Katerina Vignau: Miami as Text 2022

Katerina Vignau is an Honors college student at FIU, majoring in Natural and Applied Science with a minor in Business. Katerina is hoping to move on to become a Physician’s Assistant. She is currently learning sign language and enjoying her last year at FIU. She loves to spend time with her family, God, and her church family.

She looks forward to experiencing Italy and taking full advantage of whatever adventures she encounters along the way.

“Who Preserves History” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Deering Estate

The Deering Estate has three stories.

One of the rich landowner, Charles Deering, who lived in opulence, comfort, and abundance.

One of the Bahamians that built his Richmond Cottage and Stone House.

And one was that of the Tequesta that originally inhabited the land.

One fact that caught my attention was how the Tequesta had left their marks in the forms of burial grounds and shell tools, yet large parts of who they were had disappeared.  For some reason, there is no historical record of their language or any images of them.

Who decides whose history is important enough to preserve?

Fortunately, Charles Deering didn’t ruin the Tequesta burial mounds.  But that’s the point. Deering was the man who was able to decide how much of the history on his land he wanted to preserve.  It’s interesting how it is up to the people of influence whose legacy lives on.  The rich have the choice to make something that stands the test of time.  The Deering Estate is a testament to how people of influence can choose if and how their story is told.

To this day you can see his Stone Cottage, fortified by cement laid down by tons of Bahamian men.  He made his house, and therefore his name and story secure. 

Now, I’m not sure the exact reason why the Tequesta don’t have any records of their language or of their faces.  But, I can’t help but wonder how much influence other men had on this. 

Was it because people didn’t care enough to preserve their culture?

Thinking about erased histories, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other groups of people have been erased with time intentionally.

Tequesta tools and Deering Estate Cottage. Photos by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

Vizcaya as Text

“Nothing’s Original” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Vizcaya

It seems that every few years, the old fashion trends come back.  Today, you can see girls wearing scrunchies or converse from the ’80s.  Items that were once considered trendy are now fashionable again.

There are two ways to look at using ideas from the past.  Either they are stolen and unoriginal, or simply took inspiration from the past to make something new.

James Deering was no stranger to this idea.

He saw the beauty of Europe (specifically Spain and Italy) and strived to make his own “Vizcaya” in the United States.

His house is scattered with inspiration from Italy.  Oftentimes he would just buy the already-made Italian products and just install it into his house.  He transported Italian paintings, ceilings, and even a village’s fountain from Italy. 

However, he did have original artwork made for his house as well.  But, the originality of these is also in question since they were either based off of famous European art or European art styles.

His home made me think about how often people adopt each other’s ideas.  I couldn’t help but think about how intriguing and revolutionary it would have been if he used his resources and architects to make completely original work that wasn’t a knock-off of what he’d seen abroad.

Then, I thought about the fact that most things we believe to be original are often inspired by things that already exist either in art or in nature.

Are there any truly unique ideas?

It seems that there truly is nothing new under the sun.

Fountain bought from an Italian village. Photo by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

Downtown As Text

“Hidden in Plain Sight” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Downtown Miami

Most of the students in my class are Miami natives and yet so much of the Downtown Miami walk lecture was brand new for them.  As a fellow Miami native, I was astounded by how much of Miami’s history was still available to be explored.  I always thought that Downtown Miami would be so developed that there wouldn’t be any historical centers left.  Though that was true for the Tequesta burial site that now has a Whole Foods over it, I was surprised to see many sites still in tact and on display.  Places like the Wagner Homestead, Fort Dallas, and Fort Dallas Park were all in plain view yet often overlooked.  The Fort Dallas park can easily be seen as old and run-down buildings that are yet to be torn down and developed into something new and useful.

            These pieces of history are nestled in corners surrounded by modern buildings.  Most people would walk right past it on the way to their jobs and may not realize that they have any significance at all. 

            Miami’s kilometer zero is another example.  There are no signs to indicate the spot is unusual or noteworthy. Yet, that is the spot that divides Miami into quadrants of southwest, northwest, northeast, and southeast.

            The Miami Circle looks like nice landscaping that people even have let their dogs go to the bathroom on.  But taking a closer look, you’d realize that it is a sacred spot that was formerly a Tequesta midden.

            It’s extraordinary how much of my hometown’s history is hidden in plain sight, ready to be discovered and appreciated.

Fort Dallas, Miami Circle, Wagner Homestead, Fort Dallas Park-Photos by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

South Beach as Text

“In Pursuit of Individuality” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at South Beach

Both the United States and more specifically Miami have a culture of individuality. They strive to stand out and be original.  This is evident throughout the South Beach scene.

As you walk along the buildings at South Beach, you encounter unique architecture that is seen nowhere else in the world.  The art deco style that originated in France is its predominant inspiration.  The Miamians created their own style- MiMo (or Miami Modern) from Art deco inspiration.  It is characterized by colorful paint and neon signs.  The buildings have “eyebrows” that stick out from the sides of the buildings, ziggurat-shaped tops, curved edges, relief art, glass bricks, porthole windows, and decks that look like they belong on a ship.  The colors and vibrancy pop out at you.  It is a street that demands to be seen. 

Barbara Baer Capitman was a leader in preserving the look of the street in Miami.  She recognized, early on, that the strip is what makes Miami special.  Little did she know it would be an iconic part of Miami.  It is what many foreigners think of when they think about Miami.  It became one of the city’s biggest attractions.  Not to mention, Barbara Capitman herself was unique and revolutionary for striving to protect the MiMo architecture when people desired to break down the buildings for high-rises.

Then there is a building that seems like it doesn’t belong there.  The Versace home has terracotta roof tiles and an older style.  He is an icon of individuality.  He paved his own way in the fashion industry with new styles and was one of the first notable people to find South Beach alluring.

Lastly, the Betsy Orb.  This ridiculously large sphere defies gravity, seemingly lodged between two buildings.  Its main purpose- is to make something distinctive and jarring. 

Miami continues to push creative limits and strives for originality.  Time will tell which new visionaries will make Miami more extraordinary.

Typical Art Deco style, Barbara Baer Capitman memorial, Versace Mansion, Betsy Orb- Photo by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

Katerina Vignau: Italia America 2022

Italy’s Influence on Modern America’s Family Structure


            The Italians of the Renaissance were the predecessors for many of the cultural roles and expectations of families in the United States today.  The proliferation of Christianity from Italy to Europe lead to the influence of Christian ideals to the Americas which still evident in modern society and family structure.


            Italian kids in the Renaissance already had expectations to start working from the age of 13 to 16.  Most of their wages would be earned while they were young.  This did not mean complete independence, however.  Often, they would work and then come home for meals.  Though it would often be easier for the kids to follow their fathers and work under them as apprentices, they wouldn’t always work in their father’s trade.  Only about 2 out of 8 took up their father’s trade.  By the age of around 17, it was already expected for sons to contribute to living expenses.   Sons would need to take care of their other siblings while still under legal obligation of their father.  They were expected to use their fathers as role models from a young age for the proper way to behave.  This mimicry was to extend from their posture to their manners (Cavallo).


            The treatment of children began to change with the introduction of the Catholic church and Christianity into America.  Through the creation of Jesuit schools, orphanages, and other organizations established by the Catholic church, children were given more opportunities.  Laymen were given education and value from a younger age.  The first Jesuit school was established in Italy in 1548 and began the spread of churches and outreach programs everywhere that allowed for more widespread education of people in different classes.  This education allowed for the movement between social classes like never before (“Education”).


            While knowledge of fathers is somewhat limited in the Renaissance period, some details and records can reveal how cultural norms, religion, and laws reflected the relationship between the father and their children.  Discussed below will be the ideal relationships and what was the reality for many relationships. 

            In the Renaissance era, there were legal requirements for the rights of the property of the family.  Until legally emancipated, the fathers owned all the earnings and property of their sons.  This law stayed viable even while the sons were married and became null only when the father passed away.  The sons often showed reasons for emancipation like how they had helped their father for an extensive number of years, that they now had their own families they needed to support, or the fact that they were estranged from their fathers for an extended period of time (Cavallo).  During the Renaissance, a term called Patria Potesta was an idea that revealed part of the Roman culture.  Patria Potesta was the power of the head of the household over his family’s private rights and duties (“Merriam-Webster Dictionary”).  This idea may at first seem like the ideal position.  They had control of their kid’s properties and were able to discipline their family the way they saw fit.   However, the title often came with other insurmountable expectations and duties that were less than ideal.  These fathers were given a large responsibility for what their families did.  They were judged for not leading their family well if any of their children were immoral or unsuccessful.  Oftentimes, the fathers couldn’t meet the role of a provider if they were in the lower or middle class which led to shame and disrespect from their sons (Cavallo).


            The ideal father figure in this era was delineated by the church and often in literature the father’s relationship was revered and praised.  The Renaissance was a time of exploration, invention, and art that converged with the ideas of Catholicism.  The Roman Catholic church had immense influence over the people and culture.  In the Bible, it states in 1 Timothy 5:8 that “if [a father] does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he had denied the faith (American Bible Society).”  It also mentions that the man is the head of the household and that he must manage his household in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (American Bible Society).  Alternatively, it delineates the roles of the children when it says that they should honor their father and mother.  This religious influence on the culture presented itself in the laws of the time.  There were also other characteristics of ideal fathers that don’t seem to have explicitly come from religion. For example, ideal fathers would help sons establish their careers and provide for their families (Cavallo).

            There was a romanticized idea of the father and son relationship in the rhetoric of the time stating it as the “greatest love there is (Cavallo).”  Ideally, they believed that if they stayed within their roles, there should be a relational closeness.  They believed there was something unique about the father-son relationship that was obviously not always true for all families of the time. 

            This was especially true when there was a financial strain in the family.  This meant that the fathers felt like they couldn’t provide for their families comfortably and their sons needed to help support them, there was an unbalance in the power.  The role of the father was effectively shared in these cases by the father and son (Cavallo). 

            The percentage of emancipations that were sought after depended on the class of the family.  There was often more reliance on the sons to help support the fathers as they got older in the lower strata families.  This put a strain on the relationship because the sons would feel as if the fathers were not doing their part for the family and not fulfilling their duty as the patriarch.  Therefore, this often-led sons to be the ones to ask for legal emancipation of the ownership of all their belongings and earnings to their fathers.  They would still, however, often come to contractual agreements where they would still give their fathers resources even though they were emancipated.  Therefore, just putting a limit on how much of their resources the father could tap into (Cavallo).

            In contrast, the upper-class families would have the reverse situation.  Usually, it was the father who would ask for financial emancipation from the sons.  This is because it was customary for the married son to live with his father.  When the son would get into debt or must pay a dowry, the father would need to help pay for it so it was beneficial for them to have their sons emancipated (Cavallo). 


            America has adopted the idea of a patriarch from Europe and Italy in many ways.  Many Americans still expect the father to be the main provider for their family.  Even if the mother or wife works, there is still this lasting idea of the man being the main provider.  This is apparent through the fact that many women prefer men who have stable jobs or are working towards careers.  While in turn, the men focus less on choosing spouses who work or make a lot of money.  Additionally, there are very few stay-at-home dads in the United States.  There however seems to be a shift in the culture from their Italian cultural roots.  More women are working and desire to be more team partners in the caring for the household and children.

            As mentioned earlier, the role of the father was often a burdensome one.  This was especially the case if they couldn’t support their family and sons the way that was expected.  This happens in America today.  According to the U.S. census, about 20.2% of fathers, or approximately 7 million fathers in America are absent fathers (Bureau).  While there may be a variety of reasons for this, it seems that for whatever reason, they are not able to be the providers of their households.  The burdens of fatherhood may have been too difficult.  There is definitely a negative stigma towards fathers who are not participating and/or financially supporting their children.  There was a similar shame in Italy.  For fathers of lower classes who couldn’t give their sons money or tools for their careers, they would give them a negligible amount of money to fulfill the tradition.  This amount would sometimes be so little, that it was mostly just for appearances (Cavallo). 

            Similar to the Italians, the role of the father figure is romanticized and revered.  The importance of present fathers has been highlighted in the recent past.  People believe both girls and boys alike need a father who is present, loving, and dedicated.  A father who will show compassion but also discipline with love and the intention of molding his children.  Additionally, this picture of an ideal father relationship is the father being proud of their children.  Though this may vary, it seems that older American generations feel that their children are a reflection of themselves.  Even while their son is an adult, they may feel like they should control their actions or at least control the narrative of what is being said of their sons. This was the same in Italy. Italians father’s public image would often be contingent on that of their sons and children (Cavallo). 

The separation from the children and parents is an idea that was not fully encouraged in Italy as it is in America.  Today, children use similar justifications for leaving their families as many Italian sons did.  Once they want to be married or start their own new family unit, they tend to move out.  Perhaps the discontentment of Italian sons in their households affected the attitudes of the United States’ young adults.  In Italy, the emancipation of the sons would largely be sought after. Often in traditional American culture, it is the parents who push for their adult children to become financially independent to move out of the house once they become adults. The Italian concept of having their sons living with them their whole lives is definitely not an American ideal.

 Leaving and cleaving is a biblical concept so it’s interesting the focus on different scriptures of the same Bible in the Italian Renaissance and modern America.  Italians focused on the verses about the men being providers for their household and it seems America focused more on the verse in Genesis 2:24 that says that once the man and woman get married, they are to leave their respective households (American Bible Society). 


            Italian mothers in the Renaissance had a contrasting role to the father.  Her job for her sons was to teach them speech when they were infants and simple religious concepts of faith and prayer.  But society thought it best for young boys to quickly be taken under their father’s wings.  This was due to the perception that mothers would be too soft and gentle while raising the boys.  This was said to introduce the idea of masculinity to boys at a young age (Cavallo). 


            The stereotype of women being more nurturing and the patient was endured since the Renaissance.  Even though mothers may not have the same expectations to be the around-the-clock caretakers of their children as they once were, the role of the primary caretaker still tends to fall on the mothers in America.  Even if both parents work, the mother is still usually the one that leaves work to take her children to doctor’s appointments or pick them up when there is an emergency.  They’ll often be the ones to pack the lunches and are still expected to do most of the housekeeping.  There is a lingering expectation for mothers to keep most of their household and child-care responsibilities even though they are now adopting the father’s financial provider role.   They are often seen juggling both the job of a breadwinner and maintainer of the household.


            The information presented revealed the importance of religion and social norms in shaping the everyday lives of future generations.  We still have remnants of people’s culture from hundreds of years before.  The impact of Italians from years ago are still felt today in America. The importance of having different roles in society was detailed.  Additionally, how individuals who cannot meet the cultural duties of the era, feel shame.  This shame now can lead to men giving up on families altogether.  The impact and emphasis on certain duties of people in the society can have profound and permanent effects on individual families.  If there was more understanding and room for variances in the roles, maybe that would lead to less guilt for not meeting those standards.  This and in turn, may lead to less shame and more present fathers and mothers.  Hopefully, we are working towards more peace in the American home and more unified family unity.


Works Cited

American Bible Society. Holy Bible : Containing the Old and New Testaments : King James Version. New York, American Bible Society, 2019.

Bureau, US Census. ““Solo” Dads and “Absent” Dads Not as Different as They Seem.” Census.gov, http://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/11/the-two-extremes-of-fatherhood.html#:~:text=Less%20than%206.0%25%20%28about%202%20million%29%20of%20all.

Cavallo, Sandra. “Fatherhood and the Non-Propertied Classes in Renaissance and Early Modern Italian Towns.” The History of the Family, vol. 17, no. 3, Aug. 2012, pp. 309–325, 10.1080/1081602x.2012.658261. Accessed 16 Feb. 2021.

“Education.” Jesuits.org, http://www.jesuits.org/our-work/education/.

“Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster.com, 2022, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/patria%20potestas. Accessed 25 Apr. 2022.


Katerina Vignau: Grand Tour 2022

Italia Grand Tour- “Mosaic”

Broken pieces.

Made for a purpose.

Made for art.

Made for a masterpiece.

As we embarked on the Italia Grand Tour, I had no expectations.  Little did I know, there was so much to learn and experience.  This Grand Tour Reflection will focus on the different regions of Italy that my group visited.  This is an amalgam of several pieces of my Grand Tour through Italy.  I titled this piece “Mosaic” because it’s a collection of pieces that, when put together, make the masterpiece that was my trip.  The name was inspired by all the beautiful mosaics we encountered in the churches across Italy.

Pantheon in Rome

Before coming to the Pantheon I only had name-recognition of the place.  I knew it was a tourist site and one of Italy’s largest attractions but didn’t have an actual idea of what it would look or feel like.  

The Pantheon is a massive structure that was made for theworship of the Roman gods and then later was repurposed as a Catholic church.  Walking into it, your eye is drawn upwards right away.  My jaw dropped as I peered through the oculus that loomed high above my head.  What makes the Pantheon such an architectural feat is the height and width of the expansive dome.  For that reason, it was revolutionary for the time.  For hundreds of years afterwards, people tried to accomplish a dome with dimensions that large but were unsuccessful due to the fact thatthey had forgotten the Roman recipe for concrete. To achieve adome that size that wouldn’t collapse, the Romans adjusted the weight of the concrete.  They made the dome’s top gradually lighter than its base (Muench).  The Pantheon is also important because it the oldest standing Roman building (Muench). Because it stayed intact (except for the bronze on the roof), it gave people an idea of how Roman buildings actually looked like and therefore the magnificence of their Empire.

Thankfully, because we saw the Pantheon near the beginning of the trip, I had time to reflect on it throughout the Grand Tour.  The image of its ceilings were imprinted in my head and Italy wouldn’t let the image get erased from my head.  The visual of the Pantheon kept showing up.  Everywhere I went around Italy,I couldn’t get away from the influence of the Pantheon.  Almost every church or museum, had the same design as the Pantheon on its ceilings.  Sometimes they would mimic it exactly and other times they would vary it slightly.  Artists would even paint the illusion of Pantheon ceiling design instead of making itthree-dimensional like it was on the original.  

I loved being able to make connections with what I had already seen but I always thought that it would be better to make seeoriginal designs.  That’s probably American’s influence on my thinking.  Americans are always encouraged to be individualsand innovators.  But then I realized that this mimicry is just a reflection on how important and amazing the Pantheon was toItalians.  It makes sense that one of their oldest standing pieces of history would inspire Italians artists across time.  

San Lorenzo in Florence

Speaking of a churches with coffered vault ceilings inspired by the Pantheon, the Basilica di San Lorenzo of the San Lorenzo area is a prime example.  The San Lorenzo area’s most noteworthy site is the Basilica di San Lorenzo.  This church is near the center of the area and was made by some of the most renowned artists.  The two most notable were Filippo Brunelleschi and Michelangelo.  The Medici family commissioned the making of this church for the predominant reason that they wanted their own private chapel to have and to be buried in.

The church is unlike other churches because of all the marble.  All sides are covered with beautiful and colorful inlaid marble. This church felt like it was made for nothing more than just showing off the just showing off the Medici’ opulence and wealth.  Even their church felt like a manipulation and power move.  

The Medici family were more than just opportunists.  They climbed and pushed their way to the top.  At the time, nobility was a very small portion of the population and you were born into it. The Medici were a notable family but were not technically royal or with real legislative power for a few years.  They started as doctors and bankers.  Doing different businesses, they accumulated wealth and a strong name but had yet to achieve the official status.  Eventually, they achieved it by marrying two of their daughters into royalty.  They also find their way into papacy which in many ways is as high as royalty in influence.  

Nothing the Medici achieved was by chance.  They fought their way to power and fought to maintain it.  Now, although they had many questionable tactics, they were anything but passive. Sometimes I find it difficult to see historical figures as human beings.  And I think the Medici would have preferred to be seen more like figures that are divinely and perfected placed into their positions of power, detached from the rest of humanity but, they really slipped up.  Their flawed humanity is blazing apparent.  

They were corrupt and would climb over people and protocol to get to where they wanted to be.

You need look no further than their association with the antipope, John Paul XXIII.  This pirate-turned-pope becomes cardinal with no religious studies background and Cosimo Medici makes him Pope so the Medici can take control of the church money accounts.  Pope John Paul XXIII turns out to be one of the most infamously corrupt popes in history.  But instead of denouncing him, they give him a church and give a respectable burial ground to prove to the citizens that it was divine for the Medici banks to have control of the papal accounts.

It’s obvious how corrupt they were and their façade started to be uncovered.  They became hated by a lot of the people.  So much so that people tried to kill them in the Pazzi Conspiracy.  It’s not hard to see why they would start to become unpopular.  Yet, they fueled the Renaissance and changed history.  I believe in moral integrity but there these are people.  They’re existence is not fully good or fully bad.  We can’t categorize like characters from a little kid’s fairytale.  It’s not easy to fully support the Medici family but then would we have all the wonderful art and architecture they funded without their unethical behavior?  I believe we can resolve to appreciate the art and industry they left behind while still acknowledging their broken humanity.

Manarola in Cinque Terre

Crystal clear coasts, waves lapping and undulating, tourists rushing past.   That’s what welcomes you as you enter Cinque Terre’s Manarola.  

Although Manarola is beautiful on its own, I believe Manarola is even more beautiful after doing the 2 hour trek from the previous island.  For me, Manarola represented a much needed break and a source of fresh water.  

Although the hike to Manarola was the most rigorous, it was also the most rewarding.  The hike was the means to allow you to go through quaint towns in the mountains, vineyards and picturesque nature spots.  Without it, you wouldn’t haveexperienced the several different bird’s eye views of Manarolaand experienced the hike with people from all over the world.  

I wonder how the original Grand Tour adventurers thought of the hike and Manarola.  They must have also seen Manarola as a very welcome sight after the long hike.

Manarola was also a place for spiritual rest.  The Church of San Lorenzo in Manarola is one of beautiful simplicity.  Though still having areas of art and lavishness, the church presents a mostly white interior and exterior.  Unlike many of the churches that we visited, it wasn’t difficult to focus on a few things.  The church wasn’t overwhelming with visual stimulation.  For me, and maybe for others on the pilgrimage, it was a welcome contrast to the busyness of the cities beforehand and to the beautiful sights of Cinque Terre.

Cannaregio (Jewish ghetto) in Venice

When I first came to Venice, it felt extremely cramped.  There was barely any space in a walkway for two people to walk past each other.  Part of this feeling may have been aggravated by the fact that I was lugging around two big book bags and it was raining so people were holding umbrellas and rushing past.  Even though there were piazzas every once and awhile, it didn’t feel enough for me to feel like I could breathe.  Venice seemed crowded with tourists and dead ends.  

Thus, Venice was ranking really low on my list of my Italian city rankings.

This changed on the very last night of our stay in Venice.  We decided to check out our neighborhood, Cannaregio.  As you walk over what used to be the main canal of Venice, intoCannaregio, the city opens up to you.  The streets and canals are several times wider.  While still touristy, I could see the appeal of actually living in Venice.  The moon reflected the water as you could meander through the streets comfortably with friends or family which is probably part of the reason Cannaregio is more residential. There were several restaurants with pleasant outdoor seating.  International influence was shown through theItalian fusion outdoor restaurants.

Though Cannaregio was beautiful, it also has a dark past.  This area is home to the oldest Jewish Ghetto (“City Walk: Jewish Ghetto Tour, Venice, Italy”).  They would force all the Jewish Venetians into this corner of the city.  The Jews there were subject to curfews and loss of freedoms. Venice had strict rules.  Jews always had to wear a yellow cap and couldn’t be out at night.  The only professions they were allowed to do was doctors and usurers

(“Walking through the Sestiere Di Cannaregio…”).  To this day, you can still visit the gateway that would be closed at night.  When we heard of this gateway we thought it would be something eye-catching because it was so significant to the history of these people.  But, the entrance wasn’t noteworthy at all which shows how little they cared about the Jews. If you weren’t looking for it, you would walk right past the small entrance.  The gateway was a glorified hallway which seemed to be a side-note used for practicality and nothing more. 

Coincidently, right next to the gateway we spotted a small Kosher restaurant full with a group of Jewish men and boys singing.  The melody was beautiful and it felt like God was giving us the perfect background movie score as we entered into the Jewish confines.

On the other side of the gateway, we met the first piazza of the Old Ghetto.  At night, it felt like the Ghetto itself was mourning. It was eerie.  The place felt dark, but not only because it was minimally lit.  Across from the gate, on the other side of the piazza, was a Holocaust cemetery and memorial for all the Venetian Jews who were never able to return alive.  The list of names on the wall was extensive and heartbreaking.  Right beside it, we happened upon an Orthodox Jew praying aloud next to the memorial.  You could feel the weight of what had happened there.  The place demanded space in your thoughts and prayers.  There wasn’t anyone near us but we felt the need to stay silent.

I left feeling pensive and as though I had truly connected to a piece of history and to Venice on that last night.

Photo taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0


There was so much more to learn from every city I visited.  Much like how you realize different things when you reread a book, I know that revisiting the cities I went to would teach me entirely new things.  For the stage I’m in right now, it taught me to be open to new opportunities, that I can do difficult tasks, and that I can be more courageous moving forward.  I’m grateful for every single piece of my mosaic.

A presto Italia!/ See you soon, Italy!

Works Cited

“City Walk: Jewish Ghetto Tour, Venice, Italy.” GPSmyCity, www.gpsmycity.com/tours/jewish-ghetto-tour-1956.html. Accessed 14 June 2022.

Muenchen, Stephen T. “Construction and Behavior of the Pantheon.” Brewminate.com, 23 Jan. 2018, brewminate.com/construction-and-behavior-of-the-pantheon/.

“Walking through the Sestiere Di Cannaregio: Discovering the Most Authentic Venice | Visitvenezia.eu.” https://Www.visitvenezia.eu/En/Venetianity/Walk-Venice/Walking-Through-The-Sestiere-Di-Cannaregio-Discovering-The-Most-Authentic-Venice, http://www.visitvenezia.eu/en/venetianity/walk-venice/walking-through-the-sestiere-di-cannaregio-discovering-the-most-authentic-venice. Accessed 14 June 2022.

Katerina Vignau: Italia as Text 2022

Roma as Text

“The Realities of Christian Persecution,” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Rome on May 17, 2022

As we slowly uncovered the history of Ancient Rome on our Grand Tour, we learned of the beauty and gruesomeness of humanity represented in the Roman remnants.  There are awe-inspiring feats of architecture, technology, art and ingenuity revealed in structures such as the aquaducts, Colosseum, and Pantheon.  

But we saw the bad with the good. The Romans would be cruel to the treacherous to the state regardless of their kinship and would relish in the gory murders of citizens in the arenas.  Thousands of people would die horrific deaths and the people would be celebrating and snacking, waiting for the next atrocity to stimulate them.

Along with that, there was the persecution of Christians.

This however may be more morally complex than originally considered.  We see things through the western-Christian worldview.  As a Christian myself, I had never been taught about the Roman perspective or the specifics of the persecution of other Christians other than the disciples. 

The Romans had opened their country up to immigrants of any culture or country.  Anyone could become a Roman citizen.  They believed it would make their empire stronger.  However, it was under the one condition that people must adopt their laws and gods.  Obviously, being a monotheistic culture, the Christians resisted worshiping other gods and would only obey the Romans up to the extent that it didn’t go against their God or their Bible.  This posed a problem for the Romans and they felt it as a threat to their control over the people. 

Now, their methods may have been extremely harsh, but it wasn’t personal.  They would have dealt with any other threat just as ruthlessly.  When you see it that way, it seems the Romans were more reasonable than originally imagined.

Additionally, I mostly learned of the Christian persecution as represented in the Bible. Persecution in the Bible is addressed but doesn’t express the complete picture of how Christian’s were treated by the Romans.  Paul writes to churches everywhere about the persecution he has gone through (he writes many of his letters from jail).  He writes to Christians that are struggling and encourages them to have hope and joy in the trials because they have Jesus and Heaven at the finish line.  The Bible also details what happens to the disciples in the book of Acts after Jesus leaves them.  They were chased and crucified by the Romans but their convictions were so strong and their love for others so expansive that they continued to share the Gospel to people up until the point they became martyrs. 

As we toured Rome, the once conceptual and general idea of Christian persecution became a tangible reality.  

We biked through the Roman road lined with hundreds of trees that hung Christian martyrs on crosses.

We walked through the catacombs and learned of the Popes and Christian martyrs that died in awful ways.  Or how early Christians ran to the catacombs for temporary shelter from the Roman soldiers.

I was struck with encouragement as our Christian tour guide, Eric, explained that he felt the examples of Christian persecution in the catacombs made him feel empowered to persevere through any he might face. 

I felt grateful for the Christians that stood before me and for my country that allows me to love my God openly.

Photograph taken by Katerina Vignau / CC by 4.0

Pompeii as Text

“Roman Politics- Thing of the Past?” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Pompeii on May 14, 2022

Romans were politically advanced.  The idea of a Republic was a Roman idea that the United States adopted today.  They believed in the sharing of power to keep order and prevent dictators that would abuse the people.  They did this to avoid corruption. 

They had a strong allegiance to their state.  So much so that they would kill their sons or their dogs if they felt that they had been treacherous.  Treachery was one of the biggest sins in their eyes.  The U.S. may not have been so aggressive with this ideal but allegiance and pride in the country is definitely a prominent part of our culture that we learned from the Romans.

However, even the Romans weren’t above corruption and manipulation of the people.  They built the Colosseum to entertain people and distract them enough to keep them content with their political leader.  The United States are masters at misdirection.  The news and politicians will find any way to distract its citizens to whichever topic they please. 

In Pompeii, one of the signs of this in the Temple of Apollo by one of the leaders in Rome.  It was basically a sign to ensure that the citizens that went into the temple to worship would know that it was him who gave it to them.  This was, in essence, political propaganda.  He knew how to keep the people pleased.  It’s a similar idea with our presidents.  Even if they don’t practice religion, they claim to be church-going Christians and take videos of them in church that they distribute right before election season.  They know that if people believe that God (or the gods in the Roman’s case) are pleased with their ruler. 

When we moved on towards one of the most opulent houses in Pompeii, we were met with a self-portrait of the owner of the house.  He wore white robes that represented candor or trustworthiness.  He would allow people to visit his home and see him as a trusted and open person.  All to convince the people to elect him into a government position.  The candidates for the United States President all wear suits and shake hands with respectable people.  They wear colors like white, blue, and red to show their patriotism.

Similar to Romans, only the wealthy had a real opportunity to become representatives.  They needed houses to invite the masses to.  They needed seamstresses for their stately attire.  Presidents of the United States need money to run and campaign.  The most recent ones have all been educated which means that they had to have had enough money to study and not work right away.

Romans have pioneered the way for our modern American system and continues to leave its mark in the everyday happenings and political schemes of today.

Photograph taken and edited by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

Assisi as Text

”The Makings of a Legend” by Katerina at FIU at Assisi on May 20,2022

A lot of Italian culture and lore seems to be exaggerated and hyperbolized over the years.  The she-wolf lf who raised Remus and Romulus for example.  It seems larger than life.  Similarly, sometimes real people become legends in their own right.

But what makes people become legendary?

It seems that one requirement is being influential in their lifetime or doing something revolutionary or unique because not all legends get recognized in their lifetime.  As with many artists, legends often only gain notability once they have passed away.

I believe legends come from leaders.

San Francesco is a prime example of this.

From an early age, Francesco was a very giving man and had a heart for the poor.  He’s recorded to have given all the money in his pockets to a poor man regardless of the chastisement he received from his father.  He cared more for people than he did about worldly pleasures or punishments.  Trading his life of comfort and luxury for a simple life of rags and service.  That is a revolutionary mindset.  It’s not in our human nature to be so sacrificial.

As Catholics believe, San Francesco was a man who was chosen by God to change the church, and he did.  San Francesco started gaining a following but was not recognized officially by the church right away.  This was probably due to the fact that he pushed for reform of the church that was too rich and decadent and not giving enough.  For San Francesco, this was a wide deviance from what he believed Jesus wanted for Christians.  The wealthy leaders of the church wouldn’t benefit from this movement so there may have been some resistance.  However, the Franciscan order grew quickly.  Finally, after both Francis and Pope Innocent dreamed that Francesco was holding up a broken church, the Catholic Church officially recognized his movement.  For them, the dreams meant that Francesco would help fix the church.  His influence proved Francisco as a leader early on.

But there is more that influenced Francis’ rise to legend.

Francesco had a quite symbolic and shocking way of showing his dedication. He ripped off his clothes in public as he renounced his old life and claimed God as his only Father.  Showing that he was quite literally willing to take the clothes off his back for others.

Furthermore, Francesco was one of the first to give all of God’s creations importance by preaching to them.  He established a new order in the church and created a following that still exists today.  Franciscan monks and the Ciara nuns that stemmed from his establishment are still proliferate today (we actually had the privilege of getting to know some of them on our trip to Assisi.) 

Perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in his life was Francesco’s stigmata.  A stigmata is a state in which a person becomes so connected with Christ, they adopt the wounds of Jesus.  This supernatural and miraculous death lead to Francesco being named a Saint soon after his death.

There could have been so many factors that lead to his renown today.  The unusually self-less way he lived, the special communication he had with God, or even the fact that he was publicly recognized by the Pope.  Perhaps without the Pope’s recognition, his following may not have been as heavily remembered.  He probably would not have had a church in his honor the way he does now.  

I think we can learn from Saint Francis.  Maybe we should be less fearful of doing what looks odd or uncomfortable.  Fearing people is not what we’re here to do.  Nothing gets done that way.  No one started a revolution, movement, or reformation by asking for everyone’s approval.  Icons follow their convictions and are recognized for it.  Leaders become legends with conviction and action.

Photograph taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0

Siena As Text

”Living Intentionally” by Katerina at FIU at Siena on May 27, 2022

Studying abroad has taught me to appreciate the moment I’m in.  As you go through the trip, you start to realize that you will never have a trip like this again with the same people.  This trip is fleeting just like every other season in life.  Many of the artists from the churches had much more life experience than I do, realized this.  They knew that they needed to focus on what God has for them to make life meaningful.  The cappuccinos made art made of their bones to remind people that time is limited, death is a part of life, and to take your relationship with God seriously.

Siena was a beautiful city that seemed to be streets teeming with commercialism and chain stores but then in a sharp juxtaposition, had medieval churches.  In the middle of the Opera Della Metropolitana’s floor, there was a piece made of in-laid stone showing the progression of wisdom people go through in life.  First, you accumulate money, and grow in wealth.  Once you have reached the height of riches and luxuries, you realize that money is meaningless.  You reject your wealth, when you reach the peak of wisdom.  This artist realized that striving for money is worthless.

In the Medici Chapel, Michaelangelo made sculptures called Dusk, Dawn, Night and Day.  They all had downcast expressions on their faces. While Michaelangelo made them, he was going through a dark time where he felt that everything he had done was meaningless.  His strivings in art suddenly didn’t feel as important anymore near the end of his life.  When he realized this, he became more devout and started to focus more on God.

So much of the churches we saw are trying to point you up to the heavens and to what really matters.  One day, we’ll hopefully realize that so much of our striving is not as important as we think it is.  This may seem like a depressing or unsettling thought for someone but it’s a comforting one for me because it reminds me to live with my priorities in the right place so that  I don’t squander my life.  I aim to live my life intentionally, so that I won’t live life with regrets.   

Picture taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0

Firenze as Text

“Connection through Relics” by Katerina Vignau at FIU at Firenze May 28,2022

Firenze as Text 

Connection through Relics

So many churches keep records through relics.  Catholics will often hold objects from important parts of their history in the center of their churches.  They keep them on display and protect and decorate them with ornate cases.  People from across the world go on pilgrimages, traveling extremely far distances to witness the real relics in-person. 

These momentos vary from body parts to man-made items.  I continued to see them in almost every Catholic Church we visited.  Pieces of the cross, a saint’s head, or piece of Saint Catherine’s finger. They had the Pope’s staff or their entire body.

To Catholics, there is power in being close to these objects.  The holiness of these relics are deemed so influential that they can help people get into heaven simply by being buried close to them. 

For them, these relics are much more than interesting.  These relics have power and meaning.  It gives Catholics a tangible item to see and hold and interact with.  It’s similar to why people like to keep items from their loved ones who have passed away.  Relics give Catholics a way to connect with the Saints and their God, whom they care so deeply about.  They become less of these medieval figurative ideas and more humans.

I felt like Saint Catherine was looking right at me while I was looking at her preserved head.  She became more than just a story about a person and more of a living and breathing human being right in front of me.

This part of Catholic culture was a new experience for me.  I didn’t know that so many churches had these or how important it was for them.  And the idea of preserving pieces of their bodies was jarring and confusing for me but as I saw Catholics interacting with them and I saw them myself, I began to realize why they use them.

It preserves part of their history and takes the ideas of these people and makes them feel real and relevant today.

Cinque Terre as Text

“People Reflected in Traditions” by Katerina at FIU at Cinque Terre on June 1, 2022

Cinque Terre is a collection of five towns that sit beside each other.  They all have their unique environments and cultures but all have preserved a lot of their small town tendencies despite being very commercialized.  When most people think about Cinque Terre they think about fresh sea food, lemons, the hikesand of course the gorgeous beaches and mountains.

What they often forget to mention is its rich culture and traditions.

The people of Cinque Terre have pilgrims across the world that come to walk the Cinque Terre trail and visit the chapels along the way.  

Interestingly, there are also a lot of traditional celebrations that prove Cinque Terre is much more than a beach vacation spot. 

Manarola has a nativity scene made of thousands of lights. Vernazza has an underwater Jesus birth. Monterrosso, famous for their lemons, has a lemon festival.

Then, there is a race that includes all the towns, in Spring, where they race in honor of the Sciacchetra wine.

There’s a Christ Feast, a San Giovanni Feast, and a Saint Peter’s and Paul’s Feast. All with their own specific traditions and foods served on those days. 

And of course there are two anchovy festival because this is the world renowned seafood hub.  One is a fried anchovy festival and the other is a salted anchovy festival.  Monterrosso hosts both these fishy festivals with vendors and tastings all over town(Festivals and Feasts in the Cinque Terre, between Religion and Tradition).

As shown above, Cinque Terre has holidays that would put American’s Fourth of July fireworks celebrations to shame.  These holidays give you insight into who the Italians of that region are.  The abundance of religious holidays show the importance of Catholicism.  The festivals surrounding food show their pride and culinary ingenuity with their local foods.  The racing shows their competitive spirit.  And lastly all their celebrations show how much Italians like to enjoy life and celebrate with one another.

Works Cited

“Festivals and Feasts in the Cinque Terre, between Religion and Tradition.” Visit Cinque Terre, 12 June 2020, www.visitcinqueterre.eu/en/2020/06/12/feste-cinque-terre/. Accessed 3 June 2022.

Picture taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0

Venezia as Text

“La Dominante e La Serenissima” by Katerina at FIU at Venezia on June 4, 2022

Venezia has two names: La Dominante and La Serenissima(Venezia: La Serenissima, la Dominante). These directly translate to The Dominant and The Most Serene.  Venezianeeded one title to earn the other.  Similar to the Pax Romana, peace was achieved by becoming the most dominant military force in the region.  The people who later became Venetianswere being plumaged continuously by barbarians on the mainland.  When they realized they could escape their tormentors by building in the ocean, the city-state of Venezia was born and achieved peace.

Venezia became a refuge.  And when if the city was ever underthreat by pirates or different naval powers, Venice would protect their peace.   Venice’s unmatched naval strategy, technology and force was what allowed them to establish peace for so many years.

Venice’s history shows that peace is something that needs to be fought for.

“Peace be with you, Mark my evangelist. Here [in Venezia] will be your resting place.”  An angel said this to Mark as he travelled over the Venetian Lagoon.  And in keeping with Venetian tradition, Mark’s journey to resting in peace in wasn’t an easy one.

Mark’s body needed to be smuggled into his final resting place, here in Venezia, past the Muslims who persecuted Christians by hiding his body under pork.  Even after he was finally in Venezia, Mark’s body was lost temporarily to then be returned later.

As history has shown, the world doesn’t make peace easy to encounter.  There is always someone or something just around the corner that will jeopardize it.  It’s a part of life.  But, we can learn from the Venetians to be strong and ready to guard our peace.

Picture taken by Katerina Vignau CC by 4.0

                                                                          Works Cited

“Venezia: La Serenissima, La Dominante.” Il Vaticanese, http://www.ilvaticanese.it/2011/09/venezia-la-serenissima-la-dominante/. Accessed 5 June 2022.

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