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.
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