Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Beautification of Italy

Italy is beautiful. In the past few days I have seen quite a lot of it.

I am currently living in the Corsi-Salviati Villa. The Corsi Salviati Count and his family live on the same plot. On Sunday, the Villa allowed tours to come in and view its famous gardens; I was sun bathing and reading Galileo on the front lawn as they gawked by. Why yes, I do live here. The gardens contain fountains, statues, and potted lemon trees that
are housed in the small onsite greenhouse in the colder months. I was told that we are not suppose to play sports on the front yard because the pots that the lemon
trees are in are worth approximately 1000 Euros each. And those are just pots.

The Villa is located in a little town called Sesto. It is a 30 minute bus ride out of Firenze (Florence in Italian); ten by train. The first view of the city, walking to the top step of San Miniato (a church built 1000 years ago) and seeing out ...

The first day we went into Firenze we took a quick tour of the city to get our bearings. One of our teachers, who is our guide (one of the most amazing!) every time we go into the city, had previously taught us some Florentine history. At one point in the tour I asked for clarification about what she had called the 'Beautification of Italy': I was confused about why Florence would have taken down many of its surrounding walls to make the city more beautiful. She looked at me strangely, at this point having just met me and not even learned my name, and told me that it was the 'unification' of Italy, not the 'beautification'. Good first impression.
I still think that beautification is a fitting term.
There is a beauty to Florence that you cannot find in America. The city is big, stretching out to the sides unabated, but it is small enough to catch your bearing in. We have gone into the city four times already for my Renaissance Art class and I am really beginning to feel an understanding of the city and a sense of home. Its grandeur cannot be diminished though: the city has a sense of unity and depth that is unrivaled. Its unity comes from the continuous Florentine style of red roofs, shuttered windows, and stone streets, buildings, and sidewalks. Where as in New York City, for example, the buildings fight for height and the sky is pierced at all different levels, in Florence it is the Duomo and the other symbolic landmarks that protect the skies and watch over the city, the rest creating an even skyline. These Florentine monuments also give the city a depth that comes from age and from greatness. Where else do you run into an important site every block? We will be visiting Firenze almost every day for the next three weeks and I am worried that we will not get to see it all.
Last Friday we took an amazing trip to Siena and Pienza. Siena, a rival of Florence in the time of the Renaissance, was immensely beautiful. After climbing up to one of the top peaks of the Sienese Museo, one of those French Catherdral-like, spiral staircase climbs where you hope no one is coming down, I could not stop saying wow.
It was one of the most breath stopping views. Siena has a distinctive pink tint leading to a unification (beautification?) like in Florence. From the great height I could see the city stretched out like fingers into the distant hills.

And for the entirety of the ride to Pienza, I smashed my face into the bus windows, just filled with how the wind made the fields ripple like water forever into the distance. The land was just grass: tall, luscious fields. Spotted throughout the hills are majestic villas, standing alone in the deep, green waters.

On Saturday (you can see how tiring this is since we leave before 7 in the morning and get back late and spend the rest of our time at the villa studying- I'll get to those details in another post), we went to Cinque Terre- five small coastal towns creeping up the mountains.
It took about 2 hours by bus and then another 2 hours by boat to get there. Throughout the day we laid out on the beach and rocks by the water (don't romanticize it- I was diligently reading my books on Galileo), and took the trains as well as walked through the different towns toward where the bus would meet us at the end of the day.
One of the walks I took was la via dell’amore- the walk of love. The view was beautiful but my favorite thing was the locks. Every possible place on the walk was covered with locks- little locks from all over the world, some with initials, some simply locks.
I assume they were the local way to represent love. Together forever? You and me fit? Please lock my heart away with yours? Your heart is safe with me? At first it was weird to see this unfamiliar custom but I realized that throughout the world there must be many different traditions used to show love, ways that are simply different from ours in America. I'm sure that in that same way every person has their own way to show their love. Maybe a perfect couple is just two people who represent their loves in the same way; two people who both want to write their initials on a lock and close it so that it will always remain in the beauty of Italy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hello Goodbye

May 16th- Hard to say goodbye to all of this.

When will saying goodbye become nothing? I spend less time at my Traverse City home than other homes these years, but still leaving TC means huge goodbyes. I am leaving for new adventures, but from the point of view of those left behind- I am not even leaving for a semester. So when does the change occur- the last time that you say goodbye and it means so much? Is it simply the first time you’re going to adopt a new home? Is it when you sign your first lease? Is it when you are living alone for the first time? Is it when you leave your college town? Is it when you are living with your significant other? Is it when you have a new different family of your own? Or is it never? Every time my mother and I say goodbye- when I finally fly back to the house I own after seeing her for a few weeks with my kids- it will have the same gravity, the same desperate goodbye-ness and holding back of tears?

My plans:

Leave Traverse city at 2:20pm May 16th. Arrive in Chicago at 2:25 their time (3:25 my time). Leave Chicago at 5:30pm their time (6:30 mine). Arrive in Paris at 8:45am their time (2:45am my time) on May 17th. After checking in with AirFrance (switching carriers from American), leave Paris at 12:05 and arrive in Florence, my destination, at 2:05pm their time (8:05am my time).

What really happened:

It all started when my flight to Paris was delayed and we didn’t leave until about 9pm Chicago time (instead of 5:30). Instead of having three hours in Paris, I arrived after my flight to Florence had already left.

I might have been able to navigate Paris’s airport in three hours- I didn’t have to go through customs, I didn’t have to worry about my bag- but now I had negative ten minutes instead of positive 180. I went scrambling off- things seemed pretty simple. I asked where to go from the man who welcomed me into the country by checking my passport. But from there I had to ask 5 more people for help (each time getting a new answer that would send me scurrying farther down the infinite terminal). I finally found myself in a line at an AirFrance office hoping to get new tickets. It was then, as I struggled to breath again, that I realized that I flew in with American Airlines and to AirFrance it would only look like I had missed the flight- it was not their responsibility. I didn’t have enough experience of flying alone when things went wrong. I was so stupid. I started hyperventilating; I almost called my mother at 7 am.

Next time I need to think before I set off with a mission. Lesson learned: Make the people who created the problem help you before you go rushing off like a heroine or hero trying to solve your own problem (especially in a huge, foreign airport). At this point, I was trying to figure out how to get to Florence if these French, AirFrance people could not help me. I had to be in Florence at 7pm. My flight was gone. I could take a train. I could go back 20 minutes and find American Airlines. I could start yelling. I finally reached the desk hoping to God that the women would speak English. But that’s the miracle: Not only did she completely help me find the ticket that American Airlines had set up for me but she, as well as every other person I asked for help, spoke fairly clear English.

That angel of a women (aren’t helpful people always that?) sent me to a bus. That bus took me to every part of the airport and after about 15 minutes finally to 2G. I would have been sooo lost. From there I checked in (helpful guide number 8), marched through security (helpful guides number 9,10, and 11). The clock says its 14:24. I board at 9:30 am my time; 15:30 their time. 15:30 my time.

I got to Firenze after passing out on the plane. I hear my first gorgeous Italian guy announce, “Que Bella” as he kisses his fingers. Love it already. But even though I arrived in Florence, not quite dead, my baggage didn’t make it. I waited in despair as the last unclaimed bags continued around and around in circles. But it sounds like the airport will bring the bag to me which is REALLY nice. I am almost late at this point- 6:40. I find a taxi; two men discussing in beautiful Italian where 'the villa' is. I stare in awe as we drive along. My driver notices my happiness and comments in Italian. And as we drive, unable to communicate, I slowly realize how childish I am- in Florence with no Italian. Coming from France with no French. Going to Spain to fake it.

I cannot believe that I am alive and here. I got through these 24 hours of traveling because of these amazing people that know the languages of the world- the stewardesses who speak to the passengers in English then French then Italian... I feel so bad for foreigners who don’t speak English and arrive in the United States, missing a flight, needing to switch airlines, being entirely lost... and staying that way. I wish I could fix America's single language-ness so a lone 19-year-old French girl does not go through any more terror in JFK than I did in Paris and Florence today. I want to learn the languages of the world too and become an example.

Hello, Firenze

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Planet Earth

My younger brother and I watched some 'Planet Earth' today. I love Planet Earth. Everything is just so amazing and so beautiful: I become an extremely vocal watcher. I suggest you watch it and I suggest you do it on the biggest, high definition screen that you can. The full Planet Earth collection has five discs, each containing different habitat themes. We watched Ocean Deep today- I was told that Ocean Deep is a must see in the collection. (Planet Earth also makes me miss some special college friends. I got the dvds for my father after watching and loving them in my dorm.)

Watching shows like Planet Earth or LIFE makes me wonder how humans ever got away with saying that we are the most capable of creatures, we rule, and every other creature is here to serve us. "And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." How can this be justified, truly, as more than just self-centered, narcissism? Yes we have the ‘intelligence’ and the ‘language’ to do more than a single other species can do. I understand our high level of functioning. Yes we can fly high and go fast
and seem strong and swim deep but not like animals can.
Have you watched the majesty of a horse, galloping with long, powerful legs (don’t even get me started)? Have you pet a cat and
seen the designs of each individual hair and their perfect gestalt? Have you seen a hawk fly with a twitch of its wing?

We cannot communicate like a school of fish. We cannot smell or taste or see or sense or do any such thing better than every other animal. And the only way we allow ourselves to think that we can, is by being our own judge. How Ethnocentric.
There is a natural universe that we cannot experience. But we can see it and we can be open minded. There are unbeknownst abilities and subjective experiences in this world that we will never understand. But just because we cannot understand them does not mean we should devalue them and overvalue ourselves.