Monday, February 2, 2015

Four Weeks in Florence

 On Friday, I returned on a 9-hour plane ride from spending the entire month of January in Florence, Italy. We also spent three days in Rome, one in Pompeii, and made several day trips to Siena, Pisa, and Lucca. 
A rainbow over the ruins of Pompeii

 Even though I am an English major and fairly eloquent, I find myself at a complete loss for words as I write this post. How can I describe such a complex experience on paper? How can I write about the smells, the tastes, the churches, the language, the everything?

I’m not saying that this was a perfect trip. There was a lot of good things, but also a lot of bad things, and some days I felt as though the two barely broke even.

The trip itself, and the country of Italy are both incredible beyond words. Everything is so old. All the buildings are built out of solid stone and brick, and in the cities there are no houses, just apartments. The streets are all cobbled, extremely narrow, and bustling with Maseratis, motorcycles, bikes, and pigeons that love to clip you in the face with their wings or leave lovely surprises on your coat. There are very few grocery stores like what we have in the States: one store sells meat, another sells fruit, another sells only wine and Fanta. The currency is the euro, and everything is ridiculously cheap: I never spent more than 15 euro on any food shopping trip. 

The Florence Cathedral
 And the churches! There is literally one on every street, and each one is adorned with breathtaking frescos, vaulted ceilings, and thousands of candles, bathing everything in sumptuous golden light. The infamous Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower) was a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment, while the illustrious Santa Croche (where Rossini, Galileo, and Michelangelo are all buried) was so close that I went to Mass there almost every night. Florence is a great place to be Catholic. 

Santa Croche
 If you ask me what piece of art spoke to me the most, I would have to say Michelangelo’s David, all fifteen feet and six tons of him. When I entered the Academia gallery, my heart was literally fluttering as I walked the long halls in search of him; you’d think I was finally meeting Kiefer Sutherland in person or something. I had seen pictures of David in art books ever since I was a little girl, and the sheer height of him, the carefully sculpted tendons and veins in his hands, his powerful contraposto stance had always captivated me. 

"The Dave"
  When I finally met him face to face, I realized that no picture could do him justice, no words could even come close to describing his incredible magnificence. All the years of seeing him in books and pictures had not tarnished my hopes. They literally had to drag me away from that statue; I was in ecstasy. 

 The place that affected me most profoundly was undoubtedly the Vatican, even though the rest of Rome left much to be desired. My roommate and I walked there just as the sun was setting over St. Peters, illuminating the entire area and the dome of the cathedral in royal hues of pink, gold, and purple. The entire square glowed like a heavenly lantern, standing so stolidly and robustly against the blackness of the encroaching night that I was moved to tears (which happens very rarely. I don’t even cry when McGarrett gets shot in Hawaii Five-O). That moment was when the reality of the trip finally sank in for me: I was in Rome, standing in the heart of the Church, surrounded by centuries of faith, history, and tradition. I had never been so grateful to be Catholic as I was at that moment. 

St. Peter's Square

 Okay, you say, so what was the bad part about the trip? 

I would truly rather not talk about it, but I think this story would be incomplete without being honest. While the trip itself was life-changing, the group of students I went with was extremely frustrating. Groups are frustrating in general: everyone is slow, no one knows where to go, someone always needs to pee or wants to stop for the fifteenth time to get gelato. But the most infuriating part, for me, was the complete lack of respect and tolerance for personal and religious beliefs, exuded by many individuals that I don’t care to name. I have never heard the Catholic church so attacked, the name of God so abused, or ever felt so labeled and judged for being Catholic in my entire life. One of my apartment-mates spared no spit in making her hatred of Catholicism known and heard, and I could never be in her presence without feeling attacked and misunderstood. I heard this criticism and disrespect almost every day, and I felt so completely outnumbered, out-gunned, and misunderstood that I spend a lot of time by myself, away from the group, trying to restrain myself from stealing a Fiat and driving it over one of the cliffs of Tuscany.

Progressive liberal tolerance at its best. 

 I will be honest: that nearly ruined the trip for me. I felt as though I couldn’t even genuflect in the churches we visited without eliciting snickers and nudges from my classmates, nor could I say anything about the Catholic Church without being instantly shot down for being brainwashed, sheltered, and biased. If I stared at a piece of religious art with tears in my eyes, someone would inevitably come up and make a disrespectful comment about it. I was “the nice little Catholic girl” on the trip, and I felt like people were constantly watching me to see if I ever got drunk, swore, or dressed like an Amish person. (I did surprise them all by cutting off most of my hair, but I had been planning to do that for a while anyway.) Needless to say, I was really, really grateful to finally go home, where I could be myself without being labeled as a whacked-out Jesus freak.

Funny, isn’t it, how progressive liberals tout the gospel of Tolerance and Brotherhood, except when you believe in God, are anti-abortion, and like to trap shoot. Then all bets are off. 

Ecce Homo, Pitti Palace, Florence. I feel your pain, Lord...

 I don’t care what religion or political affiliation you are, but you’d better have one thing: respect. I respect if you don’t believe in God, but don’t make fun of me for doing so. I respect if you think the Catholic Church is a bunch of crap, but don’t rub that in my face. I respect if you think abortion is okay, but don’t shriek “keep your Rosary off my ovaries” at me. Is this fair? I think so.

But I digress…..

 I would return to Florence in a heartbeat (with a different group, of course). I couldn’t toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain (it was closed for repairs), but I did toss a cent into a lovely little fountain on top of one of the seven hills of Rome, and my wish was that I would come back to Florence on my honeymoon someday. I intend to honor that wish. 

An illegal picture of the Sistine Chapel...
 In the meantime, I will continue learning Italian and searching for the ever-elusive authentic Italian cappuccino in the States.  

Arrivederci and Aloha.

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