Derick Plazaola: Italia As Text 2022

Photo by Derick Plazaola/CC by 4.0

Derick Allen Plazaola is Honors College Senior seeking a dual degree in Geography and Anthropology with an additional certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at Florida International University. Continuing forward in life with the compassion of discovering new locations and experiencing new memories, Derick is seeking to eventually become a GIS Analyst. His primary hobbies have included the likes of Polaroid Photography, Journaling, and Traveling. During his time at FIU, Derick has been able to become integrated into FIU’s Residential Life team as a Resident Assistant for students living on campus.

As a part of JW Bailly’s Italy Study Abroad 2022 group, Derick has been thoroughly enjoying his time so far being able to immerse himself in the history and beauty of which Italy and its cities have to offer.

Here are Derick’s Italy As Texts.

Roma as Text

Photos and editing by Derick Plazaola / CC by 4.0

“Immersione Completa” by Derick Plazaola of FIU in Roma, Italia from May 7th to May 18th.

In these 11 days that I have been here, I have been introduced to a new way of living that I have never in my life been able to experience before. The opportunity to study abroad has outright changed my perspective on being able to place yourself in a completely different cultural environment. Just only being able to realize this fact has made me realize how quickly the days pass on by when you dedicate the time to live the life of an Italian living in Roma With that being said however, the via’s of Roma along with the histories and secrets they yield have been nothing short of engaging for me.

To start, the ancient wonders of Rome have served as the primary lens by which I have been able to look into the past of the city. I realized very quickly on that it is one thing to see these places in pictures, but it is outright a different kind of feeling being able to stand within these locations and visualize the events which have taken place there for hundreds, if not thousands of years. One of the most memorable excursions for me so far has come in the form of being able to visit the Flavian Ampitheater – the Roman Colosseum. Upon our arrival to the lower level of the Colosseum, my mind revolved around the fact that the ground I stood on was where gladiators actively clashed their blades against each other and that over 50,000 Romans sat in the seats surrounding me at a 360 degree angle from above watching a show of survival just where I was standing – all of this taking place centuries ago. It felt like I was just a step away from being able to hear these sounds and to visualize the people both watching and fighting below.

If the grandeur of the Flavian Ampitheater isn’t enough, then perhaps the jaw-dropping architecture of the Pantheon can perhaps satisfy one’s desire to gain an appreciation for what Ancient Rome was at its core. Looking into the heavens above while being able to stand in front of the stand once dedicated for the Roman gods is exactly the action that the Romans centuries ago were doing, and here our study abroad group was repeating this same act. I could look outwards towards the entrance and pictured tens of thousands people coming into the Pantheon to give respect to their gods or to even provide offerings – a sight now replaced with visitors coming to be amazed by the architecture of this amazing building.

Even the art of Roma and its ancient past is a key aspect of the city that has allowed me to become nothing less than encompassed by the history of not just Roma, but of Italy entirely. One key experience I will not forget when walking the hallways and grand rooms of the Capitoline Museum is being in the presence of Marcus Aurelius – more specifically, standing underneath the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius. I quite distinctly remember when Professor Bailly was lecturing us back in Miami and showing us the fluidity and movement that can be visualized with the statue from pictures and showcasing just how expertly the Romans were able to capture this sense of movement within the pieces of art they created. Months later, I now found myself at the foot of this statue looking up at the Roman emperor and his noble steed. It was an unimaginable moment just because I felt as if he was directly waving to me from where I was standing below him and I realized just how amazingly the emotions associated with this statue were captured.

There has been one aspect of Roma that has surprised me in just how much I have been drawn towards it, especially when reflecting the pictures I was able to capture. The churches and basilicas of Roma are nothing short of a source of jaw-dropping beauty, especially in the level of craftsmanship that was required to make the art within stand out distinctly among each other. Two moments stood out to me during our class exploration of Rome’s churches. The first moment was when a service was being held in one of the rooms within the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and the organs started playing; this moment truly stuck with me as the sounds of the organs travelled entirely down the church while simultaneously sending a shiver down my spine out of how beautiful it was to hear in person. Secondly, being able to step inside the massive hall of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls truly allowed me to attain an idea of the long-standing history of the Catholic Church. The way light was utilized to illuminate all of the popes within history as well as illuminating the mural of the current pope, Pope Francis, was artistically genius to me.

All of these locations and key pieces of Roma yield experiences that simply could not be felt through the viewing of a picture or a video. It takes one’s very own presence to be able to truly experience the emotions imbued within them as well as the ability to understand their respective histories and secrets. Such can be especially be conveyed with the ‘La Passeggiata’ leisurely walk that has been done by so many Romans before us. In the end it truly takes a full immersion to retain these experiences – in Italian, this is a ”Immersione Completa”.

Pompeii as Text

Photos and editing by Derick Plazaola / CC by 4.0

“Are we Pompeian”? by Derick Plazaola of FIU at the ‘Scavi Archeologici di Pompei’ on May 16th.

Growing up for so long, you always hear about the stories revolving around Pompeii and being told about the opportunity to be able to see the bodies of Pompeians that were once living – now existing as plaster casts – was a continuity that remained in my life since gaining the chance to initially learn of the once-city’s existence. It’s only now during study abroad where I truly gained a surreal realization in that there was so much distinct value lying within the city that is sadly not focused on as much, something which is minuscule compared to what the city is unrecognizably distinguished for being – the city destroyed by the punishment of the gods in the form of the explosion of Mount Vesuvius. Traversing the avenues and streets of Pompeii along with the rest of the class allowed me this chance to uncover characteristics of the once-intact city to be precursors to things one can see in modern society. 

In starting off, it’s interesting to be able to touch upon first of the geographical layout of Pompeii in relation to the streets lying within Pompeii. Our tour guide, Antonio, was able to express to us that Pompeii wasn’t entirely streets as avenues are geographically north to south whereas streets are east to west. Furthermore if a street continued without interruption all the way to the other side of Pompeii it would change names even as the pathway continued; for example: one same street would be divided into “Via Delle Terme”, “Via Della Fortuna”, and “Via Di Nola”. In connection to my career interest lying directly in cartography, this was something that threw me off entirely at first sight. 

In relation to its geographical location, it was extremely beautiful to even undergo the process of entering the city. The view that one retains from entering into Pompeii from Porta Marina, the “Sea Gate”, and to look behind you is one that isn’t easily forgotten as you truly feel connected with the Mediterranean coastline thats so close by. However, it would prove quite the double edged sword to receive such beautiful views, but at the same time to be the city that was “struck by the gods”; an action that could directly counteract the protection given to the city by the safety of the surrounding Apennine Mountains, which symbolically served as a wall of defense. I do find it ironic that such a landmark was a token and yet the downfall of the city would prove to be the destruction brought about by the same sort of environmental landforms that were praised. 

What drew in most effectively however from today was the sheer amount of precursors to modern day society that were visible in Pompeii still. For one, the language utilized to describe the buildings are still directly connected to those same terms in the modern era; I found this to be quite the most distinct with the usage of “domus” being the origin for the word domicile or “home”. I did not think there could possibly be more after this, but I stood corrected shortly mostly thanks to Professor Bailly and Antonio’s lectures. The water and bathroom systems that lie dormant within the now ash-covered shops and homes of Pompeii was jaw-dropping as we could see, yet again, a precursor to what we as individuals have to actively maintain within our very own homes. Here we are 2000 years later still with systems that are undoubtedly reminiscent of those which we saw on this day trip. To me, it just completely altered my perspective on the things we have to effortlessly adapted into modern day usage as we are clearly so nonchalantly accepting things as they are and not dedicating time to look into where things came from – such as the case with these Pompeians relics. Even the “beware of dog” sign that we see so many neighborhood residents use is something that is emitted by the Pompeians of the time. 

Even amidst the beauty of the art lying present here along with the many mosaics in conjugation with architectural landmarks and buildings, the value of Pompeii comes in being able to gain an appreciation for the physical objects and systems that were actively utilized in the once-thriving city. It’s nothing short of an eye opener as to being able to understand even our own lifestyles much better and to question: “Are we Pompeian?” 

Assisi as Text

“Un Altro Giorno Passato” by Derick Plazaola of FIU in Assisi, Italy on May 20th, 2022. 

To be deceived by the appearance of something is a phenomenon that occurs quite frequently throughout the lives of many. This phenomenon is one that exists as yielding a dualistic nature as there can be both negative and positions connotations associated with an appearance that doesn’t reveal the entire backstory at first glance, requiring further exploration and analysis to understand the full picture. Spending the day in Assisi had later brought me to the realization that what I experienced was the latter, more positive connotation as I found myself being drawn in by the small city distanced deep in the Umbrian region of Italy. Reflecting back on it, the level of history – especially the Christian ties – lying within Assisi was nothing short of amazing to fully take in as the city served as a foundation for many things to unknowingly come.

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