Tivoli as Text
“Body and Venus” by Kamila Etcheverry of FIU at Tivoli, Italy
Walking through Hadrian’s Villa, you will have your attention caught by the statue of a headless, naked Venus. She stands bare, surrounded by columns, broken parts of her very own temple. It will call out to you for neither of those qualities, but rather for the shape of her body instead.
It will remind you of all the time you spent over analyzing every inch of your own,
and of the pressure you and other women your age may feel to be thin,
and how that same pressure landed one of your close friends in a treatment center,
and how for many years, thin felt exactly the same as beautiful, but now Venus was showing you otherwise.
There is confidence and sexuality through her nudity, yet modesty in the way she gracefully covers herself. She is feminine and sensual, her body voluptuous, raw, real. She does not wince at the sight of her own flesh. She does not carry the self-criticism the fuels our friends, our mothers, and our sisters. Her curves are desired and respected, admired enough to hold their own place in history, in the town of Tivoli, in the home of Hadrian, in museums, in books, and for the remainder of time.
I see her surrounded by her own temple in the home of a Roman emperor, with a body that our society may deem imperfect, and it makes me wonder why we ever hold so much self-hatred.
Roma as Text
“Look Up” by Kamila Etcheverry of FIU at Rome, Italy
In Rome, I look down frequently to make sure I’m not tripping over the pavement. If I do fall, my hands will meet the ancient cobblestone and I’ll see S.P.Q.R. inscribed in front of me; an acronym referring to the government of the ancient Roman republic. I’ll pick myself back up, brush the dirt off my knees, and look back up only to find myself in front of the largest amphitheater ever built, or one of the greatest pieces of architecture ever built, or the church that holds the tomb of St. Peter. I might take a walk through the Roman Forum, where I’ll be surrounded by ruins and the temple to one of the most influential leaders of all time, Julius Caesar. I might arrive at the Pantheon and be moved by the perfection of it all and the symmetry that took place way ahead of its time.
The history here is tangible, it’s the ground I walk on and the marble I touch and the sculptures I see. It is a reminder of the way things were and a challenge to the perception of my own purpose in time and history. Capuchin Friars tell me that what I am now, they used to be and what they are now, I will one day be. The skeletons feel like a call to action for a life not free of sin, but free of stagnancy and discontent. The ruins of the city feel like a warning to where things could go wrong and where they could go right. The Colosseum, full of witnesses hungry for entertainment and participants hungry for blood, feels like a reminder of how painfully human we are. That no matter how hard we try to stray away from our instincts, they will always prevail. That entertainment and violence have been two sides of the same coin since the beginning of time and that we are more a part of that past than we think.
I stood in the Colosseum once and imagined it full. I thought about what led me here and how much of a role I played in being there. Was it chance? Or was it meant to be this way, in this moment, long after the years of spectators and gladiators are over?
Pompeii as Text
“Routines to Ashes” by Kamila Etcheverry of FIU at Pompeii, Italy
Over time, routine has seeped its way into my life, making every day a mirror to the next. I used to hate the idea of conformity but now it feels as though the structure is a necessary part of how I function. I plan ahead, I worry about the future, I worry about the past, I feel out of control when things don’t go as intended. I wasn’t always this way though, and every now and then, I get a brief moment where I feel like the version of me that doesn’t care to plan for the future and just lives in the now. Those are the moments I try to hold onto the most.
I thought about this as I walked through Pompeii, an ancient city that was covered in volcanic ash in 79 AD after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Before the eruption, it was a city like any other, with its residents and its brothels and its street food. Pompeii had its children running through the streets and its pregnant mothers awaiting babies of their own. After the eruption, about 2,000 people had died and the ash covering their bodies remained. Archaeologists incorporated plaster in their excavation process and were able to preserve the shapes of those bodies. Today, the plaster casts of these individuals still remain, laying behind glass windows for visitors to see. Tour guides bring their groups around the city, stopping at the bodies and sharing facts about how many died or when or how many got away. By the end of the day, the bodies are reduced to numbers and we forget that each of them were once individuals like you and me, with likes, dislikes, favorite foods, and favorite things to do. They were someone’s mother or father, a sister, a brother, and a friend. In the blink of an eye, they lost their lives and with that, their routines suddenly lost their meaning.
It made me think of how much importance I place on my own routines and how the stress of my own impermanence can either push me to do more or leave me with almost paralyzing anxiety. In reality, I can’t predict the end to my own story. I don’t know when my Mount Vesuvius will erupt but until then, I want to make sure I was present for it all. I want to stop and accept the ebb and flow of things, the unpredictability of life. I want to know that anxiety about the future can still be there, but does not have to be all-consuming. Because if I’m anything like the victims in Pompeii, things can take you by surprise, and the only thing worse than that is knowing you took it for granted.
Pisa as Text
“A Shift in Objective” by Kamila Etcheverry of FIU at Pisa, Italy
Camposanto Monumentale is one of four historical edifices in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa. The outer walls of the cemetery stand tall with several arches that go around the perimeter of the building. The entrances lead to the halls, whose walls consist of frescoes that date as far back as the 1300s. The frescoes vary in content but stay within the realm of religious imagery, such as depictions of the last judgement, hell, saints, the crucifixion, and stories from the Bible. While some of the paintings are in good condition, others are not, due to damage done during World War II, when remains of a bomb began a fire in Camposanto that could not be put out in time. During the event, the roof was severely damaged, as well as most of the sculptures and many paintings. Those that were restored or salvaged, however, are in their condition due to the efforts made by Deane Keller, who was an officer in the U.S. Army during the time that the fire began. His efforts towards the restoration and preservation of the art in Camposanto are single handedly the reason that the remaining paintings and sculptures still stand today, making Keller an extremely influential part of the site and earning himself a grave on the marble floors of the cemetery.
Generally, talk of war stirs emotions within me. Maybe it’s the nonsense of it all, or the chaos, or the tragedy, the politics pulling strings in the background, or the experiences I’ll never fully understand. Around this time a year ago, I was walking through a jungle whose soil is tainted with the blood of both Vietnamese and American soldiers. I only heard stories of heartbreak and pain and violence, stories of man turning on man and God turning on mankind.
This time, I heard a different kind of war story, one where preservation was the objective rather than loss, and found it inspiring to know that good can exist in a time of hell and no mercy. If you dig deep enough, through the rubble and the violence, the broken bones and the heartbroken mothers, you’ll find individuals who changed the course of history in war. Deane Keller is one of those individuals, changing not only history, but the perspective of people like myself, who struggle to look past the sheer violence that takes place during a war like WWII and shedding light on the beauty that ascends from the ashes.
Firenze as Text
“Over Two Years” by Kamila Etcheverry of FIU at Firenze, Italy
It took him over two years to create me.
Over two years of daily efforts, of chipping and chiseling away, of a slow inching towards completion. I was made with rock in hand, prepared, feet a bit too large for my body, and a slingshot draped over my shoulder. My stance exudes confidence, my physique oozes perfection, but no matter how different you and I may seem, my expression could not be more human.
I stand 17 feet tall and 11,000 pounds heavy at the end of a hall in the Galleria Dell’Accademia Di Firenze. To get to me, you have to walk past his uncompleted works, sculptures that you will almost completely ignore as you become entranced with the sheer size of me. When you reach me, you’ll see visitors sitting behind me, staring at the way the light bounces off the curve of my right hip, or you’ll see a young man who cries at the very sight of me, or a young lady who can’t seem to stop staring.
It took over two years to create me and I’ve been chipped at, flashed at, swung at, and cried at. Some visitors come to have photo shoots in front of me and others come to truly appreciate the work that was put into me. Between the two, I’ve noticed a difference in interpretation, or even a complete lack of interpretation. I am often portrayed as powerful and perfect, but to some, I am nothing but a window of opportunity. To them, I sometimes wish he had given me the opportunity to speak, for I would like to ask questions. Are you not entertained? Do you see yourself in me or did you forget to look up first?
Cinque Terre as Text
“Lessons from Self Doubt” by Kamila Etcheverry of FIU at Cinque Terre, Italy
The morning of the hike, I couldn’t get myself to eat enough at breakfast. My chest was tight, my lungs couldn’t take a deep breath, and the very familiar, yet always unsettling feeling of anxiety began to creep up on me. I had heard of how difficult the hike would be and my mind was racing with the possibilities of things that could go wrong. I tried calming myself down and began the first descent of the 18 mile hike, where with each downwards step I made, the anxiety began to dissipate bit by bit. It wasn’t until I reached the first village that the fear had been completely replaced by curiosity of the four towns that were about to come.
Cinque Terre’s, or “Five Lands”, five villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. As you walk from village to village, up top, you run into vineyards and terraces, while down below, you pass by fishing boats and local seafood shops. The area is especially known for its wine, olives, seafood, pesto, and lemons. Being its own national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thousands and thousands of people visit Cinque Terre, but not all embark on the hike that I went on. By the time I had started the trek between Corniglia and Manarola, my body had started to grow slightly tired. There were moments during that particular part of the hike that I began to struggle a bit, wondering if I would be able to get there safely or even get there at all, and yet continued to power on. Some uphills were mental tug-o-war’s where my body kept telling me to stop but my mind insisted to push on forward, and most downhills felt like a reward for not giving in. Every view of the towns, the lush green trees, or the colorful flowers became reinforcers for why I was on the hike to begin with and while I was able to witness pure beauty, it also allowed me to think of my life back home and gain a bit of perspective.
The anxiety that consumed me that early morning is the same voice inside my head that told me I wouldn’t be able to feel well enough to continue the hike. It’s the same voice that tells you you aren’t good enough or strong enough, but also the same voice that shuts up when you reach the top of the mountain. After every uphill struggle came a view that was infinitely more powerful than the doubts that had been brewing inside my mind just moments earlier. On the way up, you’d pass by vineyards and crops that I sometimes ignored because I was too busy focusing on how tired I felt or how careful I wanted to be.
Off the hiking trail, things often feel that way too. People rush to the top and miss the beauty around them because they’re too consumed by the necessity to feel comfortable or safe. People doubt themselves the whole way through, only to find that beauty was waiting for them not only after struggles but along the way as well. For years, I have known that nature can provide opportunities for growth, but this particular experience gave me much more than I expected to receive. It gave struggle a purpose and triumph a view unlike any else.
Venezia as Text
“No Mafia! Venezia E’ Sacra” by Kamila Etcheverry of FIU at Venice, Italy
Colorful buildings, music through the streets, and the remarkable beauty of St. Mark’s Square. The experience of Venice is almost magical, an Italian fairy-tale come to life. Tourists are enjoying their stay, drinking wine and taking gondola rides at the golden hour, but above them, on a little residency by the canal, hangs a banner that reads, “NO MAFIA! VENEZIA E’ SACRA.” The fairy-tale comes to a screeching halt.
In the 60s and 70s, several important members of the Sicilian Mafia were spread out through certain parts of Italy to be placed in solitary confinement. The idea behind this was that if members were far away from each other, it would slow down or completely cut off their interactions and then decrease the amount of organized crime as a result. What they didn’t anticipate, however, was that often times, no matter where these men went, new members would come about. In Venice, already-existing criminals and hopeful mafiosos reached out to these Sicilian mafia members and eventually organized a mafia of their own, becoming known as the Mala del Brenta. Although government officials have managed to crack down on them over time, men of the former mob bosses have simply created new and more discrete versions of Mala del Brenta and are said to still be involved in drug trafficking and robberies today. Big operations can be traced back as recent as 2008 and just this year, in January, a member was arrested for the trafficking of heroin and cocaine.
In Rome, after a night out in Trastevere, an old man told me that if the Mafia is anywhere, it is in Venice. He later added that it isn’t something Italians ever really talk about. When I saw the banner, I was instantly reminded of him and of the hush-hush mentality he seemed to have about it. A big part of me found it unfortunate that it was something the people of Italy were still dealing with, even if it is no longer of the same severity as it once was. But another part of me, as I walked on the Rialto Bridge under a sunny sky and over moving gondolas, thought it was one of the most Italian things I had seen all month.