Michelle Russo: Italia as Text 2023

Italia Encounter as Text

Image by Michelle Russo / cc. 4.0

“Pyramide Vs. Miami”

by Michelle Russo, May 15,2023

Public transportation in Italy is a common form of transportation used by many, facilitating you to get around without the need for a car. In Miami, public transportation is not as accessible. There is no metro system and bus transportation is limited to certain areas in Miami. Before arriving in Italy, I was introduced to the metro system in Barcelona. Considering I learned to get around with the metro in Barcelona, I was a bit surprised when I was traveling to my stop, Pyramide. Finding the stop was easy but I was surprised, by the number of people that use the metro system. The metro got packed quickly and not many people would get off on the way to Pyramide. Once I arrived at Pyramide, half of the metro got off. Seeing this, I expected it was going to be a very tourist spot, but I was incorrect. After walking around the metro spot, I realized it was more of a residential area rather than a tourist spot, so all the people that got off were not tourists but common people of the city. 

Once you exit the stop, you are welcomed by a castle to your left and a fountain to the right. One of the first things that I noticed was the difference in the size of the roads compared to the center of Rome. The streets are much wider and have two or three lanes for each way of traffic, much like Miami. Most roads in the center of Roma have one lane per traffic direction or sometimes just one in general. I also noticed there were more trees and green sections because of the increase in space. Passing the street you find a pyramid. During a class lesson, I learned the pyramid was built by wealthy Romans and was built as the tomb of Gaius Cestius. The Romans loved to get inspiration from Egypt. There are visible small holes on the pyramid that are from World War II, from the Americans against the resistance. 

The buildings in this area remind me more of Miami. In the center of Rome, the buildings on the first floor are usually commercial shopping centers and the floors above are residential housing or different stores. At this stop, I noticed there were not as many tall buildings set up this way. For example, there were multiple floor buildings a block away from the stop but were all the same company or all apartments, they were not mixed into one building. This is how most of Miami is set up, with each company having its own building.

Another detail I noticed about the residential area, is the mini market on the street. Tents were setup next to the metro selling various clothing items, but no souvenirs. In order to get to the decathlon store, Professor Bailey recommended us visit, I had to pass under a metro stop to pass to other side of town. Walking by there was a café store that smelled and looked like one in Orlando and brought back many memories from Orlando. Under the metro, the walkway seemed as if I were in an airport terminal, it fully lighted with small stores. When I entered the decathlon store, it reminded me of Miami, as if I was walking into a sporting goods store. This was one of the first stores that I entered in Italy that is a multiple floor building of the same company, one selling a certain type of goods. Overall, it was a great experience visiting a spot outside the city where it is mostly the citizens, not tourists and seeing the differences between Italy and Miami.

Pompeii as Text

Pompeii taken by Michelle Russo / cc. 4.0

“Frozen in Time”

by Michelle Russo, May 21, 2023

Pompeii was an ancient city about three hours away from the heart of Rome. After passing through Naples, we arrived at Pompeii by metro. I did not know what to expect from the city. I feel it’s a well-known tourist spot to visit Pompeii, but I never knew what it consisted of. My first impression started off great with the gifted croissants and blood orange juice. Once we got to the entrance, we started a guided tour with Sylvia and the other half was with our professor Bailly. One of the first things I noticed when I entered was the type of ground it had. We spent almost two weeks walking on rocks and concrete. I was amazed to see sand on the ground. Even with all the rain, it was not muddy, just wet sand. The sand was ash from the volcanoes that came over the city.

Pompeii was a flourishing city with rich soil from the nearby volcano, Vesuvius. The benefits of living near the volcano were the reason why Pompeii was successful, but it was also what caused the end of it. At that time, the people of Pompeii did not know Vesuvius was a volcano because there was no record of volcanic activity known. Near to the entrance there were two arches built for the one person that was allowed to pass under them. 

Once Vesuvius exploded, many were able to escape but around 2000 people were not able to and died buried in ashes. For the most part, when I heard a volcanic eruption caused the destruction of Pompeii, I would think lava covered the city but this was not the case. Once Vesuvius exploded, many were able to escape the toxins released by the eruption reached the people. The people that stayed behind were people that either could not leave because of family or wanted to stay in their homes. Sadly, the toxins released into the air still reached those who were escaping at a slower pace. Once the people died suffocated, larger rocks and earthquakes caused buildings to collapse. Lastly, volcanic ash covered Pompeii, ultimately preserving and freezing Pompeii in its catastrophic state. The Vesuvius eruption occurred in the final years of the construction of the Colosseum, so it was not given much importance in reconstructing Pompeii, in addition to how destroyed the city was left. 

Pompeii was abandoned until around the 18th century, since the explosion in 79. Once Pompeii started to get excavated, the ashes acted like a preservative. Once excavations began, many cavities with bones were found. Until one day, they decided to fill one of the holes with plaster and were stunned to see a person’s last moments after the eruption perfectly portrayed. Having the bodies covered with ashes and left for centuries untouched, this caused the surroundings to be calcified. The body’s tissues eventually decayed and left behind the bones and perfect cast of the body. One of the areas that I remember the most were the plaster figures of people. Seeing how these people took their last breath either surrounded by other loved ones or grasping for air. I did not want to believe that these were actually how people died in Pompeii.

Ancient Rome as Text

Hadrian’s Villa taken by Michelle Russo / cc. 4.0

“Outside the Walls”

by Michelle Russo, May 21, 2023

Tivoli is a town an hour a half away from the heart a Rome filled with history all around. Near Tivoli we stopped at Hadrian’s one of a kind Villa. All the previous emperor since Augustus had always lived in Rome to maintain order. Hadrian was the first to build his home outside of Rome and can arguably say this helped flourish other parts of Italy. 

In order to to get to Hadrian’s villa we took the metro to the end of a route, but a bus was still needed to get to the villa. Considering modern transportation we arrived in an hour and a half, this made me think how far Hadrian picked a location for the time. During this time it was mostly chariots, so he probably would go at times to Rome but not very consistently. After taking the bus, we got down in a very residential area where we walked for a couple a minutes. The farther away you get from cities the more nature surrounds it. We passed by an amazing view professor Bailly showed us on the way of the villa which made me appreciate the beauty of nature you sometimes miss living in the city. Later on, the same day we also visited mesmerizing views of natural wonders that included waterfalls and caves. Once we arrived at Hadrian’s  villa it seemed hidden, it felt like I was entering a national park.l because at first I only saw the nature surrounding it. Once we passed inside Hadrian’s Villa, we found hidden gems and even got to try fresh cherries we picked off a tree.

Although Hadrian had his villa near Tivoli, he still needed to spend a great amount of time in Rome, to run the empire. One of the reasons why Hadrian decided to be the first to have his villa outside of Rome was because he was born in Spain which gave him an accent that many people made fun of. He was not a very social person but more of an intellect, he even made two libraries in his villa. The villa also had theaters, gardens, bathes, fountains, and rooms. He also dedicated an area for his lover Antinous. Whenever Hadrian got the chance to travel, he did. He would visit cities in Italy besides Rome which helped Italy become a stronger empire. Most emperors were focused on expanding the empire and conquering land, but Hadrian focused on spending money to strengthen Italy. When he would travel to different part of Italy, the city would prepare for his arrival. Knowing the emperor would come visit, this helped organize the city and keep them in check which helped it flourish. Hadrian was able to strengthen Italy by doing this. Hadrian’s villa was also an amateur architect who design some areas of his villa. This immense work of art was abandoned and was worn down by weather and time. Although it was not fully preserved it does not fail to take you back in time to the year 120. 

Toscana as Text

Brunelleschi’s Dome by Michelle Russo / cc. 4.0

“Overview on Firenze”

by Michelle Russo, May 28, 2023

Firenze is a city filled with life and stories. Compared to Rome, Firenze reminds more of the Miami lifestyle. The city is alive day and night and filled with tourists. Although there’s a young atmosphere in the city, it does not fail to take you back in time to the Renaissance.  The renaissance was the beginning of  humanism, where art, religion, writing, education, and the way of thinking were all impacted. The expression of true reality and emotion began appearing in art, which connected with the people. It is said that this era began in the 15th century when Lorenzo Ghiberti competed with Filippo Brunelleschi for the baptistery doors and ended with the fall of Rome. The peak of the renaissance was said to be during the works of Michelangelo, Rafael, and Leonardo. 

Brunelleschi’s dome is a fascinating architectural structure that was completed in 1436 by Filippo Brunelleschi. A dome of this magnitude had not been built since the pantheon. Having been 1300 years since a dome was built of this size, it was a grand structure that brought glory to Firenze. The dome also helped define classical architecture that was followed through the renaissance. On our first day at Firenze when we were walking towards our apartments, I was amazed not just by the dome but by the patterns on the outside. During this time, the way you worshiped God was shown by how decorated the cathedral was. The more statues and artworks there were, the more expensive it was, which ultimately showed a greater devotion to God. The cathedral did not fail to accomplish this. From the outside, it gives you a sneak peek at the intricate design. Once you go inside, the floors, the walls, and the ceiling all have detailed pieces of art that grab your attention. 

The dome itself is a whole other perspective on the structure. After walking up the first section, you find yourself at the base of the dome. From this height, the people on the floor of the cathedral look like tiny ants walking around. At the base of the dome you are able to analyze how Vasari portrayed the Bible through his paintings. At the top of the dome you have one of the best views of the city in all of Firenze.

Besides the dome, the baptistery is a structure built together with the cathedral. The Baptistery might not sound as important as the cathedral, but it plays an immense role in history. The competition between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi for the baptistery doors marks the start of the renaissance. Ghiberti won, which caused Brunelleschi to run away to Rome, but ultimately it worked out in his favor to build the dome. Lorenzo Ghiberti ends up working on the first set of doors for 25 years and the second set of bronze doors for 27 years. The second set of doors faces the cathedral and is named the “Gates of Paradise,” according to Michelangelo. Ghiberti transforms sculpting with the introduction of depth and linear perspective. Firenze overall had plenty of memorable historical places.

Cinque Terre as Text

picture by John W Bailly / cc. 4.0

“Only nature and your thoughts”

By Michelle Russo June 2, 2023

Cinque Terre is a beautiful set of villages full of personality that allow you to detach from day to day and get a new perspective. Cinque Terra is made up of five cities. Starting from the northwest, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. These five towns are united by a UNESCO World Heritage trail that can be taken from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. Each town is unique in its own way, but all have an area outside where you can soak up the sun near the beach or mountains. After the Grand Tour, it is essential for one to isolate themselves in order to reflect on their past experiences of the Grand Tour. This is a personal journey one must go through in order to analyze and organize one’s thoughts. 

Before arriving to Cinque Terre, I was very skeptical about how to accomplish this upcoming task. I imagined Cinque Terre was like the Amalfi coast, filled with tourists and only useful for pictures, but I was completely wrong. Yes, Cinque Terre has beautiful views, but the journey is what makes you appreciate it the most. The next day in Cinque Terre we took on the journey to complete a hike through all five towns. Our class started off with a rough start, considering we all have experienced some type of sickness during this month of study abroad, some started off already in their last stretch of the run. The hike taught me many different things.

In life, everybody has their own path to their goals. As like in this hike, everybody had their own pace but what is important was their end goal. Resilience was a critical component of this, not only for the physical journey but the mental fight. During the hike I would connect many moments to my cross country season, when I felt like giving up during a race but still managed to push through. Even in hard times, never stop moving forward, even if it’s little by little. This should be used not only in the athletic world but in anybody’s day to day life. Once you arrived at the top of the hike, it felt like a reward to see what you have accomplished. 

Besides the hike, spending time relaxing in the ocean has always brought me to a happy state, where I start to appreciate the beauty and opportunities we have, especially back at home. Swimming out into the water and seeing the town from a different perspective truly lets you grasp the beauty of it. A similar situation was when I was out on the rocks fishing. The solitude and atmosphere that is presented to you only helps you reflect on your situation. 

Having this opportunity  to reflect in a beautiful setting, honestly helps me appreciate the opportunities that have been presented to me, especially being able to attend this study abroad program. 

Each town has its own atmosphere to help reflect. In Monterosso you have a beautiful beach to relax and sunbathe on. In Vernazza, the rocks where you can sit on and fish for hours brings peace. The town Corniglia is beautiful town to explore its shops and markets. Manarola had the most rewarding views from the hike. Lastly, Riomaggiore was where I came back to reality and had some new memories with friends out on the sea to wrap up my stay in Cinque Terre.

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