By Rachel Thomas '14
On May 14, I was lucky enough to be one of 10 Hendrix students departing the Little Rock airport bound, ultimately, for Milan. I was doubly lucky because I had taken several art history classes from art history professor Dr. Rod Miller in my two years so far at Hendrix, and so I'd learned a lot about the art we were going to see.
Dr. Miller planned the trip through the Odyssey Professorship program, which helped to fund the cost of the tour for students in his 300-level Renaissance and Baroque Art History class.
"Taking students to Italy, or to see any art in situ, adds to the understanding of that art," said Dr. Miller in an email. "For example, when looking at the Massacio frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence [see Day Four], it matters that the works are still visible to churchgoers, that they have been for centuries, and that the church is still a church. Something essential to the meaning is grasped that one does not glean from merely seeing it projected upon the wall."
He added, "Of course, there are many other reasons why students ought to travel abroad. Perhaps most important is that it holds the potential to give one a cosmopolitan view of the world, to recognize that there are lots of other folks out there who do not do things the same way we do in Arkansas. It is enriching and stretching. Plus, there is the gelato ..."
After eight days in Italy (not counting the two days of travel to get there and back), Dr. Miller has summed up the value of the experience just about right and in a lot fewer words than I'm going to take. What follows is a set of dispatches for each of the days we spent in Italy, including a list of the things we saw and descriptions of some of the most exciting or interesting moments because if I described every moment (or even all of the exciting and interesting ones) I would probably have to write a book. And, of course, there are a few recommendations of good gelaterias. Because if you should find yourself in Italy, the first thing you need to do is get a gelato.
Padua, Prato della Valle, Sant'Antonio, Palazzo della Ragione, Antenor's Tomb (Probably not really), Scrovegni Chapel, Church of the Eremitani (next door), Hotel on the Lido
We set out from Hendrix campus at oh-dark-thirty in the morning on May 14, and somehow, in the course of security and layovers and customs and transatlantic flight, we've mislaid an entire day and arrived bright and early on the 15th, in Milan, in Italy.
We stumble through customs and out into an airport. An Italian airport. Which is much like most big commercial airports, except it is in Italy. The couple chatting by the baggage carousel are chatting in Italian, the advertisements and direction signs are in Italian, too (although with English translations underneath). Uscita, Exit, proclaims a sign over a row of sliding doors. This is going to be a word we will learn very quickly. Some other necessary vocabulary would include grazie, thank you, ciao, hi/bye, buongiorno, good morning, and, a word we would all grow fond of, andiamo, which means "let's go."
Andiamo is the favorite phrase of our guide, Sergio, who is waiting for us after we collect all our baggage. He is well dressed, like just about every Italian we see. Dr. Miller had warned us that Italians would make us feel like slobs. Although just about anyone feels a bit like a slob after over 20 hours on planes.
Sergio arranges for our first lunch, after this we will be on our own, and we stop at an Autogrill on the highway. Autogrill could be called a fast food joint, a convenience store, a coffee bar, or a rest stop. It's all of those things, and particularly Italian in each of them. We go upstairs to the cafeteria and thankfully it's like any cafeteria anywhere. Trays and serving stations. Ordering is a little tricky. The choices are numerous, and come in multiple combinations. Sergio is darting from student to student, chatting with the chefs in rapid Italian and then offering brief explanations to the befuddled Americans. That's a starter plate. That has meat in it. He appears at my elbow. You can get two kinds of pasta, he explains, these two, the gnocci and the risotto, are the recommended specials.
"Gnocci e risotto, per favore," I hazard. The woman behind the counter hands me a deep dish with the two pastas in it, and I see that the risotto has shrimp in it. Oh well.
I make it through the checkout alive (in a scene that will be repeated many times over the course of our tour, the cashier looks me over and tells me the amount I owe in English), and join my tour mates at a table. The pasta is good. The pasta is very good, for something I'd bought at a place off the highway. I eat around the shrimp.
In order to leave the Autogrill we have to go through what Sergio calls the "temptation corridor." This is a snaking aisle that doubles back on itself, forcing you to walk past chocolates and wines and meats and cheeses, crackers, little toys and playing cards and all the things they put on checkout aisles in grocery stores, times a hundred. We make it out and back to the bus without serious financial harm.
Our destination for the day is Padua, a small and ancient city in northern Italy that probably doesn't spring to mind when you think of the Renaissance. Nevertheless, we are going to see some of the most historically significant paintings of that period, if we can all stay awake.
We start our tour in the Prato della Valle, an elliptical piazza (which can be translated as plaza or public square). It's believed to be the biggest elliptical space of its kind in Europe. When we walk through it, it has all the scenes one would expect in a well-maintained city park, from the wandering street vendors hawking knock-off sunglasses to the children chasing pigeons. Padua is a nice place to start because, although it certainly sees its share of tourists, it doesn't feel as attached to that market as some of the cities we visit later. The street vendors are few and far between, and many of the people we see on the street are locals and students at the university, not tour groups.
Our first stop is Sant'Antonio (not to be confused with San Antonio), one of the biggest and most famous churches in Padua. It boasts seven cupolas, five round ones and two pyramid style ones. That immediately gives it a pretty imposing presence, and a more Byzantine look than some other churches. The piazza in front of the church boasts an equestrian statue by Donatello, and since he was one of the ninja turtles you can rest assured he was a pretty big deal during the Renaissance. However, if you're a pilgrim to Padua, the real treasure is inside. Saint Anthony himself is entombed within the basilica, in an ornate little chapel.
A pause here for some Art History 101. Big churches often have niches called chapels built into the external walls. These are usually decorated by some big family, or a guild, and behind the altar there are often chapels devoted to holy relics.
The chapel of St. Anthony is very grandly decorated, black stone and gold trimmings, but tourists and pilgrims are guided around the back of his tomb, walking between it and the wall.
As I walk along this narrow passage, I see a woman lift up her child so that he can run his hand along the back of the saint's tomb. Many others are doing the same. There is a line to get into the chapels holding St. Anthony's relics.
I had known, intellectually, that of course these tourists weren't all here to peer at the capitals on columns or admire early Renaissance frescoes, but I didn't really realize until that moment how much religion, and belief, was in the air.
We walk past a number of the historical sites of Padua, including the Palazzo della Ragione, a hall that evidently has one of the largest, if not the largest, unsupported roofs in Europe, and stands on top of a market that has operated for centuries, and still does. That astonishing roof, which is over 260 feet long, was built in the early 1300s, if you want to be even more amazed. We walk through the market, which is quite medieval until you turn and see the tobacconist's shop.
Our real destination is still ahead of us. By the time we arrive the jetlag is kicking in, but this is something worth staying awake for. The Scrovegni Chapel, also called the Arena Chapel, which holds some of the most significant frescoes in the history of the Renaissance, and, really, in the history of Western art.
The frescoes are by Giotto. Although he is not one of the ninja turtles, he really should be. His work was the foundation, the first step towards the paintings of Da Vinci and Michelangelo and the rest of the gang.
If you see them in the context of later Renaissance painters, his work seems, well, underwhelming. His figures are bulky and their gestures are not what you would call completely natural, their expressions muted. His backgrounds are, frankly, basic. They look like stage sets. A stunted little hill with a tree on it, a building that screams for mathematical proportions, room interiors that might as well be dollhouses, one wall cut away to show the action within.
However, when you look at Giotto next to his contemporaries, and the painters in generations before his, something has clearly, and radically, changed. Other figures are flat, but his have shape, depth, and dimensionality. They move, they even show their backs to the viewer, and they interact with each other closely, intimately. Judas almost envelops Christ while delivering his fateful kiss. The emotions on their faces are simple, but they are emotions, and a figure expressing any emotion, let alone deep emotion, was a new concept. The grief on the face of the mourners around the dead Christ isn't overly stated, but the furrowed brows and frowning lips say all there is to say. As for the backgrounds, having a real-life background at all, let alone a background that attempts three-dimensionality, was almost wholly new. Giotto even came up with a few tricks. In his fresco of the Pentecost he put several disciples with their backs to the viewer, and this immediately creates a sense that they are closer than the figures seated across from them. A simple trick, but one that medieval painters would never have attempted.
He also paints several of the angels in the Lamentation, the mourners gathered around the dead Christ, as if they are coming towards the viewer. In short, he employs foreshortening. That is incredibly difficult, and incredibly revolutionary.
I knew all this before I went into the chapel, but it is something else to see it in person. The space feels intimate; the frescoes set up to be easily read as one walks up and down the central aisle. In addition to the frescoes along the walls, there is a truly terrifying Last Judgment over the doors, complete with a large demon feasting on the damned. The ceiling is painted to look like a starry sky. Almost all the sculptural elements, meaning the marble frames around the frescoes, the columns on the walls, and the marble paneling, were actually painted on by Giotto. I will admit to spending a foggy three minutes, jetlag making the room vibrate slightly, trying to work out if a very real looking column on the wall next to the altar was actually three-dimensional. It wasn't, as it turned out. This cost-saving little trick has always struck me as somewhat playful as well. The artist displays their skill, not in human figures or landscapes, but in such a perfect representation of a common church adornment that the illusion passes unrecognized. It's almost a challenge. Are your eyes better than my brush?
Giotto got the better of me there, and I was ready to admit that my little aesthetic judgments (his Madonna isn't as pretty as Raphael's) were completely misplaced. Who was I anyway, to ignore the contributions to art, and the emotional beauty, of Giotto's figures because I didn't think they were very pretty?
We stop into one last church, a smaller one, before heading off to meet our bus and go to our hotel. It is right next to the Scrovegni Chapel, but we don't have to go through an equalizing room to have all the moisture cleared out of the air before we go in, and we don't need a special ticket. In fact, there isn't even anyone inside to monitor us.
At first, it seems rather odd. This church's walls are bare, or almost bare. As we walk farther in we see places were bits of fresco still cling to the wall, or have been put back into place. Some frescoes are fairly well restored, missing chunks, but mostly comprehensible. Others are little more than bits of colored plaster stuck onto blank brick walls. Part of a face, something that could be a section of sky or a hill.
A bomb had fallen too close to the church during WWII, Sergio tells us, and the frescoes had been knocked off the walls. This is not going to be the last church we see with a similar story. History, art created by laboring hands hundreds of years ago, shattered in a second. And this chapel is barely a hundred yards from Scrovegni. How close had Giotto's great work come to a similar fate?
Italy has more history in one city than most American states. Churches built on top of older churches, built on top of Roman ruins. Sculptures in public squares and on the sides of buildings that would be worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in a gallery. Italy has lost more history, to looters and ancient wars, modern wars and bombs, to the fellow Sergio always referred to as "Our Dictator," than most states have ever had.
I guess the point is that I realized that first day that we were going to spend eight days seeing as much as we could possibly fit in, and we would be seeing a hundredth, a thousandth, of all there is to see.
Venice, Santa Maria della Salute, St. Mark's Basilica, Doge's Palace, Correr Museum, San Giorgio Maggiore, The Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge
We got up bright and early and had our first breakfast in Italy. Breakfast in Italy is, for an Italian, some sort of baked treat (a scone or a croissant or something similar) and coffee, preferably an espresso. The options, aside from ordinary coffee, were espresso and cappuccino, and cappuccino was seen as a bit of a sissy drink. Americano was even more of a copout, and also a little bit insulting (given the name). It's an espresso, watered down.
The hotel had, like most of the hotels we stayed at, set out a platter of cold cuts for the non-Italian guests. I got some of those, an awesome little chocolate baked thing (chocolate is a good start to any description of baked goods) and a bowl of cereal. That was my biggest breakfast in Italy. Once we got into the swing of things, all of our breakfasts began to shrink, and we started indulging a bit more in our gigantic dinners (every dinner we had was a start, a pasta course, a meat and potato course, and a dessert). And, of course, a gelato or two a day.
After breakfast, we loaded into the bus. It was raining, and cold. By the time we got to the ferry depot it was colder, and rainier. I was beginning to regret my decision to bring an umbrella but not a raincoat, and I could tell some of the others were beginning to regret packing mostly summer clothes. It was, to be honest, a dreary start. We boarded the ferry and searched for someplace out of the wind. For a while there wasn't much to see. Then the ferry turned and there it was.
How do you describe Venice? Everyone's seen it, in pictures and on television and in films. So how can I describe it, when we all know what it looks like? How can I explain that, even knowing all the cliché images, all the classic views, seeing it in person just blows all of that away? I think we see images of it so often that we become bored with the images. Oh yeah, walls right up to the water, steep bridges, those long skinny boats. We've probably all read articles some place about how it's sinking, very slowly. We live every day knowing that some people, before the invention of electricity or motorboats, stuck tree trunks around a bunch of islands that were little more than piles of sand in a marsh, and built a magnificent, beautiful, and, above all, stone city on top of sand and trees and water. How do we go about our day not being stunned by that fact?
Probably in much the same way we go about not being stunned by the pyramids or the Great Wall of China every second, because seeing a picture and seeing the thing in real-life, standing in its shadow, those are just two very different experiences. Venice has to be seen. Once you see Venice you can't not be amazed. And I challenge anyone not to fall in love with it. I arrived there on a wet, cold, overcast day with rain water in my socks and I fell in love with it. I wanted to live in every apartment and house we passed, especially the ones right on the Grand Canal. I wanted to ride the waterbuses, which is the system of public transportation, from one end of the city to the other. When we learned that Venice has a population crisis, since it's pretty difficult to live in a place with no cars, no bikes allowed, and no elevators, I was ready to volunteer to move there that day. I didn't need my luggage. Just point me to the nearest empty apartment, and show me a lease agreement.
Of course, once the sun came out, it got even better.
We visited several churches in Venice, including the Santa Maria Della Salute, which is a great example of a centrally planned church (which started to become a fad in the Renaissance and has continued into the present day). It's octagonal, which makes it a very different space from an ordinary, basilica-style church.
We also saw the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which was designed by Andrea Palladio and was pretty exciting because we talk about it a lot in art history. Palladio was a big time classicist, and he worked out how to build a church that looks both like a Roman temple, and like a church. It has two pediments (the triangle things on the façade, on top of the columns), one at Greek temple height, and one at ordinary basilica church height. Inside it's even more classical. Columns, columns everywhere. Also, some paintings by Tintoretto. In Venice, Tintoretto is the guy (unless you're talking about Titian, who is definitely the Guy).
But the highlight of Venice was definitely St. Mark's, San Marco, it's most famous church (St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice). Venice was, at one time, a powerful city, and they had dealings with (and did some conquering of) places to the east, and St. Mark's is influenced by that, and decorated with marble and columns and friezes stolen from conquered cities, including Constantinople. The highlight of these repossessed treasures is certainly the set of Greek horse statues brought back from Constantinople and originally installed on the church's façade. They were stolen by Napoleon when he conquered Venice, and eventually returned, minus the medallions that once hung around their necks. They were taken off St. Mark's façade recently and placed inside the church. They are astonishing, and astonishingly lifelike.
The eastern influence is why St. Mark's looks like almost nothing else in Italy, except for some churches in Ravenna. St. Mark's is Byzantine style. That means mosaics. Breathtaking, golden mosaics. It's indescribable. The space is pretty dark, but you don't need much light to see the mosaics in the domes and lining the upper sections of all the walls, because even though the domes are high and the building is vast (and the mosaics are huge) they glow, and glitter, and shine from every corner of the ceiling. I imagine that the façade of St. Mark's is almost blinding when the light hits it the right way. Because the mosaics are golden (have I mentioned that already?).
After St. Mark's we visited the Doge's Palace, which is next door. The doges were the rulers of Venice, when it was a Republic, and were elected for life. Of course, only members of aristocratic families had the vote, but it was a better system than some and doges could be pressured, and if necessary kicked out of power (in the one case where this was necessary, the doge was also kicked out of life).
The Doge's Palace is, well, a palace, but it's also a government office. It has halls for the Great Council (Venetians who could vote), the Council of Ten, the Senate, and the judges, as well as the doge's office and apartments. It has paintings (frescoes don't tend to do well in Venice, given the damp), many by Tintoretto, or Veronese, and one portrait of a doge by Titian. These paintings, particularly those in the official government offices and meeting halls, are fascinating because they are so clearly, easily intelligible.
While we sat in the Great Council chamber (hooray, benches!) and listened to our local guide explain the symbolism of the Paradiso, a painting by Tintoretto and the longest canvas painting in the world (which is pretty cool) I started to think about how astonishing it was that we could look at a painting and understand it like that. We can actually read works of art, we can look at the figures and the way they interact and say, oh, I see, that figure is Christ, and that one Mary, and those are the saints and this is heaven. Over our heads is the Apotheosis of Venice, and there is Venice personified, clearly the central figure, and her subjects, and she's about to be crowned with a laurel, signifying victory. That all makes sense, if you learn the basic vocabulary.
My second thought was: why am I so astonished? Shouldn't works of art be comprehensible? Shouldn't the message be legible, and, hopefully, somewhat universal?
The paintings in the Doge's Palace are for a particular city, but they are meant to be viewed by all the men who rule and guide the city. Remember how great Venice is, the paintings tell them. Remember our power. Remember your responsibility.
Giotto was, perhaps, more universal. A Christian who knows the story of the bible can walk into the chapel and make out the major events in the life of Christ. I was amazed all over again in Ravenna when I realized I could identify the events portrayed in a series of mosaics from hundreds of years ago, because they were the life of Christ, and there are only so many ways to show it. But why was I amazed?
As I sat there in the doge's palace, looking up at the paintings while the guide explained the symbols, and feeling it click, I figured it out, or I think I did. It's modern art, or at least some general perception of modern art. Something in our society has trained us that art is meant to be somewhat incomprehensible. We believe that we're meant to look at it and feel something, rather than think something and that if we look at it and feel confused, it's good art. Art that can be defined, explained as a simple allegory, this is this and that is that, is somehow lacking. I think that's what a lot of us think without even realizing it. If it's simple, it must not be great art.
Sitting there looking at the Paradiso, painted by an aging artist whose daughter died while he worked on it (she is in the painting, sitting at his feet), I have a hard time believing that comprehensibility is a bad thing. Art doesn't have to be confusing to be moving. In fact, surely being able to understand it, to relate it somehow to your own life, or just to life and living, is a good thing. Surely getting their idea, or, in many of the works we saw, the idea, across, is something artists strive for.
Ravenna, Piadina, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, San Vitale, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Florence, Piazza Michelangelo
Ravenna is a bit of an odd duck. It has some of the best examples of Byzantine architecture and mosaics you can see in Western Europe, and it never really jumped on board with the whole Renaissance thing. It has the tomb of Dante, although Florence would like him back.
It also has flatbread sandwiches, something like a cross between quesadillas and Panini, called Piadina. They are absolutely fantastic, with cheese and tomato or a meat, but particularly when they are filled with Nutella. I had to pause for those because my mouth starts watering just thinking back to them. Molto bono.
Anyway, I suppose the point I'm working my way around to is that Ravenna doesn't feel very much like any of the other cities we visited, from Venice to Rome. This is probably because of the churches. Ravenna was actually the capital of the Roman Empire, for a little while, towards the end of its reign, and so it has the mausoleum of Galla Placidia and her son, who was emperor for a bit (well, until he died, but it was really only a bit). Her mausoleum is fairly indicative of what makes Ravenna so odd, and so interesting. On the outside, it's very plain. It's just red brick, with a brown roof, in a cross shape.
The inside is kept very dark, and yet again, the darkness works with the ornamentation, because the inside is covered in mosaics.
Unlike the mosaics in St. Mark's, which are dominated by gold, these ones are set against blue backgrounds. They still glitter and glow, but they aren't quite as sparkly. Because Galla Placidia was a Christian, they are Christian mosaics. The Good Shepherd sits with his flock over the door, and St. Lawrence prepares to climb onto his gridiron and be martyred across from him. At the two ends of the other arm of the cross are stags drinking from little pools of water. This imagery is a little trickier, but our local guide explains that it refers to Psalm 42, which reads "As the deer pants for streams of water,/ so my soul pants for you, my God."
That's rather a nice sentiment to express in a burial place, actually. The sarcophagi are still present, although historians aren't sure who's buried in all of them. Obviously Galla Placidia's in the biggest one. One could contain her son, or her brother, and the other probably contains her husband.
The simplest way to sum up the mausoleum and Ravenna in general is to say that the treasure is all on the inside. Looking at the mausoleum from outside, it could be a well-built, if oddly laid-out, storage hut. Inside, it's a tomb fit for an empress.
San Vitale, which was our next destination, proved this again. Another underwhelming red brick exterior with some flying buttresses that were built on later to keep it stable. Inside are some of the most famous mosaics in Ravenna. It's particularly interesting because some are Roman style mosaics, and some are Byzantine style. And two of them are very political. A pair of facing mosaics on either side of the altar show Justinian I, emperor of the Byzantine Empire, presenting the platter for the Eucharistic bread to the priests of the church, while facing him his wife Theodora presents the chalice. Neither of them actually ever saw the church built, but the message is clear. Justinian did this. It's a strong reminder that churches could be (and usually were) political statements.
The other mosaics tell Biblical stories. The apostles stare down from an arch before you reach the altar, each one helpfully labeled in Latin. Two very different images of Jesus survey the scene. One from the center of the arch, bearded, and another from over the altar, fresh-faced. One is Byzantine style, the other more Roman. The two cultures, which were after all once one culture, temporarily reunited.
The whole place is, frankly, bejeweled. There are mosaics of animals, most stunningly peacocks, and the colors are bright, green, blue and gold most prominent. The individual pieces of tile used to make the mosaics are so small that the artists can render folds in fabric and individual fingers.
To think that you could stand outside and look at this building and never guess at the beauty within. It would certainly make a good metaphor. Something similar to "stop to smell the roses." Stop to look inside the plain old church. You might find gold-encrusted mosaics on the walls.
We have one more mosaic-filled stop. As we walk to it we pass by Dante Alighieri's tomb, and we can see even from the other end of the street that there's a line. Maybe there are pilgrims for Dante too.
Our last stop is Sant'Apollinare Nuovo. For anybody who's studied a Romance language, however cursorily, it should be easy to translate that as the new Sant'Apollinare. This is Italian new, though, not regular new. The church was built around 500 A.D., and it was named Nuovo in the 800s after the relics of the saint in question (Apollinaris) were transferred from the other Sant'Apollinare in Ravenna, Sant'Apollinare in Classe. So, basically, not new. Just slightly newer than the other one.
Again, lots of mosaics, and these ones I mentioned in my Venice entry because there are little scenes from the life and crucifixion of Christ running along the top of the walls, over two grand processions of saints (women on one side, men on the other). I mentioned finding them interesting because I could identify most of the scenes, and really that was kind of cool.
These mosaics are beautiful, like all the others we saw in Ravenna, and it makes the church worth seeing. There is one alien note, though, and it makes an interesting contrast. The apse (where the altar goes) was damaged by a bomb in World War I (those bombs again) and was rebuilt. And it wasn't rebuilt in Byzantine style, or Roman style. It's pastel-colored, with fluffy clouds, and frankly it's so clearly outmatched by the shining golden mosaics on the walls that it seems a bit silly. Of course, an artist should be allowed to express himself, and probably he tried to integrate his style with the mosaics, but when working on something to complement an older and astounding piece of work, why mess with the harmony of things? And frankly, why set yourself up to be compared?
After Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, it was back on the bus, and on to Florence.
When we arrived in Florence we had to pay the city tax, and Sergio arranged a little treat. He got us permission to drive up and park for fifteen minutes beside the Piazza Michelangelo, which is on a hill overlooking Florence. That gave us just enough time to get out and take the requisite panorama shots, and admire the first of several replicas of Michelangelo's David we would encounter (we also got to see the original, and it blew all the replicas away). The panorama of Florence is dominated and overshadowed by the dome, Il Duomo, Filippo Brunelleschi's architectural achievement, and up until the modern era, the largest dome ever built. Tomorrow, we were going to climb it.
Florence, Santa Maria del Carmine Brancacci Chapel, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, San Lorenzo, Sagrestia Vecchia, Il Duomo, Vivali gelateria
We had a lot to see before the dome, of course. This was Florence, the city where the Renaissance began. So our first stop was, of course, the Brancacci Chapel inside Santa Maria del Carmine, where Masaccio, who continued the developments Giotto began, painted large sections of the chapel's frescoes. The most important thing to know about them is that they contain linear perspective and atmospheric perspective (things that are farther away look fuzzier). That's significant to the entire forward movement of the Renaissance. The figures in Masaccio's frescoes are also, perhaps, a little better proportioned, and a little less awkward than Giotto's. They're particularly impressive when you consider they were painted by a guy barely into his 20s who had already surpassed his master and most of his contemporaries in terms of skill. He died young, at 27, so this chapel is also one of the few works by him we have.
It was pleasant to sit in the pews in front of the little chapel and look at the frescoes, and watch the other tourists looking at the frescoes. Italy is definitely the land of tourists. We saw French tourists, Korean tourists, a Japanese school group in matching uniforms, and British retirees everywhere we went. And all these tourists seemed to use English to communicate with waiters, vendors, and shopkeepers. It's kind of weird to see a German tourist and an Italian guy selling Florence t-shirts talking to each other in broken English, because the Italian doesn't speak German and the German only speaks basic tourist Italian. How lucky are we to have grown up learning a global language?
After Brancacci we walked to the Ponte Vecchio, which is a fantastic old medieval bridge with shops on it, like the Rialto Bridge in Venice. The Medici family, which was the ruling family in Florence for quite a while, had a corridor built between the palace they lived in and their administrative palace that runs across the top of the Ponte Vecchio and over several other roads. They didn't like the smells from the bridge, so they passed a law that the shops could only sell gold and jewelry. Those shops still sell gold and jewelry, in the shadow of the corridor.
After the Ponte Vecchio we're on a tour of Brunelleschi, or so it seems, stopping first at a tiny little church he built called the Sagrestia Vecchia, next to a bigger basilica. The Sagrestia shows a lot of what Brunelleschi was all about. It's rigidly geometric, and perfectly symmetrical. This is all fine and dandy, except that it's a little tricky to put an altar into a perfectly symmetrical space. Do you put it up against one wall and ruin the symmetry? Do you put it in the middle? But then, where do the people stand?
Really the Sagrestia, although interesting in the history of architecture, is not the Brunelleschi project we're all waiting for. We're looking forward to the dome, Il Duomo.
The church is actually called the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore, but it's been called the Duomo since the dome was built. It's a great story, really. The Florentines, you see, wanted to have the biggest dome ever. As I've mentioned before, the basilica represents the city, and Florence wanted their basilica to represent how great Florence was (every other city, of course, wanted their churches to say the same thing about their cities).
So they built the drum, which is the cylinder that supports the dome, so that it could hold up a big dome. The problem was building the dome on top. They built the drum so big that their scaffolding (which was, at that time, made of wood) collapsed before they could get high enough to build the dome.
Along comes Brunelleschi, your basic Renaissance man. He could paint, he was an architect, he did bronze casting, and oh yeah, he is probably the guy who worked out linear perspective. And that was all before he sorted out the dome. After kicking around Rome he came back to Florence and told the people in charge he had worked out how to fix their dome conundrum, and if they gave him the commission he would show them how it was done. (This whole exchange is probably a legend, actually, but it's a great one)They countered that he should tell them his plans first, and then they would give him the commission. Brunelleschi wasn't having it. If they knew the trick, they wouldn't need to hire him. The people in charge said they couldn't know if he'd really solved it unless he showed them the plans, maybe he was lying.
Brunelleschi took an egg, and asked them to make it stand on its end. They tried, but they couldn't do it, so they said it was impossible. He took the egg and cracked it at one end, so that it would stand up. They protested that of course you could do that, that was obvious. He replied, "It's only obvious once you've been shown how to do it. And that's why I'm not showing you my plans."
They gave him the commission.
As it happened, Brunelleschi's trick was as simple as it was genius. He built the scaffolding on top of the drum. Of course, he came up with lots of other clever ideas, as befitting his Renaissance man title. He built an elevator with a gear system, and he actually built two domes, one inside of the other, which saved on weight and made the whole thing more stable. It also meant there was space between the inner and outer domes for maintenance corridors, and stairs up to the cupola on top. We climbed those stairs. All 467 of them. It was a bit terrifying.
You see, I'm afraid of heights, and I hadn't realized that these wouldn't be modern stairs. They would be old, stone steps, some so steep they were more like ladders, and twice the path leads tourists out and around the inside of the dome, far above the church floor, on a narrow walkway (with high plastic barriers, thank God). That was a little nerve-wracking.
It was worth every moment of adrenaline-fueled terror, though, and all 467 steps. It was worth the narrow walkways, squeezing past tourists going the other way. It was worth it because, simply, it's an unparalleled view. The dome is still the tallest thing in Florence. You can see the city on all sides. We could see all the churches that we'd visited, and our hotel, and all the places we were going to visit. Florence is the classical Italian city, the Renaissance city, and we got to see it laid out before us. I could have stayed there looking out on it for an hour, and not just because I was dreading the climb back down.
The dome was certainly the highlight of the day, but we had one more particularly Italian treat waiting for us. On Dr. Miller's urging we stopped in at Vivoli's, which is one of several famous gelaterias in Florence. I'm not exactly sure why gelato is different from ice cream, but it definitely is, and it's also much better. I have to say that Vivoli's wasn't the best gelato we got, that honor goes to a tiny gelateria down a side street in Rome, but it did seem like the perfect way to end a great day in Italy.
Florence (cont'd), Accademia Gallery, Maria del Fiore, A Dante Festival, Ufuzzi
Museums! This was a nice change from churches, although we also wandered briefly around the Basilica of Maria del Fiore at ground-level, and saw the area of the church that's dedicated to Dante (his body, as previously mentioned, is in Ravenna). Dante is a great example of an artist who succeeded posthumously, since even the city that exiled him now holds festivals in his honor. In fact, we were there during one of them, and at regular intervals during the afternoon we heard groups of people burst into coordinated recitations of cantos from the Divine Comedy. We also saw a guy in full Dante costume who had the entire book memorized. You could read from any section of the Comedy (in Italian, of course) and he could pick up where you left off. Which was impressive. It took him five years to memorize the whole thing.
Our first museum of the day was the Accademia, which holds Michelangelo's David, and that's really the main highlight. It's also really the only highlight the Accademia needs. To start with, he's huge, 17 feet tall. He's also curious, since art historians like to talk about who he really is. Although he's definitely David, he's got the sling over one shoulder, stones in his hand, ready to take on Goliath, he's not only David. He's actually Florence as David, standing up to everyone who wants to take the city down. This supposition is backed up by lots of evidence, including the fact that he was going to be placed looking towards Rome, his enigmatic glare (determination? A hint of fear?) directed at the city that had a history of supporting Florence's enemies.
Our next museum was the Ufuzzi, which is actually just the word for offices in Italian, because the building used to hold government offices. Now it holds a wealth of Italian and foreign art. I got to satisfy myself by running down to the foreign painter's gallery during a bathroom break and seeing the museum's three Rembrandt self-portraits, since I'm a bit of diehard fan of the Dutchman.
Of course, in an Italian museum, the best works are the Italian ones. The Ufuzzi has all the masters. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Botticelli, and more. We saw Madonnas by Giotto and Masaccio. We saw paintings we had seen in textbooks and on slideshows, and I realized that a digital representation can't hold a candle to the original. The colors are different, and the textures. These are the works that the artists touched and labored over. Those shadows were layered in by Caravaggio. That Annunciation was planned out and painted by Da Vinci to match the perspective of the viewer in the room where it was hung, so that if you look at it straight on Mary's arm looks dislocated, but if you look at it from the right angle she has perfect proportions.
To be honest, and I've noticed this before, touring through a museum that holds famous paintings and sculptures from so many artists and so many time periods can be overwhelming, to the point where everything but the highlights start to blur together. I remember vaguely looking at some very interesting panel paintings in which gold was a prominent theme, but I couldn't tell you who painted them or what was in them (something to do with Jesus and Mary, I think?). In order to appreciate a collection like the Ufuzzi's you have to spend hours there, and you have to go back more than once. We skipped whole rooms, whole floors, because we only had so many hours. I guess that lands me right back at the same old conclusion. You can see a lot in eight days in Italy. But if you take that from the whole, it's a minuscule percentage of what there is to see.
As a last note, I have to plug the gelateria Perché No, our second and favorite gelateria in Florence. It's great, simply and fantastically. And, according the internet, it was founded in 1939. Which is modern, by Italian standards. If you find yourself in the shadow of the dome, stop in there.
San Gimignano, Siena, Il Palio, Cathedral of Siena, Piccolomini Library
I know I went on and on about how I loved Venice, and how I wanted to live in Venice, and that was all true at the time. When we went to Venice at the start of our tour, flush with being in a new country, it seemed so exotic and exciting that I really would have just moved in if someone had offered me a place to stay (depending on who that someone was and whether they looked suspicious, of course). But, by this point in the tour, day six, I wanted to find a little bed and breakfast in San Gimignano and stay there for about a month.
San Gimignano is an old medieval walled town with a selection of medieval towers, and several torture museums for the tourists (it's very charming despite these). It was quiet when we arrived, since we'd beaten most of the other tourists, and the views were spectacular. It's on a hill, and looking out over the wall you can see the idyllic Italian countryside, like it's been taken right out of some romantic comedy.
Several of us found a café with tables out front on a little cobbled street. I got a hot chocolate, and it was easily the best hot chocolate I have ever had in my life. I don't know what the Italians do to it, but it must be something magical.
Truthfully, that may be my favorite memory of the trip. Seeing all the art was amazing, and wandering big cities and street markets was definitely a novel experience. But there was something so calm and simple about that little café down a cobbled back street. The café owner brought us some samples of local nut bread. I listened to another student ask Sergio about future tense conjugations in Italian. The sun peered over the high stone building on the left side of the street, and hit the building across.
This is the experience that sometimes gets left out of organized tours. This is the sort of experience, I think, that study abroad provides (on top of everything else it provides). The chance to sit and enjoy a very ordinary moment in an extraordinary place.
Of course, it couldn't stay calm for long. Soon we were back on the bus, bound for Siena.
Siena used to be a pretty big city, and it also used to have a bit of a competition going with Florence. Our guide in Florence told us that Florentines speak the dialect of Italian that is now the national language. Our guide in Siena said that the Florentine dialect is close, but the Sienese dialect is really closest to official Italian.
It says something about the current standing of these two cities that Microsoft Word recognizes Florentine as a word, but not Sienese.
That doesn't mean that Siena should be counted out, though. It's an amazing city, with a wealth of history and tradition. One of the most exciting traditions in Siena is the Palio (feel free to Google that and be amazed).
The Palio is a horse race put on every year in the middle of Siena, around a square enclosed by high buildings and paved with brick and stone.
There are 13 districts in Siena, and you are a citizen of the district you are born in, even if you move somewhere else or marry someone from another district. Ten of the districts participate in the race. The 10 best horses are selected from farms around Siena and assigned at random to the participating districts. The districts each hire a professional jockey, and give the jockey money to try to bribe and make deals with the other jockeys. Yes, cheating is a large part of the grand tradition. Before the race, the priests of each district bring the district's horse into the church and bless it, and tell it to come back the winner. The jockeys ride bareback and the race only takes 90 seconds. It's fast, and it's vicious. If the horse crosses the finish line first without its rider, that's still a win. The winning district has a big street party, and the horse sits at the head of the table. Because it's the winner.
Isn't that just brilliant? I mean, that's only the short version, but think about how all those individual little quirks got developed and reinforced until they became traditional. That's living history right there.
Siena has a cathedral, and that was one of our main stops. It's also called the Duomo. They had plans to double it in size in the 1300s, and they built the façade and the columns to support the new addition. Then the Black Death hit. After that, there wasn't enough money and there weren't enough people to continue the project. We walked under the façade, standing alone, like a storefront in a spaghetti Western, nothing behind it, and we saw the columns, which have since been subsumed into other buildings.
The cathedral, even without the outlined addition, is still impressive. It's patterned in dark green and white marble, and the contrasting bands give the building a distinctive look, inside and out. There is an altar with several small statues by Michelangelo, including one of himself as St. Paul. And there's a sculpture of John the Baptist by Donatello. There is also the Piccolomini Library, paid for by the Piccolomini family. It has brightly colored frescoes commemorating the life of a Piccolomini who became the Pope, and several old illuminated manuscripts. The floors of the cathedral have impressive mosaics, very different from the ones in Venice or Ravenna. Our local guide described them as "comics," moral messages designed to be read by pilgrims who visited the cathedral.
There is also a pulpit sculpted by an artist called Pisano that we talked about a lot in art history classes. The thing Dr. Miller liked to lay particular focus on was the central column of the pulpit, which symbolically (and literally) holds the whole thing up. Around the base of this column are seven figures, personifications of the seven liberal arts.
The meaning really is that simple. The liberal arts, and education, hold up the priest and the higher levels of the pulpit, which are covered in religious images. That's always a reassuring image to think about when you start to wonder why you're attending an expensive liberal arts school. It's a pretty profound message too. Knowledge, and wisdom, and an understanding of the world and of humanity, hold up everything else.
It began to rain as we walked back to the bus. We paused to experience the unique Italian system of public restrooms (nothing more needs to be said about that, trust me) and while we were waiting for some of our group to finish having their experience, an old woman came up to us and asked something in French. We exchanged glances and called for a student who had studied French. She conversed briefly with the old woman, and they parted. Evidently she had been looking for a place out of the rain.
I think sometimes we can forget, while we're at college, that other languages and cultures are more than just academic subjects. People speak these languages and live in the places that are printed in our textbooks or on the maps in our classrooms. I think maybe there is an instinct to distract oneself, when abroad, to talk about mundane things and pay attention to the other people on the tour, who are from the same country as you and speak your language and have lots of common experiences to talk about. Or we distract ourselves with dramas at home, with parents or boyfriends, that sort of thing. That ends up disconnecting the visitor from the experience, I think. Because you forget where you are, and what's around you. I know I found myself doing this. I think, when you're abroad, you have to keep making the conscious effort to appreciate the moment, and to look at the experience without the filters, without comparing this to home, or thinking about how much you miss the way things work at home, that sort of thing. I think sometimes you have to pull your eyes away from the screen, or the phrasebook, or the guidebook, and just experience the sounds and colors of this other place.
Rome, The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, Trajan's Column, The Pantheon, The Spanish Steps, The Ara Pacis of Augustus, Piazza del Popolo, The Calling of St. Matthew and The Madonna of Loretto by Caravaggio, Piazza Navolla, The Four Rivers by Bernini
Rome was, well, Rome. I don't know if I can begin to explain it, but I'm not sure if I have to. Rome was everything one could imagine, everything that syllable invokes. Rome. The Rome of republics and emperors, the Rome of the Pope and the Church, the Rome of artists and architects. And the Rome of Mussolini, too, of course. We departed from our bus near one of his palace's, and our local guide pointed out several wide avenues that he had built, destroying medieval neighborhoods to clear the skyline and make space for the roads.
Our first stop of the day needs no introduction. The Colosseum. Cue the dramatic music and the montage of scenes from The Gladiator.
If there's one thing the Colosseum proves, it's that the Romans were thugs. Allow me to justify that statement. Sure, they built roads and had a great and powerful civilization, but come on. They had entertainment that started with animals killing each other in the morning, then criminals being bound and thrown into the arena to be torn apart by more animals, then a matinee gladiator battle to wrap up the day.
For all their bloodthirstiness (and admittedly compared to other civilizations at the time, they were pretty reserved), the Romans knew how to design a public arena. The Colosseum is actually a lot like a modern football stadium. Entrances were once labeled, each entrance corresponding to a level or an area of seats, and people could be cleared out amazingly quickly. This was a building designed to fit around 50,000 people, and if there was a fire they needed to get all those people out (including all the non-aristocratic women who had to sit at the very top with the slaves).
The Colosseum deserves its name. It's a big space. Pictures can give you an idea of the scale, but it has to be seen. It's also seriously in ruins. One side of it is only standing because of supports added later. In fact, the only reason the structure is partially intact is because a pope declared it a site of Christian martyrdoms and as a holy site people had to stop looting it. Before that, people had been free to carry off chunks as needed. It had been quarried. All the marble seats and statues were carried off long ago. In the past, if an ancient building wasn't made into a church or a holy site, it was reduced to rubble.
This was abundantly clear at the Roman Forum, which was our next stop. It's difficult to imagine what it must have looked like when the temples were standing. Now it's mostly tumbled down columns and foundations. The only buildings that are mostly or entirely intact were converted from temples into churches, explaining their longevity. Everything else is a testament to time. A few pediments held up by two or three columns and some scattered stones signify the site of a grand temple to Vesta or Jupiter.
I found myself experiencing an odd sensation of nostalgia for things that had been gone for hundreds, if not over a thousand, years. What must it have been like to see these things as they once were, not in an artist's representation but real, solid and three-dimensional?
Of course, if I had to live as a woman in the Roman Empire in order to see these temples whole, I think I'm happy enough seeing them as piles of rubble.
And thankfully the Christians preserved one building magnificently. The Pantheon. Brunelleschi's dome is bigger, but the Pantheon is essentially just a dome, reduced to its essence, a temple to the Romans' ability to build a big dome (actually, that's not a totally inaccurate statement, the Pantheon was meant to symbolize the awesomeness of Rome, and part of that awesomeness was that they built the Pantheon). To be honest the building seems almost unreal, sitting in the middle of an Italian piazza, this big Roman thing with its pediment, columned porch, and looming dome.
From the Pantheon we wandered and took in several other sights, and saw several Caravaggio paintings. We ended our day at the Piazza Navolla, which has a famous fountain sculpted by Bernini called the Four Rivers Fountain.
Bernini was a Baroque stud (this is an indirect quote from Dr. Miller). He could do mind-blowing things with marble, so that it looks like skin or cloth or whatever else he's sculpting. He could also handle bronze, which is notoriously tricky, and he was an architect, and he could paint. While he was working he did most of the big commissions for the Vatican, and so a lot of the sculptures and pieces in St. Peter's are his. He also designed the "arms" of the church, those columned colonnades that run out from the front of St. Peter's and form an elliptical square.
The Four Rivers fountain shows personifications of the four big rivers of the world (that were known at the time). The Nile, whose face is covered because the source of the Nile wasn't known, The Danube, the Ganges, and the Rio Plate (they hadn't found the Mississippi yet). It also holds a massive obelisk in the center. These obelisks were taken from the Colosseum and other arenas by the Catholics (the Romans took them from the Egyptians way back when) and placed in front of churches and pilgrimage sites in Rome so that pilgrims would know when they'd reached a significant spot. We saw them in front of just about every place we visited, so clearly our tour was well planned (and could have doubled as a mini-pilgrimage).
The Vatican, Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa and Sant'Andrea al Quirinale by Bernini, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane by Borromini, , The Trevi Fountain
I'm feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to sum up the Vatican, or even just summarize the highlights.
It was even more overwhelming to be there. The Vatican gets thousands of tourists every day, and it was packed from end to end. The only place we really had space to breathe easily was St. Peter's, and there only because it's so massive that it would take the population of Conway to fill it (that might be an exaggeration, but not by much). St. Peter's has markings on the floor for the lengths of other big cathedrals around the world, to show that it is the biggest (which is…an interesting statement to make in a church). St. Paul's in London is the closest, but it still ends well short of the doors of St. Peter's.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. St. Peter's is the end of the tour, the grand finale. We started in the Vatican museums, which hold ancient Roman statues, a hallway of maps of Italy, oriented so that the directions are accurate depending on the direction the pope is walking along the hall. A hallway of tapestries that show the unbelievable things that can be done with tapestries, if you have the years to put into them. A gallery of art by modern artists that has been donated to the Vatican (actually, we could breathe in here too. Modern art is not what the tourists come to see). And the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel, which are adjacent to each other (Raphael and Michelangelo probably peeked on each other's work).
Actually only two of the rooms among the Raphael Rooms are completely, or practically completely, done by Raphael. The others were completed by, or done completely by, his students. The rooms by his students are nice, and the first room that tours enter, which has several scenes about Constantine and his conversion, is another one that's easy to read. A viewer who isn't sure what the scenes on the walls are about can look at the ceiling. The fresco overhead shows a plinth in a temple. A Roman statue has been pushed off the plinth and lies shattered on the floor. A crucifix has taken its place. The story of Constantine, nicely wrapped up in a single metaphorical image.
The most famous Raphael room, though, the Stanza della Signatura, is simply beautiful. The School of Athens, with Plato and Aristotle talking together in the center, surrounded by other philosophers, is a masterful summation of the history of Western philosophy. And it's simple. Plato gestures upwards, Aristotle gestures outwards. The universal and the particular, in gestures.
Each painting has an intellectual message, and each message can be understood by observation, with a little bit of knowledge of the visual vocabulary. Across from The School of Athens is The Disputation, which is about theological discussions of the nature of the Eucharist (and how, from a divine perspective, they become unnecessary). When you're in heaven, you know the true nature of the Eucharist. Dante makes an appearance in that painting, and again in the painting of Parnassus on another wall, which shows poets in Parnassus, the home of poetry in classical myth. Across from Parnassus is a painting of virtues, showing two significant scenes in the history of justice, scenes where books of law were codified. So, philosophy, theology, art, and justice.
It's a scheme of living, images of the highest pursuits in human life (and in education), laid out on the walls. And this happened to be the place where the pope kept his library. All the books that preserved these things: philosophy and theology, art and justice. Because where would we be if we didn't have copies of the books of Plato or Aristotle, if we didn't have Dante's Divine Comedy or the Bible or books of law?
From Raphael and his clothed figures we go to the Sistine Chapel. Yes, that was a little joke about how Michelangelo painted a lot of nude figures in the chapel. He did, seriously, it's a little weird.
Anyway, when people talk about the Sistine Chapel they usually picture that one painting, the Creation of Adam, with God is reaching towards Adam, their fingers about to touch. That's an interesting part of the whole, but there is a whole lot else going on in the Sistine Chapel. I'm not going to go into it in detail, but suffice it to say that it's about the relationship between man and God, before the arrival of Christ (and about why we need Christ. Hey, it was painted by and for Christians). So, we start with the creation of everything, and the creation of Adam, and Eve, and them being driven from the garden. And then we get three scenes from the life of Noah. Which might seem a bit random, but it isn't. It starts with awesome Noah, the Noah who's doing the right thing even when the whole world has descended into chaos and nastiness, the Noah that God chooses to build the ark. But the last scene is from a story after the ark, where Noah gets drunk and falls asleep naked in his hut. His children don't know what to do because they can't look at their father naked, so they walk in covering their eyes and cover him up with a blanket. One son looks and gets cursed. That's not the important part.
The important part is that Noah, God's best guy, the only moral man left, and the only one who gets to survive the flood with his family, gets drunk and falls asleep naked. He's still a fallen man. And as fallen humanity, we need a Redeemer. Get it?
The Sistine Chapel has a complex, and purposeful, theological message. It's all wrapped up in the coming and significance of Christ. And it's something you sort of have to know beforehand, or you have to be pretty well-versed in theology to get it just by looking. And yet, most people who go to the Sistine Chapel don't know what it's supposed to mean. They just know it was painted by Michelangelo, and hey there's that one with God reaching out his hand to Adam!
I don't know if you can appreciate something that's meant to be read and comprehended, if you don't know you're supposed to read and comprehend it. But that's just a thought.
I'll admit that when I was in the Chapel (which was PACKED) I spent five minutes reading and comprehending, and 15 minutes wanting to shove my way through the crowd and snatch a spot on one of the benches (the spots stayed open for approximately three seconds). It's not the way the Chapel is meant to be viewed. It's meant to be contemplated, in silence, but that's a little tricky when every few seconds someone is pushing you aside, or a little schoolchild is smacking you in the stomach with their backpack (I know you saw me, kid).
Still, that is the unfortunate price you have to pay to see one of the most famous works of art in the world. Now if they just made everybody show proof of having taken in upper-level Renaissance art history class before they let them in…
From the Sistine Chapel we went into St. Peter's, which I've already talked a little bit about. Mostly that it's massive. It is, so much so that my brain refused to accept how big it was. I kept seeing people off in the distance and realizing they were ordinary sized people, they just looked minuscule because of how big the building was, and my brain had to frantically recalculate distances and heights. Bernini's Baldacchino, which is a 95 feet high bronze canopy (for those who aren't doing the math, that's about nine stories high), looks quite small when you first come into the church. That should give you an idea, again, of how big St. Peter's is. Bernini's Cathedra Petri, which is behind and framed by the Baldacchino (he planned that), is also massive and impressive and shiny. He also did several sculptures, some popes' tombs, loads of other stuff in and on and around St. Peter's. I've called him a stud, I think now I'll go with machine.
We added a few more Roman sights to our rosters; including two elliptical churches, one by Borromini and one by Bernini (they had a rivalry going on, probably partly because Bernini got most of the jobs). Those were quite curious and interesting, and Bernini's has gold trim on just about everything you can trim in gold.
But we were running out of fuel. We'd been to six cities (not counting San Gimignano), in eight days. We'd climbed a dome, toured museums, walked over bridges, gotten soaked to the bone (more than once) and eaten a lot of gelato. I don't know about the rest of the group, but I was ready to relax, soak my bruised feet, and cross streets where the traffic actually stopped. Did I forget to mention that there are some streets in Italy where the traffic never stops? Pedestrians just have to time their crossing right. Like a video game. Except you only have one life, and it's your real life.
Still, we had one more stop to make, and it was the romantic one. The Trevi Fountain. Legend says if you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, you're going to come back to Rome someday. When Sergio told us this everyone conducted a quick search of their pockets, to see if they even had any euro cent coins left.
It's a magnificent thing (the Italians know how to do fountains), and it seemed like the right place to end our organized sightseeing. We had some time to wander still, and I went to a nearby Italian mall called the Galleria Alberto Sordi (I looked up the name later just so I could recommend it, I wish American malls were even a quarter as pretty and pleasant), and had a final cup of Italian hot chocolate.
We had dinner that night in a restaurant up the street from the fountain, called That's Amore. It was a nice little place, with a friendly atmosphere, and a waitress making pasta in the window. Which seemed just about perfect. I don't think there actually was a gentle golden glow infusing the scene as we ate our last dinner together in Italy, but I'm going to remember it like that.
Rachel Thomas '14 is an English studies major from Fayetteville, Ark.