“Italia Summer Encounter As Text”
“The Levels and the Seats”
By Emiliana Tacconi B of FIU in Rome, May 14th, 2023.
As someone who loves going to concerts and has been learning about Italian architecture my whole life from my dad- an Italian Venezuelan architect-, you would think Circo Massimo would have been a clear first choice when it came to picking my metro stop to write 500 words about. However, it was not. My first choice was Repubblica, but that was not the stop I was meant to experience and analyze. To be honest, the first time I went to my metro stop, Circo Massimo was not my first choice for what I wanted to do that day. My first choice was to go to Orvieto before the study abroad started with a friend, but so many things went wrong that day that we ended up waiting 15 minutes to get a delicious gelato across the street from Circo Massimo. Like me, I know that for so many tourists Circo Massimo is not their first choice either. Their first choice is to go to the Colosseo to view an Ancient Roman entertainment venue, but something happened that led them a couple blocks down to Circo Massimo, and like me, I know they were grateful to experience it.
As I was walking around Circo Massimo with my friend and our great gelatos, I was in awe of its size. All I could think of was how could the Ancient Romans build an entertainment venue that could hold two hundred and fifty thousand people without the technology we have today, how they would separate each spectator by class, with the rich and powerful closest to the field and the poor and disgraced closer to the sky, and how incredible it would be to see a modern full production concert in it today with its glory from the past. That last thought made me quickly realize that is the way the present works, the richest can afford pit seats closer to the stage and the poor get the nosebleeds seats that are so far up some people get actual nosebleeds. As some who have been able to experience both seats, the experience is incredibly different as the mentally of those around varies to the point you can see who would have been a nobleman sitting on the first few rows near the horses in Ancient Rome, and who would have been a second class citizen sitting closer to God.
As I kept walking, I recognized a familiar face. La Bocca della Verita, an Ancient Roman marble mask that was used to detect lies and cheating wives, as the legend says those who were not true would have lost their hand. It is also the original of the mask I saw in Vizcaya back in Miami. Once it was time to turn around down the road, I saw Terme di Caracalla, which are Ancient Roman baths. To me, it was very ironic to have a purity test and a cleaning complex on either side of a venue that would house the immorality and dirt of Ancient Rome. If you had put any of the noblemen to the test on La Bocca della Verita, most of them would have failed due to their schemes to gain more power. If you had taken one of the men who ran the chariot-races on the field or worked every day to the baths, the waters would have been mixed with blood, sweat, and tears of hard work. If you had been with me, an immigrant who has been living in the United States, land of opportunities and the American dream, for almost six years now, you would have heard how it is the same concept in American culture, but without the fascinating architecture of these landmarks.
In America, our Circo Massimo is the Capitol, as we have politicians scheming to change the laws to preserve their power and increase their wealth near the field, and the common people on the last seat of the Senate near the ceiling. If you take one of the politicians to La Bocca della Verita, most would have been found guilty of lying about their intentions and betraying their constituents as they only consider their power and not the people that gave them their power. If you take one of the common people to the Terme di Caracalla, their blood, sweat, and tears would fill the baths. Nevertheless, they would still hold their head high as they believe that if they just work hard enough, they can get a lower level on the seats of the Circo Massimo, so low they could get front row seats, without realizing they are right where you left them, on the nosebleeds, or just like me, outside the first choice of the Romans for the largest entertainment venue in the ancient world, enjoying what was left of my delicious gelato.
“Christian Roma As Text”
By Emiliana Tacconi B of FIU in Rome, May 21st, 2023.
As someone who grew up Catholic, I was very excited to learn we had a whole week dedicated to Christian/Catholic Roma. I was counting the days to see all the churches, go to a mass given by Pope Francis, and spend a whole day at the Vatican. I was certain I would feel more connected to my faith by the time I would have to write this as text. However, as I am sitting here typing each word, I feel more and more disconnected from the Catholic Church and its history, just like how I felt with each step I took on each church. While the artwork on display was undeniably god-like, what it represented was also undeniably hypocritical.
One of the pieces that made me stop on my feet and feel my heart break a little was La Pieta by Michelangelo in the Vatican. This piece was masterfully crafted by an artist who could clearly capture the grieving of the corpse of Jesus Christ in the hands of his mother, the Virgin Mary. Not even the bulletproof glass in between the masterpiece and its viewer could diminish the wave of pain the Virgin Mary caused in me. Even though I am barely twenty years old, I know whatever pain it evoked on me was miniscule considering I could never imagine how soul-crushing having to hold your dead child in your hands must be. Sadly, so many women around the world have the experiences to understand what she was going through. In the United States, mothers usually relate for two reasons, guns and abortions. American mothers have held their dead 9 year old children as they were killed in a school shooting, or their dead newborn babies as they could not get access to an abortion.
Too much disappointment and little surprise, not even the Virgin Mary can be saved from the damage caused by Christian’s obsession with purity culture. Without a doubt, they will shame and punish women for not being modest enough, for not remaining innocent enough, for not being pure enough. They would rather depict the Virgin Mary as a 15 year old child holding her 33 year old grown son, instead of depicting the reality because they need to uphold the purity culture. Although they house statues of women with one breast out and paintings where they are completely naked, and they have the skills to depict very realistic and individual men from all ages, they still chose to depict the most important woman in all of Christianity as a child. Deifying the qualities only little girls have is harmful as it establishes that women must be pure, which is another word for easy to manipulate in reality, and that womanhood is undesirable.
Apparently, it is only women that must live up to this standard as the religion itself was made impure by those who ran it. A religion cannot be an empire and a business without any corruption. Christian leaders took advantage of the flexibility of the religion to grow it from the persecuted to the prosecutor. Instead of helping one another as the Bible encourages, Christians would rather complete the cycle of bullied children becoming the bully in order to stay at the top. Christians would rather corrupt the purity of their religion by gaining money and getting the best of the best, while still claiming to be one with the people. If they need to get people to pay a fee in order to secure a spot in heaven for their dead grown child to get the best artist to build them the most beautiful church, then they are not practicing what they are preaching. But then again, when did they?
“Pompeii As Text”
By Emiliana Tacconi B of FIU in Rome, May 21st, 2023.
On May 19th, 2023, I learned the true meaning of resilience. Originally, the class was supposed to go to Assisi, an Italian countryside city, for a relaxing day trip. However, the historic flooding in a nearby town made us cancel the day trip. But it’s okay! We had a second option, doing the bike ride along Appia Antica that we could not do before. At the last minute, we had to cancel that too to keep everyone safe. Every student in our class was disappointed that we were losing so much to the elements, especially when we were expecting sunny days exploring Roma. I was heartbroken because I was really looking forward to the activities Professor Bailey had planned for us. Thankfully, he was prepared with an improvised tour that lifted everyone’s spirits and brightened up my birthday.
We started by going to a rose garden that used to be a Jewish cemetery. It was poetic to celebrate the start of a new decade of my life in a place that was transformed to celebrate life even when mourning what it used to be. It was very fitting to blow out the “candles” my classmates did with their fingers as a way to solidify that sometimes, the earth has different plans for you and all you can do is be resilient. Sometimes, the earth will bury entire towns that will later be rediscovered, challenging all of our perceptions of life. No one can control a volcanic eruption that will preserve an entire city, from structures to citizens, underground. All you can do is go to Pompeii years later and learn that humans have not changed through time nor place.
Walking through the ruins of Pompeii showed me the simplicity of human society. They also needed their baked goods to get little treats, they had gyms with a fun bath system of hot, warm, and cold, and classism chose whose corpse would tell this story. Before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, there were earthquakes that alerted the rich to get out as they had to renovate their houses. However, the poor-the majority- did not have the luxury of being able to abandon their city for the comfort of another home. Therefore, all they could do was stay in Pompeii, breathing the toxic hair from the eruption that caused them to suffocate to death.
Because the eruption happened on 79 A.D.,not even the Romans cared enough to help Pompeii as they were putting the finishing touches on their wonderful new structure, the Colosseo. So Pompeii and its citizens were abandoned until a Spanish King discovered it again, until an archeologist poured plaster on the ground to reveal the corpses of the victims of mother nature. At first, I could not believe that those were real people who had their own lives with worries and ambitions, I could not believe those were real little kids who loved to play outside and had a favorite food. I could not believe it because I did not want to face the reality that the little girl next to me was the same size as the little dead child in front of me. I could not believe that the little girl running towards her mother when she got scared is the same as the little child that died in the arms of their mother on display. I could not believe the similarity with la Pieta, nor the fact that the corpses of these people were on display for tourists to see for a fee.
As our tour guide kept showing us the ruins, I kept being a defense and a prosecutor in my head. I defended the fact that sadly, people love tragedy, and they love being able to relate. Humans need to relate in order to care. People should care. But human beings also deserve to rest in peace. Human beings deserve to have their lives celebrated. Why do we need to relate through tragedy when we can relate through the mundane little details that make us who we are? We should relate to the woman that was so loved, she was remembered for enjoying a little liquor, her love for dancing, and for having fun. We should relate to the need of having pretty art, beautiful gardens, and the wonderful company of our loved ones. We should relate to the resilience of a city that refused to be abandoned and forgotten as it was rebirthed with new land from the tragedy. We should learn to hold on to each other like he statues until my thumb creates an indentation in your arm even in marble. We should learn to adapt to the circumstances as best we can, and enjoy the new memories we create along the way.
“Toscana As Text”
“The Connection Lies in the Details”
By Emiliana Tacconi B of FIU in Florence, May 29th, 2023.
Photo of me looking at Sienna’s landscape by Lisbeth Tejera/ CC by 4.0
As soon as the class started walking to our new temporary homes in Florence, I was enamored with the city. I loved that there is great political or artistic significance all over the city. I still cannot believe that I had to walk past Brunelleschi’s Dome, one of the most important pieces of architecture that I learnt from my dad, to go home every night, and that it was my view from my bedroom. It was incredible being able to live a modern life in a city frozen in the Renaissance.
Both inside the museums and outside in the city, I learned that the Renaissance was about leaving the ideal behind to focus more on the human side. From Donatello’s statue showcasing human doubt next to emotionless statues, I learned that doubt is a part of life, but I need to sculpt the frown that will encourage human connection without worrying about future wrinkles. From Michelangelo’s David displaying the balance between perfection and insecurities, I learned that nothing is every black and white, sometimes I have to live in that gray area while I get ready to take the risk to fight my Goliath head first, and that the amount of admiration the artist puts in their creation can be felt even centuries later. The little details in David, from being able to see his individual brow hairs to the vanes in his naked body, I could feel the admiration Michaelagelo had for the male body even centuries later. Sadly, that feeling did not arise from any of the female statues as the artist lacked the admiration and respect necessary to not make all the women look like the same fifteen year old girl.
Nonetheless, I already knew that women always got the job done, and excelled while doing it. In Florence, that woman is Artemisia Gentileschi. Artemisia was a woman who had a great passion for painting, and was violated by the person who was supposed to give her the tools and knowledge to achieve her full potential. Artemisia had to face brutality in order to get justice for his crimes. Artemisia created the only masterpiece I have ever connected on such a deep level that I had to hold back the tears as I admired her Loving Judith painting in the Uffizi Gallery. Loving Judith depicts the story of a woman and her maid killing her enemy, but the connection lies in the details. In Judith’s eyes looking down at the man she was beheading without any emotion in her eyes, calling out all the men that said women cannot get anything important done because they are too emotional. In the blood splatters on the maid’s hands because women will do anything necessary to achieve their goals. In the fear in the man’s eyes as he feels the sword slowly but surely slitting his throat, knowing his fate is at the hands of someone who wants to take his soul and body for her own gain. In my heart beat raising as I finally saw women taking control of the situation to get the job done, and in my heart breaking as I could feel the humanity in the pain and revenge in Artemisia’s art.
Thankfully, in Tuscany I also learned that part of humanity are the details that provide that pleasure in life that serve as a direct connection with nature and souls. I learned that life is also about enjoying seeing my friend’s jaw drop as they lay their eyes on the magnificence of a Rafael painting. I learned that a bad situation does not equal a bad connection, as having to walk with a cane and climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the bell tower at Sienna allowed the connection to form from study abroad peers to friends, and from a weak ankle connected me to my inner strength and resilience while learning how to lean on something other than myself. Even though the news depict a scary future, the guy giving a wonderful performance on the street out of love for singing depicts a warmer, lovelier future. It is necessary to take a break with my people while the only thing that exists is the sun kissing our skin creating peace and connection. That all I need is to share pizza with my friends as we see the sunset in Ponte Vecchio with the beautiful live music from a man who has been trying to get his big break for forty years, hoping it will all be worth it just like the Gates of Paradise taking over forty years combined to get the art for him. In order to connect to the sun, the art, and the people, you need to appreciate the little details as you look at the landscape from Sienna’s bell tower wondering how you will get back to Miami after going through your own Renaissance.
“Cinque Terre As Text”
“Climbing to the Top is Easier than Taking a Step Down”
By Emiliana Tacconi B of FIU in Venice, June 2nd, 2023.
When I first learned about Cinque terre, Imagined it to be the place I would want to escape when life got too overwhelming. Just 5 little villages along the coast full of color and life, it seemed straight out of a fairy tale 5 year old me would have loved. The tranquility 20 year old me needed as I navigate everything that comes with being a young adult, a student, and a woman. Especially after being drained by the life I had outgrown from Miami in Italy. While I was in Rome, there was always an issue that I could never fix, no matter how much time and energy I invested into it at the expense of connecting with my classmates during our free time. That is why I promised myself I had to be more selfish when I got to Firenze. I needed to find myself again and go through my own Renaissance as I learned how to disconnect from my phone, to place the boundaries necessary to protect my peace, to lean on others when someone had to force me to accept help, and to live the moment in the present by connecting through the little details. So although I expected to learn how to relax and have fun in Cinque Terre, I learned that climbing to the top is easier than taking a step down for me.
The Cinquue Terre portion of the class was hiking through all the 5 villages that make up my sanctuary. We started in Monterosso, although my ankle was still badly hurt, I was able to keep up with the professor all the way to the first beach where we stopped to wait for the others. I dipped my toes in the water and helped some Italians reposition their boat, not knowing I would have to reposition my ego throughout the hike. Because the class was taking too long and we were in a race with the sunset, it was decided that from that moment forward everyone would be on their own to do as they please. You were excused if you could not finish the hike, you were welcomed to go at your own pace, and you were welcome to cross the finish line. I decided that even with zero hiking experience, a messed up ankle, and a cane, I would finish that hike. I did not know how Ii was going to get there, but I was determined to cross that finish line.
That is when we started making our way back to the trail to reach the second village, Vernazza. The funny part was that Ii was so determined to be at the front of the group next to the professor, that I got too ahead and lost my professor. I missed some of the stories he was telling along the way, but at least I was with my friends. We started to get sweaty and tired from all the steps, but we kept pushing. Even when we had to stop a few times to be able to catch up to the professor, we were still there for each other. We kept reminding each other to drink water, and to look to our side to admire the view of our hard work. Even days after the hike when we were on a boat looking up at the mountains, we could not believe we were up there at one point. Everything was so magnificent that I could not believe this was real life and not the most peaceful landscape the greatest artist ever created. As we wiped our foreheads, our eyes shined with pride as we reached Vernazza and were able to celebrate with a refreshing dip in the rocky shore.
Thankfully, we kept that unity as we shared fruits to recharge for the hike to Corniglia. While my friends were feeling more comfortable as they were getting used to the pace, I could feel the pain starting to grow. By that point, some of my classmates had already given up on the hike as they listened to their bodies begging them to take a break. Although mine was asking me for the same treatment, all I could give it was the hope that I would not have to take too many steps down. When I have to take a step down, I have to put more force on the cane and I can only go down with one foot as I cannot bend my left ankle. Therefore, the easiest part for everyone else, became the hardest part for me. Nevertheless, I was still determined to reach Corniglia, and to be one of the firsts to do so. That is why getting to the sandwich place with the professor and some of my other classmates felt so rewarding, not knowing that positive feeling would jump out of me soon enough.
When we got to what was supposed to be the refreshing part of the hike, I was feeling confident. I was confident that I had already made it halfway through, so I got this. But I did not get it, at least, not by myself. I had to ask my friends to let me use their shoulders for support as I was going down the stairs. I had to ask my friends to help me swim to the cliff even when I did not know how to swim because I wanted to cliff dive, even when I did not know how to cliff dive. I had to reposition my ego as I could not fulfill my goal without help, which was a concept I was unfamiliar with before Cinque terre. I was used to being Ms. Independent, and now I had to put my life in the hands of my friends as they kept me from drowning in the Mediterranean all because I wanted to cliff dive.“Are you sure you can do this?” is what I kept hearing over and over again during the hardest moment of my life “I don’t know how, but I will do it.” Regardless of the fact that I got so many cuts from the sharp rocks, and so many bruises from landing badly in the water. I am still proud of myself for doing it, and grateful to my friends for aiding me.
Now, we are reaching the worst moment of the hike. I was on my way from Corniglia to Manorola with the professor and some of my classmates. Every step I took hurt more and more, the 800 milligrams of Ibuprofen I had taken in the morning had worn off hours ago, Betty (my cane) had already gained 19 new scratches, lost some of her rubber, and was hard to hold on to from my sweat. I was in so much pain physically and mentally. I could barely walk anymore as I had twisted my “healthy” ankle so many times it was swollen and painful. I could barely talk. We took a break, but it cost us keeping up with the professor. This was not a problem for my classmates as they could just run up to him again, but it was an issue for me as I could not do the same. Worst of all, my two friends decided to stay behind with me to make sure I was okay, when they really wanted to run as fast as possible to listen to the interesting stories the professor had to tell. I had never felt like a bigger burden than I did during that time. It was a long hike with multiple steps down, we were all tired and they were annoyed they were not with everyone else. I was holding back tears from the pain, both physically and emotionally. I told them to run up and leave me because I could do it by myself, even when we all knew that was a lie. But my ego could not handle the truth, and my heart could not handle their very valid reactions. My only option was to keep going faster than I could so we could reach the professor in Monarolo, and let them goat their own pace so as to not hold anyone back. Although my next dose of Ibuprofen were two big pills, the reality that I was going down, and that I was bringing my friends down with me, was a harder pill to swallow.
Although that section of the hike taught me about unity, loyalty, and support, the next part of the hike taught me that being selfish is important, and that I cannot stay down forever if I am resilient and determined. I was so happy when we reached the beginning of the last hike as it was supposed to be the easiest, just a cute little stroll to Riomaggiore since the mudslides in the past decade had closed down the trail for years. Well, it must have been my lucky day because it was miraculously opened for us. Nonetheless, I was still holding on to hope that the hard part was over because the professor said it would only be a 31 minute hike. That hope died as soon as I realized that it was mostly my ankle’s worst enemy, stairs. But the perfectly cut stairs, no. These were huge steps that at one point just became rocks stacked on top of the other. I looked straight at them and repeated to myself that if I had made it through so much already, I could make it through this part as well. I was determined to cross that finish line, even if it meant losing the professor again, having so little breath I could not even talk, and climb those rocks on my hands and knees with Betty on my hand to make it to the top. It was while laying on my friend’s shoulders on the big rocks on the way down to Riomaggiore. It was worth every moment that taught me that my determination and my resilience will get me far, but having a good support system that still knows when to put themselves first is what will get me to cross that finish line.