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Ventinove: A Guide at the Uffizi and a Student at the Pitti

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After returning from Lake Como, I went to work on Monday and excitedly chatted with my co-workers about all I had seen and done with my family. Jackie’s family was meeting her in Rome on Saturday and she was looking forward to showing them around on their first trip to Italy as well. All of us at the Archive agreed on how fortunate we were to be able to share our appreciation of Italy with our loved ones. What’s more, this week, two great opportunities came my way: the chance to take my family to the Uffizi Gallery on Tuesday evening, and then on Friday morning, seeing an exhibition at Palazzo Pitti with Sheila, Jackie and Ashley.

And the Petty family went to Pisa! Throughout the week my family traveled just outside of Florence while I was at work. At the end of my work days, it was fun to be able to show them around and teach them some Italian!
And the Petty family went to Pisa! Throughout the week my family traveled just outside of Florence while I was at work. At the end of my work days, it was fun to be able to show them around and teach them some Italian!

Although both experiences were great in their own right, their relationship to each other made them all the more special in my mind. I decided to take my family to the Uffizi on Tuesday night because during the summer the gallery is open until 11:00 PM, and I wanted to avoid the lines as much as possible. A summer in Florence is undoubtedly a hot one, and besides the fact that I had work during the day, I knew my brother and sister were not going to appreciate the Tuscan sun if we were standing in a three-hour line in 100 degree heat! Thus, I registered us for 7:00 PM tickets and met my family near Piazza della Signoria after my Italian class. I was so excited to show them one of my very favorite museums…but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was also rather nervous. Because I am so passionate about art, I didn’t want them to be bored walking through the halls and galleries that I love so much.

Walking through the security room and passed the ticket booth, I led my family up three flights of very tall stairs, and into the first hallway. The Uffizi collection holds a vast number of objects that originally belonged to the Medici family, and the gallery, which is organized in the shape of a “U” has three long hallways (lined with portraits, classical sculptures and busts of Roman emperors) and galleries arranged in chronological order. Thus, I began by explaining the museum’s organization, making sure I hit the most important points I remembered from Liliana’s lecture of this space. Then, beginning with the Middle Ages, I took them through the Medieval galleries and explained the historical highlights while also emphasizing the most important characteristics of artwork during this period. My brother, Tim, smiled at me as I explained one of the works of art, an image of Christ on the cross by Giotto, and he later leaned in and said, “Caitlin, other people are listening to your explanations too!” which of course made me feel nervous, excited and proud all at the same time! I had a blast talking to them about my favorite pieces in the museum and telling them anecdotes about the artists or sitters, such as the story behind the Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca (the Duke, Federico da Montefeltro, had lost his eye and the bridge of his nose in a jousting accident!).

One of my favorite paintings at the Uffizi - the Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino
One of my favorite paintings at the Uffizi – the Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino

My sister Nicole was curious as to why all artwork from the 1200’s-1400’s (from what I had showed them thus far) seemed to be religious in content. I explained how interesting that observation was; these individuals were working as craftsmen and as servants of God rather than as intellectuals with specific ideas and skills they wished to communicate and thus in many ways, the concept of an “artist’ had not yet emerged. That change began in the period we now refer to as the Renaissance. Tim and I spent some time up close with Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, and I told him how Leonardo, interested in botany, had painted each blade of grass, each type of plant, in a scientifically accurate way. My dad observed that our understanding of history largely refers to the history of the wealthy, (for example, all of these pieces of art had been commissioned by patrons who could afford it) and I responded by telling him about a scholar at MAP who was working on the history of the lower classes in Siena, specifically on lower class women, which is very exciting!

The best part was being able to share my passion, my emotional responses to artwork with my mom. Not only at the Uffizi, but at the Medici Chapels of San Lorenzo, I showed my mom works (both painting and sculpture) by none other than Michelangelo. Seeing how moved she was not only by the works themselves but by my love of them only reinforced how much I felt towards them. It was such a wonderful moment to be able to share with her. Back to the Uffizi, I had my family’s undivided attention for two and a half hours before their stomachs got the best of them and they needed an Italian dinner. I was really surprised and touched when my siblings approached me separately and told me how much they enjoyed the ‘tour’ I gave them. I was so fortunate to have the chance to share my passion with Tim, whose passion is for automotive engineering, and with Nicole, whose passion lies in scuba diving and oceanography. Plus, the fact that they enjoyed it made it all the more fun for me!

This is the advertisement for the exhibition Sheila's took us to. There were no photos allowed in the exhibition unfortunately but it was wonderful!
This is the advertisement for the exhibition Sheila’s took us to. There were no photos allowed in the exhibition unfortunately but it was wonderful!

On Wednesday, when I was back at work and collaborating with Sheila, she mentioned that an exhibition on Carlo Dolci (an artist I knew almost nothing about) was opening at the Pitti Palace, and she asked if Jackie, Ashley and I would be interested in going with her. Naturally we all agreed and in consequence, we spent over three hours closely viewing this rather small exhibition! I walked around and stared at the various paintings, putting them into the context of schemas I already knew: style, technique, patron, sitter, and subject matter. But Sheila’s knowledge brought me into new territory. One look at a painting and she would dive into a discussion of the fabric depicted – how gold was woven into the material – or she would gaze up at the poor condition of a work and begin musing about the controversial restoration of the Sistine Chapel in the 1990s. Everything that she spoke to us about made me think more critically about what hung in front of my eyes, and because I had just given my family a tour of the beautiful works at the Uffizi, I began thinking about how much I don’t yet know about the history of these objects and what they depict. I found myself so much more eager to know everything about Renaissance Florence. In fact, I wanted to know about Florence from start to finish; I wanted to know its historical trajectory and especially, how it came to be the Florence Michelangelo knew – the Florence I know.

My experiences at the Uffizi and the Pitti galleries this week taught me a very valuable lesson: I was at a critical point in my academic career. A point at which I could teach the basics about the subject matter I was studying, but also a point that I needed to surpass in order to quench my curiosity, and to fuel my passion. Teaching would absolutely play a part in my future, and clearly Florentine history would too.

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Ventotto: And the Family Flew Over

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On Thursday, July 9th, Sheila and I met to discuss progress on my article, and to address the following three weeks of my internship since I was leaving the Archive at the end of July. I sent her the updated versions of the Guide for Conducting Research on Women Artists as well as the draft of the Barocci article, and we agreed to resume work on these projects when I returned from northern Italy. On Friday morning I took the train to Milano, and met Liliana (who was staying there with her family) for an exhibition at Palazzo Reale on Leonardo da Vinci. Supposedly, it was to be one of the largest Leonardo exhibitions in recent years, and I was ecstatic to see many of his famous drawings in person.

Milan's famous cathedral stands right next to Palazzo Reale, where the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition was held.
Milan’s famous cathedral stands right next to Palazzo Reale, where the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition was held.

The exhibition was indeed extremely large, and it encompassed a great many facets of Leonardo’s work: anatomical studies, drapery studies, mechanical designs, war machines, studies for paintings, the work of his teachers and followers, comparisons between his own work and that of his contemporaries…the rooms went on and on! My personal favorite works have always been the anatomical studies, and I so fondly gazed at the majestic faces of young women, the humorous caricatures of old men, and his studies of muscles, bones, veins; similarities between the human body and the bodies of horses and birds. Leonardo never ceases to amaze me!

In the late afternoon, I received word from my parents that they, my brother Tim and my sister Nicole had arrived safely in Milan. I met them for lunch and shortly thereafter we piled into a car and sped off towards Lago di Como! Because I hadn’t seen my parents in 6 months, they were eager for the chance to trek overseas and see me. My dad had always wanted to visit Lake Como, and although there was not an art related reason for me to visit, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to take two days to see a new aspect of the Italian landscape and to practice my Italian in an area with very few tourists (at least in the town where we were staying).

This view was absolutely glorious!
This view was absolutely glorious!

This weekend was insightful in a variety of ways. First of all, my family was incredibly jet lagged, and I forgot how debilitating it can be when you are both exhausted and culture shocked. Second, my family – my dad especially – was so culture shocked, and it was hilarious! Watching my father drive this tiny car (well, tiny by American standards) alongside Italians who zipped by without signaling a lane change was extraordinarily funny because he couldn’t fathom that people actually drove in such a “reckless” manner. I quietly and eagerly waited to see what his reaction would be to the narrow cobblestone streets of Florence.   Parking the car was sure to be an experience!

Lake Como was beautiful to say the least. The roads twisted along, higher and higher up, providing us with a breathtaking view of the lake. The colorful houses were vividly reflected in the water, and the sun shone brightly over the entire scene. When the GSP failed us poor, lost tourists, I had the amazing opportunity of asking for directions – completely in Italian! My parents were absolutely impressed with the kind hearts of the Italians, who got in their own car and led us down the hill we had accidently driven up and towards the Airbnb we had rented.

As impressed as I was by the beauty of this place, it was even more enjoyable to watch my family respond to the environment around us.  Their comments were always thought provoking, and it made me even more appreciative of this experience.
As impressed as I was by the beauty of this place, it was even more enjoyable to watch my family respond to the environment around us. Their comments were always thought provoking, and it made me even more appreciative of this experience.

The weekend was filled with fun and excitement, from an afternoon boat tour of the lake, to long walks along the winding roads of the small town where we stayed. On Sunday, I of course was used to all stores, small restaurants and cafes being closed, and the things that surprised my family (such as this) served as a humbling reminder of how different American and Italian cultures are. I had become so accustomed to this way of life that I truly forgot so many of these minute changes, and I was glad to see them through the eyes of people who came here as visitors rather than as students.

The day we left Como, we took a detour before heading back to Florence. We stopped off for coffee in Parma and we walked around this beautiful little place. I quickly discovered that just as in America, where each region is so different from the next, Italy and its areas that began as separate city-states, each have a distinct identity, and despite unification, the country is a series of individual facets that cannot be appreciated if only viewed as the whole. I thought about this as I stared out the car window and then I saw it: the cityscape of Florence was right in front of me. I felt excitement well up inside of me and spill over, until I realized that I was crying. I was so happy to be home, to be in Florence, and to show my family this incredible place I came to know so intimately.

Photos do no justice to the sunrise in Como.  It was breathtaking.
Photos do no justice to the sunrise in Como. It was breathtaking.

Ventisette: A Fabulous Find in the Archive

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Remember the research Sheila asked me to complete at the Kunst? Well, this blog post is all about that amazing, one-of-a-kind, totally unexpected project!

This is a self portrait of Federico Barocci, the artist whose painting is discussed in the letter Sheila and I found.
This is a self portrait of Federico Barocci, the artist whose painting is discussed in the letter Sheila and I found.

One day at the Archive, I was reading a volume of incoming and outgoing letters (from the Archivo Mediceo del Principato, in the Carateggio Universale, specifically, between the years 1694 – 1699). Sheila came over to see how my work was going, and after reading through some of the letters with me, we stumbled upon a very interesting document. Sheila is incredibly skilled at searching for keywords within archival material, and she immediately saw that this letter included the name Federico Barocci, the name of a well-known Italian Baroque artist. In reading through it together – although I must say, Sheila is the one who placed it in context for me – we realized that the author of this letter, a man who called himself a Pittore da Urbino, an artist from Urbino, was writing to Cosimo III de’ Medici about a painting he had gifted to the Duke’s mother, Vittoria della Rovere before she had passed away. He described this painting as a small portrait of the Duke’s grandfather, Francesco Maria II della Rovere, and he stated his purpose for writing as being one concerned with knowing whether or not the Duke’s late mother had received his gift.

Content alone this letter was a fascinating find, particularly for me. Going a step further, Sheila had me conduct a search for portrait paintings by Barocci in the Catalogo delle Opere on the Polo Museale Fiorentino website so that we could try to identify the painting to which this letter referred. Alas, we found it: a round miniature (diametro 8.4) in the Uffizi collection! The Polo Museale Fiorentino had summarized the known history of the painting, suggesting that it arrived in Florence in 1631 when Vittoria della Rovere came to the city. However, based on the letter Sheila and I held between our fingertips, it would seem as though this painting came into Medici possession in 1693 – a difference Sheila and I believed to be worth writing about.

Using the Polo Museale Fiorentino search engine, Sheila and I concluded that this miniature portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere was indeed the painting described in the letter.  What an amazing find!
Using the Polo Museale Fiorentino search engine, Sheila and I concluded that this miniature portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere was indeed the painting described in the letter. What an amazing find!

And that is how I was given yet another incredible opportunity at the Archive: the chance to first transcribe this letter and then write an article about the information it contained. Seems simple enough, correct? Such a small piece of new information does not warrant that much extra research, right? Wrong! I needed to exhaust secondary source material on Barocci, his portrait paintings of Federico della Maria, and discern what had already been published in regards to this miniature painting. There was no better place to begin than at the Kunst, and so Sheila helped me search online for the books, articles and exhibition catalogs I would need to read at the Kunst.

I spent much of the following two weeks at the Kunst, reading sources that were both in English and Italian, compiling notes on each, and looking for extra information on art agency. Sheila had recently heard that a conference was being developed around the notion of art agency, and because this obscure artist had gifted a painting (by the hand of another artist) to the Duke of Florence, it could very well fit inside the schema of artist agency. Taking detailed notes, I spent a great deal of time writing and revising before I showed Sheila my first draft of the article. She was impressed with the way in which I opened the topic, but clearly, as a student with undergraduate writing experience, there was much work to be done. That would have to wait, however, because the following weekend, July 10-12, I was traveling to Milan for some art travel and to see my family, who was flying in for their first ever visit to Italy ever and who had come to see me in my state of complete bliss.

As so, I set myself up at the Kunst once more and got to work on all things related to Federico Barocci and this miniature painting!
As so, I set myself up at the Kunst once more and got to work on all things related to Federico Barocci and this miniature painting!

Ventisei: Struggles and Strides in the Italian Language

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Sicilian travels, archival insights, and all the while I was still desperately trying to build up my skills in Italian. “Piano piano,” Benedetta kept telling me, and although it was slow, I was learning – a lot. Since finishing the lessons in my Italian book from Rome, Benedetta had given me a new book and she let me pick which lessons I was most eager to learn. Each class, she would begin by teaching me the topic – completely in Italian – using a combination of the whiteboard and the description in my book. She patiently adapted her teaching style to my learning style, and after she fielded a massive number of questions from me, we would work on exercises in the workbook. As painful as it was, I would read aloud, she correcting my pronunciation, and then I would attempt to fill in the correct answers. When I answered them incorrectly, she humorously began to predict my “perché??” and would begin explaining ‘why’ right away. The following day we would go over the homework exercise I had completed alone, and we would talk for 5 – 10 minutes in Italian so that I could practice my conversational skills. Before I knew it, I was having dreams in Italian, and I was walking around Florence labeling the objects I knew with their Italian names.

Between work in the Archive and Italian class, I most definitely needed an espresso to keep up the focus! One of my favorite places to go was called Caffe Gilli.  The coffee here is rich, smooth, and delicious!
Between work in the Archive and Italian class, I most definitely needed an espresso to keep up the focus! One of my favorite places to go was called Caffe Gilli. The coffee here is rich, smooth, and delicious!

Despite these strides in my struggle to learn the Italian language, I was still discouraged by one piece of information: my current level of Italian was where most of the other students from my semester in Rome had been back in March. It had taken me such a long time to learn the most simplistic lessons in this language, and at first I allowed myself to fall into dismay. Being the lucky young student that I am, however, I had people such as Liliana, Sheila, all those at MAP and even the Italians I attempted to speak with in Florence to tell me otherwise. They encouraged me to continue studying, to stay motivated, and to stop comparing myself to the pace of those around me. If my love of Italy had taken me this far, it would continue to help me through my struggle to succeed in pursuit of the Italian language.

Venticinque: Archival Arrival

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Following the Feast Day of John the Baptist, I enjoyed my early morning walk to the Archive. It was my first day back at work since I returned from Sicily, and I smiled brightly knowing that the Italians would all be getting a late start after a long night of enjoying each other’s company. I thought about how, as an American college student, I come from a society that has a very peculiar relationship with alcohol, and how in many respects our frowning upon drinking prompts the ‘binge drinking’ culture that many young Americans partake in today. Italy has never really experienced this problem (although, one of my Italian teachers in Rome told me that many young Italians in Milan and in other northern, metropolitan cities are becoming more susceptible to the party scene common in northern European countries and in America). In the States, it can be such a controversy even to sip your parents’ drinks when you are out in public, but since being in Italy, I have seen how wine and other dinner drinks are used as conversation enhancers, rather than the means of turning oneself from an introvert into an extrovert. This is just one of the many aspects of Italy’s social framework that greatly interested me.

Often times after work, we interns would join the MAP staff for a glass of wine and aperitivo at a local cafe.  It was so wonderful to see how the conversation would flow as we sipped on our wine, and how different this social custom is from what I grew up seeing in America.
Often times after work, we interns would join the MAP staff for a glass of wine and aperitivo at a local cafe. It was so wonderful to see how the conversation would flow as we sipped on our wine, and how different this social custom is from what I grew up seeing in America.

As I signed in and walked towards the office, I realized that my internal musings on Italian culture were really very productive. Because I was spending more time at the Archive than I had originally intended (I had planned on working less hours and only four days a week) I was not often out in the piazzas during the day observing the Italians, nor was I yet embarking on my day trips outside of Florence. I truly appreciated the fact that I could spend so much time in the Archive under the direction of Sheila and the MAP staff, but small observations on more trivial aspects of Italy were, I thought, tremendously eye-opening, and I believe that they helped better inform my understanding of what “Italy” means.

Now, to get back on topic, it was time for me to once more envelop myself in all things archival, and I was glad that Sheila soon came into the office and asked if I wanted to go and have a coffee while we discussed what I had been working on. Thus, we walked down the street and stopped at a small café. First, we needed to discuss the Guide for Researching Women Artists, since I had been updating it during my time in Sicily. I pulled up the Word Document I had created, and thoroughly described each section while also explaining why I chose to organize the information in the way I did. Sheila had given me the names of three different women artists: one being a well-known artist, the other being slightly obscure, and the third being unknown. Using them as examples within the guide, I had included a variety of search engines and search results for each artist, while being sure to separate the instructional information from the concrete examples. I began to compile bibliographic references in the subsections as well.

All of this may sound confusing, and in honesty, each revision I made to the guide was a learning experience, because this level of specificity was one I had never before reached. Sheila was impressed with its organization and even more eager to show me how to complete the bibliographic material more thoroughly. We made plans to meet the following evening at the Kunsthistorisches in order to utilize their reference section. I cannot describe how excited I was for the opportunity to learn from Sheila in this capacity!

I was greatly impressed by the vastness of the Kunst's resources.  I felt as thought I could spend a lifetime here with my nose in these books!
I was greatly impressed by the vastness of the Kunst’s resources. I felt as thought I could spend a lifetime here with my nose in these books!

When we returned to the Archive, I showed Sheila the list of documents I had ordered, which ones I had already looked through, and the one I was currently scanning. She sat down with me and we began looking through it together. Sheila helped me to discern the words that I did not understand – whether due to illegibility or because I did not yet have the vocabulary. I am not doing justice to Sheila in saying that she is an excellent mentor, for she is far more than that. Sheila was an incredible, intellectual resource, an eloquent and compassionate teacher, and a passionate, disciplined, impressively accomplished scholar. Every interaction I had with her benefited me greatly in archival skills, writing, researching and data collecting techniques, and in the pursuit of my passion. When I expressed concerns about my proficiency in Italian, she did not worry in the slightest but helped me to format the research to my current abilities. One of the best lessons she taught me was that no one came into the archives knowing what he or she were looking for, how to seek it out, and how it could revolutionize a field of study. A scholar was meant to go to the archive with a passion, a topic, an interest; and it was the archive that dictated the entirety of that scholar’s future career.

This was the very beginning of the pile of source material that Sheila and I used for the Guide for Conducting Research on Women Artists. It grew substantially as we continued working!
This was the very beginning of the pile of source material that Sheila and I used for the Guide for Conducting Research on Women Artists. It grew substantially as we continued working!

When Sheila and I met at the Kunst on Thursday evening to compile a more extensive bibliography, she showed source material, dictated the citations to me and then gave me time to finish taking down notes. She graciously spent hours with me looking through these books and choosing the most important sections – showing me how she arrived at those conclusions. I learned so much. By the time I returned home that evening I was both exhausted and exhilarated. Sheila tasked me with continuing this work at the Kunst while also conducting a very specific type of research there…but I will touch on that in a later post! Additionally, I would continue my work at the Archive by looking for correspondence between Cosimo III de’ Medici’s court and that of London and/or any references to medicine or the natural sciences.

Ventiquattro: Feast Day in Florence

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This blog post deals specifically with one evening and a small piece of knowledge that I became aware of. Regardless, it was an important evening for me because it made me very pensive for the following months, and even now as I reflect on the summer as a whole it has stayed with me.

The day I returned from Sicily was a holiday in Florence – the feast day of San Giovanni, or John the Baptist – and therefore the Archive was closed. The Florentines greatly enjoy celebrating their feast days in a display of magnificence: parades in Renaissance attire and a grand display of fireworks in the evening. I met Mimi and Ashley on the opposite side of the Arno for an aperitivo (the Italian equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet) before the fireworks started, and while we waited for the sky to darken and the show to begin, we talked about how the internship was going and what our plans were for the future.

Working with Mimi was incredibly eye opening. She had studied British Literature as an undergraduate at Oxford and was pursuing research concerning John Milton’s journey to Italy as a project for her graduate work at Cambridge. Ashley had come to the realm of scholarship in a very interesting way, first working as a high school history teacher for ten years before deciding to go for a doctorate at the University of South Florida; and now she was working on research concerning Anna Maria Lusia de’ Medici. Still an undergraduate, I was eager to hear about their respective career paths, and I was intrigued when they both agreed that taking time off before graduate school was one of the best decisions they had made. Mimi had done her gap year at Princeton, and Ashley had gotten much work experience under her belt before pursuing her Ph.D. She cautioned us against thinking that graduate school was the same type of education we were used to: it was harder, not only in terms of content but in terms of self-endurance, self-doubt, and self-awareness.

Ashley’s sentiments were reinforced by conversations I had with multiple scholars at the Archive throughout the summer: graduate school was intensive for the simple reason of weeding out the students who were not willing to go the extra mile; it was a shock to no longer be the brightest student in the room or to not understand the course work as well as the other students; and it was terrifying and lonely to receive less guidance and positive feedback from professors. Over and over I was told that this information was relayed to me not to scare me away from this path, but because I needed to be absolutely sure it was the path I wanted to take – that it was a path I was capable of withstanding. Well, this hit home, and I had a very difficult time coming to terms with it throughout the summer, and even now.

I am forever the student who works industriously. From an early age teachers and fellow students discouraged me from pursuing academics: dyslexia made me ‘slow and stupid’ and I was not going to ‘make it.’ Because of this, I never saw myself as one of the brightest students in the room, and so I knew that when I got to graduate school, coming to terms with that would not be an issue. What did scare me, however, was the thought of professors not offering help, guidance, and feedback. The mentors I have had throughout my academic career created such a strong support system for me, one that only made me want to strive further, to be more passionate, and to try for opportunities I thought were out of my reach – the Salisbury being one of them. The prospect of losing that type of support was nerve-racking and I wondered if I did indeed have what it takes to pursue this difficult road.

While I watched the fireworks that brightened the sky in John the Baptist’s honor, I thought about this conversation, and I felt a tremendous amount of pressure regarding a future I was always certain about. But, I also thought about how happy the pursuit of art, culture and scholarship makes me…and not for a second did I think that this was something worth sacrificing due to fear. I had much to think of, but I refused to discourage myself from something so dear to my heart. After all, that was the reason I was in Florence watching these fireworks.

The fireworks were almost as incredible as the insights I made during the conversation with my co-workers this evening.  And so, it was a truly spectacular first night back in Firenze.
The fireworks were almost as incredible as the insights I made during the conversation with my co-workers this evening. And so, it was a truly spectacular first night back in Firenze.

Ventitrè: Crusin’ to Syracuse

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Following our wondrous trip to Museo Regionale, Liliana and I grabbed a quick lunch and walked towards the train station as the Sicilian sun beat down upon our shoulders. Our plan was to stop in Augusta for the evening so that the majority of the following day could be spent in Syracuse and the evening could be spent in Catania, where I would be flying out from the following day. When we got to our seats on the train, we quickly made friends with a few fellow travelers, one of whom was a teacher living in Italy, and when we realized they were also stopping off for an afternoon in Taormina, we decided to spilt the cab fare up to this beautiful little place with a Greek theatre and a glorious view!

What a view right??
                  What a view right??

The ride up to this town was incredible: as we climbed higher and higher, the view became truly indescribable. The coastline was comprised of a variety of browns and grays and it starkly contrasted with the bright blue hues that made up the sea. Strong yellows, pinks and greens surrounded us as the car lurched upward – Italian taxi drivers truly give New York City cab drivers a run for their money – and all too soon, we came to a halt and stumbled out into one of the main piazzas of Taormina. This town was very clearly a tourist destination in Sicily, and our first stop, the Teatro Greco di Taormina, was one of the reasons why. This Greek theatre was absolutely breathtaking. It was the first I had ever seen and because we had discussed Roman amphitheaters with Professor Kirin Makker throughout the semester in Rome, the contrasts and similarities between Greek and Roman archetypes became so much clearer during this visit.

How wonderful is this view?  The Greek Theatre was spectacular...I wished so desperately I could have seen a Greek play here!
How wonderful is this view? The Greek Theatre was spectacular…I wished so desperately I could have seen a Greek play here!

Before leaving Taormina, Liliana pointed out the Duomo, Palazzo Corvaja and Palazzo di St. Stefano, briefing me once more on a bit of Sicilian history. I remember thinking, as she spoke (and as I ate the very best Sicilian granita of my life!) about how much I could appreciate the information she gave me in this moment. I think that there are two reasons for this heightened sense of appreciation, one being that I was physically standing in the presence of the history she discussed, which made it all the more tangible. The second reason was because I was hearing this history from an Italian, and specially, from a Sicilian. History, art and culture become so much more alive when you learn about them in moving, living, breathing ways. In this moment, I was so unbelievably happy.

We did not spend much time in Augusta – only one morning. In those few hours, however, the most incredible experience occurred. We walked along one of the busier streets of Augusta (and I use the word ‘busier’ loosely, for much of Sicily is very quiet and under-populated) and we eventually paused in the local church. The space, so quiet and yet so grand, was beautiful. Staring up at one of the many statues in the church, I sat down in a pew, a few rows behind an older man and a small girl. They two were looking up at the statue, one of the Virgin Mary. I quickly realized that this was a grandfather and his granddaughter, and I watched as he tenderly leaned down and whispered to her in fast, smooth Italian, using his hands and pointing up at the statue. Liliana leaned over and told me that he was explaining the faith to her, actively using the statue – the art – as guidance. This interaction we witnessed touched me so deeply, because I saw the very thing I am most passionate about being used in such a loving way. It was truly moving, and that moment has stayed with me ever so vividly.

In the early afternoon, Liliana and I took a train to Syracuse, or as the Italians call it, Siracusa. As a sophomore in Professor James Capreedy’s Roman Empire course (in the Classics Department), we had completed a mapping project on the Roman provinces in the late empire, and I remembered our discussion of Syracuse, a port city and therefore a great asset to the Romans. Liliana first took me to the Duomo di Siracusa, a space that had begun as a Greek temple dedicated to Athena and is now a cathedral dedicated to the birth of the Virgin Mary. The Doric columns stand visibly as the support for the cathedral’s walls, and the side chapels, one of which is devoted to Santa Lucia, serve as a reminder that this ancient Greek structure was later turned into a Baroque space – a contrast that makes it all the more spectacular.

This is the facade of the Duomo.  Unfortunately, none of my photos of its interior came out well, but it is incredible to think that this glorious Baroque space was once a Doric temple!
This is the facade of the Duomo. Unfortunately, none of my photos of its interior came out well, but it is incredible to think that this glorious Baroque space was once a Doric temple!

Unfortunately, as with all of Italy, sometimes without warning, churches and museums will be closed simply for the reason that they are, and this happened when we tried to see the Caravaggio painting in the Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia and when we went to see the Teatro Greco (which was under renovation for the entire summer) – I was so upset! But on the bright side, we had more time to spend at the Tempio di Apollo, Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi, and at the Orecchio di Dionisio, or the “Ear of Dionysius,” which quickly became one of my favorite sites in Syracuse. According to legend, Caravaggio gave it its nickname; “the Ear of Dionysius” in reference to how the King Dionysius I of Syracuse allegedly used the cave. With its excellent acoustics, it is said that Dionysius housed political prisoners here in order to listen to their conversations and potential plans. Whether or not it is based in fact, how interesting!

This cave was incredible!  And to think Caravaggio ad been here!
This cave was incredible! And to think Caravaggio ad been here!

After the very long day, we took an evening train to Catania, and I watched once more as the small Sicilian towns flew by. We walked around Catania for quite some time, having a late dinner in front of Cattedrale di Sant’Agata. The following morning I watched from the plane as Mount Etna became smaller and smaller. I was sad to leave such a beautiful island when there was a lifetime of exploring to be done, but I was also excited to return home to Firenze – just in time for the city’s celebration of its patron saint, the Feast Day of John the Baptist.

I wished we had time to go inside, but I am glad Liliana and I had the time to appreciate the facade of this beautiful structure
I wished we had time to go inside, but I am glad Liliana and I had the time to appreciate the facade of this beautiful structure!