Pauline Marek: Italia as Text 2022

Photo Taken by Pauline Isabelle Marek

Pauline Isabelle Marek is a 20 year old Junior attending the Honors College at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. Pauline was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City where she developed a deep appreciation for her Polish heritage through her constant involvement with the polish-american communities within New York City. After graduating from high school in 2019, Pauline initially majored in Nutrition and Dietetics before officially deciding to change to be a double major in Psychology and Natural and Applied Sciences on a pre-med track. Pauline plans to attend medical school once she graduates in order to fulfill her career goals of becoming a pediatrician.

Roma as Text

“Colosseum: Center Stage”, Pauline Marek of FIU at Roma from May 9-23, 2022

Being one for statistics and numbers I couldn’t help but look up everything and anything I could possibly learn about the Colosseum before my own visit. On my way over to the renowned landmark I found myself impressed by the masses that prioritized their visit to the site, annually over six million tourists flock from all over the world to see the historical wonder. I, one of six million tourists, was now approaching the famous landmark and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how truly momentous the occasion would be. I had previously never ventured into any European country outside of Poland, the Colosseum was a landmark that I had only learned about from textbooks and seen in television series. Yet here I was, my opportunity had finally arisen.

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

In person the Colosseum was tremendous and overwhelming in a way, the amphitheater became alive in front of my very own eyes. I could immediately envision tens of thousands of Romans encircling the Flavian Amphitheater awaiting a performance. The grand archways that framed the exterior of the building created an imposing atmosphere feeding into my imagination of what it once was. Walking into the Colosseum and getting the chance to stand almost at its center stage made me feel as though I was stepping into the shoes of a Roman. The saying “to step into someone’s shoes” took on a whole new meaning as I could visualize the mass crowds, thousands of people sitting up in the stands to catch a glimpse of the show. What truly amazed me was the variety of performances that they offered to the public. I was blown away by their ability to switch out among various stagings varying from reenacting sea battles to hosting gladiator fights. The way in which Romans organized their events reminded me of how modern day stadiums such as the Barclays Center in New York City are able to switch out among concerts, hockey games, and basketball games. The Romans were far more advanced than I could have ever imagined. 

The Colosseum was an introduction into the world of classical Rome as the Roman Forum followed shortly after, however, it left the biggest impression on me. The grandiose amphitheater is a perfect example of the timeless and powerful impact that the Romans continue to have on the rest of the world. 

Pompeii as Text

“Unearthing History”, Pauline Marek of FIU at Pompeii on May 16, 2022 

The story of Pompeii and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius has been one of the most intriguing history lessons that I have ever had the pleasure of learning about, the concept of an entire city disappearing for approximately 1,700 years was almost hard to believe. The 85% that had been restored and brought to light for the public to witness was breathtaking to see in person, despite all of the tourists that crammed the grid like streets of Pompeii it did not impose on the atmosphere of the desolate city. Being in the presence of an area filled with such devastating history could not be ignored, the dilapidated buildings and remnants of a past life echoed “ghost town” in my mind. 

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

More impactful than the buildings themselves were the molds of those lost in the explosion of Mount Vesuvius. Giuseppe Fiorelli, a well known Italian archeologist, discovered numerous empty spaces under Pompeii which he plastered to produce what are now referred to as “The Casts”.  The plaster casts were those of the lost people of Pompeii, those who decided to remain in the city of Pompeii and risk their lives to protect their own personal belongings. Viewing the exhibits brought about internal turmoil, the shocking expressions and grotesque body positions of the casts obtained by Fiorelli were more powerful than the city itself. The experience left me with many questions and as well as thoughts to reflect on, I often find that visuals have the biggest impact on me. Seeing casts of people covering their mouths to try to prevent suffocation to others containing whole skull fragments prompted a whole new perspective on the meaning of life.  

Pompeii is one of the most interesting cities that I have visited thus far, it is history that has been unearthed after laying dormant under layers of rubble and ash. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the ancient city. 

Tivoli as Text

“The Fountain at the End of the Maze” by Pauline Marek of FIU at Tivoli from May 13, 2022

During our day trip to Tivoli we were able to explore an officiated UNESCO site known as Villa d’Este, the 16th century villa turned museum that was once owned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este sported a breathtaking Renaissance inspired garden. Although the villa’s interior had beautiful displays of artwork and overall ornamentation, the garden with its grandiose displays of flora and fountains was remarkable compared to the rest. 

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

Walking past the main fountain and entering the plush well maintained hedge maze I stumbled upon a statue of Artemis. Despite the statue of the Goddess of fertility being located in a quaint setting and appearing more humble than the others it caught my attention, the symbolism behind the statue alone piqued my curiosity. Artemis, also referred to as the “great mother goddess” is depicted with several breasts which are meant to signify fertility and life. The breasts are designed to expel water conveying an implication that Artemis is lactating, lactation is commonly associated with the concept of providing life to another. The plaque correlating with the captivating statue encouraged the public to acknowledge the fountain to symbolize fertility, however, other sources prompt the perception that the breasts are actually eggs or bull testicles tied around her neck. All three are meant to represent fertility, in regards to the dispute existing among the many interpretations of the Artemis fountain the true intention is unknown.

The fountain of the Goddess of fertility left the most lasting impression on me personally, it put me into a position of contemplation and eagerness to further my understanding of the symbolism behind the piece. Entering Villa d’Este I never imagined that I would have been most entranced by a small fountain located in a far corner of the terrace hillside garden, in comparison the remainder of the property appeared extravagant and opulent. It was interesting to focus in on a smaller component of the Renaissance inspired garden as it brought about a deeper appreciation for the less frequented art work. 

Firenze as Text

“The Female Representation” by Pauline Marek of FIU at Firenze from May 23-30, 2022

During my visit in Florence one of the first stops that we took in the city was the Uffizi Gallery, alongside the Uffizi being one of my first impressions of Florence it was by far the most influential component of my stay here. Although I do not consider myself to be extremely influenced or swooned by works of art, I was found speechless and in awe of Sandro Botticelli’s work. In current popular culture I’ve seen references to some of the art pieces belonging to Botticelli’s work in small increments, in retrospect I had seen only small glimpses and parts of larger paintings that I never knew existed. Visiting the Uffizi Gallery I was astounded by The Birth of Venus as well as the Primavera, seeing the artworks up close and personal felt like a privilege. The two pieces despite being painted a long time ago, both created around the 1480s, made me feel a sense of empowerment. Both paintings depicted female divinity, the celebration of the female body as well as the representation of female power in stereotypically feminine characteristics. 

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

The artworks Primavera and The Birth of Venus both display feminine attributes of sensuality and grace which are used as a foundation to establish a sense of power rather than shame. Women often face objectification and ignominy for the very beauty that is depicted in both paintings, however, Botticelli does an excellent job in portraying the many women he paints in a celebratory manner without hindering their divine beauty. Seeing female representation in Renaissance artwork has furthered my interest in visual analysis, my trip to the Uffizi Gallery has inspired me to personally look into artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi to grasp a better understanding of feminsit art history. 

Siena as Text

“Re-envisioned” by Pauline Marek of FIU at Siena from May 27, 2022

Being born into a Polish family a predominant aspect of our culture and basic traditional values was founded in the Roman Catholic religion. I grew up going to church weekly on Sundays, celebrating religious holidays, attending religion school, and acquiring my sacraments. For a majority of my upbringing I frequented one church in my neighborhood and it soon became a staple of what I believed a church should look like. 

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

Turning the corner and seeing the Duomo di Siena, a Italian gothic style church, for the first time completely reinvented my perspective on church appearances. The Siena Cathedral constructed between 1196 to 1215 boasted a disorganized display with spiral colored columns and romanesque architecture, I had never seen anything like it before. The exterior of the cathedral appeared cluttered in design and the intricate details incorporated seemed as though they had been randomly assigned to their rightful placements. 

Within the walls of the Duomo di Siena the chaotic ambiance was amplified by the uncharacteristic church like interior design, the incohesiveness of the space was made very apparent by the mosaics and statues placed inside. A floor mosaic depicting the Massacre of the Innocents was displayed in the middle of the cathedral with dozens of dead infants portrayed. It was shocking to see something so grotesque and disturbing in a place meant for prayer and spirituality, it felt as though it didn’t match the intention of what a church stood for. The artwork done on the roof of the Duomo looked like a poorly made quilt, in my mind they resembled patchwork that was inexpertly stitched together. The overall design of the Duomo di Siena was shockingly eccentric and strayed away from the basic fundamentals of a church’s appearance, the unconventional church was strange to witness but simultaneously refreshing. 

Cinque Terre as Text

“Hiking the Coasts” by Pauline Marek of FIU at Cinque Terre from May 30 – June 3, 2022

The Cinque Terre hike that passed through all five towns was the first hike that I ever attempted thus far, although I did not finish all five towns due to how rigorous it was I found it very self fulfilling. Climbing up the second mountain I immediately understood why UNESCO had distinguished the Lingurian coast, specifically the one belonging to Cinque Terre as a part of the official World Heritage List. The view that I witnessed during the climb was absolutely breathtaking, I had never seen a composition of colors in the form of buildings sitting so effortlessly in the rocky mountains of the Italian coastline. The vibrantly colorful flowers and rich luscious greenery created a gorgeous contrast to the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea. I had truly felt as though I was transported into a scene straight out of a movie. 

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

Climbing higher into the mountains I was lulled into momentary feelings of inner peace and tranquility despite the meticulous hike, the calming sounds of trickling water and the natural fauna further carried me into a dreamlike state. The terrace slopes meant for agricultural purposes and erosion prevention made the rocky coasts appear otherworldly, it was very fascinating to see one of Cinque Terres most prized exports being grown on the terrace slopes. Cinque Terre is known for its great tasting wine, more specifically dry white table wine. I was able to see the vineyards upclose and see the production of Bosco and Albarola grapes native to the region. 

Overall, the hike was an amazing experience and it is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. Pushing my limits and getting to endure new potential hobbies has truly inspired me to possibly attempt other hikes in the future, I can’t wait to attempt my next hike. 

Venice as Text

“Vogalonga 2022” by Pauline Marek of FIU at Venice from June 3-7, 2022

Walking down the many streets and tight alleyways of Venice, I stumbled upon a chorus of cheering, clapping, and chanting coming from the direction of the nearest canal. Letting my curiosity get the best of me I followed the euphony of encouragement to find myself surrounded in a swarm of fellow onlookers. Climbing to the top of one of Venice’s many bridges and facing out over the canal I witnessed every single small boat imaginable rowing past. Although at first the sight appeared overly chaotic I quickly caught on to the varying flags that kayaks and paddle boats bore, my immediate assumption was that it was a boat race and each boat was representative of an organization, country, or city. Looking past the water I saw crowds sitting at the edges of the canal watching the race, they chanted along to the shouts and instructions of the boat commanders. On balconies and through open windows curious spectators viewed the spectacle. I even managed to see one woman bring out her wooden cooking spoons and pans to drum along to the steady beat of the rowers. The atmosphere of the streets of Venice were alive and upbeat.

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

Coming back to my apartment and getting a moment to myself I decided to research a bit into what this event could possibly be. I was able to find out that it was actually a non-competitive race meant to spread awareness about wave damage and its effects on the lagoon, a peaceful protest referred to as Vogalonga. Annually rowers from all around the world are able to come together for a good cause, almost anyone is able to take part in the race and everyone is rewarded for their time spent rowing the 30 km course. 

It was truly heartwarming to fully understand and get to witness thousands of individuals come together to support a wonderful cause. Aside from the main intention behind the rowing event, I was even able to catch crowds supporting rowers racing under many flags including one belonging to Ukraine.​​​ The unity and lack of selectionism felt like a breath of fresh air. Even though I stumbled upon the Vogalonga race out of sheer luck and wasn’t aware of its existence prior, getting to witness it in person has left me with a big smile on my face.    

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