Nicole Martinez: Italia as Text 2023

Ponte Vecchio on 28 July 2022. Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

Nicole Martinez is a junior at Florida International University, majoring in Chemistry with a minor in Biology. She is simultaneously taking Fashion Design and Fashion Styling courses at Istituto Marangoni, a fashion school from Milano with a campus in Miami. Although a bit unsure of what her future looks like, Nicole is extremely passionate about fashion, government, modeling, acting, and Italia. She speaks English, Spanish, Italian, and a tiny bit of French. Some of her favorite things in life include music, dance, nature, love, and the little things that bring true joy. She would like to inspire others in a yet-to-be-discovered way.

“Città dei Ragazzi”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University at Garbatella, Roma, 13 May 2023

If I want to be honest in this text, I must start by saying that I feel like I am in a completely different world. In the best way possible. As soon as I arrived in Roma, I immediately felt like I was at home, from the overly friendly taxi driver on the way to Piazza di Spagna I tried to hold a conversation with, to the tiny shower in the first apartment I stayed at, and even the exaggeratedly cramped metro adventures. The last time I had been to Roma was over 7 years ago, and I did not remember how beautiful this city was. I think I was also simply too young to even begin to comprehend the historical significance of this city, which I am able to appreciate and engage in now. 

For my chosen metro stop, I visited the stop of Garbatella, beginning at Tiburtina close to my current home, and taking the Laurentina B line metro all the way to Garbatella, which is a stop after Circo Massimo and Piramide. I walked a long perimeter around the stop, noting that the neighborhood was full of very young adults like me. It was a very local neighborhood, with a gas station, also quite close to many streets with a higher speed limit than when driving in the historic center of Roma. This was much more “city-like” and the streets were filled with a sporadic combination of tranquil spots, as well as much nightlife. 

Via Giuseppe Libetta, Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

I somehow arrived at a club with an extremely long line full of ragazzi, the Italian word for young people (which I have also noticed everyone uses for any group of people, not just youth). Right next to it was a tiny standing bar where drinks would be continuously served, and on the other side of the block, another club. To get to this busy street from the metro stop, one must walk through roads with restaurants, cafés, and stores on each side. Further along the road (after the nightlife-filled street), it suddenly made sense as to why this is such a ragazzi-filled neighborhood. The Università degli Studi Roma Tre was right there in front of me. 

In my very first taxi ride from Fiumicino Airport to Piazza di Spagna in historic Roma, I remember the driver showing me the universities of Roma, noting three truly Roman universities (i.e. not the American University of Rome, or other international campuses). The first university is called Sapienza Università di Roma, which is the main university in Roma, the second most important is nicknamed Due (due is two in Italian), and third, Tre (tre is three). Very creative, I know. But when I saw one of the universities the taxi driver had described, it felt very surreal to have it right in front of me a week later. It may sound strange, but it also made me think that I am just one student from Miami. My life could have been completely different if I was one of these university students, and my life can be completely different if I were to live in Roma now. 

“Stories Hidden, but Never Forgotten”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University at the Foro Romano, Roma, Italia, 21 May 2023

As I tried to think of what I should write about, I scrolled through my ever-growing camera roll looking for a picture that could give me an idea. I think at first I was looking for an aesthetic picture, one displaying what might be called “photography skills,” and that was my mistake. Because the picture that ultimately made me want to write was not an inherently beautiful picture, but rather one that is simply meaningful – powerful to look at. 

Stored Artifacts at the Foro Romano, Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

When I first saw this underground at the Foro Romano, as we weaved through dimly lit (or not at all lit) tunnels, and walked through the grounds of what once was the true heart of Ancient Rome, I had no idea what I was looking at. Boxes upon boxes, stacked on top of one another, dirty yet organized, labeled chaotically yet still comprehensible, stashed away in deep corners of the forum, though completely visible to anyone who enters. 

When I learned that everything inside these boxes consisted of artifacts dating back to Ancient Rome, back to a time where the Foro Romano was truly alive, I was in awe about many things. Firstly, these artifacts once belonged to and were used by people, as tools for instance. I know it seems obvious that tools were once used by people, but… these things were used by Romans two thousand years ago. Repeating it does not even do this idea justice; to me, it is astonishing not only that we have uncovered these artifacts, but also that they are just stashed away in some boxes, separated solely by some labels that date them back to the years in which they are thought to have come from. 

The boxes they are held in seem so insignificant compared to the meaning the artifacts hold simply for being so historic. If even one of these artifacts were found close to where I live, it would probably be on display in a museum somewhere. I thought of this as I just stared at these boxes full of not just one, but countless of them. It made me realize just how much history is in the Foro Romano, how many years have had to pass by for me to be able to step in these places. 

Ultimately, I believe I was drawn to the Foro because it’s just so real. The Foro initially acted as a marketplace where local Romans would go to complete daily errands and shopping. Over time, it became more adaptable and functional, as public events began being held in the area. According to historians, these public affairs began to rise in 500 BC, when the Roman Republic was first created. Over the centuries, the Foro grew, advanced, and expanded gradually. In order to accommodate the large crowds, buildings such as basilicas, as well as statues and arches were built.

To be able to see the ruins and the ancient remains of what once was, was beautiful to me. I think the fact that part of the Foro is gone, never to be recovered, makes it even more beautiful, because it forces us to imagine what it must have been like in the past. It leads to the mystery of not knowing exactly every single piece to every single story, and that’s what makes it even more intriguing, captivating.

“A Work in Progress”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University at Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano, Roma, Italia, 21 May 2023

Before the Edict of Milan was signed by Emperor Constantine in the year 313 AD, Christians were continuously persecuted and executed. The Edict of Milan served to legalize all religions in the Roman Empire, including Christianity. Almost immediately after, Saint Peter’s Basilica was already being constructed by Constantine around the year 320 AD, right above the site where the apostle Peter was buried. 

Perhaps this is an unpopular opinion, or I must think of it as if I were living in these times, but it seems very strange to me how sudden this transition was. In my mind, it seems almost as if Constantine did it only out of his own benefit. Of course, I greatly appreciate and am grateful for his role in the acceptance of Christianity. However, many historians still argue over what religion he truly had, even though he claimed to be a Christian. Many argue that his religion was at best a blend of Christianity and paganism, and for purely political purposes. I can definitely imagine this – it is not too far from the truth of present-day politicians, who make promises and do things that they think will gain them more popularity and, therefore, more votes.

In my mind, I’m not sure why it seems a bit hypocritical (perhaps contradictory, for better choice of words), not of the emperor, but of the society and the era to one day be persecuting a religion, and then, in a matter of a few years, building a basilica on top of an apostle that was once crucified upside down to supposedly venerate him. I had an amazing experience in the basilica, but for some reason, it was almost uncomfortable to think of the complete history of its existence. Because one cannot choose and select which part of history to keep in mind. For me, it was all in mind, the beauty of the basilica, the immense respect and devotion for my faith, but also the sadness of what came before that, the inevitable anger and frustration at all those who caused so much pain and suffering. 

Eroded foot from San Pietro statue, Basilica di San Pietro, Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

The basilica that I went into, however, is not the same basilica that Emperor Constantine erected in 320. The current extravagant structure in its place is a Renaissance building that went through a long process of about two hundred years starting in the mid-15th century, as well as several artists, such as Bramante, Michelangelo, and then Bernini. However, perhaps the Basilica will never be fully complete, as society is always adapting, and whether religion must adapt as well or not is a different discussion, but the basilica will always continue to be renovated, fixed, possible additions might be made. 

Just as the basilica is a work in progress, I believe Christianity is a work in progress as well. Of course, the teachings are sacred; the need for improvements is not in the word of God. Where I believe the improvements must be made is rather in how humans handle religion. I am religious and I pray every day, every night. But I just do not trust the Church as an institution, simply because humans are inherently corrupt and seek their own benefit when given the opportunity. (See Constantine at the beginning of this essay.) Through the ups and downs of religion, changes are always being made, and it is important for me to stay true to what I believe and my own personal relationship with God, regardless of the hypocrisies, cruelties, and contradictions from the rest of the world.

“Il mio posto preferito al mondo”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University at Ponte Vecchio in Firenze, Italia, 28 May 2023

I will be searching that feeling for the rest of my life. It’s so simple, yet extremely rare and difficult to find. How can something so simple be so beautiful? When I came to Firenze as a little girl, I knew this was my favorite city in the entire world, and I didn’t even understand why I had such a strong connection to this place. When I returned last year, I fell in love, not only with the physical beauty of the city, but with what I feel as I walk through its streets, as I run to Ponte Vecchio to watch every single sunset I can, as I listen to the vibrations of the city coming from music that makes everyone dance. This time, it was the same feeling, just more powerful. 

Ponte Vecchio (literally meaning “old bridge”) was built to span the Arno in the location where a bridge is believed to have been built in Roman times. The bridge appears first in documentation dating back to the year 996, after which it was destroyed by a flood in the year 1117. After being reconstructed in stone, it was destroyed once again by a flood in 1333 and the current version was built in 1345, when it was designed by Taddeo Gaddi, a student of Giotto. 

Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Firenze that was spared from destruction during World War II; its two neighboring bridges, Ponte Santa Trinità and Ponte alle Grazie, were both destroyed in the Second World War, and they have been remodeled since then. To me, that it is a sign of resilience from Ponte Vecchio, and it reminds me of a miracle. It missed the bombings of the war, which some might call luck. But it is beautiful to think that I am able to stand on it today as I write this, after everything it has been through and everything this bridge has seen and lived.

Just like the David of Michelangelo in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Ponte Vecchio is a symbol of courage and resilience because of this. After countless floods and immense destruction from war, it is still here, more beautiful than ever. Holding me on top of it along with all the humans currently right in front of me, swaying to the music, smiling at the dimming sunlight as I often do, I believe this bridge is strong. 

Sunset from Ponte Vecchio on 25.05.2023, Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

As is probably obvious by now, Ponte Vecchio is my favorite place in the world. And I think if I must give a reason, I would answer by saying it is where I feel the most human. Being here makes me vulnerable because I am sensitive to my surroundings, because I am in complete awe of my setting, because I feel so connected to other people – I experience a sense of community that I am not able to feel anywhere else. I don’t think I could ever fully express all I feel standing here, but I am certainly trying to. I recently read a quote by Mark Twain shared by the professor that could perhaps explain it a bit further. I related to this quote immensely, because his words match perfectly with the experiences that I have had here.

“This is the fairest picture on our planet, the most enchanting to look upon, the most satisfying to the eye and the spirit. To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature, and make a sympathetic one drunk with ecstasy.” – Mark Twain

“The Journey to a Moment”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University in Cinque Terre, Liguria, Italia, 01 June 2023

With my legs shaking and already giving out, I collapsed several times on the hike from Corniglia to Manarola. This may sound a little exaggerated, but it becomes much more attainable once it is considered that I had fought through a fever the day before. Already feeling weak from the start, the beginning of the hike hit me like a truck. As soon as we started climbing the steps from Monterosso al Mare on the way to Vernazza, I got a little worried, if I have to be completely honest. I knew what the following hours would encompass, or at least, I began to perceive a general idea of it. 

My nausea persistent, the weakness seeming to intensify with every minute, the trails never seeming to reach the peak, I did not know if I could finish the entire day. But I knew I eventually would if I just kept going. It sounds cheesy, but I finished the 18-mile hike simply because I did not give up. I had so many opportunities to stop, to end it, to just take a train, but I chose to reject all of them. I knew it would be worth it in the end, not only because of the “views,” but mostly because I would be showing myself what my mind and body can be powerful enough to do. 

In Corniglia, we were able to rest a bit while we ate, and then I threw myself off a cliff into the ocean. Actually feeling the water once I hit the surface was kind of like an analogy to how my whole day went. Because, yes, I did jump off the cliff… but what did it take to get there? I had to find my way through rocks at sea level – the only way to get to the ocean – and then swim out to the actual cliff part of it all. But when we all post our videos and pictures on Instagram, who posts the journey of how we get to the cliff? 

No one. Because we all want to see the results of the decisions we make, the decisions that others make, and we all want to compare our lives among one another, seeing only the good in what other people choose to show. We never remember to look at what we have in the present, and we definitely don’t share what it takes for us to get to these moments. Unless they read the words I am writing right now, no one will ever know what it took for me to finish the hike, or how I even got to that cliff – not just physically, but mentally. 

No one will know about my on-and-off sickness, the nausea, the weakness, the falling, the scrapes. No one will know about the piercing coldness of the water, or the bruises I still have on my legs and arms. But at least I will know, and that is enough for me. It is enough because it is what led me to finally understanding that everyone has their own journey, their own challenges, their own rewards. We must remind ourselves that when we see the good, it is not because issues do not exist or will never exist. We simply just don’t see them. 

Peak of trail from Manarola to Riomaggiore, Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

Author: Nicole Martinez

Nicole Martinez is a junior at Florida International University, majoring in Chemistry with a minor in Biology. She is simultaneously taking Fashion Design and Fashion Styling courses at Istituto Marangoni, a fashion school from Milano with a campus in Miami. Although a bit unsure of what her future looks like, Nicole is extremely passionate about fashion, government, modeling, acting, and Italia. She speaks English, Spanish, Italian, and a tiny bit of French. Some of her favorite things in life include music, dance, nature, love, and the little things that bring true joy. She would like to inspire others in a yet-to-be-discovered way.

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