A month has never gone so quickly. It seems like just yesterday I was groggily awakened by the droning flight attendant’s voice, “Please stow all tray tables and return your seats to the upright position,” as the plane descended into Rome.
Orvieto, Rome, Venice, Florence, Assisi, Siena, Piensa, Cinque Terre, Pompeii – and yet, I feel like I still have so much more to see in Italy. A whole month, and it was just the tip of the iceberg.
I’ve only been home for a week and my eyes already yearn for those uneven, cobblestone streets that were filled to the brim with a hodgepodge of stone and brick-work shops and houses. My mouth craves black truffle sauce, thinly sliced prosciutto and cheese plates with honey. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Texas girl born and raised, but there’s something about Italy that I will never shake. The smells, the sounds, the taste – will forever linger in my mind!
After arriving in the medieval town that would serve as our home base, Orvieto, we left almost immediately for Pompeii. As an art history major who has taken Dr. Greg Warden’s class on ancient Pompeii (I highly recommend it), being inside of the ruins was absolutely a dream come true. With Mount Vesuvius ominously standing in the background and dark rain clouds hovering close enough to obscure our view, the whole experience was truly surreal.
Was I really standing in the center of the ancient forum? I couldn’t help but fall behind the group so I could take in the ancient stone and transport myself to the time when the streets were filled with commerce and the houses were bustling with domestic life.
The plaster casts of those who had been victims of the eruption in 79 A.D. were nothing short of eerie. There’s something morbid about our fascination with these frozen images of death. Fear and pain is written across every part of their bodies. Each cast was different from the next, yet the undeniable feeling of terror reigned over all. How strange it was to be touring the place these people once called home. Being inside of the houses of Pompeii made the city come alive. It was no longer simply an archaeological site, but a place where people had once lived and flourished.
After navigating through the rows and rows of remnants of dwellings and shops (and even a brothel), we finally came to the outskirts of the city and went through the Villa of the Mysteries. It was everything I had imagined and so much more. The condition of the wall paintings was just breathtaking. It is hard to believe something so old still contains a beauty that can captivate even the most doubtful eye. The paintings that show what is believed to be the initiation of a member into the Dionysus cult are infinitely more impressive in person.
I jockeyed around the flood of Japanese tourists to take picture after picture of the different parts of the mysterious program. The body language and expressions of the figures push the imagination to-and-fro. I loved the woman who looked across the room to the opposite corner to see the initiate about to be whipped by a female winged figure. The movement of her shawl and the graceful position of her body is nothing short of elegant. Viewing the Dionysus cult room was by far the highlight of the trip to Pompeii.
The Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon – they were each inspiring in their own way. The picture I took of the coffered ceiling in the Pantheon took some interesting maneuvering (ok, I lay down in the middle of the church), but it was worth every second of the yelling I endured from the enraged Italian man. I don’t know Italian so his curses were lost on me. That picture, however, I will have forever!
We took three trips to Rome, but the adoringly named “marathon day” came to a grand finale with an after-hours, private tour of the Vatican. Aside from a handful of guards, our group of forty-something was left to roam the halls of the Vatican museum completely undisturbed. The halls were free from the usual swarming of bodies.
I must admit that I wanted to get left behind – locked in that place for the night! Could I sneak off and hide behind the Laocoon? I don’t think the behavior code said anything about “accidentally” getting left in the most amazing museum in the world. Try as I might, our valiant chaperons herded me toward the group. This little sheep wasn’t going to stray far without at least one watchful eye noticing. I was in awe of the tapestries, the Belvedere Torso, the Gallery of Maps, the Raphael Rooms and of course, the Sistine Chapel. Who can say that they were able to sit in front of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment for what felt like 10 minutes but was in actuality closer to an hour, in the spacious luxury of a mere 40 people? The tour of the Vatican was by far one of the most rewarding travel experiences I have had.
Going to Mass in St. Peter’s (we got to sit in front of the Baldacchino!) and in the Florence Cathedral was a fascinating religious experience. The services were in Italian (with some intermittent Latin), but the rhythm of the Mass was unchanged. Though I got lost at times, I could follow the Mass and recite what I could remember simultaneously in English. When I lost my place, I simply prayed and the unceasing Italian put me in a sort of meditative state until I would be brought out of it by the familiar pace of something like the Lord’s Prayer.
There’s something about Venice that will always root itself deep in my heart. There’s simply no other place on earth like it! The gondoliers called out to each other as they glided their lacquered gondolas through the channels. The absolute extravagance of gold leaf mosaics and Murano glass glitters from every corner of the city. It was sensory overload everywhere I turned. From venetian decoration to an over-abundance of boutiques and market shops, there wasn’t a dull square foot in the city!
As much as I resented the cat calling, “Ohhh Americana, Americana!” I’m going to miss every minute of Italy until I find my way back. Gelato from Central Market just isn’t the same without the attitude-filled woman who cattily corrected your pronunciation of stracciatella.
And surprisingly enough, the sounds of Vespas flying past had almost become soothing. While it’s great having a car again and not fearing for my life every time I cross the street, I miss having the ability to walk everywhere. I had become so accustomed to soaking up the scenery when I went to the store, or walked to dinner. Now things are just a blur as I drive by. Highland Park is beautiful in all its manicured glory, but there’s something far more beautiful about the imperfect, irregularity of the streets of Italy.
When I close my eyes to drift off to sleep I can still see the beautiful Umbrian landscape, pitching and heaving with fields of hay and orchards of green.
Alexandria is a senior Hunt Scholar majoring in art history in Meadows School of the Arts, with a minor in English in Dedman College. In summer 2010, she is participating in SMU-in-Italy in Orvieto, a medieval hill town in Umbria. Read her blog.