Italy Trip

by Berck

Here I am, back in my little net shack half a klick from the Colosseum. (which, by the way, was built by the Flavians in 9 years and finished in 80 AD… Maybe I should be a tour guide? Nah, I hate tourists too much.)

I took an Art and Architecture test earlier today which I didn’t study nearly enough for. Enough, however, to provide you with useless facts about most of the important architectural structures from Roman antiquity. Somehow, memorizing dates has never appealed to me. Being UD student, however, I didn’t a test on dates, I merely had to write essays in which being able to quote dates was important. Essays on things like the varying roles of Augustus as builder and ruler… And how Constantine helped to integrate Christianity with Rome through his architecture, and so on. It’s interesting, just not THAT interesting.

I was worried about making it to Rome this week, I’m so busy, but I found out that there is a Dali exhibit here that was leaving 29 Feb. So I hopped on a bus to come see it. It was okay, but not as exciting as I’d hoped. They did have his work portraying Dante’s Comedia which was neat after having read it last year as part of my UD education. I wasn’t at all familiar with any of his sculpture (I didn’t know he did any), but his portrayal of Venus with drawers was awesome.

Monday, as in Monday before last, I woke up to Jon Bird singing Rawhide over the telephone at all of us. We’ve got these nifty intercom-telephones not unlike those the Nachzen family kids were all too frequently woken up with. Someone a few weeks ago, asked if Bird would sing us awake in the future, rather than simply announce “WAKE UP” over the intercom. The general consensus after the fact is that this was a bad idea. Bird singing rawhide is not my favorite idea of wakeup music.

He then proceeded to give us all sorts of information we weren’t paying attention to during the meeting the night before. Things like what time breakfast was, when to get on the busses, what to bring, and so on. We certainly weren’t paying much more attention while groaning in our beds at being woken up before the sun was up.

Somehow, though, we managed to get breakfast which isn’t really breakfast, and hop onto a bus. We’d signed up for buses earlier. It’s nice, in middle school they were randomly assigned. Now we get to pick. Which is funny, because now we don’t care. Or at least I didn’t, save the fact that I wanted to be on Marcello’s bus. Only, there was no way of knowing which one was his, so I picked the one that was emptiest looking at the time. It was comforting then to see Marcello’s rosary hanging from the mirror of the bus with the list my name was on. At least, I thought so, but Bird jumped about with elation upon a similar discovery, and Jeff Mobus, the campus director, grinned at having picked the right bus as well. Bird, it seems, now has a beer waiting for him in a little compartment upon entering the bus at almost all times now, so his happiness was even more understandable.

The problem with being on a bus with Jeff Mobus is that his wife and 4 kids tend to be on the same bus. Emily age 7, Carrie age 5, Jim age 3 and John- 8 months. Marcello greeted them all by name, much to my amusement, kissed them all and said who knows what to them in Italian. Emily and Carrie fought about anything and everything, Jim ran off anywhere and everywhere, and John just screamed. It was a long trip to Florence.

Our arrival in Florence was somewhat exciting, and I got to experience a European bathroom first hand. You get to sit on a toilet, shower and brush your teeth all at the same time. There’s just a normal itty bitty bathroom with a showerhead. No curtain or anything, just a drain on the floor. Not to mention a thing that is neither a toilet or a bidet, but looks somewhat like either. Its purpose, or so I sort of gathered from an Italian guy at the hotel, is to fill it with soapy water and use it like a wash basin or something. Apparently the sink is insufficient for this purpose. It made for fun discussions, anyway.

After getting settled in our hotels, we walked around Florence with some professors, and got a feel for the city. We visited the Uffizi which, like much of Florence is full of Renaissance art. I tend to get really tired of endless pictures entitled “Madonna col Bambino”. Furthermore, you can only paint Christ on a cross so many ways. I hate to admit it, but I really didn’t enjoy the Uffizi terribly much, save some sculpture and the occasional out of the ordinary painting.

After dinner in Florence, we all headed to an Irish pub. I wonder if there are more Irish pubs in Italy than in Ireland. I tend to enjoy them since they serve Guinness and Harp, and usually speak English. This was a “Fiddler’s Elbow” of which there are apparently three. Funny looking Fiddler I guess. There’s one in Florence, Venice and Rome. After a few beers I was convinced to head down to a Florentine Discotheque despite the fact that I can’t dance. Bird somehow got me in for free because I was complaining that there was no way I would pay to watch a bunch of people dance. What followed was an amusing night of watching Italian men all over UD girls, and UD guys getting trashed by Italian women. Italian men are not known for their politeness when it comes to women. A bit like Zeus, they just go for whatever they want. At some point I was assigned the ludicrous task of watching out for Dr. Ambler’s (the campus dean) 16 year old very blonde daughter who was along for the trip as well. Hah. 4 of us were required to keep the men off of her. It is, however, what you get for going to a discotheque. The disco wasn’t really my thing, but watching people make fools of themselves was funny.

The next day, after obligatory tours and a breakfast of Pizza and beer just because I could, I headed for the Baptistry because Kate told me to, only to discover they wanted �5.000 to go in. Annoyed, I paid anyway. It’s not very big, but the ceiling frescos are really impressive. After that I walked around to the east side to get a good look at “Dr. Crider’s Doors” which he’d given us a lecture about before we left for Florence. The doors are what Michelangelo called “The Gates of Paradise”. Done in gold by Ghiberti, only I don’t think I can spell his name either.

I walked across to THE Duomo. It’s the monster church of Florence, and mighty impressive at that. The dome on top was called the impossible dome because it’s enormous and has a HUGE hunk of marble on top of it. Brunelleschi was cool. I paid a bloody �10.000 to perform the masochistic ritual of climbing the stairs, but it was well worth it. The stairway is amazing. It’s also very small. When you get to the dome, it criss-crosses its way between the inner dome and the outer one. Climbing up you can see the wooden beams that hold the two domes in tension and keep it up. It’s really impressive. It’s also slowly cracking. I got to the top absolutely dead and was at first not that impressed by the view. It’s 400 feet above the ground, which is high, but nothing like the sears tower. But then I really started looking around and was just amazed. Florence just looked REALLY neat from up there. The wind was cold. I stayed up there for about 1.5 hours, determined to get my money’s worth. While up there, I saw, for the first and maybe last time in my life, both sides of a rainbow. Now that was neat. Then the moon came out, and the sun was setting, and I was just awe-stricken. I finally climbed down after I started getting pretty cold.

I did see, of course, Michelangelo’s David. I must say, that as impressive as it is, I was much more impressed by Bernini’s David in the Villa Borghese.

The next day, Wednesday, we set off for Venice. Venice is like the Disney World of Italy–I’m convinced there are more Americans than Italians there at any given point. It was really neat being in a city without any cars on the roads, but finding my way around was impossible. None of the streets were straight, and inevitably I’d be walking down a street and hit a canal with no way to cross it. Thursday morning was spent at the Academia. More renaissance stuff. The most interesting thing to me was this still life of a violin in the middle of one of the rooms, no label, no case, nothing. No one knew why it was there, and it certainly didn’t belong to the renaissance. Everyone I pointed it out to and asked about it looked very confused and amused at the painting. After the Academia, I passed on a tour of the Naval museum with Dr. Ambler that supposedly contained not much other than little wooden models of ships to go with Jon Bird to the Peggy Gugenhiem’s collection in Venice. Bird and I were talking about the fact that some modern art would be nice after a whole morning of renaissance, and so he offered to take me to there. It turns out he’d never been there himself. It was an AWESOME collection. Picasso, Dali, Calder, Max Ernst, Magrite, Jackson Pollock (why? oh right, she was sleeping with him) and many others. We had no idea it was such an impressive collection. It was small, but most everything in it was really worth spending time looking at. Jon Bird was enthralled at discovering one of his favorite sculptures there. Constantin Brancusi’s “Bird in Space”, but it looks more like a raindrop to me. Then Bird explained it to me, and I was a bit more impressed. It’s polished brass, so it does neat things with the light.

After that, I roamed around Venice by myself. I bought a day pass on the bus-boats, and road them around for a couple hours, a really peaceful quiet way to see Venice. And the pass was only �18.000, which was good. Course, it’s only relaxing when you get used to the rumble of the monster diesel engines and the fact that they just basically ram all the floating platforms they stop at.

There was a good bit I didn’t get to see in Venice, but I’ll probably make it back on my way out. We left Saturday afternoon for Assisi, got there that evening.

Assisi is not very touristy, at least compared to Venice, and very medieval. Three days before we got there the tower of the castle on the top of the hill collapsed because of an aftershock from the earthquake a couple years ago. So we didn’t get to go in the castle. The basilica of St. Francis had been repaired mostly, so we got to see it. On Sunday we hiked up to St. Francis’ hermitage. A 6 kilometer hike up a mountain road with nothing but mass at the top. There was something neat about seeing mass in the hermitage, anway. St. Francis built the hermitage with small 4 foot doorways to remind himself to be humble. The result is I don’t fit very well through them. After the hermitage, I just started hiking up the mountain more. All the trails were going down, but I decided I wanted to go to the top. Eventually, I got to a wall which seemed to be there to prevent erosion or something. After climbing this 8 foot wall, I discovered that a freaking road was on the other side. Funny enough, I was fuming about climbing for a good 15 minutes, scaling a wall, and finding a road, when Nathan Landry pops up over the wall as well with a similar expression. On the other side of the road, we find a small trail, and it goes up the mountain. A couple hours later the trail sort of disappeared, and about a half hour after that we got to the top. And it was the most satisfying feeling I’ve ever had. I could see four or five mountain ranges across the valley, and Assisi was just this itty bitty cluster on the side of a mountain down the way a bit. We looked down to lower peak across the way and saw where a bunch of UDers had kept going up the road to get to the top. It was quite cold up there. We were pretty high up and breathing wasn’t as easy as it should have been. The clouds were at our level, and we could almost look down on some of them. There was a 30 mile an hour wind or so that made it much colder. We saw some further peaks in that weren’t too far and a bit higher. After climbing another 4 peaks, we looked around and realized we were on the highest one. We sat in sort of a rocky cove and shielded or selves from the wind and sat and thought for a long time. We watched the sun set on the valley, and decided that we didn’t want to find our way back down in complete darkness so we shivered our way back down the mountain. Going down was trickier, but much faster. We got back to the hermitage in less than an hour, even though it took us several to get up there. By then it was dark, but there was a road. I wished I’d had my sleeping bag with me on the mountain, I’d have stayed up there that night.

Things I’ve neglected to mention:

We saw a really good performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in Venice by a very talented group of musicians. We were so thrilled that enough cheering got them back to play another three pieces that were even more amazing, one of which was a cello piece that blew me away.

The Italian word of Florence is Firenze. One of these days I’m going to figure out how those are realted.

On the way back to campus on Monday, Jim Mobus, the 3 year old, took a huge liking to me for some reason. When we got off the bus back at campus his parents had to pry him off my leg. I have no idea why he liked me so much. They told me that he talked about me all night.

It was a good trip. And its 9pm here, and so I really need to make my way back to campus.

Oh, other questions people have asked in e-mail that I’ll answer here:

I’m feeling much better, mostly because I bought some Claratin here. Which, strangely, is called Claratyn here, but is much cheaper.

As for when I’ll check my e-mail, there isn’t any real schedule. I’m really busy, so I dunno when it will be again. I’ll try to check it at least once before my Greece trip in a couple weeks.

The food isn’t all that bad here, its much better than on the Irving campus. Its just that breakfast gets old because its nonexistent, save bad coffee and one pastry. They have a potato fetish, not a meal goes by without potatoes. They’re yellow potatoes. Not russet. Every meal also comes with moonrocks, rock hard rolls that are hollow inside. Soup is frequently good, as is the pasta, but its also frequently nasty. They like to serve fish on Fridays which is bad, seeing as how I don’t like fish. There’s fruit too, and a good Sicilian orange is so much better than ANY Florida orange I’ve ever had. But about half of them are blood oranges, and it’s impossible to tell them apart until you open them up.

I’ve not fallen in love with any Italian women.

Public transportation to Rome works like this for me: I wait for a bus about 150 meters from campus. Within 15 minutes on a work day, one comes along. I take the bus to Anagnina, the end of the Metro line, then take the metro wherever I want to go in Rome. Well, as close as I can get anyway.

I THINK that’s all the questions I was asked:)

I look forward to any mail from you guys, snail or e-mail… While real mail can take 7 days to get here, I sometimes go longer than that without checking e-mail, so…..

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