Emma Cairo-Benoit: Grand Tour 2022


Images taken by Emma Cairo-Benoit/ CC by 4.0

If someone would have told me in October of 2021 that I would travel to Italy in May for the FIU Honors Study Abroad Program, I would not have believed them. In fact up until March of 2022 I was prepared to be disappointed with the news that we would not a be traveling to Italy in May. However, the impossible occurred and the FIU Honors Italia Class traveled across the Atlantic to spend one month completing an adapted version of the Grand Tour.

As I was traveling on the metro in Rome on the way to Wednesday Mass at the Vatican, I noticed the woman sitting in front of me had two words tattooed on her arms: Qui and Ora, this translates to here and now in Italian. As I sat there on my way to an event I had been waiting practically my whole life to attend, I thought about how appropriate the quote was. Something we had waited and hoped for, for so long was here and we were living in it. For the rest of our Grand Tour I chose to live by those words: here and now. At each city, monument, ruin, mountain, sculpture, or artwork we visited it was a moment for me to appreciate the everything behind it the history, culture, and the present moment we were in. This is a lesson I will take with me after this program, along with all the other moments and lessons I will continue to appreciate the here an now long after I leave Italy.

Rome: The Eternal City

Images taken by Emma Cairo-Benoit/ CC by 4.0

The city of Rome was founded in the year 753 B.C. and has since seen many wars, emperors, Popes, the great artists, and more. To this day, we see remnants of the ancient city alongside its modern renovations and restorations. While the city has preserved many of the ancient ruins such as the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the aqueducts, and the Pantheon, some of the ruins have been disregarded as the city has built over them. One of the most popular attractions in all of Rome is the Trevi Fountain. Approximately 7 to 10 million people travel to the Trevi Fountain each year to throw a coin and make a wish to return to Rome. The Baroque masterpiece was built at the sight of an earlier fountain which had been destroyed. It marked the junction point of three roads where an early ancient Roman aqueduct supplied water to the city. The whole area received its name from this crossing point: the word trivium, which means crossroads, underwent several changes that transformed it into di Trejo and eventually into Trevi.

Images taken by Emma Cairo-Benoit/ CC by 4.0

During archeological surveys from 1999 to 2001, at the time of renovation of the Trevi Fountain, ancient ruins of a building complex were found underneath the fountain. The water from the fountain filters through the underground to this area to the Virgin Aqueduct, that was also excavated and brought to light an imposing distribution tank. This small city that lies beneath one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions contains precious stones, sculptures, and the urban history of ancient Rome.

As I explored this hidden city, I couldn’t help but to compare it to the city of Pompeii. While Pompeii was faced with a great disaster, the city still lies buried in the earth, hiding more of the history behind the city and treasures from the time. Similarly to the Tequestan land in Miami that lies underneath the heart of downtown. The history and stories that founded the city we reside in are discarded as modern buildings rise up each day. It begs the question: how much more of modern day Rome was built upon undiscovered ruins?

Florence: Authenticity

Images taken by Emma Cairo-Benoit/ CC by 4.0

As I walked down the market that separates the San Lorenzo and Santa Maria Novella areas in Florence I was quickly reminded of the Chinatown district in New York City. The stands lined with purses, wallets, and belts, the salespeople haggling you to buy from their stand and not the competition next to them, and the secret alliances between stands are all attributes shared by both markets. However, one major difference between the two: the market in Florence is all leather. Aside from the occasional inauthentic leather pieces, most of the stands along Florence’s famous leather market are authentically curated in Florence, Italy. Leather production began in Florence in the 13th century due to the transportation of goods along the Arno River, and it still continues to this day across all of Florence. Walk down any street, and you will get a whiff of fresh leather from a store or stand in the Piazza. While many luxury brands purchase their leather from leather factories in Florence, the leather market serves as a more affordable alternative for Italians and tourists.

Images taken by Emma Cairo-Benoit/ CC by 4.0

I was definitely overwhelmed by the ovrestimutaltion of merchandise and sales pitches to sell me a piece of leather, and hesitant to know what would be real and what was counterfeit leather. One stand in particular caught me by surprise when all I did was touch an item I was interested in and the man working the booth came up to the purse with a lighter to prove to me it was real. I was taken aback when the flame hit the material and scared it would be ruined by the fire, but I quickly learned that real leather is inflammable. I stood mesmerized by the incredible work it takes to make the authentic leather pieces that surrounded us and the artisan craft behind each item.

Cinque Terre: Lover’s Lane

Images taken by Emma Cairo-Benoit/ CC by 4.0

I was born and raised in the city, and I never saw mountains until the age of ten when I traveled to my family’s original country of Colombia. My mom would constantly tell me stories about growing up in the “finkas” and all the time she would spend in nature. I think this led to a place in my heart I will always have for the beauty of mountains. I, however, also grew up in a city where the beach was always a short car ride away. I went to the beach for the first time before I could even walk, so the ocean has always has another incredible piece of my heart.

Cinque Terre took my two loves and combined them into one allowing me to experience beach and mountains at the same time. The brightness of the colors of the trees, flowers, rocks, and ocean is something I had never seen before and was incredibly special to see. It felt in a way like home, not in the same way that Miami is home, but a way that combined my love for two things that remind me of Miami and Colombia all in one place.

Images taken by Emma Cairo-Benoit/ CC by 4.0

In Riomaggiore, the last land of Cinque Terre, is the trail known as Via dell’ Amore which means Lovers’ Lane. This footpath which begins on the trail from Manarola to Riomaggiore is one of the most famous paths due to its spectacular view of both mountains and the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. The name was given to the path anonymously by a traveler that wrote the phrase Via dell’ Amore at the beginning and end of the road, and for centuries locals would meet in the path for a romantic rendezvous. I walked through the open portion of the path, as part of it remains closed due to a landslide in 2012, and I thought about not my romantic love for another person but my love for the town and that it gave me in the short period we traveled there.

Venice: Personal Structures – Reflections

Images taken by Emma Cairo-Benoit/ CC by 4.0

Founded in 1895, La Biennale di Venezia is one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. This international art exhibition holds different forms of art such as music, cinema, paintings, dance, and theatre. Each year they hold the private main exhibition, but they also organize pop up events throughout the city in some of the old palaces that line the grand canal in some of the most important neighborhoods in Venice. At the Palazzo Bembo located in San Marco was the exhibition called Personal Structures – Reflections which aimed to express the idea of making people more aware of their existence. By being aware of your own existence, you should then care more about everything, only after that care can we change aspects of the world we don’t like.

Images taken by Emma Cairo-Benoit/ CC by 4.0

The contemporary art was a refreshing change to the classical art we had seen prior along our travels in Italy as each artist reflected on different topics in unique ways. My favorite room in the exhibition was one that had images and quotes on the walls of places and people in the world that have negative stereotypes because of where they come from. There was a photo of of a couple getting married celebrating a traditional Indian wedding and underneath a quote by a new publication talking about the marriage market in the middle east. There was also a photo of a young muslim girl at school with a quote underneath saying, “The deadliest place for children on the planet.” The entire exhibition had multiple rooms of thought provoking art such as this one, and I thought it was such an interesting contrast to a city that holds so many classical works yet they all hold their own sense of beauty.

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