Day 25

Posted by Whit Barringer , Wednesday, June 20, 2007 9:05 AM


CT 6:35 P.M.
IT 1:33 A.M.

Concerts and Kebabs.

Today was at least more eventful than yesterday, though it wouldn’t seem so at first glance.
This morning Rachel and I got around to meet at the school at 10:00. We ran a bit early, but it was kind of fun to just talk along the way. When we got to the school, we went inside and sat down, waiting on everyone else. When 10:00 came and went, we decided to go ahead and call Dr. Bane. I made Rachel do it because I didn’t feel like it, so the contents of the conversation had to be relayed to me. Paulette answered and asked why we didn’t get the text message. Then we both reminded her that my screen is messed up and Rachel’s phone has been lost to the depths of the Adriatic Sea (we think). She said that we didn’t have class until 2, so we basically had a free day. We had gotten around for nothing.

With some deliberation we decided to go up to the breakroom and finish working on our presentation. It didn’t take long, but we didn’t have anything else to do. We decided to call Halley on my broken phone. I could in the LCD strips that I could do a search feature, which I tried to do. I pressed call and handed it back to Rachel. It was Dr. Bane instead. Feeling like idiots, we got Halley’s number to find her. I called and she said that everyone else was still asleep but that she decided to go out and about. She told us to meet her at Piazza Signoria (which, by my approximation, is two feet from the school…. Approximately.). When we met up, someone had the bright idea to go and do the rest of our shopping at the San Lorenzo market.
When we got there, both of us started looking at wallets for people. They were very expensive (25 Euro for leather wallets made in Italy that were big enough to fit a checkbook in). Rachel was looking for a t-shirt for her sister, and I was looking to knock out some of the people on my list. That was all. I found a pair of “David” boxers (the statue’s nether regions are printed on both sides) and a “Ciao Bella” shirt for my mom’s friend’s daughter. A man tried to talk us into going to his stand. All I said was, “Buongiorno,” and he started talking to us in English. When we kept walking, he said, “No English? Dutch?” Halley and I just collapsed into giggles.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it already, but I have been looking frantically for a leather bag. I want one to look professional, hold some books, and be relatively cheap. My roommate talked someone down from over 100 Euro down to 40, but I’m not that savvy. I saw what I wanted though. An aura was shining behind it. But I knew it was too much so I walked on.

It began to bug me in the back of my mind. As I watched the other two shop, I started to feel antsy. I had been wanting it since I arrived in Italy. Since I saw my roommates green leather bag, I knew I wanted one. So I went back to the stand and asked how much (“Quanto?”). The man answered me in Italian (which is the fifth time I’ve been mistaken for such – kind of feels good). When he switched into English, he said 85 Euro. I shook my head, knowing that I could only put that much on a credit card and I didn’t really want to do that. Then he said, “if you’ll come with me, I have one that has more than one pocket. This one? Only one. The one I have is bigger. I’ll sell this one for 75, or you can take the other one which is usually 98 for 85.” I went with him to the store and fell in love with the bag immediately. It wasn’t huge, but it would fit what I needed (and would make me greatly reduce my carry load). He gave me the whole sales schtick: it’s made in Tuscany, really fine leather (and indeed it is), adjustable strap, and five pockets. I agreed to it. He charged it, and I walked away with a new bag.

Then I started feeling queasy in that special way that only happens when you’ve spent too much. I knew I loved the bag, but I wasn’t sure I had done the right thing. Shouldn’t I have tried to talk him down? He went down within the first few seconds of talking, so I certainly could have gotten him lower. Then I realized I had charged it, and usually vendors can only be talked down with cash. I cursed my luck but at the same time started feeling better for the bag. When I saw Dr. Bane that afternoon, he said that I had gotten a great price – which made me feel even better.

Rachel and I kept losing Halley in the market, but we finally met up long enough to part ways officially. Dr. Bane needed Rachel to find a receipt, so she went back to the apartment while Halley and I went to the Piazza Signoria to sit. She wrote in her journal while I read. She started eating, but a man came up to us and asked us if we spoke English. He then told us that we couldn’t eat near the statues – only water. So Halley had to sacrifice lunch for her seat, and we both sat amongst a mixture of 1st century and Renaissance sculpture.

At 1:00 I went ahead and went to the school, leaving Halley behind. When Rachel finally showed up (without the receipt that Dr. Bane needed), we wrote on the board the poems we were going to go over during class. I obsessed even more with my bag. Luckily Dr. Bane reassured me, as I mentioned earlier, and was surprised that I had gotten the reduced price even when I used a credit card.

Then Rachel and I did our presentation, which was actually really quick but sort of interesting (the poems we picked were almost definitely the best – Dr. Bane agreed). For instance:

Shall I each springtime
see flowery shadows floating
on the flowing stream,
and drench my sleeve in water that
refuses to be plucked?

In the waking world
you must, I suppose, take care,
but how it pains me
that you should keep out of sight
even in the realm of dreams.

And my favorite:

Pillows know, they say,
so we slept without one.
Why then do rumors
like swirling pillars of dust
rise as high as the heavens.

Very nice, right?

Anyway, after our presentation we wrapped up both classes. Dr. Bane took polls over the books we liked best and least. To his disappointment, I was the only one that liked If on a winter’s night a traveler (even though I didn’t get to finish it). When class was over, he told us to meet him at the school at 8:45 and we would go to some place special. All excited about the surprise, we all went our separate ways. Kim, Caitlin, Halley, and Natalie went to San Lorenzo again, but Rachel and I went back to the apartment. I have no idea what she did because I was “laaaaaame” and went to bed. I was exhausted, but it turned out to be a bad idea because of the heat.

Anyway, we headed toward the school. We went a weird way that we hadn’t gone yet and ran across Kate, Kara, and Megan. We waited on everyone. I gave Megan back her iPod, charged (she had given it to me earlier for that very reason). We all followed Dr. Bane to our destination – which happened to be one of the nightly concerts at a nearby church. The concerts go nightly and the proceeds go toward restoring the church (Dr. Bane said that some of the proceeds go to help the church where Beatrice is buried).

The concert was very good. Selections included Vivaldi, Bach, Schubert, and Mozart. They got a standing ovation and actually did a very beautiful encore. They announced it in Italian, but I have no idea what it was and wish I did. After the concert, which was a treat for all of us I think, Dr. Bane invited to go get gelato. I started to go with him, but I found out the others were going to get Doner Kebabs, which I can’t turn down. So I went with all of “the girls” to the kebab place near where we live (called “Mesopotamian Kebabs”) and mostly got doner kebabs con formaggio. Most of us agreed that it was our absolute favorite Mesopotamian/Egyptian/Middle Eastern place to eat that we’ve tried thus far. While we were ordering our kebabs, a drunk American came in and tried to cut in front of us so he could get a kebab. The man behind the counter told him no, ladies first, and took all six or seven of our orders before the other guy. The drunk cursed at him and said, “Dude, I gotta sober up to call my parents.” From the way he looked, no amount of kebab could do the trick.

We all talked about how good the kebabs were and miscellaneous subjects. We made tentative plans for tomorrow night since we have the first final tomorrow. I’ve decided not to study for it because it looks like it will be cheese compared to other tests I’ve taken. I read enough and listened enough to know. I’m not worried.

When I came back to the apartment, I started finishing the myriad entries I hadn’t gotten around to. Before I did today’s, I went ahead and took a bath, since the Italian mosquitos are like Italian lovers (contrary to how it looks, that is not a favorable comparison) and I needed some relief. Afterwards, I wrote this entry. And now I will finish it with a smirk of triumph that I’m caught up on all my personal entries.

Well, I am smirking.

Day 24

Posted by Whit Barringer 9:03 AM


CT 5:45
IT 12:45

Slow Day at Santa Croce.

Today we met at 10:00 to go to Santa Croce (pronounced croh-chay). Rachel and I pass it almost every day on our way to the school, but we didn’t know that’s where we were going until after we had gotten all the way over to Kent State. When we headed back, we took the kind of sort of long way – but it wasn’t too bad of a walk, and we got to see places we hadn’t actually been to yet.

Santa Croce was one of my first fascinations when we first got to Florence. It was one of the first places my roommates and I found, and it was what started my fascination with the juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient, secular and non-secular. It also has some of the most beautiful motifs I’ve seen on any of the churches thus far. Around the door facings are depictions of biblical scenes and symbolism. At the top of the face of the church, there is a star within a Star of David with Christian symbolism decorating it. Santa Croce is well known because it was the home of Franciscan monks and – gasp – the resting place of the most famous people in Italian history, including Galileo Galilei, Niccolo Macchiavelli, and Michelangelo. It was one of my most anticipated stops on our four week tour of Italy, so I was especially excited.
Until I pulled out my camera and found out my batteries were dead.

Now for you to understand the irony of this, you must understand that I’ve been extremely obsessive about my batteries. When my camera doesn’t have to be on, I turn it off. My finger is constantly on the power button. I also have a huge obsession about having a truckload of batteries on me. However, when we went on the gondola ride in Venice, Kim’s batteries went out. I gave her two of mine to help out. She said her camera was messed up and tried to give them back to me, but I told her to keep them in case the camera started working again. Apparently (as Kim was quick to say to me later on) generosity killed the cat. So as I was trying to contain how upset I was, everyone else took pictures of all of the tombs (I’ve already mentioned that they’re my favorite part). I asked around, rather weakly and hopelessly, for AA batteries. Of course no one had any.

Then I went into the gift shop and found a book for 8 Euro. I didn’t want to get it because I had spent too much money, but since I couldn’t take pictures I decided I would go ahead and get it. I was completely disgusted with having to buy it in one of the few churches that allowed pictures. Then I remembered that I had one good battery left, and perhaps it could work with one of the dead batteries. Sure enough, it powered up and rendered my book worthless. I quickly snapped pictures of the tombs in the floor and some of the larger ones and more famous ones around the wall. There was even a memorial to Dante, whom Florence has been trying to get back from Ravenna for years now.

I ran through Santa Croce’s museum (it was only six rooms) and listened to the birds outside in the courtyard. Halley had found me before they all had left for the Ponte Vecchio to put their locks on the bridge* and given me their cheeses that they had bought for supper that night. I went to the grocery store, bought sauce, pasta, and milk (which I didn’t realize at the time expired on the 22nd so I ended up drinking it all in one day to keep it from spoiling – milk lasts about 3 or 4 days after it’s opened here), and went back up to the apartment. I stored Halley’s cheese and began reading more of Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.
Of course I can’t read for more than 15 minutes (especially if it’s assigned) without feeling like I’m going to pass out, so without further ado I gave in to temptation. I slept for about 43 minutes. I had set my alarm for 45, but Rachel came in and clomped around enough that I decided to get up anyway. Class started at two, so we went together.

We listened to a presentation on Arabian Nights that was extremely confusing, but it wasn’t long enough to completely lose us. We finished going over the Decameron and went over all of Petrarch in class. Petrarch wrote in Italian sonnets, which Paulette came in to read to us in the original Italian. It was very pretty and very neat to hear. Then we went over A Farewell to Arms, which sparked a debate on love at first sight. I didn’t get involved, but it was very interesting to hear Dr. Bane and Rachel go back and forth over the evidence that the two main characters had really been in love (DB: “But they escape to Switzerland in a boat together.” Rachel: “It’s soooooo laaaaaame. That doesn’t really happen. They don’t even know each other.”). After class, I went to the internet shop, checked the exchange rate, and went and withdrew the last of my money – which will most certainly last me until Sunday, through Cinqueterra (I’m so excited about the beach!), and the last of the souvenirs I have to buy.

Rachel and I went back up to the room and started reading the Kokinshu for our presentation tomorrow. When we realized that the excerpts we had gave no historical context or extra information, we went ahead and went back to the internet place and researched a bit. I think we both ended up on Facebook more than we did on research, but I can’t complain.

When we got back, we talked about the presentation, Japanese people, racism, American hatred of minorities, liberalism and conservatism, hating sins and loving people, minsinterprations of the bible, and so on. It was an interesting stream of conversation that revealed more about ourselves to each other than would have otherwise been – all over some ancient Japanese poetry.

*”….Ponte Vecchio to put their locks on the bridge…”: This is for the lovers out there. Two people who love each other will buy a lock. They can decorate it, inscribe their initials in it, do whatever to it to make it their own. Then those two people go down to the Ponte Vecchio. At one of the four points of the square in the middle of the bridge, the two will go and fasten their lock on to metal rings cemented into the wall or onto other locks that are already there. That lock symbolizes that the relationship has been guaranteed by the act. It’s a sweet legend and tradition. I’ll find out from the others if it actually comes true.

Day 23

Posted by Whit Barringer 9:00 AM


CT 5:05
IT 12:05

Solemn Goodbyes and the Promises Within.

(Again, two days have passed since these events.)

I had to get up and be checked out before 9, which is the most ridiculous check-out time in history. After I settled everything, I got some pre-packaged toast and hit the road. The right bus didn’t come, so I went ahead and walked to S.M.E. It was the last time I was going to get to see it, so it was just as well for me to take advantage of the hike. I took the first boat to Piazza San Marco so I could do one of the other museums on my short itinerary for the day. The Ducal Palace (meaning the Duke or Doge’s residence) was my first stop.

The palace is extremely huge and full of decent artwork (it’s not nearly as ornate as the Palazzo Vecchio in my opinion, but I didn’t get to take the secret tour of the Doge’s palace). The Doge of Venice was a duke without much political or religious power (it was mostly ruled by councils and the like). Because of this I’m not actually sure what the actual role of the Doge was. To live in the palace? To have a figurehead ruler for life? I really don’t know. I didn’t have any tour information when I was going through and the book I bought at the end wasn’t really that specific about the office. I suppose I’ll have to do separate reading. The actual construction of the palace was different than other palazzi (if that is indeed the plural) that I’ve been in. There were quite a few interesting differences between it and other places I’ve been, so that was kind of fun.

After I got out of the Ducal Palace, I decided two things. The first was that I would call Dr. Bane and tell him that if he wanted to meet me where I was (it’s fun to be alone and do stuff on your own, but I like having people to share the experience with as well). The second was that I had gotten my money’s worth out of my San Marco Plus pass and that it was time to get most of my shopping done. That said, I headed toward the next boat to the Rialto Bridge. It was extremely crowded, but it was a rather short ride compared to many of the others.

Once I got to the Rialto Bridge, I headed for the lace shop and the glass shop, which faced each other on either side of the bridge walkway. In the Burano lace shop I pulled out my Italian 101 lessons and used “Questo” (“this one”) on three different items and pulled out my card, mindful of the exchange rate that was supposedly phenomenally high. I then went to the Murano glass shop and bought some more families after some deliberation. When they ran my card, this particular shop showed me what it would be in USD as well. It should have said $25 in USD if the exchange rate was what the signs around town were saying, but it said $23 and some odd cents. I thought this was highly peculiar, so I went to a nearby ATM. On the way I saw a sign in a window that said 1.38 – meaning that the place I had seen originally was charging an outrageous rate of at least 12 cents over the exchange rate. I withdrew the last bit of my money that I could, with enough to pay Dr. Bane back for the gondola ride and dinner, and felt a great weight lift off of my shoulders. Exchange rates wreak havoc on your soul. Believe me.
I got some gelato (limone is especially good in Venice, according to my expert opinion) and headed back to St. Mark’s in case Dr. Bane called. He never did, so I wandered around the square once or twice, bought some corn, fed the pigeons, and headed to Ferrovia (lit. “street of iron”) to the train station. I got a tuna sandwich and a water a and sat in the train station for over an hour waiting on people. Slowly people I knew started trickling in until we were all present and accounted for. We all got on the train together and mostly fell asleep. I felt a strong pang of sadness. Venice had been my favorite, especially due to its peacefulness. But with every goodbye, there is a hope of another meeting, chance or no. I’ll wait for my next chance. Goodbyes are never forever anyway.

Toward the end of the trip, most of us started waking up and talking. We reminisced (about the trip, about Baridon, etc.) until we got to Florence. Once we got off the train, Dr. Bane and Paulette invited as many of us as wanted to go to Gilli (the chocolate store that is apparently a restaurant as well) to meet Danielle. I was the only one that went, but I figured I could use a cheap dinner. Much to my distress, it was neither cheap nor a full dinner. I got nearly the same thing I did in Rome at the L’insalata place and it was about 1/3 of the size with harder cheese. I was disappointed, especially since it cost an outrageous 11.50. Win some, lose some.

Afterward, we decided to go in and get chocolate. I got a rossa, cremini, caffe, and some kind of toffee type chocolate. I ate my caffe first. It had a coffee bean on top. It was crunchy and, of course, bitter, but it was good. I had the rossa next, which looked like it was dipped in white chocolate. I took a bite and nearly spit it out. Danielle had hers next, and she described at as tasting like potpourri. We agreed on this (Dr. Bane took a bite and spit it back out). The cremini was the best out of the ones I had had so far, as it tasted the most like a crème caramel chocolate. Then I had the toffee thing, which was pretty disgusting as well. I knew I wasn’t a big chocolate fan for a reason. I think it’s because, for the most part, chocolate is big miss on flavor with me. I’ve never been much of a sweets fan anyway. As good after dinner conversation, someone began talking about Dr. Bane’s daughter being in the girl scouts, which prompted me to tell the story of my feet.*

I walked back with Dr. Bane and Paulette toward their apartment on Bargello and headed back toward my apartment. After I got up the room, I began cataloguing all of my loot for others and tried to figure out who I was missing. Then I realized that I was going to have quite a time getting all of my things home and began brainstorming for that huge obstacle.

After a long day, I went straight to bed. I was exhausted (and extremely hot – the summer’s are just as bad here as they are in Arkansas, except with no air conditioning). But at the same time, I was discouraged at how Venice had simply come and gone – quietly all the while. One day I will have to come back, and I can’t wait to do so.

*“….which prompted me to tell the story of my feet.”: For those of you who are extremely queasy, or are not interested in any sidenotes that don’t have to do with my experiences in Italy or thoughts on the world abroad, you might not want to read on.

When I was in second grade, I was in Girl Scouts. One weekend we all went on a mandatory camping trip. There were something like 10 or 15 girls on said trip, and we were all supposed to sleep in the same tent. As probably could have been expected, there wasn’t enough room in the tent for all of us and the chaperones, so my mom was going to sleep outside the tent. I decided I would sleep with her. My mom let me have the side closest to the fire to keep warm in the night. In no time we were both sound asleep.

Now there is some bylaw in Girl Scout code that has a mandatory time that the fire must be put out. The women who were with us were too absorbed in conversation to really pay attention to what was going on (what harm could come from a fire that was nearly down to the coals anyway?). It turns out that my sleeping bag was on an incline. I more than likely slid than rolled, but the effect was the same: I ended up with the foot end of my sleeping bag in the fire. I woke up to the smell of something burning (you can imagine what), and saw the sleeping bag on fire before I registered that my feet were also burning.

I started screaming and scooted out of the sleeping bag as fast as I could, but the damage was done. The nylon had melted into my foot, and I was in a lot of pain. My mom started screaming, the women started babbling, and the other scouts were flabbergasted. Thus we went to the hospital and I had to be driven to Children’s Hospital in Little Rock – in an ambulance!

Somewhat later on my foot got infected and it had to be scrubbed with a fingernail brush – which is one of the most painful experiences I can somewhat remember in my entire life. In the end, I was in a wheelchair for two months before I could recover enough to walk on my own again without crutches.

That is the story of my feet. Not too pleasant, I know.

Day 22

Posted by Whit Barringer 8:57 AM


CT 11:25
IT 6:25


(Two days have passed by now since these events, so forgive me for those things that are vague or not mentioned at all.)

Because I stayed by myself on the far side of the island, I was subject to my own schedule for the most part. That said, I figured I would go straight to San Marco and hit the museums. Unlike the day before, the Circulare bus didn’t come, so I decided to take Bus A since it was probably going to come back to S.M.E. anyway. Wrong. I was on the part of the circuit that went straight to the other side of the island. I have a picture of the sign that said I entered another town. Anyway, I got out at the last stop and then hopped back on the bus after taking pictures (at the end of one leg of the route, the bus drivers get out and stretch). I then got back to S.M.E. and took the ferry right away.

I got the Piazza San Marco and twiddled my thumbs a bit, wondering what to do. I kind of wanted to feed the pigeons, but I had 30 Euro in my wallet and I wanted to make it last until I left. I saw a huge line for Basilica di San Marco, so I went ahead and got in line, reading Italo Calvino all the while. When I got closer to the church, I saw bad news: I had to go check my bag at a place that wasn’t in the church. So I had to get out of line, go to San Basso church just a block away, check my bag, and come back and get in at the end of the line. It was a major detriment to my enthusiasm, but the line moved pretty quickly and I got to listen to the British people behind me read out of their guide book.

When we got inside the door, there were people being taken aside and cloaked with what looked like butcher paper. One of the women behind me gasped (well, it was hideous), and said, “Why are they putting that on?” I turned and told her (from my plentiful experience) that they had to wear it because their shoulders had to be covered. The woman behind me said, “OOOOOH. Of course” and submitted herself to fashion hell. I had jean capris and a t-shirt on, so as usual I was fine. When I walked in, for someone who has museum/church fatigue, I was generally awed. Every inch of ceiling was covered in gold and multi-color mosaic. It was absolutely gorgeous. Think my pictures of the baptistery over a space 20 times bigger. It was absolutely gorgeous and inspiring.

I hadn’t expected getting in the church to be free, but I soon found out why. To get into the Treasury of Saint Mark, two rooms to the side, I had to pay 2 Euro. I tried to pull a student discount (remember how much I have to work with), but the guy shook his head, looking kind of tired of me already. I forked it over reluctantly (you have to constantly remind yourself that a) you’ll never be able to come back or b) you don’t know when you’ll be able to come back, or you will never be able to spend money). The treasure ended up being mostly reliquaries. When we went to the Medici Chapel last week, we thought that was a lot of dead people in pretty caskets. There were so many people’s parts in those little jars and chests that it almost looked like a Frankensteinian graveyard. Some of the coolest ones were in the shape of forearms – complete with hands – with windows to the bones in the arm that they contained, the actual container being gold and gem encrusted. It was a fantastic show of what I consider to be an ugly part of the Catholic Church – the dissection and dismantling of human beings for political and religious purposes. While it may be ugly, it’s extremely interesting to look at. The second room mostly had artifacts from 9th and 10th century Constantinople and Byzantium (pre-Schism), huge swords, and other such treasures. I also saw what would end up being the first of many artifacts that had been taken to New York to be in an exhibit called Venice and the Islamic World.

When I exited the treasure of San Marco, I looked for tombs. I usually find those the most fascinating aspect of these Catholic churches. Surrounded by dead people, worshippers pray for their salvation and for their own guarantee of an afterlife. But there weren’t many to be seen in this church. The mosaics (anytime you see a mosaic in Italy it’s either going to be ancient Roman or Byzantine. If you ever come, you’ll see that this influence is everywhere) were pretty much the life of the party here, especially the ceilings and the floor. Even the floors were covered from wall to wall in swirling and optical illusion mosaics.

I went up to see the screen and realized that I had to pay again, this time only 1.50. The man was a lot nicer than the last guy, at least saying, “Buongiorno.” I paid him and said “grazie” to which he said, “Prego, rigazza. Ciao.” Where I would consider it a bit belittling for someone to consistently call me “sweetie” or “dear” in the States, rigazza has its own charm (depending on the gender, it means “young girl” or “young boy”). Anyway, I went up the stairs to go to the Pala d’Oro, which is something like an altar screen I think (I’m not sure how these things work). On one side it was a painting on wood of saints and Christ (almost as common as the Crucifix and Madonna and Child). On the other side was this beautiful array of Christ, apostles, and saints, plated in gold and encrusted with gems on every side of it. It was absolutely gorgeous and gaudy, which I think was the point to an extent. After that, I walked around the church slowly, trying to absorb as much as I could. The church was holding mass at the time I came in, so I went ahead and left for the gift shop. I bought some postcards and a book and left. I got my bag and tried to determine what I should do next.

I knew there were museums across the piazza from the church because I had seen signs for exhibits. I thought, “Why not?” and went to check on what was up. There was a huge sign about a pass, but it was about as labyrinthine as the city so I had no idea what I was actually reading. I went up these huge stairs to a room filled with gift shop books and two clerks. The one I went up to spoke perfect English and told me that I could get into all of the San Marco plus quite a few civic museums for 18 Euro (one museum, the Ducal Palace, was 13 Euro alone). I didn’t want to pay that much (and I wasn’t going to be here that long), so the guy suggested I take the San Marco + Pass that only included the museums of San Marco plus one other civic museum for 13. I took that deal, because I planned on going to two other museums, making the pass more than pay for itself. I got my pass, checked my bag, and went through the Museo Correi.
Which was a bit disappointing.

See, I’ve come from Florence, the Renaissance city, so 17th century art is kind of anticlimactic to me. I did like the ancient artifacts, like the map room and Venezian armory, but otherwise it was almost a bust. When I came out of the museum, I was trying to decide where I wanted to go next. I walked along the right arm of San Marco when I got a call from Dr. Bane, telling me he was in the piazza. I went to find him and with one more call, we successfully found each other. He said that his bunch was trying to get money out of an ATM and then they were going to the Accademia, where some Da Vinci stuff is supposedly being held (insert Bane’s hypothesis that the Vitruvian Man, which the museum claims to hold, has been lost as he has not seen it at the Accademia or any Accademia sponsored exhibit where it was supposedly placed). They invited me to go with him, but I refused saying I still wanted to go to Murano, the glass craft island. We parted ways and I took the 45 minute boat ride to Murano.

Murano is a twin island to Burano (though the latter is smaller). Both islands have their craft of choice – Murano being glass and glass blowing and Burano being lace and lace-making. As can be imagined, Murano is the island of choice for wealthy tourists but also those who are curious – as they do glass blowing “shows.” Burano is less touristy, but tours can still be taken to see the lace workers on the job. I had come to see the glass blowers actually blow glass. However, Dr. Bane and Paulette had talked about how they will try to show you to a big show room, give you champagne, and look at things that are over 1000 Euro. I saw people waving people in, and I ignored them, thinking they were trying to steal my money or make me buy something I didn’t want to. When I realized that I was so afraid of being conned into a bad situation I wasn’t seeing anything, I decided I didn’t need to be there. I had called Natalie, trying to meet up with them, but it turns out I was on the wrong side of the island anyway. So I hopped on the next boat to the Lido – after I’d gotten a coke.

When I got to Lido, I’m not really sure what happened. I got on the right bus, but not at the right stop. So I waited for a bus to go the other way since I’d gone too far. The bus I got on took me in a complete opposite direction than I thought it should have, so I ended up having to take another bus back to S.M.E. I finally got the right bus, go to the Hotel Meridiana, went up to my room, and got a call from Dr. Bane asking if I was coming back. So I stayed for literally five minutes, went back out the door, and waited for the bus. The bus I needed didn’t come, so I had to walk back to S.M.E. – only 15 -20 minutes this time. I took the Accademia vaparetto and as soon as I stepped off, Dr. Bane and Paulette were there waiting for me. Turns out they had already done the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim museum. We all went out for gelato, but went ahead and got Giuandotto or something to that effect. It’s a treat only served in Venice. Basically they take a huge slab of chocolate, cut off a rectangle, and drop it in a cup of cream. It was good, but I didn’t want to finish it because I’m not that huge of a fan of chocolate. Then we all decided to go back to the Rialto Bridge to shop a little.

When we got off at the Rialto Bridge, a change place on the side said the exchange rate there was 1.50. I started freaking out and I called my mom to warn her she might have to help me out with the exchange rate going up. Dr. Bane and Paulette offered to spot me until Florence in case the exchange rate was lower there. I went to a couple of shops and bought some glass animal families for gifts and myself a masque. Dr. Bane had started gathering people to go on a gondola ride and to figure out who all wanted to go to dinner (I hadn’t eaten anything substantial yet at this point). Our reservations were for 9:30, so we could go on a gondola ride at around 7:30. We amassed 18 people while Paulette went and bargained with the gondoliers. We got a chain smoker, who only sat on the dock and puffed away. He was certainly good natured though.

We all got into the boat, me last. When I sat down he said it wouldn’t work and wanted me to switch with someone across the boat. One of the scariest moments in my life trying to walk across a gondola, but I made it without any tipping. Then we set sail through Venice. We got to see the water damage up close, which ended up being my interest throughout the entire ride. It was so quiet, though. The gondolier would occasionally point out one of the houses of Marco Polo (which prompted us to sing, “Marco Polo One, Marco Polo Two, Marco Polo Three,” and so on) as well as the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs. It was a fun ride and I might like to do it again sometime.

Btw, the gondoliers don’t sing anymore. They have a separate company for it, whom they have to call. They’ll send out an accordion player and a singer, who sit in the boat with you with the gondolier. So no, there was no singing. But we tried to get them to.

After all of the gondola rides, we took off a brisk pace to get to this excellent restaurant Paulette and Dr. Bane kept talking about. We went the wrong way two or three times. When we finally got there, there were 12 of us and they volunteered at table for all of us instead of the original nine on the reservation if we would wait 10 more minutes. We did and then went up to the second floor of the restaurant. It was the first time I was going to eat all day, so I got salmon pasta and sautéed mushrooms. Good lord, I’ve never seen so much pasta on one plate for one person. It was huge and extremely good.

After dinner, we all went to the dock and hopped on the boat. Dr. Bane showed me where I needed to get off if I wanted to go to Lido Casino, but I decided to go on with the rest of them and either catch the bus or walk home. I ended up doing the latter, but it was safe or I wouldn’t have even mentioned it. I was exhausted from my long day and was completely ready to go to bed. Instead, I went downstairs and used the Wi-Fi, trying to get my money’s worth. The clerk happened to be asleep on the couch when I came in, and hopped up when he heard me like he’d never been asleep. Then he started to come back into the room and groaned when he saw I was still there. About 10 minutes later, he came back with a pillow and asked if I was going to go to bed. He laid down on the couch and I just stared at him (all of the passports that people had given for their room keys were still in open cubby holes next to the unlocked front door) and said, “Hopefully.” He asked me when I checked out. I told him and he grunted and went back to sleep. When I went to bed he told me bye.

Day 21

Posted by Whit Barringer 8:55 AM


CT 6:21
IT 1:21

Venetian Labyrinth and the Sick Whit-Whit

My first day in Venice! So much to tell.

This morning we met at the train station at 8:15 for our 8:37 departure. On the way there, my alarm that I had snoozed and reset continuously started going off in the side pocket of my backpack. I reached around to get it and fumbled it – right onto the pavement. The screen is all blank except for the time and weird strips of LCD. I didn’t let it slow me down (I remembered putting insurance on it) – I was off to Venice.

On the train I rode with Halley, Caitlin, and Kim on my side of the aisle and Rachel, Kara, Megan, and Kate on the other side. We talked initially, but one by one sleep took hold of us until even I had to give in. It was so uncomfortable to sleep that way, as the seats don’t recline, and we all woke up not too long after we had started. We tried to play a game of Spades before we made it to the right Venice train station, but we didn’t have enough time.

When we first stepped out of the train station, I was taken by a smidge of awe. Right before us was our first Venetian waterway. Private boats, water taxis (like regular taxis but with higher fees and… in the water), vaparettos (water buses), and gondolas all converging in some strange superhighway. I got even more excited, but in a weird dreamy way.

Dr. Bane told us about our options for vaparetto passes to get back and forth from our hotel island, Lido. It would cost 30 Euro for a 72 hr. pass that would expire the day after we left, but it would cost 25 Euro for a 48 hr. pass that would expire three hours before we left on Sunday. We decided to wait a few hours and then get the 48 hr. pass and save 5 Euro. We traveled down the first of many winding streets, looking for a place to eat because we were so hungry. Paulette explained to one of the waiters that tried to stop us that we were all poor students. The guy decided to cut us a deal for 10 Euro a person – drink and pasta or pizza. We jumped on it (as it usually turns out to be that much after we split a check), and found out we were perhaps mistaken. Those who had ordered pasta were especially disappointed as it was most certainly a “European portion.” My pizza was bigger but not nearly as big as some I’ve seen. It wasn’t even very spicy for a “Diavolo” pizza, but it was still good. I drank water, so I didn’t get the 10 Euro worth in my opinion.

Afterwards we found 1 Euro gelato and ate it while we watched the pigeons be pigeons. Dr. Bane came and got us after he and Paulette had finished eating dinner. While we were waiting on them, the few art people that had come called us and said that there reservations had been cancelled for some reason and they would probably need a place to stay. I immediately said no, because, as will be seen, I was already thinking about smuggling in two people. We all headed back to the booth, only to find out that we could get a student discount, but that we would have to wait another 45 minutes for that ticket booth to open. It would be the 72 hr for 22 Euro. We all decided to wait the 45 minutes for the 3 Euro difference (counting it in gelatos, of course). I sat on the steps of the train station while others went and shopped. After 2:00, we all met back and waited for the office to open at 2:15. Since we were going to try and sneak people in (Kim and Caitlin with me, Halley and Natalie with Rachel), we had to go together to establish a plan. We all jumped on the vaparetto, not knowing when more water buses would run for Lido island. We made it with less than a minute to spare.

Thus our first look at Venezia began. It was so fascinating to see how steps that used to be above water were now well below, and how doors that had once been portals into houses and shops were now eaten away by the all-consuming Adriatic Sea. There was no mercy for finer art either, as some of the most historic buildings that we passed had two and three steps under water – and that was what we could see from a boat. It was insane and odd to see, but so beautiful.

When we finally got to Lido, we had to pow-wow about who was staying with whom. Halley, Kim, Natalie, and Caitlin hadn’t made reservations, so Rachel and I were going to smuggle two in at each hotel. However, Dr. Bane was able to make a deal for 50 Euro a night for two of them to stay in an extra room at his bed and breakfast (it was more like a condo). Caitlin and Kim, the two that would have stayed with me, took the offer. In the meantime, Rachel was searching frantically for her phone – then we found out she had lost it. Halley and Natalie stayed with her, and I started off toward my hotel. There was a sign nearby that had nearly all of the hotels on the island on it, and it said mine was straight ahead. Dr. Bane had told it was a small island, so I walked. How far could it be?

It actually ended up being 30-45 minutes of walking for me to get there. We had been let off at Santa Maria Elisabetta, and I had to get to the very end of Via Lepanto for my hotel. The way I went turned out to be the longest way I could have possibly gone, but that’s what I get for following the sign. I was fine with it because I got to see a good portion of Lido on “walking tour.” It was so quiet. The loudest sound I heard on my walk (besides people) was a bicycle’s tires on the pavement. That’s it. That’s why the city is called Venezia Serenissima (lit. “Very Serene Venice”). The address for the Hotel Meridiana was 45 Lepanto, which seems like it wouldn’t be very far away. Turns out that all of the buildings on Lepanto at least are numbered with letters (i.e. 33a, 33b, 33c, 33d). When I finally made it to the hotel (which happened to be the very last building on the street), I felt a mix of disappointment and relief that it was all over. But the day was getting hot very fast, so I headed in anyway.

Check-in was rather uneventful. She asked for my passport as collateral for the key, but I shook my head. They’ve put the fear of God in me about these passports. She took my license instead, which was just fine with me. She told me “down the corridor, 3rd floor” for my room no. 35. I went down the first corridor and up to the third floor without even looking at the numbers. When I got up there, all of the doors were numbered in the 20s. I looked at the key, then back at the doors. Key. Doors. Then I thought, “Oh, maybe she meant what the 3rd floor would be in America,” (if you didn’t know, the floor you walk to from outside is usually ground floor or Floor 0 in Europe). So I went back down from what could have possibly been the 4th floor to the 3rd floor. Those numbers were in the teens. I was getting really frustrated, but then I remembered at the Hotel Tiziano in Rome that the first floor that had rooms was numbered in the 600s. Maybe the first room floor was actually numbered as the highest. Proud at my pulling of information from my experiences here, I went down to the first floor and saw single digit numbers.

Aggravated to no end, I went back up to the third floor (the European one – 3rd piano in Italian) and tried room 25, hoping that it was just a typo. No luck. Then I went back down to the second floor and tried 15. Then the first and tried 5. I was at an utter and complete loss of what to do. I went up and down the stair cases a couple more times before I swallowed my pride and stupidity to go ask. When I got down to the ground floor, I looked next to the stair case that I had just come down and saw another corridor. I went to this area and traveled down a few corridors until I found another staircase. Figuring why not, I went up to the first floor. Sure enough, there were more numbers. I kept climbing and got to the third floor. A man was there, singing in Italian and fixing something around the ceiling. I excused myself by him and his ladder, then had to excuse myself back through. There was no 35. The last number was 34. I had been so absorbed in finally getting to the third floor that I had totally ignored that there was another section of stair case, which spiraled up. Suspicious, I went up the staircase. Sitting at the top, as pretty as you please, was number 35. I was on the fourth piano – the one that didn’t exist in the other part of the hotel. After about 10 minutes of struggling to open the door, I burst through exhausted. Thus began my stay at the Hotel California.

I called Dr. Bane (I only had to push down because his was the first in my phone book) and he told me to meet them where we had been dropped off, but that I could use the bus because the vaparetto passes included bus fare. So I asked where the nearest bus stop was (Via Sandro Gallo) and hit that mother up. The bus that came just happened to be the Circulolare or something to that effect, and it made (*gasp*) a circle around the island back to S.M.E. I hopped on, started reading Italo Calvino for class (I was trying to impress the Italians that I was reading one of their major authors), and rode straight to the S.M.E. Dr. Bane was there with crew in tow, but Rachel and Halley were gone to go get something of Rachel’s. Because one of them had forgotten something, we missed the boat and had to wait 30 minutes for another one. Dr. Bane was not happy.

Anyway, the boat ride back over was rather uneventful. Dr. Bane told me about the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, which is the oldest in the world, and that he would take whoever wanted to go. I was all for it (of course), so we made tentative plans to go on Saturday. When we got back to Venice, we went straight to the most romantic spot in the world – St. Mark’s Square (or Piazza San Marco – the only piazza in Venice, actually). It was still daytime, but Dr. Bane said that at night there are string quartets and bands playing all around the square and they light the whole thing with soft white light. He also said that’s where he proposed to Paulette (which everyone AWWed at). The other thing St. Mark’s is known for is the pigeons. There are those places in major cities across the world where feeding pigeons is entertainment. This was where the pigeons would fly into the hand to eat corn. It was awesome. Though I think pigeons are freaky-looking birds (red eyes?), I was excited to be able to feed them. They don’t hurt because they want yellow stuff not pink (that’s the scientific explanation – ask the people with blond hair how much fun it was and they’ll give you a different answer).

How to get a bird in the hand (or even five, as we were soon to see):

1. Put corn into both hands.
2. Shake hands to let a little corn out so they birds know that you have some.
3. Wait patiently.
4. Don’t scream when they land on you. Apparently this is harder than it sounds. I witnessed those with difficulty.
5. If you want them to leave, do a “falconer”: move your hand down and then thrust it upward. The bird will get the hint and flap its wings. I say flap because the damn things were so fat they couldn’t fly but a few feet.

We all fed the pigeons and had little red marks on our arms from the bird claws, but they went away within the hour. There were literally thousands of birds in the square. It was so odd but very awesome.

After St. Mark’s we decided to go find something to eat. Dr. Bane led us as usual, but this time we found ourselves lost within the first few turns. We got to see the Rialto Bridge and do some window shopping, but we weren’t meaning to sightsee. We were trying to find a restaurant that was cheap, but none of them fit the bill. We had already spent 10 Euro, so it felt stupid to spend more than 20 on two meals when we had stuff at home. Paulette really needed to eat, so we finally found a place with decent prices. Paulette and I were discussing Italian cuisine, and she said Venice’s specialty would have something to do with seafood. So I got the seafood pizza (Frutti de Mare). For your own safety, do not do this. Paulette ordered pasta with black sauce. Afterwards, she was wondering what it was and I quoted Cooking Mama’s Cookoff, where black sauce was squid ink. She nearly hurled right then and there, waved the waiter over, and changed her order. I should have done the same.

The pizza came and I’m surprised every bit of seafood wasn’t walking or crawling off of my plate. The clams and mussels came still in the shell but baked into the pizza, along with shrimp and calamari (evident by tentacles). It was the Pizza from Hell, and I had to eat it or I would waste nearly 12 Euro. So I began by digging all that I could out of the shells and putting those aside. I then bent over the pizza to eat it, but found I couldn’t breathe in the fumes or it would make me sick. That many pieces of seafood are not meant to mix, I soon found out.

I ate most of the pizza, but I couldn’t a) look at the pizza, b) smell the pizza, or c) eat the pizza properly (I had to role up the pieces so I didn’t see what I was eating). I should have taken those three signs as divine intervention, but I could not manage to convince myself not to eat it because of the money. Anyway, my meal came out to 20 Euro, which is about 30 USD (it doesn’t take much to spend all your money here). I felt fine when we left, but soon my body retaliated with a vengeance.

Everyone else wanted dessert. I agreed to walk with them, but as we were walking I started feeling sick. When we sat down at the table, I wasn’t even able to look at food. At this point my stomach wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t enjoyable either. After everyone ate dessert, we left for St. Mark’s and the vaparetto dock. By this time, I’m getting extremely sick and don’t know how long I can keep walking. I tried to sit down, but my stomach fought me. I was reduced to pacing in a circle, never stopping. My entire chest cavity felt like a swirling mass of sick, but I wanted to wait. Maybe I could get back in time. We walked through St. Mark’s at its most romantic, lights turned on and five or six string quartets playing different pieces in this beautifully dissonant swirl of sound, but I couldn’t stop and listen.

We found out the bus was going to a place called Lido Casino. None of us knew where it was. It was deemed too far from where most of us lived, so we didn’t take it. And it was another hour at that dock for one going to Lido S.M.E. I could not wait an hour. I still didn’t know if the mass was going to go up or down, but I knew I had to find a bathroom or I was literally going to die, or a facsimile thereof.

While we were still trying to figure out where to go, a lady in the square pulled out a mouse marionette and was making it dance to music. She made it dance really well to techno music, but then played Sinatra’s “Amore” and made him dance to that. It was really cute, and I got video of it even though I was, again, dying. I heard Paulette ask where everyone was, and I pointed behind me. I thought all of us were watching the puppet, but when I looked up, everyone was gone. I looked both ways up the dock and didn’t see a single soul I knew. I was extremely upset and didn’t know what else to do, so I went to a restaurant and said, “Table for one. Do’ve bagno?”

When I came back from the bathroom, I was still not feeling much better. I had to order something, though. So I chose to get what the waiter called a mousse (it was a flan, the filthy liar) and a water, thinking I might need it. I couldn’t finish the dessert or the water. I got the check and it was 10 Euro. I left the water 1.50 because he had to wait on me. What does that mean? I spent 12 Euro to use a bathroom.

I used it again before I left (on principle – I had just paid a small fortune to do so) and headed back to the dock. It still said Lido Casino and the boat was going to be there in less than 10 minutes. I decided to risk it, hoping the Lido meant that I would at least be on the right island, and hoped that I was going to be okay.

When we pulled up to Lido Casino, I looked at my map and found out that I was less than two blocks away from my hotel. I could have gotten back with no problem whatsoever over an hour beforehand. I went in the door at the hotel and the clerk stopped me. With his broken English, the following conversation too place.

“Ah! You!” I come over to the desk.
“Ehhhhh… They call for you!’
“Who called for me?”
“I donno. But they call.”
“Ehhh… sign here.” I sign and he gets frustrated. “No! Here too!” I sign twice and he gives me back my license.
“They look for you!”

It was obvious who had called, but I was confused on how they found my hotel. So I hurried as fast as I could and called Dr. Bane. He answered with, “Where have you been?” I explained that I was back at the hotel and that I got sick. He said that they were on their way to go file a police report, Paulette was crying, everyone thought I was sick, dead, or mugged. I was surprised that had called my parents to say I was MIA.

Dr. Bane explained that while we were all watching the puppet, Paulette had come back to say that she had found us a boat that would go back to Lido S.M.E. Dr. Bane had called her over and Paulette had gone, thinking I was behind her. When they realized I wasn’t with them, they went to find me and couldn’t. They went all over Venice and were about to go file a police report with the Carabinieri near the dock when I called. He said that they called everyone trying to find out where I was staying and the best anyone came up with was “Mariana.” They called Jennifer Rospert, one of the art professors who went to Venice, and she got a phonebook. The closest one was Meridiana, so they called and the clerk wasn’t very helpful. I then told him what I had done, and Dr. Bane handed the phone to an upset Paulette so I could tell her I was okay but sick. We wished each other goodnight, I apologized, and hung up.

I decided to go take a shower because I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed. I turned on the TV to “7 GOLD” beforehand. When I came back in, there were nude people on my screen. My first thought was, “Oh my God, I’m paying for this.” But then I realized there were no nude men, and only topless woman – which is classified as “partial nudity.” Then I realized it wasn’t pay-per-view or anything like that, but a really cheesy, over-the-top, poor quality, Lifetime-esque early 90s movie in Italian. When I realized all of this, I decided to watch anyway – simply because you would never see anything like that on American television. The plotline was great, too: a woman seduces a man into a life of sultry and sordid sexual escapades. She even convinces him to invite another woman into their bed. However, for everything she did for him, she made him do spectacularly uncharacteristic things of this upper-middle class businessman: steal from a jewelry store, fence the same jewelry at a clandestine location, and agree to help her out when she needed it. When they guy goes to fence the jewels, he has a quick interlude with the female fence, and his girlfriend goes haywire (since she was waiting in the car the entire time). Anyway, it turns out that the guy’s crazy girlfriend is not just schizo (he looks it up in a medical dictionary, so I, the viewer, could understand his thoughts) but a witch as well, and she had murdered the girl that she and the guy had slept with. She finds out he knows, ties him up, punches him in the shoulder and the groin with a sharpened stiletto and beats him with a fireplace poker. He gets loose from the ties and has a fight with her. There’s a knife involved, the guy gets stabbed in the shoulder, they tango out to the balcony, he screams for help (a woman who wants to be involved with him suspects something when he doesn’t show up for work or some such nonsense, and calls the police over there), the girl comes after him, and he launches her off the balcony. In a cheesy three cut sequence, we see her begin to fall, a body falling through mid-air, and a body on the ground. Then the movie ends.

I said long-story short, and I only lied a bit. I left out lots of juicy details. But yeah, it was one of those movies that simply watching and not knowing the language told you as much or more than the dialogue would have. I even forgot I was watching in Italian once or twice.

Day 20

Posted by Whit Barringer 8:53 AM


CT 5:57

IT 12:57

Today wasn’t actually that exciting, but I of course have to tell you about it anyway.
We had decided to meet at the school at 10:00 to go to the Bargello, a museum exclusive to sculpture and little else. When we all got to the school, we headed toward the museum, trying to figure out what time we should meet for class in the afternoon (usually the decision is between 2-4 and 4-6). In Florence there are always cars trying to go through crowds of people in the streets. Well, most of us were on the sidewalk, but it was a really tight squeeze. A taxi was coming through the street and honked its horn for us to move out of the road. The next thing I heard was the smack of the taxi hitting something behind me and a blood-curdling scream. Turns out, it was my roommate.

I know what you’re thinking: Oh my God, is she okay? Of course she’s okay. The silly goose got hit wit the rear-view mirror and it folded against the car. It mostly hit her backpack (later on I heard “Oh man, my pastries!” – referring to our stop at the 99 cent store on the way to school that morning. Don’t worry. They were okay.), but it just really surprised her. We all laughed and giggled nervously, wonder what could have happened if she had really been in the street. Not surprisingly to us, the taxi never stopped.

Anyway, the rest of our short trip to the Bargello turned out to be uneventful, and we got into the museum with no problems (besides having to check our backpacks). The museum holds a lot of examples of Donatello’s work, so it was really interesting to see one of the Ninja Turtles body of work. There were lots of very different things there too, like a lot of booty from the Crusades and metal work from nations across Europe. There was even a medieval suit of armor, but we saw it through a window and couldn’t actually get to it because that wing of the Bargello (once a medieval prison) was closed. Paulette even asked for me.

After the Bargello Halley, Rachel, and I decided that we needed to catch up on reading. We went to the break room of Kent State, ate candy bars and pastries (unsmooshed), and drank coke and water while we read. I couldn’t read that long (I’m not really sure why – I think I was just bored with the whole prospect), so I drew on my hand this elaborate picture of God knows what. It started as a watch drawn on my tan line, but it ended up having a guy eating my watch while poking it with a pitchfork (which gushes dye on to this Frenchman’s cap and neck tie), while bees come out of his hair and swarm around a hunny pot, which drips yellow droplets onto an umbrella – all while a huge smiling sun hides behind two thunder clouds that are throwing lightning bolts that are electrocuting at least one bee. It was an odd picture, and I certainly didn’t mean for it to be a work of art, but it looked pretty interesting traveling up my arm. I even colored in the backs of my fingers with check marks. Anyway, the other two never even noticed until just before class time two hours later. They were engrossed and I was not. What can I say.

Class was the most interesting we’ve had. We talked very little about the Decameron (which has some great stories), but about religion and sex in American – two of the best topics ever. It was more about money, wealth, and poverty than the other two, but religion got in there because of biblical ideas on money. It was an extremely useful conversation, I think. Caitlin and I continued the conversation afterward on certain highlights, which is even more fun.

I had to go to the grocery store after class because I had promised to make pasta for five or six (the across-the-Arno apartment, Rachel, and me). I got pasta, sauce, spices, and cheese for 13 Euro and had enough to feed us all, or so I thought. When we went back to the apartment and I actually started cooking, it ended up being enough to feed all of us plus four or five more. It was pretty insane, but nobody went hungry and everyone liked it.

After dinner, we all laid around like we were wounded. None of us could move, and there was still desert. After we managed to cram some of that down, we decided to formulate a plan for the night. Some of the guys (three of the five that were still on the trip) wanted to go out to the pub. The girls wanted to meet them, but I needed to get online. Since they were going to a place by my apartment, they would just call me when they got there.

I got online, posted journals, and waited. I didn’t hear anything from anybody. Turns out, they had forgotten to call me, saying that I was supposed to call them. So I went anyway. I had one beer because I didn’t want to sit there for an hour with nothing in hand. We did get Dr. Bane and Paulette to come out for about an hour, which was that much more fun. Rachel and I decided to walk Megan home around twelve and we got home around 12:20. I decided to call my mom and grandmother because I hadn’t done it this weekend like I had promised (Rome was an extremely busy weekend). We all talked and got to hear each other’s voices. I packed and then went to bed

And that was my day, the highlight being my roommate being hit by a car.

Day 19

Posted by Whit Barringer 8:51 AM


CT 5:21
IT 12:21

Pisa Pisa!

We met at the train station at 9:00. We were kind of excited, but we were all exhausted. The trains were supposed to be an hour apart, but because two people were late we weren’t able to catch the 9:37 and had to wait for the 10:37. I wasn’t too peeved, though I did get mad at myself for falling into the McDonald’s trap.

The train ride was rather uneventful. I listened to my iPod and stared out the window. I sat with Kara, Megan, and Kate, but I didn’t bother them. I was so tired.
When we got to the train station, we had to go under the platform and then back up into the lobby. Dr. Bane went and got bus tickets for all of us to get to the Campo di Miracoli (Field of Miracles). We all managed to cram on one bus (it was 14 art kids and 14 lit – plus a professor).. We initially went the wrong way down the street, but Dr. Bane managed to turn us all around. Within a few blocks, we were upon the Leaning Tower.

It was built to be a bell tower, but it began to lean because it’s build on a flood plain. It was pretty impressive at first, but then we realized that it was a lot smaller than all of us had previously thought. I don’t think it’s even the tallest building in the Campo, which is really disappointing. One really interesting thing about it that I found out/realized – it’s not just leaning. It’s banana shaped. They tried to compensate for the leaning by building the successive floors as counterweights. It’s hard to see, but the giveaway is in the lengths of the columns for each floor.

People then began taking the obligatory pictures of holding up the tower. It was pretty funny to see all of the people lining up (which is what I actually took pictures of). Our group did that for a few minutes until Dr. Bane had gotten the group ticket for all of us. He said that it was 15 until 1, and if his memory served him correctly, we were going to be able to go hear someone sing in the baptistery on the hour (it’s supposedly the most acoustic buildling in the world). We all agreed to go. Once we all got in, we sat down and waited.

The Baptistery was not nearly as ornate as the others we had seen. Ravenna’s and Florence’s were awesomely decorated with mosaics. The Baptistery was pretty bare. But the woman walked up to the baptismal font, sung three notes that made chords, and walked away. Most people were upset that she didn’t actually sing a song, but if she had even tried to it would have sounded horrible. It echoed beautifully, though.

After this, we broke for lunch because it was already 1:10. I went with Dr. Bane and his crew to a nearby restaurant with a view of the leaning tower. I had a Cuatro Formaggi pizza, which was actually pretty disgusting as far as the food I’ve had here goes. We left and went back to the baptistery to meet the rest of the people. From there, we went into the Duomo. It was pretty impressive, but it felt like just another church. After that we went to the Camposanto, which is a huge cemetery housed in a building. It caught fire from a grenade explosion in WWII. If this had not of happen, it would have been on par with famous frescoes like the Sistine Chapel. I was more interested in the graves though, and I enjoyed the walkthrough.

Dr. Bane then asked who wanted to go to the museums. Teri and I were the only students who wanted to go, so we went to both museums… within 15 minutes. They were horribly small, but they had some interesting artifacts (like booty from the crusades – including a hippogryph). It was interesting in spite of the size of the museums.

After that, we went and grabbed some gelato (I had lemon and strawberry). I went back to the Baptistery where we were supposed to meet, but I ended up going to buy souvenirs. I got Jeremy a t-shirt and Jacob a leaning shot glass (of course), and went back to our meeting spot after getting two waters.

Then we all trekked back out to the front of the piazza to catch a bus. There were few enough of us to fit on one bus again. After we got to the train station, I got a Kinder bar (German chocolate bar) and waited for the train. Once it finally got there, we hopped on. There weren’t enough seats for us to all sit together, so Rachel and I had to sit in the back of a car by ourselves. It was so hot on the regional train.

When we got back, we decided to go eat at a Doner Kebab place. It was extremely good, and pretty cheap. After I went back to Halley, Caitlin, Kim, and Natalie’s apartment, we decided to meet Kara, Kate, and Megan to play poker. I went to the internet café with Caitlin, then came back to read Hemingway. As usual, I fell asleep with the book on my face.

At 9:30 we went to meeting Megan and Kara at the Duomo. Turns out none of us had brought any cards. Instead, we just talked for a few hours. Somehow the argument turned to religion. I’m all about talking about it with open-minded people, but there was at least one who wasn’t, making the whole conversation awkward.

We mostly left together and I went with Rachel. We got lost on the way back to the apartment. When we finally got there, we realized that we had only been a block away from our apartment the entire time. It was late and we were extremely tired, as I still am.

And that was the day at Pisa. (Sorry about the boring writing style – I’m writing this two days after the fact.)

Day 18

Posted by Whit Barringer , Thursday, June 14, 2007 2:33 PM


CT 2:47
IT 9:47

Back and Barely Kicking.

Today was my first full day back “home” from Rome. It was interesting how quickly I latched on to Florence after coming back. I feel like a little girl who’s gone to the big city from her country home only to find it unwelcoming. Though I would hardly call myself a little girl, or coming from a country home in Florence, the situation was most certainly comparable. The sights, smells, and feeling of Florence was welcoming to me, and I felt like I’d come to a place where I could at least rest.

We met at the school at 10:00 this morning. Apparently Rome was kind enough to give us some type of plague, as we acquired somewhat of an “attrition rate” with sick people. One couldn’t even show up, and five or six more were sick but able to come. I was relatively fine, though I was a bit upset that I was in my very last set of clean clothes. As far as the condition of the group went, I was in tip-top shape. We stopped at the American Express so Dr. Bane and Paulette could buy our train tickets to Venezia (Venice). While we were waiting, I asked Natalie about the Cat Sanctuary in Rome, because she happened to stumble across it after I’d been looking for it for an hour. She said that the sanctuary is actually part of the ruins, and for 7 of the 14 years they have been in them, the police have tried to kick them out for technically being illegal. Cats that wander into the ruins are spayed and neutered and given free surgery if they need it. If someone calls them, they can go get the cat, spay and neuter them, let them heal, and release them back into the neighborhood. If they’re in the ruins, they can keep them. They said they get a lot of eye infections, so they have quite a few blind cats that can’t go back out. But after they have their own cage for two months, they are put in a room together for two months. If that works out, then they are released back into the ruins. During surgery, the sanctuary will clip the tip of the cat’s ear as an identifier. Turns out most of the cats they take care of stay in the ruins of Torre Argentina. Natalie said she applauded their work, as it was all volunteers, and that they have done a lot to help the cat population in Rome. Apparently, Italy doesn’t support spaying and neutering because they believe it will put vets out of business. (Side note: Natalie also said that after WWII, Italians vowed to never eat cats again even if times were as desperate as they had been.)

Our first stop was the Church of Santa Maria Novella. For those of you who have read or heard of (or done neither) Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron”, the characters in the frame story are actually in this same church, hiding from the plague. Though the story is just that, Dr. Bane said they do believe people came to the church to hide from the plague. The church was absolutely gorgeous. It felt as big as the Duomo without the dome. There were famous pieces in there by all different artists. The stained glass windows were beautiful. Some of them were positioned just right to allow the sunlight to carry the colors. There were no pictures allowed, or I would have taken a million photos. Instead I bought an 8 Euro book with full color photos to commemorate the experience and to help the church restore the paintings (ticket and gift shop proceeds go to restoring the pieces in the church). It has the first and only nude crucifix I’ve seen in all of Italy (by Brunelleschi) and huge floor to ceiling frescos that were absolutely breathtaking. (This is also where we saw a fresco with something like a hundred saints in it with one of them holding a Gremlin-like creature.)

Next we went to the Medici Chapel. This was probably the highlight of the day, simply because of its ostentatious ugliness. When we entered we were ushered into the reliquary room. Bones of saints were in impossibly elaborate vials, cases, and chests. There was even a jaw bone. I remember reading about St. Peter’s Basilica and how it was formed in a time when a church’s worth was judged by the gravity of its relics, which is why St. Peter’s became the most well known church in the world. I think the Medicis had the same thought, though the relics held in the chapel were in the philosophy of “quantity, not quality.” Thus saints I had never heard of had bones I had never thought of inside glass cases for the purpose of power. How ironic to live such a life of pious devotion, only to be used for someone else’s means in death.

We went up into the actual chapel part of the church and were absolutely stunned at what we saw. Everything was made from different types of marble. Marble sarcophagi as big as a bedroom, decorated with the crest with six circles, housed the most important men of the Medici family. I thought the marble was absolutely hideous, with its greens, maroons, and purples, but others thought it was gorgeous. So goes taste, I guess.

The next part of the chapel we entered was the “famous” (though none of us had ever heard of it) tomb of Lorenzo il Magnifico (the Magnificent). The tomb was decorated with sculptures by Michelangelo. The men were pretty, but two of them had unfinished faces. However, the women were so grossly incorrect that we all had to stare and point out exactly what was wrong with them for ten minutes. “They” were off to the sides and muscular. Like the master had started them like a man’s and then tried to mound them off. We then discussed the possibilities of him being gay as well as what a cadaver’s breasts would look like (since Michelangelo dissected them illegally to understand anatomy). Then we carried on to the exhibits and the Basilica of San Lorenzo.

We went ahead and did the exhibits first, which included the Laurentian Library - a room of desks connected to a library (all designed by Michelangelo), and an exhibit of animali fantastici – imaginary animals. It was extremely interesting to look at illuminated manuscripts and see what people thought existed. Sirens (sirene), satyrs (satire), dragons (draghi), phoenixes (fenice), centaurs (which I don’t remember the Italian for) etc. They even had 14th or 15th century editions of The Aeneid (Eneide) and Divine Comedy. Dr. Bane was very pleased.
San Lorenzo is just as beautiful as Santa Maria Novella. It was consecrated in 393 and then reconsecrated in 1059 after being “considerably enlarged,” reads the brochure. However, I will say Santa Maria is not only prettier but better for this reason: San Lorenzo was the Medici’s private church. Symbols are everywhere of their power and influence. The church is huge, but it hasn’t got as much heart as others – at least, that’s what I’ve gathered.

Anyway, after this we were free to go. I decided to buy a gelato just for kicks since I saw limone (lemon) for the very first time. I got it and fragola (strawberry) in what I thought was a small cup. It ended up being a 6 Euro cup, but it was as big as three little ones (or at least I fooled myself into thinking of it this way). Either way, it’s more than I ever meant to pay. I went back to the room to find Rachel, who had disappeared during the last part of our outing (she said she had thought we were done). I gathered up Dante for a good read, but found I was too tired for his words and fell asleep without a hitch. Turns out Rachel did too, so we both got up about 3:20 and got ready for class at 4.

Dr. Bane zoomed through the rest of the Divine Comedy without any hitches until we reached the end of Purgatorio. He asked if we caught what was going on during one of the chapters. Purgatory is shaped like a mountain. In Canto XX or so, Dante asks Virgil what’s going on when the mountain shakes. Virgil tells him that the mountain shakes when souls have walked through the fire and have been thrown up into the heavens, singing and shouting, “In Excelsis Deo!” Dr. Bane asked us again, after reading it, if we got it. I got it when he said it, but the rest of the class just stared at him.

“The mountain shakes… * crazy hand motions * People say, ‘Oh God!’ * hands up in the air * and are shot out, purified.” Most of the class doesn’t get it, while I crack up at him trying to mime what’s going on. Finally, after two or three more tries and writing the word “phallic” on the board and discussing what a phallic symbol is, people finally began to get it. Then we started talking about if that was overanalyzing it, and somehow we got to discussing the origins of art (Michelangelo’s Pieta was put on powerpoint to talk about how he researched cadavers to get the anatomy correct – do we really want to know the origins of art?). Then we talked about the commercialization of religion and how “Piss Christ” (a cheap crucifix in a jar of urine with light shining on it) is less offensive than Buddy Christ and Jesus is my Homeboy t-shirts (I argued it wasn’t because “Jesus is my Homeboy” is doctrine for many people, as opposed to the symbolism behind “Piss Christ”). Then we got into the role of women, and I talked about a friend who had taken Gender and Sexuality, and how they had to watch a video about women in Judaism. The woman, a lesbian, had gone to the Rabbi, asking what she was to do about her feelings. The Rabbi told her a) get married and have as many children as possible, because that is a woman’s role after the Holocaust, and b) if you can’t manage your feelings, have someone “on the side.” My argument in this being that culture has changed to allow for traditional roles and personal desires to coexist. Then we got into the reasons why people have children, including the new conservative movement that says it’s every man’s duty to have as many children as they can so they can breed out the liberal population. Finally, class was over.

We all went to a nearby market, where I didn’t see anything in particular, and decided to go on back to the apartment. I really wanted to eat out, so I stopped at a Mesopotamian restaurant and got a “doner kebab con formaggio.” It had veal, lettuce, cabbage, creamy sauce, tomatoes, and delicious cheese – all wrapped in a pita. It was absolutely divine. It was 5 Euro and pretty filling, so I’ll only go there in a pinch. I went back up to the room, played a bit of Command & Conquer: Red Alert, finished a journal entry, worked on this one, drank a 1.5 Liter bottle (bottiglia) of water (acqua) in one sitting, and washed a load of clothes. I’ve been fairly productive while people went out and saw Ocean’s 13 (I hadn’t seen the first two).

And now I’m so tired and still have to read. Sugarfoot.

Day 17

Posted by Whit Barringer 2:30 PM


CT 4:06
IT 11:06

Last Day in the Eternal City

I got up at around 6:50. It was too early to even be conscious, but I went. Why? Because it was our last day in Rome, and we were going to the one thing that would be able to salvage my entire time there: Musei Vaticani. The Vatican Museums.

We all went and ate breakfast. It was good, but I was already in a foul mood for some reason. I had put my bags with the wrong people’s, so I had to dash out and move them before they went to the airport without me. I put them in the extra dining hall with everyone else’s, gave Paulette my Italian postcard from the Capuchin Crypt, and went out to the lobby to wait for us to leave. We were supposed to leave at 7:45 to be in line by 8, but we ended up leaving at fifteen after. Dr. Bane started getting really mad because people were so late. I went and got my book out of my backpack, and he even snarled at me a bit – until he realized I had gotten the TOP 10 ROME book that had bus routes, metro routes, maps, and bus lines in it. He then told me he would be able to forgive me.

Along the way, Paulette and I chatted and I talked about wanting to go to the Cat Sanctuary near our hotel. Darting in and out of Roman traffic was crazy with 30 some odd people (though the linguistics group had already left this morning). We got to Vatican City and stepped up in line. I was kind of excited because we had still gotten there early and there weren’t that many people… or so I thought. In fact, the line went up about ¼ mile, turned right for about as long as the first line, then had another turn to the left, which wrapped around the building into security. We waited in line for 2 ½ hours. To pass the time, we did the following: listened to each other’s iPods, played the Famous Game (Dolly Parton -> Patrick Swayze -> Selma Hayek -> Harrelson Ford, etc.) and the Connect the Actor Game (Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl; Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape; Leonardo, Claire Danes – Romeo + Juliet, etc.), bought 1 Euro water from the vendors and rejoiced, sat, sketched (art history people only), etc. Surprisingly, it only felt like two hours in the hot sun rather than two and a half.

Security was a breeze – I’ve got it down to a science. We then went upstairs, got student discounts that we didn’t expect, and headed out. I decided to stick with the art people to hear Dr. Seymour talk about the pieces. Instead, we ran through the museum to get to the Sistine Chapel. Really, “ran” is too strong. “Herded” was more like it. There were thousands of people, hundreds in some of the rooms. It was extremely congested due to tour groups guiding their people and then stopping in the middle of the crowd to look at diagrams of the Sistine Chapel, as well as random souvenir and book stands placed in extremely inconvenient places. Then, due to the wonders of modern engineering, we would have to cram ourselves shoulder to shoulder through double doors from a space that was two to three times as wide as the frame; in other words, a funnel for non-liquid matter. And it was so hot. We were all sweating so hard it was in beads. But we had to follow those signs.

After about five or six rooms of this treatment, maybe more, we finally got to the Raphael room. Ever seen the painting “School of Athens?” This was it. The painting actually covers an entire wall as a fresco. It also includes portraits of Michelangelo and Da Vinci (Michelangelo being the man in the front of the painting with big folded-top brown boots; they’re stone cutter boots as a play on his craft). There are actually four walls, and they were the key to the Pope’s library. The walls were music, religion, law, and last but not least philosophy. Then we were herded through more rooms.

We found the modern art, which was mostly either grotesque, completely abstract, or childishly simple. There were two Salvador Dali paintings, which I was excited to see. Otherwise, it was rather disappointing. There were quite a few rooms of modern art, too. We were separated, so those of us who had gotten ahead had to wait in one of the rooms for everyone else. I saw in front of a sculpture I like to call “Gotham Jesus” (actually titled “Cristo Maestro” by Umberto Mastroianni) because it’s art form, which I’m sure has a name, looked similar to the Batman cartoons I watched when I was in fourth and fifth grade in the mornings (square fingers, straight angles, etc.). Or maybe the reprint covers of Ayn Rand books. Anyway, it and a colorful tapestry were my two favorites in the room. I was busy taking pictures (while sitting on the floor, still waiting) when the guard clapped at us and told us all to stand up. Onward we went.
I have to note that some of the floors along the way were absolutely beautiful. The modern art rooms didn’t have much to offer in this way, but before and after we saw beautiful mosaic floors in swirling patterns that looked like woven ocean waves (“Vitruvian swirls”). Christianity, it seems, is completely obsessed with mosaics. Or at least it was. I don’t know many churches now that aren’t made of tin, at least in the U.S.*

A warning: going to the Vatican Museums is like constantly getting lied to. Nothing is where the arrows point to. You expect the next room with an arrow, right? No. Never. After coming so far, we still had as far to go. We passed through beautiful rooms full of colorful tapestries, frescoes, and mosaics, but we had to get to the Sistine Chapel before we could even pause. It made me wish that I had paid for a tour guide or a headphone set. But through the sea of people we went, carried like leaves in a hurricane. Most of us were shaking our heads at the crowd, being Americans used to elbow room and open space, but we gritted our teeth and worked through the madness.

A note: all of the rooms that I keep referring to were once part of the Papal “apartments,” I suppose. Every room was for a use designated by a pope or popes throughout history. In those terms it is simultaneously extravagant and amazing. But in the terms of art, for me, the one-who-doesn’t-know-art-history, it was a waste of time if not for the experience.

When we finally got to the Sistine Chapel, I had this feeling of disbelief. “You mean… we actually made it?” Seriously. It was like we had been in Purgatory the entire time (we just finished Dante’s Divine Comedy – give me a break). Then there was another feeling: “This is it?” Yes, it’s Michelangelo’s masterpiece (complimented by Brunelleschi and others). Yes, it’s the Mecca of art history. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it’s everything anyone’s ever told you. Which is exactly why it’s disappointing.

We were herded in with hundreds of people. The guards were shouting, “No photo!” Then they played a recording that said in about 10 languages “no photography” (I’m not joking). The Sistine Chapel has been recently restored, so the colors were extremely vibrant and beautiful. But Dr. Seymour had no wisdom to offer us (as the pinnacle of religious art, I guess there’s nothing to say), and I felt robbed of the time I had spent trying to get there. The pictures I was able to sneak were blurry, and all I could do was sigh.

We then left and came out near the cafeteria and pizzeria. I got a Pepsi and a sandwich for around 5 Euro and sat and ate with the art history folks. We complained about the crowds, other people, and the art on the way to the Sistine Chapel. Dr. Seymour compared the crowds to a concentration camp, and I would have to agree. The art people decided to go ahead and leave, and I decided to stay and go find the Egyptian exhibit. I was told Natalie was waiting on me, but I couldn’t find her so I went ahead and explored on my own.

The Vatican Museums are huge and complicated to navigate, but I thought I could reach the Egyptian museums with no problem. However, I ran into that same scenario that I had before – the signs were all lies. I was disgusted that I couldn’t find it because both Natalie and I had spotted it earlier on the way to the chapel not far past security. I went that way and saw that there was a gate locked, blocking people from entering the Egyptian exhibit, though this didn’t register at the time. When I realized it later, I was sorely disappointed – another opportunity wasted. While I was searching for this nonexistent passage into the Egyptian section, I stumbled across most of the rest of the museum.

I first walked into the Pinacoteca. According to my Musei Vaticani book, this gallery derives from a similar one set up under Pius VI. It included some pretty famous paintings including “Crowning of the Virgin” and “Transfiguration” by Raphael and “Deposition from the Cross” by Carvaggio (one of my favorites now). There were, of course, quite a few paintings of Saint Sebastian (they love him here). There were some really odd paintings of animals attacking other animals – all featured “later” in the hall after a huge painting of the Garden of Eden with many colorful animals. I interpreted this as man’s fall from grace magnified through animals, but I could be completely off. In the lobby here with yet another gift shop was a plaster cast of Michelangelo’s Pieta, which was not behind glass.

I then went into what I found out later was the Pio-Clementino Museum, so called because of the efforts of one of the Pius and Clement popes to collect art, mostly Greek and Roman statues. There were hundreds of busts and quite a few large statues. I was amazed at the condition of most of them, many having survived more than 2000 years. I just happened to find the bust of Demosthenes (of Ender’s Game fame) and was quick to take a picture. There was a case of stairs at the top of this little hallway, but I decided to go and try to find the Egyptian collection.

This is when I discovered that it was blocked off. Disappointed, I decided to see what else I could find near the room I had just been in. There were signs for the Sistine Chapel there, but I knew I wouldn’t get close enough to see it again. As I walked back across the courtyard, I spotted two Egyptian cat statues with hieroglyphs all around the base. I looked up on the balcony behind them and saw people moving and spotted what I thought was the Egyptian exhibit. If people were still there, there was a chance I could get up there. I had a new mission.
Still in the Pio-Clementino gallery, I saw many a statue of Hercules and Jove (another name for Zeus/Jupiter). I also saw Laocoon. There was one in the Gli Uffizi as well, but this statue was an original from Rhodes and mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia. It features the priest of Apollo, who had warned against accepting the Trojan Horse inside the city walls, as he and his sons are viciously bitten by entangling vipers (it’s worth taking a look at – hinthint).

I entered the “Round Room” and was surprised to see a huge bowl in the middle of the floor. I found out later that this was bowl was 13 meters in circumference – though I never found its purpose or name. I entered the Hall of the Greek Cross, called such because of its shape, and saw two giant maroon marble sarcophagi. I thought they were neat but I had no idea who they had in them. Turns out it was the mother and daughter of Emperor Constantine. The magnitude of some of the collections in the museum was extremely impressive.

Here I had two options. Go straight into God knows what, or I could turn left – which was the vague direction of the Egyptian exhibit I had glimpsed earlier. Taking the plunge, I went left. What was the first thing I saw? The base of a broken statue of Ramses II. I had finally made it.
Though small, the exhibit was full of things I would never have gotten to see unless I had gone to Egypt. Very few things, if anything, in the first two rooms were from any time later than 1 A.D., the oldest being around 14th or 13th century B.C. Mummies, statues, tablets, jewelry, statues galore, it was absolutely amazing to get to experience that first hand. In the next room the statues were from the Roman occupation of Egypt (many of which from an Egyptian “garden” or something or other that Emperor Caligula had built). These statues had two and three names on the identification plaques identifying them with as many traditions. There was a huge statue of a long-bearded man with his foot resting on a crocodile and his arm resting on a kind of harpy. The man has absolutely no Egyptian influence at all, and is instead in the style of a Roman god or goddess. The name? Nile, god of the River. There was another statue of Anubis in a toga, looking more doglike than usual. I laughed when I saw it because it looked like a regular person with a cartoon dog head (more so than the Egyptian version).

But next I saw the icing on the cake – cuneiform tablets! I know, it sounds extremely exciting to everyone and me especially. These were the tablets you only hear about. And I actually got to see that ancient, complicated writing system. After this, knowing I was as satisfied as I was going to get, I decided to get the heck out of Dodge. I went down a huge spiral staircase commissioned by some Pope in the 1930s with the crests of different popes on it, and went to sit out on the curb. I had skipped the missionary cultural museums and the chariot room, but I felt that they wouldn’t have altered by experience by any means.

My next plan of action was up in the air. It was around 2:30 and I had to be at the train station at 5:15. Feeling pretty bold and daring, I headed toward the nearest tabacchi to get a bus ticket to ride back to the piazza near the hotel. I bought one for one Euro, found a bus stop sign that had my stop (Torre Argentina) on it, and waited on it to come.

Bus 492 finally showed up about 10-15 minutes later. It was too crowded for me to get a seat, but I validated my ticket and leaned against the window bar. About 10-15 minutes passed before the bus stopped at Torre Argentina (the piazza around the ruins where, supposedly, Julius Caesar was murdered). I got off, started for my hotel, and then decided against it. I wanted to find the cat sanctuary. Of course, as was my eternal luck in that infernal city, I didn’t find it. I was really upset because I wanted to buy my mom a souvenir from the Roman Cat Sanctuary, but there was nothing I could do. I went inside the hotel and sat with Kara, Kate, and Megan while waiting for 3:45 to come around to go get my ticket and get on the bus.

The time came around and I went to get my ticket at a tabacchi I had seen earlier. Of course I pick the one place in the entire city of Rome that either didn’t have any tickets left or didn’t sell them. I was so mad I bought myself a fragola (strawberry) gelato (ice cream/sherbet) as a treat. I went the other way down the street past the hotel when I saw Kim and Caitlin, who said they had done the same thing I had done and had to go down another two blocks and make a left turn at “The Red Shoes” before they found a tabacchi selling tickets. I went, finally bought my ticket, and headed back to the bus stop. I saw Will and Sydney, who were waiting for the bus as well. There were two we could take – 40 and 64. The first was the express bus to the terminal, making fewer stops, while the latter took twice as many stops. When the express came by, it was completely full. Enough people got off for me to get on, but no one else. It was sweltering hot in the bus with no room for maneuvering. As an American, it was a good experience for me, however uncomfortable it might have been. I’m used to the elbow room and the open spaces, as stated above, but I needed to experience what it’s like not to have that at all. It alters perspective, most certainly.

I got the station and did what Dr. Bane told us to do – go through the front doors and sit together. I saw everyone and waved. I pulled out my Vatican Museum book that I had bought before leaving and started flipping through, but I nearly fell asleep sitting up. Throwing up my hands, I decided to go ahead and give in to temptation. I slept for nearly an hour in the middle of that crowded train station (I wasn’t worried because I was with 15 other people – but not even they could save me from accidentally laying on my Sistine Chapel poster and bending it). I was woken up by someone saying, “Whit, get up” and a security guard telling us we could only lay down or sleep in the actual terminal. I had already had my nap, so I didn’t care.

Danielle and Paulette came by and herded us onto the train, though they didn’t come with, and we all headed back, uneventfully, to Firenze. I listened to my iPod, read my souvenir book, and looked out the window at the Italian countryside. Very little small talk was made, though there was an agreement to get a cab for the way back. As soon as the train stopped two and a half hours later, we darted off the train to the cab. The driver was nice enough. Katie tried to tell him what street to go to, saying “Via de Peh-lass-tree” and he didn’t understand. I said “Via di Peh-lahs-tree” and something clicked. Then I said, “63.” He said the number in Italian, which I recognized and told him, “Si, grazie.” “Prego, prego.” It was $13 to get to our apartment, which wasn’t bad considering how quickly we got there. I put my stuff up and went to get on the internet while Rachel took a bath before me.

I checked my bank account while I was online and saw that the things I had charged for the day, 10 Euro and 30 Euro, had been listed as 13 USD and 41 USD respectively. Believe it or not, that exchange rate is the best it’s been while we’ve been here. I checked it on and it was 1:1.33. I got done as quickly as I could and ran to the ATM to withdraw my money, hoping to get the best I could out of it. When I came back, Katie was outside of the internet place talking on the phone. She introduced me to the guy who works there most of the time (his name is Ahmed and I think they said he’s from Morocco). I went back to the apartment, took a long luxurious bath, and relaxed for the first time in four days. After I got out, I made pasta for the rest of the week and began typing this entry, which I most certainly couldn’t finish in time.
So, that was my last day in Rome and the trip back.

Final thoughts on Rome:

Oh Rome. How you’ve teased me all my life. I loved you like a dream, and you tore at me like a nightmare.

It wasn’t really that bad, but I wanted to be an archaeologist, for crying out loud. Because of Greek and Roman architecture and artifacts. So in that respect, the trip was a good thing because it cured me of my delusions. But isn’t that the worst thing that can happen? Aren’t these cities supposed to spellbind you and keep you captive for your entire life? I always thought so, and I’m hesitant to think otherwise.

I enjoyed my time to an extent, but the first minutes of our first day there were ruined before we could even be warned. It was disappointing, and a big part of me hopes my Trevi fountain coin doesn’t come true and I don’t come back. But this is my knee jerk reaction to part of my vacation being ruined by my own president. When I get home, I’ll want it all back. Right now, however, I feel like turning my back on the city its typical “eternal” fashion.

The city is dirty and grimy and pulsing with angry citizens. Think New York City. Rome is the equivalent in Italy. It’s absolutely huge and its people are reflective of this. It hurts to see a city that has such fabled grace and power to be so lowly and weak. An exaggeration? Perhaps. A stretch after only three days and two nights in the city? Maybe so. But I’ve become a pretty good social barometer, and I felt something amiss there. Or maybe I’m not used to the big city, so I’m likely to interpret everything as amiss. Who truly knows.

Addendum: Don’t let me discourage anyone who reads this from going. I’ve said multiple times that mine was ruined before I even got into Rome, so my account is heavily biased and probably singular. I think when the city is given a chance it can prove itself kind and beautiful.
Just not on my weekend.

*“I don’t know many churches now that aren’t made of tin, at least in the U.S.” – This comment is totally and completely loaded, and I realized that when I wrote it. The failure of churches is not necessarily the fault of either preachers or congregations, but a combination of both and the fanaticism with “warehouse churches.”

When we were in class the other day, one of the people made the comment that the churches here are built to last while churches in American are built “to make a profit/prophet.” I’m not sure which she said (though I’m guessing the former), but they both fit. Churches are built now to save money, settle petty feuds over doctrine, and reach a new set of people quickly and efficiently. I’ve heard a few arguments about how this efficiency is a due service to God because stained glass, statues, paintings, banners, wreaths, etc, are all monuments to idolatry. This is the same vein that condemns Catholicism because of its polytheistic basis (saints = idols). But these condemnations are based on misunderstanding. Though there may be quite a few Catholics, past, present, and future, who feel it is polytheistic and are fine with that, this is not the doctrine of the religion, nor is it the point I’m trying to make here.

These “warehouse churches” are made (or “ordered”) by the same people either who donate monthly to Binny Hinn, talk about Pat Robertson with a straight face, and believe in “predispensational millennialism” (think the disappearances in the first Left Behind novel), or are trying to convert or collect as many people as possible by appealing to as many as possible – or both. You might associate these people with Baptists and Non-denominational churches. I mention this only because I want to dispel that immediately. It’s not just Baptists and Non-Denoms. It’s everybody (at least everybody who’s protestant). And I’m not sure why.

Where is the care that went into crafting a house of worship? To walk into a church here is like walking into the arms of the parishioners who built it. There was love, or at least some sense of duty, put into the stones. There a sense of humanity in it, and awe at the power of the people – whom God made.

Yet in the warehouse churches, you don’t feel that love. You feel efficiency. You feel cold. You feel lifeless. So why don’t more people see the paradox of trying to receive Christ’s love in a place with no love in it? All those aluminum walls become is a sacrifice to capitalism and materialism, not love and hope.

We are all entitled to our opinions. But ask this the next time you see a huge aluminum box with a floodlit cross on the top: can God’s grace and love be cloaked in cold steel, or can it only be channeled through the hands of His believers?