastian Cajamarca of FIU at Sevilla, Spain

On a very spontaneous day, my roommate, Alain and I decided to walk around the city of Sevilla. After grabbing dinner, we came across a flyer for a flamenco show. At first, I was not sold on the idea of going to a flamenco show. On the other hand, Alain recommended that we should go and took it upon himself to buy two tickets for us.

On our way to the flamenco show, we walked by the streets of Santa Cruz. During our time in Sevilla, my fifteen minute walk to the show engraved a memory in me that I will never forget. The sky was blue and red with long clouds, women were wearing beautiful dresses, kids were running happy, couples were getting busy, and local stores were thriving with success. Truly a remarkable experience. Once we got to the flamenco show, I did not know what to expect. We got there just in time. The show was about to start. The flamenco show had four performers: guitarist, singer, male dancer, and a female dancer. First, the guitarist and the singer come out. The guitarist starts tuning his guitar while the singer taps his foot on the wooden stage and makes a melody. Simple but the sound of his voice gave it a personal feeling. I felt happiness and sadness with a lot of mix euphoria.

The guitarist starts playing. A male and female flamenco dancer come out. The proceed to dance and embody the music. Softly building up their stamina as they went along. I had never seen dancing like this in my life. The passion and work each of them put into the show made me feel that my day was building its way up to see this show. The flamenco show made me feel like I finally experienced the real Spain. At the end of the show, Alain asked me what I thought of the show. I responded, “My head is still buzzing.” I was in awe. I was glad to do something new and liked it. Even more happy that I got to experienced it.

Reflection by Sebastian Cajamarca of FIU at Granada, Spain

During our bus ride from Sevilla to Granada, I had a rough time. However, the three-hour long bus ride gave me time to reflect and contemplate about my life for a bit. Since I did not have the best wi-fi connection, I only listened to Frank Ocean songs and enjoyed the view of the cities and farms we passed by. I felt better.

 Once we got to Granada, I gave myself enough time to reflect on my study abroad experience in Spain so far and what I was going to do after this. I did not expect for this bus ride to help that much but it did. Simply just sitting down and contemplating gave me good inner peace. After grabbing food, we took a cab to the Palacios Nazarier. In this palace, the greatest and oldest Islamic art in world resided.

Out of all the stunning centerpieces of the Alhambra that we came across, the one that spoke the most to me was the abundance of the water. The water is the reflection of the sky and the stars. Its main purpose was for contemplation. And before that bus ride, I didn’t think much about contemplation and reflection. However, I found it extremely fascinating now that I understood how helpful it was to reflect. I understood the purpose behind this simple work of art and appreciated it. I felt an abundance of happiness by looking at the clear reflection of the water. I felt a strong connection with myself and the many people that had come before me to ponder about life.

Keysa Garcia: España as Text 2019

Keysa Garcia is a current student of the Florida International Univeristy Honors College and is majoring in both Biological Sciences and Chemistry with a minor in Mathematics. After attending Spain Study Abroad in the Summer, Keysa will work her way towards graduating in Spring 2020. She will begin by preparing for the MCAT and applying to Medical Schools, in order to fulfill her dreams of becoming a Pediatric Oncologist. Keysa is also passionate about traveling the world and emerging herself within different cultures, as she has been constantly reminded that you learn more a day abroad than a day at school.

Madrid as Text

“Notre Père.” by Keysa Garcia of @fiuhonors at in Madrid, Spain

The faith and church order of the Roman Catholic Church is referred to as Catholicism, something that I have practiced and preached for as long as I can remember. As I have see pictures of my parents and god parents hovering over me as I was submerged into holy water in order to be regenerated, purified, and admitted into the Catholic Church is a reminder of what started it all. From there, many years passed as I still continued attending church and practicing my faith. I went to CCD classes, took my Communion pictures, attended Confirmation classes, and selected my Confirmation Sponsor.

However, through the midst of it all, life kept on moving and I began questioning my faith. My mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, both of my maternal grandparents passed, and my father would never be home to help my 9 year-old self take care of my mother as he had to pick up any side job possible in order to have food on the table. Every little obstacle I faced made me questioned my faith and god more and more. However, I started to live everyday by thinking that God places his toughest soldiers in his strongest battles… My battle was just tougher than other elementary/middle schoolers, as I began to become to the maternal figure for my father and three brothers.

I believe the picture I chose captured one of the toughest times in my life, as it represents my catholic faith glowing and being what I was seeking guidance from but the moving man (life) being a distraction. A year had passed, and my situations were getting worse, and I officially gave up on my faith.

A few years later, I was enrolled in St. Brendan Catholic High School located in the heart of Westchester, Florida. An institution that gave me the best four years of my life, and gave me the opportunity to grow back into my faith. I decided to continue and strengthen the French my mom taught me at home in school, as I didn’t want to be like everyone else and take Spanish. Madame Castillo, welcomed the entire class and taught us the Notre Père, hearing the Our Father in the most beautiful language in the world made me want to learn more about my faith and regain my connection with god in French.

Depuis ce jour, je remercie Dieu d’être allé dans une école catholique. Je remercie également Dieu pour la beauté de la langue française que ma mère m’a apprise depuis l’âge de trois ans et je remercie Madame Castillo de m’avoir fait renouer des liens avec Dieu.

Toledo as Text

“Lost & Found Box” by Keysa Garcia @keysadillaa of @fiuhonors at El Grecos View in Toledo, Spain on June 12, 2019

On June 11th of 2019, my Professor, John W. Bailly advised the entire Spain Honors Study Abroad class to dress in our best “hiking gear” for class tomorrow in Toledo. Immediately after hearing this I began to ask myself what did I get myself into… However, I accepted the news. On the morning of June 12th, I was rushing my way through breakfast and putting on my new black Decathlon cropped leggings making sure I suited Professor Bailly’s hiking gear standards.

Prior to this trip and hike in Toledo, my life felt fuzzy. I found myself to be trapped inside a lost and found box, as if I were a sweater or a pair glasses that an elementary school child had left behind after a long day of learning how to add and subtract. Arriving to Toledo and walking over to Zocodover, I was thanking myself for signing up for OrangeTheroy and all those days where we had to put our treadmill incline at 10.0. As we finished our tour, and finished our lunch. I knew that the hike was going to start once Bailly released his man-bun and let all 17 of us (18 with Vicky) admire his lucious silver strands. We commenced our hike with our collapsible water bottles in one hand, and fear in the other. The hike continued and my biggest worry was what rock to put my foot on. At that moment I truly felt the fuzz from Miami fade away and I began to submerge myself in the views that El Greco painted which became complete clarity. I felt like I was able to leave the lost and found box and escape to what nature had to offer.

Puritans, like William Bradford believed that nature was a negative source of energy, as they believed that nature didn’t approve of there voyage. Puritans believed this as they faced danger throughout there voyage at sea. However, mountains are usually a place where one goes to clear their head, a space for contemplation. El Greco follows this tradition as he paints the same mountain ridge I was able to hike and admire.

Sevilla as Text

Granada as Text

“Seven Heavens” by Keysa Garcia @keysadilla of the @fiuhonors at Alhambra @alhambra_oficial in Granada, Spain on June 18, 2019

Lote Tree on the walls of Alhambra @alhambra_oficial // Photo by Keysa Garcia @keysadillaa

When arriving to Alhambra, I decided to follow what Professor Bailly said and be “Islamic for a day” as I was able to follow the same path Muslims would walk, and have the opportunity to be surrounded by natural delicacies such as water and perfectly landscaped gardens. However, since I was placing myself in the shoes of being Islamic for the day, I wanted to know what it would be like to reach the seventh heaven.

It is stated that ancient philosophers believe that the seven heavens correlate to the seven different planets in our Solar System, Mercury, Venus, Moon, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The notion of Seven Heavens is rooted to ancient Mesopotamia religions, such as Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam. However, some differences are noted amongst the three. For example, Islamic tradition believes that Heaven and Paradise are two different things; as paradise is the final resting place of the soul, unlike Catholics who’s ultimate goal and final resting place for your soul is heaven.

When walking through the palace and fortress I was emerging myself in its beauty, a true experience like no other. Eagerly admiring the intricate work on the walls and ceiling, made me want to experience the seventh heaven by stepping out of my catholic faith and learning and exploring more about different ancient Mesopotamian religions.

Monique Moussa: The Grand Tour Redux

Fire, Earth, Air, and Water

I signed up for the Grand Tour Redux thinking that it will be an amazing vacation to have. What better way is there to spend my summer than spending it in Italy? I did not really consider what I would learn, experience, embrace and potential love. I did not truly realize what I signed up for until the first day of class in Rome. It started to hit me; this is not going to be a vacation but rather a major educational trip for me. After the completion of this class, I can say with certainty that there was so much I had learned and now a foundation of knowledge on art and history that I did not have before. 

As time went on the trip, my mind started to wonder. I started making connections with all the places we have gone to. Then, something interesting hit me one day when I was in Cinque Terre; all the major cities we stayed to represent an element of nature. I was already so fascinated by the vastness of greenery I have seen in Italy, but upon making that realization I began to appreciate the cities for being in tune with nature even more.

For this project, I will go into explaining how each of the cities that we stayed at reflects an element from nature. By each of these cities, Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice, being related to these astrological notions allow for individuals of other faiths to want to come to Italy. That religion alone is not a reason to want to make a pilgrimage to these cities.

Rome – Fire

For each of the elements, there is a meaning to them. Rome demonstrates how it is like fire. Fire can create warmth but can continue burning from the ashes.  That is exactly what Rome is. Rome started most modern civilizations and ruler after ruler, it still controlled most of modern Europe despite and of their failures. Rome encompasses so much history and richness from the past but it continues to grow and demonstrate many modern ideas. Within Rome there is a train station, Termini, which can take you to the ruins of the old city but while the station itself is up to date with modern technology and designs. The train station has small shops, a food market and resembles a small mall.  As stated, Rome is the element fire, though it is no at its peak, it continues to burn and be on the large influential city. Many cities in the United States try to accomplish similar ideas. New York’s main train station is similar to Termini and is like Rome in the sense that it is a city with an extensive history.

How do you compete with fire

You touch it, you burn

You see it and it heats you up

Trying to copy fire that’s from the ashes

Never getting to the level of meaning

Ashes burning till today

Ashes that still hold so much meaning

Can we even compete and try to replicate this?

The US tries to be like this city of fire but how can it. How can it compete with a city that has been through so much and still raised? Rome’s rise began with the assassination of Julius Caesar, but that was just the beginning. There was Augustus who reformed the land and started to rule Rome as an emperor. Even after the introduction of Catholicism, Rome still was able to keep part of its history. Even with all the attempts to put out its fire, it is still standing and proud of its history. Like fire, it burns bright and makes Italy more known. There still stands tall and proud, the Colosseum, showing the power and magnificence of Rome. There is always a constant reminder to show the flames of what Rome used to be. In comparison to the United States, Italy has a significantly more cultural history as well as richness in their lands.

For those who are not very religious can still come to Rome and appreciate the city. Though Rome does have a dense religious history, due to its development and art that prospered in this city nonreligious individuals can feel a spiritual connection with the place. I found that the land contained and captured colors like no other place in the world before and looking back I could see Rome when it was at its highest and see it burning brighter than any other city. Referencing back to New York, New York is the Rome of the US. It contains historical significance and demonstrates the power of the US with the stock market and overall as a business city. Taking from Rome, the US wanted a place that lights up the US as much as Rome does for Italy but it does not compare. While New York does hold its own beauty, Rome is much more natural and has a depth that connects people to its city such as the fountains, the wildlife growth, the colors of the buildings, the architecture, just about everything from Rome.

Florence – Air

While Rome showed power and strength, Florence had shown how change is good.

One burst and it can push you down

One push and it can change your direction

One second you can be going backwards the next forward

Florence is like air

It changes directions

One minute it is not there then it is

It can be weak but it can also be extremely strong

But most of all, don’t underestimate the power of the air

Florence gives you a breath of fresh air. Moving from the hustle and bustle of Rome to this smaller city was empowering. It is known that Florence is the city for the renaissance yet it is so small. It shows how even the smallest of cities can make a difference. Florence contains many works of the Renaissance and not just any work but some of the most impactful ones. The colors of the city are not as bright as Rome but just as impactful. The city holds a shade of gray but it used to be a city known for its colors and bringing forth light by moving away from darker images.

When you walk past Brunelleschi’s dome, the stripes entrap you. It is hypnotic. I had to take a moment to let it all in. I did not think the dome was all that significant, even after the readings and the lectures, but the moment I saw the dome, my breath was stolen. I felt like was taken back in time; back to 1420 when there was a shift from the religious world to the new world. A world with art and science, the rebirth.

Florence does not just contain the dome but also the Sistine Chapel and the David. Though all three are religious pieces, they each invite the world to see them for more than just their religious reasons. They were revolutionary in the art world and people from all over come to just appreciate the works despite the religious aspect.

It used to be that Catholicism was what ruled Italy, but these artworks started that shift from religion. While in the past travelers would come to Florence to see the works made for god, now they come to see the art simply for its magnificence.

There is a division within Florence; the part for the tourists and the part for the locals. The division is separated by a river and where the locals live is Oltrarno. It is funny how one of the bridges, the bridge the Medicis took charge of, is only used for selling jewelry. It separates the two worlds of Florence, and it gives you a glimpse into another world. Oltrarno is just as beautiful and is known for its Boboli Gardens. The garden is a major tourist location even though it’s not towards central Florence simply because it is beautiful. People travel to Florence, not simply for its religious connections but because Florence makes people feel connected with nature and art. It is always changing and sometimes it might give you a little chill from the views you see, just like the wind.

Cinque Terre – Earth

Hoping off a train to see a beach has to be the best feeling ever and it was. After not seeing the ocean for a while, it got to me that I missed the view of seeing waves crashing on the shore. Coming to Cinque Terre was different, it was magical. The view of the ocean was incredible due to the color of the water, the rocks within the ocean and the rocks on the sand. All of these factors made the first glimpse into Cinque Terre. The hike though physically straining, it made me appreciate the city even more. It gave each town more meaning because we had to struggle to get there. With every struggling step, there was more reward for when we saw the villages.

At first, it seems like all the villages are the same; they are all colorful and by the sea. It is hard to detect the differences between the cities. Manarola, one of the five towns, is quite small. The local’s homes and the tourist locations are extremely close to one another. The locals are actively involved in the tourism business for the town. Specifically to Manarola is how tourists have to go through and see people’s homes before they get to the view of the ocean. So, those individuals really get to see how and who live in this majestic town.

Even with the obvious views of the water, many tourists come to see Cinque Terre for religious reasons. In the town of Manarola, there’s a church for Saint Lawrence. Though even with the world being mostly full of religious individuals. Cinque Terre is visited by for its ability to be one with nature, despite being tied to many religious buildings.

The earth is the ground

The earth is real and allows for growth

Slowly the earth grows

The earth has many layers

Sometimes you just gotta keep digging

You will find the depth of the earth

Find the secrets and hidden beauty

Cinque Terre is a symbol of the earth. It is true to its nature and shows the world for how it is not for how people want it to be.

Venice – Water

Finally but not least, we hope on the train to Venice. Since as long as I can remember, I’ve been told Venice is like no other city, no city can compete with Venice. I did not think much of it because I thought it was similar to the Keys, but I was wrong. Venice clearly being built on the water was more surprising to see than I thought. I cannot wrap my head around how the people of the past thought of such a plan to build Venice. Going over the canals to get to different parts of the city was interesting, it was like walking into a new hidden world. Every step further into Venice was another step towards discovering the city.

The city is lovely with all the vibrant colors of the masks and blowing glass. It gives the city a sense of liveliness. There were always people walking around the streets. Venice is known for having plenty of tourists, that more tourists come than there are people that live in the city itself. Yet, with all the tourists it makes Venice make more sense. It seems whole when there are plenty of people walking through the streets and why should they not? Venice has so much influence from around the world and it can be seen on every street.

Like every major city in Italy, there is a significant basilica that comes with it. In the main part of Venice is Saint Mark’s Square, within the square is Saint Mark’s Basilica. Saint Mark is the Saint for Venice and it can be seen, Venice’s flags have the symbol of Mark, the winged lion. The basilica is beyond wonderful. The outside is powerful with the four horses on top and with the La Pala D’Oro. Overall, the basilica and the square were wonderful sights to see.

San Polo was one of the hardest places to build upon in Venice due to the foundation. It is a small part of the city that is mainly covered by the small canal and in some parts the Grande Canal. There are plenty of local houses within this area of Venice, but there’s also still plenty of businesses that are based there. San Polo also has three churches, and for such a small part of the city, that is a lot of churches to have. It is a much simpler version of Saint Marks square. It is a shame that not many come to visit this part of Venice because it is not as popular as Saint Marks or the Rialto.

Venice is a city that many come to and do not even understand what they see when they come to Venice. It is not just a city built on water. It is an alive city that has cultures of all kinds expressed. This city many come just to see the city and due to the fact that saint Marks square is the largest open area, that is where most tourists go. They go because of the mystery of Venice.

Venice is like water, mysterious. It has masks for people to disguise themselves, it has buildings with Islamic and Roman architecture, the whole city is a mystery. With all the mystery it is still so refreshing to see. It is amazing seeing something contain so much yet be so small. Like water, Venice though it seems so small, it is vastly large.

In short, the trip truly taught me so much, but it surprisingly really connected me with nature more than I thought it would. The cities really had connections to nature if one just opened their eyes to see it. There is no need to be religious to have to go to these places. Simply having an open mind allows for anyone to have a great experience and enjoy the cities even their religious aspects.

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.


“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/.

Maria Carla Robaina: Grand Tour Redux 2019

The Colosseum


       The Grand Tour is a journey throughout Italy at the end of one’s college education. Traditionally, wealthy men embarked on this trip but as the times change, so have the demographics of the Grand Tour participants. As a recent college graduate myself, it is a rite of passage for me to be able to travel Italy and expand my knowledge of its history, culture, religion, art, architecture, and how it has influenced the world even to the present day. This is exactly what we did. We went on a journey that was enlightening, adventurous, and made amazing friends that we will forever be tied to for having had so many shared experiences. The Grand Tour is provocative! As we explore artistic movements, politics, and religion through time, we are inclined to think about the big questions and ideas in life, as well as explore how we feel about who we are, and our stance on some of today’s big issues and ideas. In the present, I retrace my steps, and explore the impact that each of the cities had on me. 

Roma: Ancient vs. Modern

If you ask anyone what they know about Italy, I am positive that the answer will include some information about Rome, and it’s really no surprise since all roads lead to Rome, don’t they? But even within Roma there are so many distinct worlds that are forced to coexist on the crammed streets of the city. Roma perfectly juxtaposes the old with the new. Just sit around Porta Maggiore for a little while and appreciate how well this ancient Roman structure melts into the pedestrians and car-filled background. It is truly astounding! But of course some of the most exciting structures are the monumental buildings such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon, both of which reflect aspects of ancient Rome that still prevail even today. 

The Pantheon

       When it comes to the Pantheon, I can’t help but feel emotional tears build up in my eyes. It is majestic, graceful, eccentric, and all the qualities that a showstopper of a building should be. Knowing its history makes it all the more meaningful especially in today’s world where we wage wars based on principle and a dissonance of beliefs. The emperor Hadrian, being a worldly and knowledgeable man, aimed to create a sort of common ground for all Romans to share in worship. All religions were welcome, and none judged. At the end of the day, whether you prayed to a Roman god or a Christian one, you were still Roman, and this nationalistic idea prevailed above all. Now, this sounds very progressive, and at least in this sense ancient Rome was more progressive than even us today, but one thing that has somehow remained constant across cultures is the political motives that precede major decisions. The people of Roma were divided by religion, and this meant that as a nation, Roma was weaker. Therefore, Hadrian needed to do something that would unify them and ensure their vote for him. Building a ground where all were welcome to express their faith liberates people, and makes them love the provider of such freedoms, namely the emperor himself. 

The Colosseum

In regards to the Colosseum the story is very similar. While it was built for the people, to provide an escape from routine, there is no denying that whether intentional or not, it also served to deviate attention away from problems. There really is nothing more effective to keep people happy than to give them a breath of fresh air to forget about the pollution that surrounds them. And of course, what can be more entertaining than watching people fight for their lives, and stare as the sand soaks up the dead’s blood? The idea behind this feeds off of the darkest parts of our human condition. It is raw, but not pure, and those are two different things. It says a lot about humanity, and our lack of humanity. This form of diversion reminds me of social media’s role on the world as we know it. No, we are not watching people get murdered for fun, or at all for that matter I should hope, but if you think about it, they both let us escape our mediocre existence and live vicariously through someone else’s for a second. The Romans didn’t want to get killed on the arena, but they sure venerated the valiant gladiators who fought in them. And so, I wonder: did the Romans get the same rush from watching gladiators fight as we do when we stalk our favorite celebrity, watch their interviews, or even see them be “active” on social media? If you think about it, gladiators were the celebrities of ancient Rome. 

Pizzeria in Trastevere

       The newer side of Roma is the perfect platform for young adults to hang out, have some fun, and enjoy good food and music. Yes, I’m referring to Trastevere! 

       Ancient Romans showcased their darkest side in broad daylight, in front of thousands, and were not ashamed of it. Today, it’s a little different, and this can be seen in the party neighborhood of Trastevere. During the day, it’s full of life with streets that are flooded with restaurants and amazing food. At night, it metamorphoses into a club and party area. But even during the dark hours I witnessed a sharp transition when going into and out of a pub or bar/club, many of which were underground, such as “On the Rox”, and had small entrances that didn’t allow anyone to take a look inside. On the surface, a more family oriented space, with plenty restaurants, live music, and even children running around playing at night. The underground was a little different. Reckless drinking, uninhibited dancing, and the ultimate idea of good old college fun. I do not exaggerate when I say that behaviors changed as we moved up and down the stairs, which acted as a frontier separating two worlds. How the times have changed right? 

Piazza in Testaccio
Street artist in Testaccio

       Testaccio is another neighborhood that is frequented by college students, and it features plenty parks and open spaces to hang out with friends, and even study with a scenic view of the Roman sunset. 

Firenze: Architecture and Art

Since Firenze was my favorite city to visit, I’ve decided to explore my favorite topics for this small part of Italy. Firenze is without a doubt, the epitome of the renaissance, and this is evident in its architecture and artwork. What can I say? I’m a renaissance girl at heart. However, other personal favorites include gothic, and romanesque. Fortunately, Firenze has it all.

Basilica of Santa Croce

For a city whose trademark is the renaissance, a single gothic building stands out from the crowd: the Basilica of Santa Croce. All white, with its pointy triangle rooftops and decorations, it is the classical example of Italian gothic architecture. The Baptistery of San Giovanni is Florentine Romanesque in nature, which is very similar to gothic. The interior of the baptistery is purely gothic however. The ceiling is filled with religious imagery in accordance with the gothic era such as a judging and punishing Christ, as well as a three-headed creature in charge of punishing sinners after they die. These images were supposed to inspire fear, and keep believers from sinning as they were exposed to them their entire lives whenever they visited the baptistery. On the other hand, Brunelleschi’s dome is a great example of how the renaissance shaped architecture and art. With this movement came the emphasis on symmetry and balance, both of which are seen in the dome’s construction, and especially visible in the eight panels that shape it. The dome’s interior is similar to that of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, but instead of having a strong, fear-inspiring Christ, it portrays a more benevolent Christ, one that is in agreement with the renaissance ideas of Christianity. 

Baptistery of San Giovanni and Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Brunelleschi’s Dome

Cinque Terre: Food & Soul

Cinque Terre provides a much needed mental break after exploring all that ancient Rome and the renaissance have contributed to the world. As the name suggests, Cinque Terre (Five Lands) consists of five small towns that are connected by five big things: the ocean, hiking trails, train tracks, culture, and food. 

In the Kitchen:

       Speaking of food, Cinque Terre has many specialties including white wine, which is made from locally grown grapes, seafood, which is caught by local fishermen and enhanced by lemons, and of course there’s pesto! Some of the most delicious meals I had in Italy involved pesto. Who could forget that delicious pesto lasagna we were served one night during our stay in the Sanctuary of Soviore? That day will forever be remembered as “Pesto day” for me, and here’s why: As I explored the town of Riomaggiore, I knew that I wanted to try some pesto pasta that day. I encountered a pizzeria that had pesto pizza, and right in front I came across a street sign leading up to a tiny family owned restaurant that was hidden from the main street by houses and other businesses. So, what was interesting about this place? They offered classes on how to make tiramisu, gnocchi, and even pesto while the costumers ate. I was definitely intrigued, and asked to be taught how to make pesto while savoring a delicious pesto pasta. This was one of the best experiences I had in Cinque Terre because it taught me how much work, dedication, and love these small town people put into food making. The way the chef explained each step of the process, and the “pinch of salt and love” that he insisted we added made me see how proud they are of their culinary traditions. This is a completely new concept for me. First of all, the restaurant consisted of the front part of a house, and with just a few tables, it could only sit about 15-18 people max (and that’s really pushing it) which to me made it feel more homey and cozy. The close interaction we had with the chef, and his commitment to providing every costumer with the best, most unique experience possible, made me reflect on how we see cooking in other, more urban parts of Italy, and of course in America. 

Pesto pizza in Riomaggiore
Pesto pasta from Osteria Maité Restaurant in Riomaggiore
Osteria Maité Restaurant in Riomaggiore
Osteria Maité Restaurant’s Cooking class options

In this small town of Riomaggiore, the emphasis is not only on food eating but on having the full culinary experience of making food, and making it an enjoyable way to pass down knowledge. In our rushed, modernized everyday lives, we often see cooking as a chore rather than a fun activity to nourish and fuel our bodies, and our loved ones. The rise of fast food has made us deviate even further from this concept in America, and it has contributed to an increase in health problems such as cardiovascular diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about a third of the American population consumes fast food on the regular (1). These statistics are alarming when we take into account that Italy, even with all the carb intake that Italians have, is one of the healthiest countries in the world. The reality is that when we use locally grown products we’re not only engaging in more sustainable food consumption, but we are also consuming healthier foods. As an aspiring physician, this is of utmost importance to me, especially if I wish to help develop a healthier community.


View from the top of the mountain during the Cinque Terre hike

       Up in the cloud-covered Monteroso mountains stands the Sanctuary of Soviore. Peaceful, modest, detached, and undisturbed by socialization. A hidden gem that rose above the corrupted world, and the birth place of the most beautiful sunset these eyes have ever witnessed. This space provides the perfect escape from our tumultuous lives, and the opportunity to sit back and reflect on it. The limited internet access and the scenery make the necessary transition forceful. Similarly, the traditional Cinque Terre hike pushes all the boundaries. Not only do we have extra time to reflect on our human existence, and take in all the accumulated knowledge, but we also gain new insights into who we are, and what we are here for. Through sweat, tears, and high doses of physical pain, we all kept going. You have to really dig deep within you to keep moving past the preconceived limitations of your physical being, even when the pain wants to take over. As I dug, I found the strength I needed, and encountered unexpected and unprecedented emotions. In the words of T. S. Eliot: “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”. I never thought I could go the distance, but I was motivated beyond limits, and this feeling overshadowed all the other ones, and at times clouded my judgment. However, I made it. And the satisfaction of being able to say that is definitely worth it. I felt unstoppable, and more prepared than I’ve ever been in my entire life to begin this new chapter in my life. As I prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and later on Medical School, I know that all I have to do is keep pushing the same way we all did in the darkest hours of the hike. If I could get through that, I can get through anything with the knowledge that motivation is the key to success. I WANTED to finish the hike. It was more of a pride/personal goal than anything else. And so I DID. The Cinque Terre hike turned out to be more spiritual than I thought, as I discovered what I’m capable of doing when I really want to, and I intend to implement this new-found wisdom in my future endeavors. Reaching the top of each mountain, and getting to enjoy the views was reward enough. Being up there was enlightening as I felt both small, and larger than life. Just as the flowers bloom in a small patch on the mountain top, I bloomed into a more confident version of myself. And this flower is ready to take on the world. 

Mountain flowers in the Cinque Terre hiking trail


At the end of the Grand Tour, Venezia provides a seamless transition from the calmness of Cinque Terre to the chaos of our everyday lives back in America. It is a hectic and eclectic city in and of its own but we are still in a foreign country, and away from the many responsibilities that await back home. So, in a sense, Venezia is lukewarm, not hot and relaxing water like Cinque Terre, but a nice buffer before we are hit with an ice cold shower. 

Sophia- the poesy of beauty, 2019 by Mercedes & Franziska Welte-NONOS (Austria)

     Venezia is also incredibly progressive, and innovative from its birth. Its very creation was revolutionary, and Venetians take pride in their uniqueness, and adaptive nature. As a city that has historically focused on trade and gaining economic power, this meant that to Venetians business is business, and as long as there is something to be gained, it does not really matter who their partner in trade is. As a result, in order to advance the economy, the city became infamously acceptant of foreign religions, cultures, and even sexual orientations, providing a sort of oasis that sheltered them from outside judgement. This idea was reformist, and help Venezia rise to power. After staying in the heart of Venezia, it was refreshing to see that their reformer identity is still intact. Starting with the Taiwan in Venice 2019 Biennale Exhibition, Venezia proves to be a modern art hub. This exhibition fuses technology with art to create videos with powerful messages regarding current issues such as homosexuality and body image. Even in the fish tail region of Castello, detached from the tourist-filled San Marco, one can find art exhibitions that target present day concerns and challenge archaic views of the female body and its beauty, making it a power move for the feminism movement. What’s more important: they’re completely free. Walking around in Castello I found parks that not only showcased the beautiful greenery of Venezia but also these incredibly feminist artworks. One of them, which is being displayed in the Giardini della Marinaressa is Sophia- Poesy of Beauty by Mercedes & Franziska Welte (2). This sculpture is meant to portray women as powerful beings (hence the fiery red color of the dress) all the while creating this notion of “beauty” that is meant to be challenged, and a depiction of the modern day ideals that are so enforced by social media (hence the glossy, and in my personal opinion “photoshopped” look of the statue). The image becomes even more critical when we look at the statue’s face, or rather, the lack thereof, which provides insightful commentary on the banality of today’s models of beauty, and their lack of identity. The fact that two women are spreading this message only adds to the artwork’s intensity. I guess the only complain I have is the lack of attention that is paid to this exhibit since it is located in a residential area that not many tourists venture into. I would love for it to have more exposure, and I wonder why it isn’t portrayed in a more transited part of Venezia?  

Works Cited: 

  1. Fryar, C. D., Hughes, J. P., Herrick, K. A., & Ahluwalia, N. (2018). Fast food consumption among adults in the United States, 2013–2016
  2. Lilian. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nonos.at/de/project/sophia

Niko Devera-Grand Tour Redux 2019

I wish my pictures had come in before this project was due, as those observations I made of Italy are the closest to life and the closest I’ll ever be to reliving the beauty of this trip. Nonetheless, these words are still a powerful second best, and a necessary reflection of my once unspoken turn of thoughts, enjoy.


The flavian amphitheater, more widely known as the colosseum, is the most recognizable masterpiece of ancient roman remnants. It is a true masterpiece of boastful displays in technological advancements in architecture and engineering as well as one of the first gifts to the Roman people. Vespasian, the emperor responsible for the curation of the amphitheater that began in 72 AD, recognized the issues the public had with the former Emperor, Nero, that eventually led to his condemnation to death and eventual suicide and he sought to improve the moral of the people. He saw the issues that were created from Nero’s ostentatious displays of wealth and the disparities they created between the wealthy patricians and poor plebeians which created an atmosphere of civil unrest. Rather than flaunt the wealth granted by the position of the emperor, Vespasian decided to give back to the Roman citizens with the gift of entertainment with an extravagant and massive amphitheater as a symbolic unification of the Roman people. While it was a cruel form of entertainment, compared to modern ones, resulting in the death of countless animals, civilians, and gladiators, but it was an effective one that drew massive crowds nearing 100,000 people to the stands at a time. When visiting this place and imagining the daily constant slaughter that spanned for 4 centuries, the question of morality was raised. Did knowledge and insight granted in the near 2000 year gap from the start of the colosseum change our views on how we choose to satisfy our innate primitive desire to be entertained or even the equality of each mortal life, or our modern culture still enjoys the same themes of vicious chaos, but in a more acceptable masqueraded way, even today? Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that I, just the same as countless others, am attracted to chaos as it breaks the routine and expected mundanity of modern life and is incredibly apparent everywhere in a more censored and palpable way. But rather than focus on the obvious and gruesome massacres, my mind focused completely on the more subtle morality surrounding construction of the amphitheater.

Seeing it in person reveals the true marvel of its spectacle, it’s massive, especially since it is a product of the ancient world, but even today the ability to host 80,000 people in a single place is no small task. I was beyond myself when I learned that it took only 8 years to complete the massive structure I found myself standing in. Especially when I’ve witnessed what an embarrassing 8 years of construction looks like back home on a seemingly never ending project of the Miami expressways, even with the addition of 2000 years of technology. However, it was apparent that the construction of this spectacle in its short period was only made possible because of slavery. Which conceived the absurd moral dilemma in my head, “Was slavery a good thing?” The obvious answer was a quick and sharp no with a disbelief I had allowed my mind to even speculate that question, but upon further review it sparked an inner dialogue I had never imagined having with myself. Yes, slavery was one of the worst things created by humanity as it degraded the value of another human life with cruel and unjust treatment followed by torturous unpaid labor, this notion has been firmly implanted through years of education discussing the atrocity that it was, but on the other hand this was unpaid labor. This granted the opportunity to complete far more work with essentially only the cost of the materials. Additionally, since morality had not been discussed at this time and labor laws were nonexistent, these slaves were constantly working. Weekend breaks didn’t exist, overtime was unheard of, these slaves had the simple choice of laborious misery with the slight chance of their liberation or death. In an attempt to slightly justify ancient Roman slavery, my research uncovered that, contrary to slavery in America, it wasn’t based on race but rather a majority of slaves were prisoners of war that were often given the chance to buy their freedom and become full fledged roman citizens after years of compliance. So the result, after centuries of its practice, didn’t create a system of oppression, but rather created marvels people from far and wide travel thousands of miles to see. An estimated 100,000 prisoners as a result of the war with Judea allowed Vespasian to have an essentially limitless workforce to complete a project that would otherwise take decades to complete, even today, in 8 short years. I’m sure my perspective would have differed slightly had I been one of these poor souls working endless hours for 8 seemingly never ending years, but after witnessing the consequence of their non consensual sacrifice that still stands nearly 2000 years later, I have a newfound appreciation for what slavery was able to achieve.

Piazzale Michelangelo

It’s a quite admiration

A gentle and proud observation of years of innovative splendor

A fleeting moment in time built up from centuries of tenacity

A hovering sun kissing the edge of an endless world

A warm orange glow, pink, purple, then black

Drunken smiles of stupid irrelevant happiness

A presumptuous disrupted silence and a diverted attention

Cultural disparity equating to a missed focus

Contrary to popular misinformed belief, the Piazzale Michelangelo was designed and created centuries after the fall of the renaissance not by its titular Michelangelo but rather architect Giuseppe Poggi in 1869. At the time of its creation, Florence was the capital of Italy and was undergoing a process of “urban renewal.” Its creation conceived an unmatched panoramic view of all of Florence and the Arno river that runs alongside it in the hill directly adjacent to the town center that seems to hover perfectly over all the beauty that is Florence. A few years after the completion of its construction in 1873, a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David was escorted by oxen to the square in reverence of its titular figure. The same one that is visible from the top of Brunelleschi’s dome and looms even higher above its peak sparked my reluctance to climb even more steps with my already aching thighs.

Walking up the steps to the Piazzale was a gradual transition, occasionally looking back at the enhanced view every couple of seconds as we made upward progress, the view of the city growing more and more each time. The distance was beautiful. It was a different view from that of the dome because of this distance created from the city. It granted the perspective of the city from afar, rather than being elevated and engulfed by the city from the view the dome grants. We made a pit stop at the elusive rose garden that even Bailly had yet to see. This is where the vast cultural difference between America and Italy became clear to me, which was later amplified when we finally reached the top where the Piazzale resides. There’s an insatiable drive in American culture that serves to consistently outperform oneself without ever experiencing a brief pause, never a moment to appreciate the magnitude of the achievements accomplished. This was the essence of the Piazzale Michelangelo, it’s the spot dedicated to quietly admire the sheer volume of revolutionary works in florence from the perfect panoramic vantage point capable of seeing each of them with the necessary distance. Our American culture is so focused on our capitalist greed to be able to feed our never ending empty desires of “success,”  that we fabricate a sense of happiness we believe is emanated from success until we truly, but often never, feel that happiness. The perverted Puritan work ethic, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” that fuels us to break our own backs in the workplace, working an average of 1,790 a year compared to the European 1,482 (Close) and never being able to fully appreciate what we’ve accomplished. The Piazzale serves as a reminder to wholly separate ourselves and take pride and on what we’ve been able to achieve.


“Scusa signora, la playa?”

“Is over there, with e-ve-ry-won else.”

Unfair colors scattered haphazardly among a small town beaming with life. I first saw it from a distance. It was the oasis calling to me that promised a break from the scorching day. A town with a playful sound that traveled to the tops of the mountains, beckoning, come. Vernazza, a town saturated with color and rich history. The word “Vernazza” comes from the Latin adjective “verna”, which ironically translates to local, native. Its origin dates back to around the year 1080 AD, where it was a powerful addition to the Republic of Genoa, supplying a large number of well trained soldiers and a powerful fleet. Centuries later in the 1800’s after the period decline Cinque Terre experienced locals increased the sizes of their terrace carve on the mountainsides where wine grapes, lemons, and basil grew ,consequently their economies recovered. Vernazza had remained a sort of hidden gem until 1997 when all of Cinque Terre was declared a World Heritage site by Unesco.

We gradually made our way down the trail, trading the steep narrow dirt path for a wider paved one. The playful sound grew louder transforming into a more distinguishable noise of hundreds of voices, chattering. At first I never felt like an intruder; I was just like one of the hundreds, maybe thousands around me enjoying perfectly salty breeze and the deepest shades of blue I had ever seen for the limited time I was lucky enough to have in Vernazza.

We stopped for some wine and snacks at the only store in the tiny town we had a slight sense of familiarity with at this point, Coop. A peach, a bag of chips, and a 2 euro bottle of rose, a compromise for my dwindling budget I later regret making.

“Ciao signore!”

“Where’s the sticker?

“The what?”

“The sticker for pesca

His eyes dart up to mine telling me what his mouth wouldn’t dare to say, “The fucking sticker you idiot, the one that allows you to pay for your godamn peach!” He gets up and paces towards the same spot where I first picked the peach, he rips the sticker off the now apparent conveyor of price stickers hovering above the pile of peaches I missed just moments before.

“Spiacente, grazie.”

He annoyedly nods and brushes his hand in the air signaling to me again what his words wouldn’t, “Ok get the fuck out now.” Maybe I should’ve noticed then, but of course I didn’t. I was still too blinded by the beauty to realize or even care.

We left the store and began making our way over to the beach, a seemingly simple task in small town surrounded by water, but miraculously we ended up in a residential area and quite possibly the only one in all of Vernazza. We joked about how we would be the only ones capable of not being able to find the beach in a minute town literally surrounded by ocean, our laughs bouncing off the tight vibrant walls. We passed a woman sitting outside her front door quietly smoking a cigarette; she’ll know, we all thought. It’s almost as if we didn’t have to say anything- billowy pastel shirts, shorts, golden skin, rhythmically clacking sandals, backpacks, sunglasses- everything about us screamed, “Which way to the beach?” still one of us had to gather the courage to speak in broken Italian yet again.

“Scusa signora, la playa?”

She lazily dragged her unoccupied hand up, pointing finger, no smile, no eye contact, “Is over there, with e-ve-ry-won else.” every part of her saying, “Are all of you this stupid, its literally right over there.

That was when it finally hit me. I hadn’t felt like an intruder because I was just part of the majority, one of the countless nameless faces the local people of this town were outnumbered by and had fatigued seeing everyday. They resented us, with good reason, we overtook their town with complete disregard for its authenticity and replaced it with overpriced uninventive replicas of authentic originals. We skyrocketed the prices of their homes, meals, and countless other goods for what? Colorful additions to our family albums, and social media pages without a single regard for the genuine culture of the land. Stripping natives of their homes and pushing them higher up on the hills to make room for the influx of tourists that grow with each coming year. It made me think about the potential harm to a culture tourism can cause, especially to a small one like that of Vernazza. Is there a balance that can exist where tourism and authenticity can happily coexist? Or is that just an impossible ideal?


“Hello, do you speak English?”


“This is prison.”

“We know.”

“Where are you from?”


“Oh Miami, I’m from Tunisia.”

“Tunisia oh cool…. What are you in there for?”

“Marijuana, three years. I’m on my eighth month.”

“Really, for drugs?”

“My wife has bad passport, she is still in Tunisia.”


“Do you have anternet? Can you speak to my brother?”

“No sorry, my phone is from America.”

“Ah no problem.”

“Ok, we’re going to go, good luck it was nice talking to you.”

“Ok, bye-bye have a nice holiday.”

It was difficult imagining a quiet Venice, especially after witnessing firsthand the energized bustle of the city right outside the train station where we first arrived. But nonetheless a serene quiet exists juxtaposed in the calamity that is the rest of Venice. Just a short fifteen minute walk south from the hectic train station lies Dorsoduro, a different world entirely. Its name, which translates to “hard backbone”, is taken from the harder soil found specifically in this sestiere of Venice. Just from the few hours I spent there, although I was still clearly in Venice walking alongside canals, over bridges, without a car in sight, it was vastly and strangely different from the rest of the island almost like I had entered an entirely different country. The veil of beauty manifested to keep its booming economy of tourism alive was nonexistent; almost needless to say, this part of Venice was still beautiful, but it was a different kind of beauty. It wasn’t a fabricated one; it was authentic. There was beauty in the rustling of clothing and sheets hanging outside each window to dry, the emptiness of each piazzale we trekked, cheerful prisoners squeezed in small windows greeting us as we passed by, the existence of lush green trees, bushes, and vines absent from the rest of the island. People live here.

The unspoken disbelief of the idea that people actually lived here dissolved as soon as I walked these streets. I hadn’t realized how difficult it was for me, a tourist who was little to no experience of travel, to accept that residents exist in these places thousands of people pay copious amounts of money just to see with their own eyes and believe they actually exist. It’s difficult to see beyond the facade every tourist-heavy city constructs as the idealized representation of their city. The same way a tourist visiting Miami would have a hard time believing my incredibly mundane perspective and distaste of the same place. But this is exactly what Dorsoduro was to the rest of Venice, normal. A beautiful normal and a necessary contrast in a tourist accommodated haven.

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Slavery in the Roman World.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 10 June 2019, www.ancient.eu/article/629/slavery-in-the-roman-world/.

Close, Kerry. “Work-Life Balance Is Better in Europe Than the US-Here’s Why.” Time, Time, 3 Jan. 2017, time.com/4620759/european-american-work-life-balance/.

Editors, History.com. “Colosseum.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/colosseum.

“History Vernazza Cinque Terre Italy.” Vernazza, www.vernazza.fr/en/history/.

Lissette, Frank. “Why Vernazza Is the Best Town in the Cinque Terre. And Thoughts on Rampant Tourism.” The Travels of BBQboy and Spanky, 30 May 2019, bbqboy.net/why-vernazza-is-the-best-town-in-the-cinque-terre-and-thoughts-on-rampant-tourism/.

“Piazzale Michelangelo of Florence – Useful Information.” Florence Museum, www.florence-museum.com/piazzale-michelangelo.php.

Seen, Site. “Building the Colosseum.” Building the Colosseum, www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/colosseum/building-the-colosseum.htm.

Staff, Insidecom. “Dorsoduro Venice Italy | Dorsoduro District Venice.” Dorsoduro Venice Italy | Dorsoduro District Venice, InsideCom S.r.l., 27 Jan. 2016, www.venetoinside.com/discover-veneto/venice-art-cities/venice/areas/dorsoduro/.

Madeline Pestana: Grand Tour Redux 2019

Grand Tour Redux 2019: an examination of traditions, human connections, Religious influences, and prejudice in religion.

Tridente, Rome, Italy

Religious Influence

Photo by Madeline Pestana of FIU

Tridente is a popular sector of Rome that was designed to have its 3 main roads, Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso, and Via del Babuino, converge at Porta del Popolo in the shape of a trident. The Porta del Popolo marked the entrance into the city of Rome in the 1400s. The name comes from Santa Maria del Popolo who was known for her involvements in assisting the sick during the plague in 1231 [11]. The 3 converging roads were built in order for pedestrians to walk down either road, maintaining a view of the Egyptian obelisk of Sety I in the center of the Piazza del Popolo – this created a clear sense of direction. In addition to serving as an aid in locating the city wall, the 3 roads created accessible routes to the main basilicas. A pedestrian walking away from the Piazza del Popolo on Via di Ripetta will eventually reach Ponte Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Basilica. With the same idea, the pedestrian will eventually reach Piazza Venezia and St. John Lateran taking Via del Corso and leads the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore by taking Via del Babuino [12]. The significance of the 3 roads, converging to one point is in conjunction with Christianity. In a city whose beliefs are strongly rooted in Christianity, I was not surprised to find traces of Christianity within its urban designs. The Holy Trinity is the core of Christianity, which includes the Holy Spirit, God the Father, and God the Son. The 3 entities converging into 1 being, just like the 3 roads converge to 1 main point, Santa Maria del Popolo Catholic Church. Each point in the Holy Trinity represent divinity and the 3 roads each lead to infrastructures designed to reach up towards the divine powers of Christianity. Rome is a city whose peoples beliefs are so strongly influenced by religion that even their urban designs of Tridente give tribute to their God.

Piazza Della Repubblica, Florence, Italy


Piazza Della Repubblica was a forum during the Roman Times. This Piazza functioned as an old city market until the Middle Ages, when Cosimo I designating the area to Jews, therefore naming it the Jewish Quarter. In the area surrounding the plaza lived prominent families such as Medici, Brunelleschi, and Castiglioni. In the late 1800s, this area was destroyed and rebuilt to add prestige to the area as Florence became the new Capital of the Kingdom of Italy. In the early 1900s, this area became a meeting place for locals and foreigners to interact and share crafts [4]. In present day Florence, this area is still used for socializing with the addition of several stores, restaurants, and cafés filling the air with various smells. However, the main attraction of this area is not the Apple store in the back or the café to its right, it is the vibrant carousel that stands alone in the Piazza. Since the twentieth century, the carousel has been managed by the Picci family only through the months of November to May. Carlo Picci, the 4th generation operator, currently manages the carousel. The carousel itself exhibits several virtues Italians live by, family and pride for their country. On the top rim of the carousel are panels with pictures depicting several different cities in Italy. Not only do the Picci’s express their pride and love for their country but the 20 horse carousel, particularly small compared to the 68 horses found in Disneyland’s King Arthur Carousel, is the perfect size for a parent to join their child on the ride. According to Carlo Picci in an interview with blogger Kevin Golgin [5], the horses on the ride are spaced out in order to allow “enough space between the horses that the mamas can stand next to the little ones while they ride. Otherwise they might be afraid.” Picci and his wife, prioritize the well being and pleasant experience of the children and their family. Their mission is to preserve the family tradition of bringing entertainment to families in a city full of sophisticated artwork and history. Nevertheless, the concept of having a family owned business is not foreign to the locals near the Piazza Della Repubblica.

In the 1870s where lavish modern buildings began to replace the medieval style homes, a woman from the Pendini family chose to open a residence for tourists. To this day, the Hotel Pendini is managed in a family style, holding on to the traditions first instilled in the late 1800s [6].

Among the dejected stories of racism and prejudice that occurred in the Piazza Della Repubblica, a strong sense of tradition and familial bonds still remains. These families are just a few of many that currently carry on the traditions started by their ancestors. Regardless of the disarrays that occurred around them, in the present and the past, they have remained strong in their values and traditions.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy  

Photo by Madeline Pestana of FIU


Vernazza is a unique fishing village on the north end of Italy’s Cinque Terre where the air is clean and components of modernity cease to exist. The Santa Margherita di Antiochia church is a remnant of history from the 1300’s that has been preserved in honor of Santa Margherita and is maintained open for the public. According to legends, Santa Margherita died as a martyr when she refused to obey the Roman governor of Antioch’s demand to worship the many gods of Rome. After several attempts to kill the defiant girl, she was beheaded in 290 BCE [3]. Due to her persistence and devotion to Christianity, Santa Margherita was canonized and became the patron saint of peasants, women, and nurses. In the early 1300’s, a box of Santa Margherita’s relics were found on the beach and in that exact spot the church was built in remembrance of her [2]. The small town, rich in history and traditions honors the past and is reluctant to allow certain components of modernity to emerge.


When roaming through the streets of Vernazza, the smell of exhaust and the sound of cars is seemingly absent, however the smell of the ocean and seafood is ever-present. This small village on the west coast of Italy only permits the passage of cars once a week on Tuesday for a weekly street market assembly [1]. In place of sirens and angry drivers, the loud noises of tourists and locals reverberate through the streets. The main road of Vernazza, Via Roma begins at the harbor on the lower side of town and extends up into the mountains where the community of Vernazzans reside – on this road all the activity occurs.

Walking through the street Via Roma, I often found myself silently observing the commotion: tourists aimlessly wandering the streets, children running through the crowds, locals hustling to serve their customers, and store owners watching as tourists touch the produce with their uncovered hands. With all this activity around me, I wondered, how could my life connect to theirs. I am a tourist, but not a typical tourist who visits for the afternoon. I am a student studying abroad, learning, absorbing what this foreign village has to offer. In the grand scheme of life, how is my life connected to the native young adults who walk the same streets, but this time with intentions to work, farm, and fish?

Via Roma consists solely of markets and restaurants, each with unique features to attract tourism. Among the many seafood options at every restaurant and market, are small traces of western influences. Straying away from traditional dishes, I noticed that the Vernazzans have made several attempts of attracting their foreign friends. Instead of seafood and lemon drinks, one restaurant in particular served hot dogs and burgers. Having traveled to Rome and Florence prior, I had not witnessed such a stretch from the traditional dishes. A village whose mission is to preserve its authenticity, is in some way influenced by western culture.  

We are not only connected with people through familial relations, but through influences. I am connected to the young adults of Vernazza through shared food, such as burgers and lemon soda (Sprite) – both of which are popular in the United States and Italy. We are connected through the influences of fashion trends and lifestyles. Local businesses in Vernazzans are family owned, where all members work together to ensure successful operations. This dynamic is similar to the one I share at home, where I too work in my family’s business. Similarities in lifestyles and in the influences of society connect me to my fellow millennials around the world.

Cannaregio, Venice, Italy  

    Prejudice in Religion

Cannaregio is a small sector in Venice rich in history and originality. This area is popular for its Artisans who occasionally work on new art pieces, enjoying the nice weather while their finished pieces are nicely displayed inside their shop. All throughout Cannaregio are palazzos named in honor of several Saints and significant figures of Venetian history. The Jewish Ghetto, located in the center of the sector, contains a vast amount of history considering it was the first Ghetto designed to confine a group of people for religious differences [8].

Anti-Semitism has unfortunately been an issue throughout history, beginning with the Venetians. In 1516 Cannaregio became home to hundreds of Jews as they were forced into confinement, to what is still known as the Jewish Ghetto. Jews were only allowed to exit the city gates for trade and, similar to the Holocaust, were required to wear a sign identifying themselves differently amongst other Venetians. After dusk, Jews were not allowed to walk beyond the city gates. This arrangement marked the first Jewish Ghetto recorded in history of the world. For approximately 300 years, Jews were oppresses, held in confinement, and were stripped of their freedom for following Judaism rather than Christianity. In 1797, Napoleon’s army freed the oppressed and planted a tree to symbolize the beginning of an inclusive Venice [10]. Before continuing, it is important to note that Christ is believed by several scholars to have been Jewish [7], so the development of Christianity after His death should not have led to the hatred of Judaism. The hatred associated to Judaism is unknown, however the prejudice against them has become a reoccurring issue and continues to instill fear in present day Jews. In 1933, about 136 years after the Jews were liberated in Cannaregio, driven by hate, Adolf Hitler orchestrated the largest mass murder in history due to prejudice and differences in religious beliefs. Similar to several Venetians, Hitler was born into a Christian home, where his mother believed profoundly in Catholicism. If Christianity began with Jesus, the Jewish prophet (then Christianity’s Messiah), then why have people grown to hate Jews?

According to research done by Kalman Packouz, there is not one definite cause for prejudice towards Jews in the past. Several recounts in history show that other religions have also claimed to be the “Chosen people” and have not received the same level of backlash [9]. From racial to economic theories of hatred towards Jews, there is no cause for this unwarranted hatred. Cannaregio, a vastly diverse city with several cultural influences depicted in architecture and modern living, was the first of many oppressive states that condemned Jews and set the foreground for future catastrophes.


1 Steves, R. (n.d.). Stepping Back in Vernazza by Rick Steves. Retrieved from https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/stepping-back-in-vernazza

2 Salmoiraghi, I. (n.d.). The church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, Vernazza. Retrieved from https://www.lecinqueterre.org/eng/arte/vernaantiochia.php

3 ST. MARGARET OF ANTIOCH STAFF. (2015). S. Margherita di Antiochia. Retrieved from http://www.diesincastro.it/s-margherita/

4 Florence Inferno. (2013, October 19). Piazza della Repubblica (Repubblica Square) in Florence, Italy. Retrieved from https://www.florenceinferno.com/piazza-della-repubblica/

5 Dolgin, K. (2014, April 13). Kevin Dolgin Tells You About Places You Should Go In Europe: The Antique Carousel of the Picci Family: Florence, Italy. Retrieved from https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/the-antique-carousel-of-the-picci-family-florence-italy

6 Hotel Pendini. (n.d.). History – Hotel Piazza della Repubblica Florence. Retrieved from https://www.hotelpendini.it/eng/history-hotel-piazza-della-repubblica-florence.html

7 Biblical Archaeology Society Staff. (2019, May 14). Was Jesus a Jew? Retrieved from https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/was-jesus-a-jew/

8 Green, T. (2016, September 23). Cannaregio: A walk along artisans and history. Retrieved from https://www.theveniceinsider.com/cannaregio-artisans-history-venice/

9 Packouz, R. (1987). Why Do People Hate The Jews? Retrieved from https://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Why_Do_People_Hate_The_Jews.htm

10 Chabad of Venice Ghetto Nuovo. (n.d.). Venice, Italy Jewish History Tour. Retrieved from https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/venice-italy-jewish-history-tour

11 Parish Staff. (n.d.). Welcome to Santa Maria del Popolo. Retrieved from http://www.smdpparish.org/

12 Plumb, J. (2005, October 12). View Article: Piazza and Porta Del Popolo. Retrieved from https://depts.washington.edu/hrome/Authors/joeplumb/PiazzaandPortaDelPopolo/pub_zbarticle_view_printable.html

Mozelle Garcia, The Grand Tour Redux


In Roma, known by English-speakers as Rome, one will experience a major clash of modern and ancient life as the bustling city is peppered with ruins and timeless structures seemingly at random.

~ A First Impression ~

Arriving in Rome paralleled a rollercoaster in several ways. The taxi I was in swerved, stopped, started and changed direction quite like a thrill ride. My emotions followed the same pattern as I took in the site of the ancient earthy buildings, the great Colosseum, the expansive Roman Forum, only to be deposited along a murky street covered in graffiti and lined with an auto-repair shops.

Perhaps it was naive to expect everywhere in Italy to look just like the movies, and I had to quickly realize that as a student traveling on a budget I would have to experience more than just the touristic front that a city puts up. While warming up to that idea took a few days, I eventually grew to see how valuable it was to constantly jump from looking from the outside-in to bring fully immersed in the opulent and monumental remains of Rome’s highest periods. My point is that when one is staying in a grand hotel with marble floors, dramatic chandeliers, high ceilings, etc.; they may become desensitized to those features when they witness them in their original manifestations. We were also, to a certain degree, sympathizing with the experience of real pilgrims as we would go to great lengths to seek out these places displaying their great wealth (of both history and riches) to visit, appreciate, and admire.

Featured Place: The Vatican

The first time I visited the Vatican I followed in the footsteps of the pilgrims in many years past. Walking along the banks of the Tiber river I could see the skyline of the Vatican in stark grey relief against a partly cloudy sky.

A grayish silhouette far down the banks of the Tiber river, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica looms, huge and imposing.

At the same time, the Vatican seems to be beckoning, drawing you in not with open arms, but with arms nearly completing their embrace, as the colonnades built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini seem to want to reach out and surround you.

The sheer scale of the colonnades along with their staggering symmetry make them a perfect metaphor for the power and control of the Catholic Church which makes its home here. A level of intellectual prowess and precision is demonstrated to show that only the best will do for the Vatican.

I was extremely impressed by the contents of the basilica of St. Peter. The unfathomable size of it all, the many alcoves we could not even explore, and the breathtaking masterpieces housed within it ensured that the experience of the basilica was as transcendent as the architects and artists intended.

I was blown away when I laid eyes on Michelangelo’s Pieta for the first time. Better writers and poets than me have described it countless times, but I have to say that the humanity, the pain and the perfection captured within it reflect a loss of great art in modern society today. It seems ridiculous that with greater technology and better tools artists today do not make pieces on the same level.

Of course, we cannot forget one of the most famous features of the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel.

Depicting biblical stories on a scale and in a style that the world had never seen before, the ceiling of the sistine chapel was revolutionary and only solidified Michelangelo’s reputation as a Renaissance master.

This image is in the public domain.

Painted by Michelangelo between 1533 and 1541 on the wall behind the altar – which in the time that it was painted would be faced by the pope as he gave his sermon or mass – “The Last Judgement” is an ominous warning to all that stand before it that rapture is coming, and that they best be on Christ’s “nice list” or face the consequences (4). Demons are depicted dragging down screaming men and women. The central figures’s bodies are impossibly muscular, their features and muscles defined to show their strength and other-worldliness. Christ Himself seems to hark back to medieval depictions where he is an imposing figure to be both feared and respected, a concept which contrasts with the loving figure of Christ which predominates Christianity today. Michelangelo’s last judgment made me question that transition in the attitudes of the faithful. As one who is not religious myself, I was unfamiliar with many catholic traditions, stories, and beliefs before embarking on the Grand Tour. I was quite familiar, however, with the basics of Christian faith as I grew up in an area that followed the stereotypes of middle-class white America to a T, and as such many of my friends were part of families which attended Church regularly and held the belief that Jesus was a loving figure, capable of forgiving all who repent. Personally, I have always though there was something a little bit off about that mindset. While I believe that some people can change their ways and that others may deserve second chances, etc., I disagree with the idea that all of one’s sins could be forgiven simply though repenting at the end of their life, rather than by changing their actions. There are many schools of thought and interpretations with all of Catholicism and Christianity, so there are certainly a myriad of responses to my opinion, but the real point that I intend to make is that perhaps the greater religious rigor in the past encouraged a more strict society in terms of morality. Perhaps the mentality that we can be forgiven or come back from anything makes people less wary of the consequences for bad actions. While I believe that the norms of society in the days of early Christianity were overly harsh in many respects and that methods of instilling fear in the people such as those taken by the Capuchin monks were far too extreme, I still can’t shake the idea that, to a certain degree, those warnings about god behavior shouldn’t fade away completely.


In Firenze, known by English-speakers as Florence, one is immersed in a true city of the Renaissance and Enlightenment where intellectual and artistic abilities are celebrated and the unique offerings of the city are constantly on display. From the leather market to the David himself, Florence is a home for everyone from craftsmen to revolutionary artists.

Featured Place: Oltrarno

A view from within Oltrarno looking out at Florence’s city center

Oltrarno, which literally means “beyond the Arno” one can find a side of Florence that is far more relaxed and slow than that of the city center, near the dome and other famous attractions. While there is much less tourist traffic, the hustle and bustle of the locals still exists and causes just as much traffic and lively chaos as in the other side of the city. Furthermore, there are a variety of museums and other attractions that will still bring in foot traffic from all around the world. The place which captivated my interest the most in Oltrarno was by far the Boboli Gardens. On a free day and with a small group I ventured there and entered through one of the side gates where there was no line to wait in, and where we were immediately immersed in the gardens rather than seeing the Pitti palace, home of the Medici, right at the outset.

The Boboli gardens were built by the Medici family and are located behind the Pitti Palace. They were begun in 1549 and designed by Niccolo Pericoli, who also went by the name “Tribolo”. They were meant for the Duchess Elenora of Toledo (1).

The Gardens are a celebration of natural spaces – of course the greenery is heavily manicured and planned, but nonetheless it serves as a relaxing green space in the middle of a busy city. While exploring the gardens one feature that stood out o me was the island fountain which was located in the center of a moat, accessible by a small land-bridge (similar to that which is in Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli) which was gated off. This island featured many flowers and lemon trees which contrasted with the simplicity of just trees and hedges present around most of the gardens.

I was also pleased to discover  a beautiful rose-filled terrace up a final flight of stairs which we saw as we were already on our way out of the garden. We’d already climbed so many flights in our study-aroid trip that we decided, ‘hey, why not?’ and that proved to be a great decision as we were finally interacting with the space we had imagined when we heard about the gardens. Furthermore, the view from the terrace showed off the mountains and buildings on the other side of Florence, a gorgeous view that we would not have gotten to appreciate were it not for those final steps.

Experiencing the Boboli gardens as they are today; a place where almost anyone can enter for a small free, then wander about discovering it at a relaxing, wondrous pace, made me try to imagine just how different gardens’ interactions with people must have been back in the days of the Medici, when access to the gardens was only granted to members of the family. While I am all for private property rights – the respected philosopher John Locke emphasized the importance of private property in bringing people out of “the state of nature” and into organized society- I find it important to explore how unique the extensive wealth of the Medici family was in Florence (5).

A recurring thought throughout my time in Italia, major distinctions in wealth and privilege breed disdain between the classes find this issue relevant to society today as in the United States in Particular more and more data points to increasing wage gaps. The US was built on the principles that opportunities are equal for all, and that one can build their way up to the top through hard work. While I believe that these ideals are still present to a certain degree, I also am not blind to the differences in how opportunities are presented. The Medici were a very smart family in how they conducted their businesses, and also very lucky to become the bankers for the Catholic Church, thereby solidifying their strong positions. I am not criticizing the Medici’s rise to power or their accumulation of wealth because I respect the fact that they were not noble, and built their way up anyway. The issue I will point out however is how few other success stories of that nature occurred in Florence. Their success mirrors that of billionaires in the United States today who certainly deserve credit and appreciation for novel ideas and business models, but do they deserve to be distinguished to such a significant degree?

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre translates to “five towns” which is an apt description as the region contains five similar but distinct towns at the bases of five mountains. Spanning around 18 miles across each, we braved a hike that lasted nearly 10 hours across all of them.

Featured Place: Monterosso al Mare

One of the largest and most visited of the Cinque terre towns, Monterosso was by far my favorite location. The major distinction between these towns and the others in a physical capacity is, of course, the wonderful pebble beach located conveniently just across from the train station and the taxi stand. Accessing portions of the beach is quite easy, although some sections are roped off for hotel guests only. Still, there is plenty of space for tourists in all phases of preparedness to relax. What I mean is that these beaches are not only home to swimsuit-bearing beach-goers, but also to exhausted travelers carrying the weight of their own little worlds in overflowing backpacks. My first impression of Monterosso came as we crossed the street from the train station, defended the steps, then proceeded to abandon our bags and run to huge climbable rocks. Upon returning to the bas we lunged around them, feeling slightly crazy, but not earning any strange looks at all. Thats how you know its typical there. It seems that nothing is unusual in Monterosso.

This town is also distinct in how much more tourism operates here compared to the other four. As Cinque Terre is classified as a UNESCO world heritage site, there will never be sky-scraping modern hotels or major piers to welcome cruise ships. Nonetheless, Monterosso is home to a variety of hotels and tourist-friendly shops with the classic knick-knacks to take home, and english-speaking servers to make custom drinks for any visitor.

Despite the greater openness to tourism, Monterosso retains the same charm and authenticity as the other small towns. Reluctance to change with the times is something that I have often questioned in other walks of life, as I personally prefer modern architecture, clean designs, etc. in my day to day life. However, witnessing the purity of these small towns and their integration with nature changed my mind, or at least made space for exceptions. I feel that cultural preservation of this form enriches the world. The towns of Cinque Terre as we see them today are pretty much the same as they always were, and their proximity to nature, with the mountain plants and wildflowers encroaching all around, remind us of our old connections to the earth and the importance of respecting those origins.


Known by English-speakers as Venice, this place was one where I had dreamt of going for many years, and it certainly did not disappoint. From the vistas on the vapporretto to the narrow streets with their uneven doors, Venice seemed like a place out of a storybook.

Featured Place: San Marco East

I felt rather lucky to have chosen to explore San Marco East with the greatest interest for my Grand Tour project. As everyone knows, this is the most visited and historic area in venice as ti houses the greatest outdoor ballroom in the world Piazza San Marco, along with St Mark’s Basilica, of course.

Entering St. Mark’s Square from the West. Note that in the audio it is commented “Do you hear la musicita? (the music) it’s Disney again” A complement of the highest regard, as it emphasizes how inviting and other-worldy the space before us was.

One of the main takeaways from the whole of Eastern San Marco is that while most of Venice consists of tiny, twisting roads -for foot traffic only- as well as many small, uneven buildings, there is an undeniable connection to how that experience of the city only magnifies the grander of Piazza San Marco, known as St. Mark’s square to English-speakes. As with the Boboli Gardens in Florence, I see the space here as evidence of people’s need to have simple beauty in their lives. The beauty of open spaces, of seeing birds fly and being able to breath un-opressive air is essential.


The Piazza San Marco was nicknamed as Venice’s ballroom by Napoleon in 1805 when he became the ruler of the newly created kingdom of Italy (3). He had been searching for a space large enough to set up his administration and house his court, and the Piazza fit the bill. The square has retained that nickname by being filled with music every night, where lovers and singletons alike can go to twirl through the square and admire the reflection of the lights in the water rising up through the ground.

I find the history of the square interesting, as although it is a space open to the public for pleasure, it has always been connected to buildings and people that perpetuated class divisions, tyranny, and governmental systems with major overlaps between the Church and the state. On the western side of the piazza is St. Mark’s Basilica which used to be the private chapel of the Doge, the palace of whom is connected to it on the side of the water.

The Doge’s palace is a massive and imposing place filled with gold, priceless artwork, and a surprising array of functional spaces like a large meeting room for the court and an actual courtroom with a doorway connecting to a passage through the bridge of sighs, directly to the old Venetian Prison. The bridge of sighs, called so because it allowed prisoners a final glimpse of daylight before their incarceration (which oftentimes lead to their quick death) was a particularly striking feature of San Marco East as it showed once again the totality of the nobility’s power in Venice. While it is well known that the Venetians put forth efforts to play down the class differences such as by enforcing an all black clothes and gondola rule for nobility, it can’t be denied that major differences in wealth and in privilege permeated the market city.

The Biennale

I can’t write about my experiences in Venice without commenting on something which made the time there totally unique and all the more special. The Biennale is an exhibition that occurs every few years where all across the city public spaces such as churches, museums, old homes, etc. are transformed in to exhibits for modern art. While the majority of art that we see and appreciate from the early years of the cities we visit is centered around religious contexts, modern art address a wide array of subject matters. We stumbled into a an exhibit exploring the issues with categorizing genders and the challenges faed by the LGBTQ community in our society today. At another point I entered an exhibit with wires and ribbons suspended from the roof and reaching all over the room in a chaotic, but obviously planned, way. My absolute favorite installation however was done by an artist on an island just off the main city in Venice. The church of San Giorgio Maggiore is grand and Romanesque in design with massive white columns, and simple white designs all around that make for a clean, impressive, pure experience. Right in the center of the church was a rainbow color block sculpture that seemed to have been photocopied in. It was so gorgeous to me to to see the contrast in style, building materials, and yet it was so clear that both works had the same aim, to point one’s mind and heart upward to a more pure and clean headspace. perhaps the best past of the culture installation was that one was able to enter it through a small opening, where one could look up and see the oculus of the white does above, once agin showing the surprisingly perfect integration of the sculpture and the church. Furthermore we were able to see the sketches of the artist, as well as some of his other works, in a different wing of the building. I feel very luck to have visited venice for the first time while the Biennale was occurring, as it ensured that my memories of the place were not all about the history and concerns of the past, but instead they showed how the city is connected to the modern world today, and how in the same way that venice was always open to people from all parts of the world for trade purposes in the past, it remains a haven for artistic ideas to come together, clash, and complement one another.

Works Cited:

  1. “History | Boboli Gardens.” Gallerie Degli Uffizi, www.uffizi.it/en/boboli-garden/history.
  2. “Florence’s Oltrarno: Why Visit the “Other Side” of the Arno.” Walks of Italy Blog, 21 May 2012, www.walksofitaly.com/blog/florence/oltrarno-florence-italy-pitti-palace.
  3. “Ala Napoleonica in Piazza San Marco – Venice.” Napoleon.org, www.napoleon.org/en/magazine/places/ala-napoleonica-in-piazza-san-marco-venice/.
  4. “The Last Judgement by Michelangelo in Rome.” Florence Inferno, 14 Dec. 2017, www.florenceinferno.com/the-last-judgement-michelangelo/.
  5. “John Locke: The Justification of Private Property.” Libertarianism.org, 19 Oct. 2015, www.libertarianism.org/columns/john-locke-justification-private-property.

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.

Marco Linares: Grand Tour Redux


I am an aspiring lawyer who is pursuing dual bachelor degrees in Political Science and International Relations from Florida International University. During the Grand Tour Redux, I thoroughly enjoyed and was likewise fascinated by the masterpieces we saw and the cultures we interacted with – so much so that I am definitely taking courses in art history and appreciation in order to gain a deeper appreciation for the fine arts. Nevertheless, I felt drawn to analyzing most – but not all – of my experiences in the grand tour via a political lense. Some of the approaches to the cities are definitely a result of this perspective – the rest are simply observations and reflection on general life as I saw it through my indescribable perspective.

Ultimately, this project allows me to reflect on the past and connect it to the present, which is what I will attempt to do by drawing parallels as well as distinctions between the places we saw and the United States today.


From lamp posts and trash cans to ornate buildings, paintings, and sculptures – SPQR adorns it all. Senātus Populusque Rōmānus is an eerie reminder of what once was the greatest empire known to man and no longer is.

From greatness to downfall. Nothing makes this contrast from greatness to mediocrity than the Roman forum. From it, power exuded, the vast region that Romans amassed over years of war was ruled from this single spot. Crammed between the Capitoline and Palatine hills were the most powerful men of antiquity. The exuberant palace atop the Palatine hill, the myriad of temples all adorned with the finest marble to worship all gods, the imposing basilica of Maxentius, the Senate all were forgotten suddenly after the collapse of the Roman empire. So forgotten that the only reason we know about it today is because it was deemed so unimportant that cows were allowed to graze there, atop the dirt that covered it all.

One cannot ignore the resemblance that the United States bears to Roma. Their history is practically the same: both rebelled against the monarchy and established a radical form of government hoping to never be ruled by an individual with unlimited power. Slowly both expanded their territories by brute force – either conquering, decimating people or driving them off their land. Similarly, the executive gradually grew more powerful and its power had fewer checks in what it could do. Culturally they are also very similar. Roma was the melting pot of Europe with citizens from all over as well as their respective religions, foods, and unique perspectives. The United States is likewise home to people from all over the globe, a country of immigrants as its very own founders migrated from Europe to seek greater freedoms; this all results in a myriad of languages, ethnicities, and most importantly perspectives to be present in it. They even share the way they project their power: always leading with soft power while having the military to back any action. If one simply described Roma and the United States they could often be mistaken for one another.

The main difference between the United States and the Roman Empire is that the former has only been around for around 250 years, a mere fourth of what the empire lasted. Another notable difference is that they have existed in very different time periods: Roma in antiquity and the United States in the age of interconnectivity and globalization.

This all leaves one to wonder, will Washington D.C. be nothing more than a cow pasture in 800 years?

This is a question that has been debated by nearly every historian, and there seems to be no clear consensus. Most scholars agree, however, that the study of history aids us in predicting outcomes of similar situations as well as to avoid negative ones. The case of the United States is precisely that one with regards to Roma. The Roman Empire fell because of a couple of factors agreed upon by scholars; namely overextension and wealth disparity. Looking at the United States today one may fear for the same outcome given that the upper class keeps getting wealthier whereas the middle class is disappearing or merging with the lower class which has not improved in decades. Another sign of worry is the overextension of military and diplomatic envoys all over the world. With the rise of China and the United States endlessly trying to counter it they are attempting to have a say in every country’s foreign policies while keeping stable relations as well – something that is impossibly difficult if not impossible.

These two factors are dangerously similar to those that were seen in ancient Roma, so is history going to repeat itself? I fear it might unless some drastic measures are taken to rectify what was explained above. The United States has enjoyed the hegemony for quite some time and though it may pain it and its politicians, they may have to learn to live in a world that does not bend at their will – literally like every other nation in the world. With regards to the wealth inequality, laws and policies can be pursued that will focus on the people rather than on the businesses. Greater safety nets, higher minimum wages, more apt unions, higher taxes on the uber-wealthy, these are all measures that can be done to slowly raise the lower classes without irreparably damaging the upper ones. Otherwise the United States may not last half as long as Roma.


Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo DaVinci, Dante Alighieri, Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi, Giotto… all masters of their craft, all changed the world, all Florentines. One wonders what was in the water that made all of these people so brilliant? There were artists from all over the world, why were these so much better than the rest? Why are these the masters?

There are a myriad of reasons that explain this. Some may argue that they were simply better genetically suited at whatever is required to be an artist. That may explain one or two of them, but certainly not all. Others will more accurately argue that it was their environment that allowed them to truly explore what they needed to in order to be great artists – this may explain it better. Firenze was the perfect place for artists: the Medici, the political motives driving art, the sexual freedom, the lack of religious restrictions – it all combined to make Firenze the birthplace of the Renaissance.

This all makes one ponder upon a couple of things: for once, how many artists could have been great that never were, simply because they were not in the right environment? Secondly, and most importantly, it allows one to think about social restrictions and their effect on people.

States must regulate private conduct to the degree that it affects others and government, but when is that regulation too much? Until relatively recently in the United States contraceptives in the marital bedroom were banned, is that too much restriction? Is restricting a woman’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term something that should be restricted? These questions and many more were the ones that passed through my head as I experienced Firenze. I was astonished by this utopia – a society in which people were free to do as they wished free from social constraints, free from over-restriction.

Is it right for governments to control the lives of its people? Some may argue it is a necessary evil, whereas other zealously oppose it. I could only think of Orwell’s 1984 where the government controlled everything and people would grudgingly bear it. That would be one end of it, the other would be utter anarchy. Firenze is so special because it reached the perfect balance between freedom and restriction – it seems fitting that the Renaissance’s perfect balance was born here.

Though government and the restrictions that come along with it are necessary, they must certainly have a limit that allows enough civil liberties for society to function. What is this limit has been a hard-fought debate for nearly all of recorded human history. In the United States for instance, at first only land-owning white males had full rights, then it slowly expanded to the state it is in today. The same process happened with nearly every right Americans have – abortion, free speech, bear arms, and the list can go on. Even today there is no agreement on how much restrictions is too much. I personally think that liberties are extremely necessary and the only way to safeguard them is to have an efficient and unbiased judicial branch. If this is not followed and achieved soon we may face a notable reduction in our rights and liberties as Americans. The United States – and any government for that matter – should emulate Firenze in that aspect, allowing the people to have freedoms without burdening them – maybe that way we will see another phenomenon like the one of all the Florentine masters.

Cinque Terre

What happens when the world stands still? That is a question that poses a great deal of difficulty: for starters the laws of physics say it is impossible unless one travels at the speed of light – which is definitely not happening in the Cinque Terre – but somehow it seems as though in the Cinque Terre time stands still. It is no surprise then that those who went on the Grand Tour before me would go to the Cinque Terre to reflect on what they had experienced before continuing on – a way to be able to digest the amazement and astonishment they had for the masterpieces they just saw. We used the Cinque Terre in a similar manner, a way to allow us to reflect and truly realize how amazing what we had experienced was – in the span of three weeks we had seen works by all of the great masters and those who came after them, we had seen more of the world than most people see in a lifetime.

In Cinque Terre I also came to a realization, one that I think is important and will guide my life from now on. I realized that no matter how fast life moves, how busy one gets, or how overwhelming life becomes, one must find their Cinque Terre, their place to reflect and relax, their place where time stands still and they are happy.

The United States often prides itself on having Protestant work ethic and allowing its people to chase the American dream – this simply means that one works too much and is never truly happy with their life, always seeking to have more things and reach the unattainable goal of being happy.

Without somewhere like the Cinque Terre in everyone’s lives, the world continues being driven by stress and thoughtlessness, but with the Cinque Terre it all improves. As idealistic as it may sound, the world could be substantially better for all if people were able to devote some time reflecting and relaxing, be it in a room in their home, in a park nearby, or anywhere else that allows the individual to break with society’s fast pace and slow things down enough to reflect.

Do not misunderstand what I mean when I say that everything works slower in the Cinque Terre; everyone works as much if not more than Americans, it is the way they do it that makes their lives and those of all around them different. Unlike in the United States, in the Cinque Terre people genuinely smile and chat with one another, they enjoy their lives thoroughly and it must be at least partly because of the atmosphere in this place. I could not help but think of Albee’s Death of a Salesman – the retrace to make the most and fulfill the capitalist dream is not something that matters in the Cinque Terre, people are happy with whatever little or lot they have and they work to live, not the other way around.

I believe that they have it right, we in the United States have a skewed concept of this. Working is only a part of living, it is not however, life. This is an important concept that everyone should at least be aware of so that they can live a happier a fuller life, detached from material possessions.


Since 1648 people have no longer been able to be stateless, the place one is born is forever with them. We not only receive a first name and a family name but also a nationality. We all effectively belong to a country and some to two. But why does this exist? Does an agreed upon imaginary line truly make people different from one another?

Nationalism emerged shortly after nation states emerged, it resulted in people with a heightened sense of patriotism who were willing to do what was good and right for their nation – that in itself is a very subjective idea. Recently in the world we have seen a rise in nationalism. Whether it be in Europe, Asia, or in the Americas there is one thing in common: people are giving substantially larger importance to the imaginary lines of states. This is not the first time we have seen this happen and is likely not going to be the last. Napoleon was one of the early adopters of nationalism in order to enlist thousands of people into his army, claiming the greater purpose to help France. Some other famous adopters of this powerful movement who were able to harness it were Hitler, Mussolini, and recently Trump as well as many politicians alongside him. In Venezia it is possible to see early nationalism at work.

Venetians were and still are a proud people, they became the most powerful city in the world, and as such they were willing to defend their number one spot against all threats. This is eerily similar to the United States today.

Venetians stole, lied, and fought wars to improve Venezia. The main attraction in Venezia is proof of that: St. Mark’s body was stolen from Alexandria, taken to Rome and placed in the cathedral there. The cathedral itself is adorned with stolen horses from Venezia’s then ally Constantinople and with a myriad of columns and sculptures from all corners of the earth. For Venezia, Venetians would do anything. Today’s is rise in nationalism is worrisome because the different nationalities are vying for power and seeking what is best for their own country, other countries will be upset by it and conflict could ensue. Unlike Venetians who fell because their nationalism made them expand over their capacity into the mainland, citizens of today must be aware and reflect on their country’s actions – they must not be led astray by nationalism. It is our duty, one that is often neglected or clouded by nationalism, to know the good and bad things our countries do and to see issues from the multiple perspectives that are always involved. Doing this allows us to judge current and last issues from the least biased perspective. Ignorance is the worst thing that can happen to a society, and it is up to each of us to stop turning a blind eye on the questionable actions of our countries.