Day 8

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, June 04, 2007 5:32 AM

6-2-07

CT 6:30

IT 1:30

Ravenna!

I had an excellent day! I’m excited to write all about it, and I’m not sure exactly where to start.

I set my alarm for 7:30 so I could take a shower and eat breakfast. I didn’t quite make it… by about 40 minutes. I was freaking out, as I only had 10 minutes to get ready and another 10 minutes to get to the school to meet Dr. Bane and whomever else was going to go to Ravenna. I got a call on the way from some number I didn’t know, telling me to wait, and I said, “Uh… I’m not there.” Then Dr. Bane called me. “I’m almost there!” And Dr. Bane says, “Well, we’re not. We’ll be there shortly.”

There were only five of us (Paulette, Dr. Bane, Natalie, Lexi, and myself). From the school we went to the train station and milled around waiting for our train to arrive. We went first class to Bologna (Eurostar) and regular/only class to Ravenna (regional) and had about 10 stops along the way. But we had spirited discussion along the way, which was fun.

We got to Ravenna and got the “it’s five minutes thataway” answer from the shopkeeper, which is apparently an Italian joke. We found a sign and followed it to San ----?, where they had found 1st – 4th century mosaics in the floor. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I have many pictures. One of the mosaics was of a man tending sheep with birds above him and a lyre hanging from one of the trees in the background. There is an argument to whether it was a god (Apollo was one, I think) or whether it’s simply the owner of the house. Part of the mosaic had been destroyed because of the supports for the house built upon it, but most of the mosaic is still visible. It depicts a man standing at ease, petting his sheep. Scholars think it represents the power, prosperity, and protection that the man possessed or was able to enforce. Another mosaic depicted four men dancing in a circle with linked hands while a man played the lyre in the background. The one who was playing the lyre was supposedly Bacchus, and the four men were the Four Seasons. It was very interesting as well.

From there, we decided we would go to San Vitale next, after we had satisfied the rumbly grumblys in our tumblys. While we were waiting for a table for cinque (five), Dr. Bane and I had a discussion about post-modern literature and what the term actually means, and Paulette and I went to see what we should do next with only a signpost as our guide (it had three things listed on it and we were trying to decide which direction to go in). When she and I came back, Dr. Bane was already sitting. So we ate a nice outdoor restaurant that was packed because of its prices (6.50 for a Margherita pizza and a coke – “margherita” meaning cheese and tomato only). I had a piadina – a pita wrap that is exclusive to the Romagna region – which had polmadora (tomato) and some word I couldn’t say, which meant fresh mozzarella cheese. Therefore, lunch was excellent.

From there, we went to the San Vitale museum complex. We paid 8.50 to see a museum, a restored chapel, San Vitale, the baptistery, and the mausoleum. We had gone up a staircase to see the museum, but the woman told Paulette that she had to go back down and get a ticket – even though it was free (yesterday was a national holiday in Italy, kind of like Independence Day here except it’s a Unification Day). So we all trekked back down the stairs and got our tickets, but we were diverted into an open space. Since every thin was in Italian, we had to depend on Paulette to translate for us. It turns out that the space had been used to display a restored chapel dome, or maybe just a ceiling, with Byzantine style frescos. We then headed back up to the museum.

My God, the things in there. Luckily, I can cheat for my reader and tell you that we found out later in the Felix Ravenna museum that Ravenna had been a major trade city during from the Roman Empire up until the Carolingian Era (which began with Charlemagne in the late 9th century – this would have also been the rise of Islam and the financial fall of the Roman Empire). Therefore the items in the museum were quite a mishmash of culture and time. Granted, some items like the Egyptian scroll and figures were donated, but others, like a big room of medieval weaponry that had an Arabian war table and Indian weapons, Greek and Roman busts, grave jewelry from Rome and Ravenna, Byzantine art of Madonna and Child, pottery, a recreated ancient/early medieval apothecary, and so much more. We didn’t stay very long because, as much as we didn’t like to admit it, we were on a schedule.

Since the museum was connected to San Vitale, we only had to scoot out the back door to choose between the mausoleum and the basilica. Choosing the basilica, we walked amongst tombs in the courtyard. There were few, and they seemed so absurd, sitting in the green grass in the shade, as if they really were just resting for a moment. Yet they had been there for centuries upon centuries (some of the first Christian burials, I believe), and would continue to rest, undisturbed, for centuries more.

We walked into the Basilica and were swept away by what we saw. In the dome over the altar, there was a mosaic that would rival that of the Baptistery. It depicted Theodosius, I think, along with Jesus and the disciples in an archway (a dramatic effect that I could only capture in blurry pictures). It was a busy mosaic, certainly. Above us, in the high dome, was a fresco with what looked like saints jumping out of the painting. It may be one of the earlier examples of this, kind of an exhibition of a new technique, but I’m not in art history so I have no idea. Religiously, I’m not sure what sense it made. But it was gorgeous and odd, a juxtaposition between the altar ceiling (which was built over a 21 year period in the late 5th/early 6th century) and the Renaissance dome. It’s actually a really famous chiesa. I had no idea, but I can understand why.

We went to the San Vitale mausoleum next, which, for “microclimatic reasons”, we could not stay in for more than five minutes. I found that very interesting, because it didn’t make clear whether the mausoleum could hurt us (more than likely) or if we could hurt it (less likely but still possible). We went in and were of course amazed. It had beautiful mosaics, with gold stars and a cross on the ceiling,, mosaics of saints across the sides and around windows, and tortoise shell windows that weren’t really windows at all. It was honestly beautiful. There were three relatively unadorned tombs in the mausoleum, one of which they believe to be Constantine III. There was a woman in one by herself, and her husband and son were in another one. The husband’s (or I think it was her husband) had sharp designs on the top, but what little all of them had on the body of the casket was faded, eroded, or not there. It was an interesting example of early Christian burial which believed in the lack of the adornments in death (so I read later on).

Dr. Bane was itching to finally see Dante before they closed it, so we ran over to Via Dante Alighieri and took pictures of his tomb. Elaborate, yes. Full of references to the Divine Comedy, yes. But it wasn’t awfully big. His actual tomb is made of marble with his portrait on the side. Next to his tomb is a little cemetery with a few delightful easter eggs that took an Italian speaker and a historian to figure out. There was a huge mound that had a plaque at the bottom that had 1944 – 1945 on it (I could only read the numbers). Turns out, Dante’s bones were hidden there during WWII during the bombings and occupation. There was another place where Dante’s bones were hidden, but we couldn’t figure out what conflict would have prompted them to do so (it was in the early 19th century). My guess was the reconquest and unification of Italy, but I could be totally off.

From here, we went to the San Vitale Baptistery (I think it was San Vitale’s – I wasn’t sure at the time and I’m not sure now). They believe it was converted from a Roman bath. So the actual baptismal “font,” I suppose, was a huge basin. I have pictures of the Latin inscriptions on the inside. Above the bath on the ceiling is a mosaic of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, who is standing in the River Jordan with the dove of the Spirit above him and a man behind him. The man is an actual personification of the river Jordan, which I thought was extremely interesting. The bath had saints everywhere, which seems to be the trend with any sort of Christian fresco, mosaic, or painting.

Our last museum stop was the Felix Ravenna. Roughly “Happy Ravenna,” it was a museum of artifacts from the peak of Ravenna’s trading days, mostly during the Roman Empire era. It had capitals from ancient columns, paintings, mosaics, jewelry, pottery, etc. It was a delightfully interesting museum, and I got some great pictures. It was actually what I really wanted to see in Ravenna. I knew that the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Ravenna after the German expansion and the political fall of the empire in 476. Financially, the empire didn’t fall until the spread of Islam and the withering of the Carolingian vine. Felix Whit-Whit.

We had another place we could have gone, but we decided to go and window shop. On the way to window shopping, we passed Piazza di J.F. Kennedy, which was most certainly an interesting addition to our sight-seeing. I just walked behind the others, as I didn’t see anything I wanted. While we were waiting on Paulette to buy a jacket, we saw a gorgeous man in designer clothing, rolling a baby stroller. But what’s interesting about this particular man is that his legs were smoother than humanly possible. Lexi and I discussed his manliness, or lack thereof, and decided he could have been a model.* We got dinner at the equivalent of a rest stop (which I probably paid for later) and I got a ham and cheese calzone. We chatted a bit more and then headed for the train. Ciao, Ravenna.

While we were waiting for the train, Paulette, Dr. Bane, and I talked while Lexi and Natalie conversed, and then we caught the regional train back to Florence. Paulette and I talked about politics, movies, Miyazaki (she didn’t know who he was, so I had to go into a long discourse on said director), gender roles, boundaries and borders, career choices and dreams. When Dr. Bane woke up, we began discussing the value of education, teaching, and the cynicism that the world will never realize its potential to get better. We continued this discussion as we got off the train and walked near the school.

I got back to the apartment, and was surprised when Haley, Kim, and Rachel came in and asked to see pictures. I showed them and they were impressed, but I think they were glad they didn’t go (good pictures speak loudly, I guess). One of my roommates was drunk already from her first date and on her way to her second, so the other girls decided to go ahead and leave. After that I was so exhausted that I couldn’t see straight, and decided to finish this journal two days later than the date on it.

I will finish the journal for the day after this later today, but for right now I have to get ready for class.

Much love, friends and family.

*I think this is a past time for them. Dress up, stroll the baby, pick up a girl. Interesting traditions in Italy.

2 Response to "Day 8"

Sarah Says:

Post-modern literature. It's not something I know much about, but once we got Sara Mullaly started on it in Spanish. Man.

Margherita- the word suddenly brought back great memories from a little pizzaria we ducked into one rainy day. I've never had better pizza.

"One of my roommates was drunk already from her first date and on her way to her second...": Now that's using her time in Italy wisely. ;)

I'm glad you're having fun dear!

Beth Says:

So, I've been reading and catching up on your Italian adventures since you started this blog (thanks, Honors forum!), but I'll admit I'm waaaay too lazy to create an account to comment back. But, this made me want to comment so badly I couldn't help myself...

"While we were waiting for a table for cinque (five), Dr. Bane and I had a discussion about post-modern literature and what the term actually means..."

Have I ever told you how extremely stupid and inadequate you make me feel sometimes? :) Seriously, I think you are one of the very few people I know who could say that sentence and I wouldn't think you were joking. Oh well.

I'll be sure to go back and comment on everything when I get a free afternoon (or when I'm avoiding all this work I'm supposed to be doing). Yay Italia!

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