Ashlee N. Pemberton
During my stay in Sansepolcro I was lucky enough to get placed with the Brillis for my host family dinners. Although I knew these dinners would provided me with a better sense of Italian culture I was still nervous and anxious before all of them. I learned a lot about how the Italians interact with one another as a family, and each dinner provided me with a better understanding of Italian culture as a whole.
For my first family dinner, Alberto came and picked Erica and I up at the Palazzo and we took a short walk to his parent's house. Luckily I had met Alberto earlier in the week at the English conservation class, so we were able to keep up a steady flow of conversation going as we walked. When we arrived at his house we were both amazed at how big and beautiful it was. After reading about how bad off financially Italy and its people are in IDS, I had assumed that Alberto and his family would have a modest home, and we would be able to see a typical Italian middle class home. Instead we walked into what was clearly a very wealthy home. The way it was decorated, and all of the antique furniture hinted at an understated wealth. We later learned that both his parents are retired and his father used to be a manager for a company that made shirts. I'm pretty sure that he held a top management position because his father is relatively young and he is retired. Maybe most of the Italian families in Sansepolcro have money, and that his how all of the high-end retail shops manage to stay open.
When we first met his mother we were instantly fascinated by her. She was young, beautiful and very much a typical Italian woman. She also didn't speak a lick of English and spoke Italian extremely fast, so it was hard to understand even her shortest sentences. Even with the language barrier she was extremely welcoming, giving both of us a kiss on each of our cheeks. At first I was a little taken aback by such familiarity, but then I thought of how my family is. We always hug and kiss our family members and friends, and are always very affectionate with the ones that we care about. I felt as though we were instantly accepted as a part of the family. As dinner progressed, and Alberto had to translate most of what we said, she told us that we needed to work on our Italian, at first I was a little take aback by her bluntness, but when we told her that we had only had four days of Italian she smiled and told us that we were doing well. At first I didn't really like how blunt Italians are, but as I reflect upon it I realize that I prefer bluntness to the superficial relationships that we have in America. I feel like in Italy you know exactly who likes you and who doesn't because they don't discuss things behind your back. In America, people tend to act nice to your face, but when your back is turned they talk about you. To be honest I would much rather know exactly who I can trust and who my real friends are then having to play guessing games or finding out the hard way who your true friends are.
On our way to his house we asked him what we were having for dinner, and found out that we were having pork. Both Erica and I were a little worried because neither one of us eat red meat. When we told Alberto that we didn't really like red meat, he didn't understand because Italians don't consider pork to be a red meat. Then when we met his mother and she described the meal to us we could tell, even though there was a language barrier, that she was hoping that we would enjoy her cooking. After that, I knew that we needed a game plan for the meal. Before we sat down to dinner Erica and I went to wash our hands. While we were in the bathroom we decided that we would just cut the food into really small pieces and swallow them regardless of whether or not we liked them, then if there was something that we really couldn't stomach we were going to spit it out in to the napkin, stick it in my purse, and throw it out when we got home. Neither one of us wanted to upset her by not eating the meal she cooked. As I sat before the plate that had been served for me I hoped that I would be able to eat the food that had been put in it. I cut up the cantaloupe into little pieces, put it in my mouth and swallowed, I was able to continue like this for a few bites, but then I couldn't stomach it any longer. Luckily Alberto saw me make a face and noticed that I wasn't eating as fast as everyone else and he told me that it was okay if I didn't eat the meal. He said that since his mother had served our plate it would be okay if I didn't eat everything that was on it. I was extremely grateful, but I still felt bad, and didn't want to hurt his mom's feelings. At home I wouldn't have hesitated to tell my host that I don't eat red meat, but in that moment I didn't know the etiquette for telling her that I appreciated the trouble she went through, but I didn't like what she has cooked for me.
We ate dinner in the garden that night and it reminded me of the gardens that we discussed in IDS. We talked about how Italians have beautiful gardens, but they keep them hidden from others. Alberto's was one of these hidden gardens. It was absolutely beautiful, but it is behind a brick wall so that only Alberto and his family can enjoy it. I am glad that I was given the opportunity to see inside one of these hidden gardens. After seeing his garden and how precise everything was it made me stop and think that maybe Italians do like a little order to their lives. It seemed to me like Alberto and his family accomplished this order by creating this garden. All in all the first dinner went really well, and I was excited to see what would happened at the second dinner.
At the second family dinner we ate inside because they thought that it was chilly outside. Of course Erica and I thought that it was rather nice outside, but I have come to notice that Italians tend to have a different outlook on the weather than Americans do. Their version of cold and hot is different from Americans' version of cold and hot. Alberto's sister and brother-in-law were not able to make it to this dinner, so like last time, we ended up eating with his mother and father. At one point during dinner Erica and I were put in an awkward position when his mother and father asked us if we liked President Obama. Since we were not accustomed to having someone ask about politics at the dinner table we didn't really know what to say, but we ended up answering truthfully. Erica told them that she did, and of course I said that I didn't. We both thought that they would leave it at that, but instead they asked Erica why she liked him, and why I didn't like him. We both ended up saying something that we disagreed on and once we noticed that we weren't going to agree on the subject we tried to explain that we don't discuss politics because we want to stay friends. When Alberto translated all of this for his parents they looked extremely confused. I don't think they realized that Americans do not always agree and are greatly divided when it comes to politics. I also feel as though they were taken aback by the fact that two people who seemed very similar could have such opposing political views.
After discussing it in IDS, I think this incident shows one of the many ways in which Italians and Americans differ. Some families in America are divided when it comes to politics, but I feel that in Italy many of the families agree on the same things. Or maybe the younger generation doesn't agree, but are too afraid to oppose their parents, and therefore they don't try to make changes in Italy. Maybe Erica and I's opposing views will help the Brillis understand that Americans have their own individual opinions and beliefs.
For the third family dinner, Erica ended up going with another host family to an elementary school, but Jessie was able to come with me because she and Alberto are dating. Alberto's sister, Beatrice, and his brother-in-law were also able to come to this dinner, so I was able to see how Italian brothers and sisters interact with one another. After watching Alberto and his sister bicker with each other throughout dinner I realized that their interactions weren't that different from my own interactions with my little brother. They laughingly joke with one another, make fun of each other, but in the end they have a deep unconditional love for one another. I also noticed that throughout the bickering and funny comments they made to each other their mother sat watching with a smile on her face. I could tell that she was proud of the relationship that her children shared. Before coming to Italy, I believed that Italians valued family above all else, and seeing the interactions between the Brilli family confirmed my beliefs.
Erica, Jessie and I were lucky enough to be invited back for a fourth family dinner at his sister Beatrice's house. Her house is actually located above her parents' house, but it is completely separate from the second floor. When Alberto told me that his sister and her husband lived above his parents I found it strange that a married couple would want to live under their parent's roof. However after seeing the interactions between their family I no longer find it strange that they want to remain close to one another. I know that in America most couples would never dream of living with their parents, but I think that in Italy this system works, and I think that this is part of the reason Italy is so centered on family. At the end of the dinner Senor and Senora Brilli came up so we could all take pictures together, and they gave each of us a gift, a purse and a scarf. When I came to Italy I knew that I would have to learn to accept the Italian culture for what it is, but I never thought that I would meet a family who was so accepting of my own culture. I truly felt honored that they would want to go out of their way to invite us into their home when they weren't obligated to and then bestow a gift to each of us.
All of these dinners helped to solidify both what I learned about Italians in class and what the views I had of Italians before coming to Italy. Italians speak their mind, they like you for you, and they are very family oriented. They know what is really important in life, family. I like each of these aspects because they each remind me of my own family. I will always remember these dinners and the Brillis will always have a special place in my heart.
Entry 2: Monday June 6- Thursday June 9, 2011
My trip to Rome was a whirlwind of activity. From the city busses to the Vatican and old Roman Ruins to the people and the food everything was so unlike anything I had seen before. All three days were packed full of activities and places that we got to see, but there are a few that will stay in my mind forever. Of the twenty three things that we managed to see while we were in Rome my favorites were the Trevi Fountain, the Castle of Sant' Angelo, and the Colosseum.
The Trevi Fountain is such a magnificent piece of work that I was in total awe when I saw it. I enjoyed the fact that we couldn't see it from a distance, but instead came upon it from a side street and BAM! There it was in front of us. The Romans were very proud of the advances the aqueducts brought to the city, and they used this fountain to portray that pride (Steves 290). As I stood looking at the fountain I was taken aback by how much detail there was in each and every aspect of the statues. The center statue is referred to as "Ocean", which I believe is a representation of Neptune the god of the Sea. The ocean statue is extremely muscular, and has very clear and distinct lines; I think it was these lines that made me feel like he was a man of with ultimate control and power over those who were under him. Another aspect that caught my eye was the detail of the horses that were emerging from the water. The sculptor managed to capture the essence of the animal so perfectly, if it wasn't for the fact that the statue is white I may have thought that it was a real horse was coming out of the water, and how amazing would that have been. Since there were so many people around the fountain we decided to grab a bite to eat for dinner, and then we would go back and see how it looked lit up at night. I must admit that I prefer to see the fountain at night rather than during the day. Although it is beautiful during the day, at night the lighting accentuates, and highlights all the stunning aspects of the fountain that I found fascinating during the day. It was so picturesque that I didn't want to leave. As we made our way down closer to the fountain to toss our coin in and make a wish, the reality of where I was hit me. I was in Italy about to take part in a tradition that millions of people have done before me, I was going to toss a coin in to the fountain in the hopes that I would one day return to Rome. As I stood before the water's edge I looked up at the crowd of people and noticed that they were from all walks of life. There were hustlers giving out roses, beggars, newlyweds, students, and people of different ethnicity and religion. Yet, in that moment they all shared one common thing, the mesmerizing magnificence of the Trevi Fountain.
The second day that we were in Rome we managed to see thirteen different things, but my favorite was the Castle of Sant' Angelo. The Castle of Sant' Angelo was built in C.A.D 139 and was originally built as a tomb for the emperor Hadrian. The large statue on the top of it is one of Hadrin himself riding his chariot (Steves, 71). Luckily we were able to able to climb to the top of the castle and see the statue up close and personal. For nearly a hundred years this tomb was used to bury Roman Emperors. Then in the year 590 the castle was renamed Sant' Angelo when the archangel Michael appeared above the mausoleum to Pope Gregory the Great and signaled the end of the plague. After that it was later used as a castle, prison and a place of refuge for popes throughout the Middle Ages (Steves 71). Since I love to read historical romance novels whenever I have free time, this experience allowed me the opportunity to establish a more realistic picture of what I read about. It also provided me with a representation of what life may have been like back then. While we were there we were also able to see many different aspects of defenses that were used in the Middle Ages. Most of which I knew about because of the books that I have read. Throughout the castle there were cannon balls piled up next to old cannons that were strategically placed around the walls. When I first saw them I wondered if they were original weapons from ancient times or if they were just models. In addition to the cannons, we saw arrow slits that were carved out in the tower walls, and were used in times of battle by archers to shoot at their enemies from cover. There were also holes cut into the floor of the tower walls which were used as a means of pouring hot liquids down upon enemies. The last form of defense that we were able to see was an enormous catapult, which was located in the center of the castle. All of these defenses were fascinating because it's one thing to read about it and quite another to stand in a place where these defenses were utilized in a time of war. I think of how wars are fought in today's society and I think to myself that their fighting tactics and strategies were dumb. I also ask myself why anyone would fight in a war like that, maybe it was for honor or maybe they didn't have a choice.
When we got to the top of the castle I saw that there is a wall that runs from the Vatican all the way to the castle, and after reading about it in Rick Steves' guide book I learned that a passageway was built for Popes so they could use the castle as a refuge during times of battle, which also explains all of the papal items that were located throughout the castle (71-72). I find it strange that a pope would feel the need to use the Castle of Sant' Angelo for protection when they have the Vatican that they could use for refuge. I would think that the Vatican would serve as a better fortress than the castle since it a sacred place it could serve as a deterrent for some people. I would think that soldiers would be afraid of what God would do to them if they fought within the Vatican walls.
On the third day were able to visit the Colosseum. Although I had read about it, seen pictures of it, and even watched movies about it, none of that prepared me for how grand it was. The Colosseum was built in A.D 80 and its real name is the Flavian Amphitheater. It was used to hold gladiator contests and public exhibitions (Steves 91). As we walked up the stairs we got our first look at the inside of the Colosseum and I instantly thought, how the heck did they build this? I know now that they used 200 ox-drawn wagons, and it took four years to drag the stone to the Colosseum (Steves 91). Yet, I still wonder how they were able to physically construct it without the technology that we have today. I'm sure that there were many casualties throughout the construction process because there probably were not any safety regulations when it came to building this massive arena. I'm sure that a few died from falling marble and brick. Once we walked up to the upper two levels we were able to see the underground arena better. While we were up there we read a sign that informed us that before the underground arena was built it was flooded and used to stage navel battles. Only later did it become passageways for the gladiators and the emperor, and a place in which to store weapons, slaves, and animals that were used for the gladiator fights. While I was there I tried to picture myself as a spectator of a gladiator fight. I tried to imagine myself watching men fight to the death as thousands of people cheered them on, and I honestly don't know if I would have enjoyed it or not. I would like to think that I wouldn't be able to stomach a display of such gruesome proportions, yet if that was all I knew and the fights were the main form of entertainment during that time period I may have enjoyed going, watching, and cheering on the men and their brutal display of bravery. I would have to say that the main source of amazement for me was how advanced their architecture was 2000 years ago. Today we make houses that can barley withstand a harsh thunderstorm, yet the Romans were able to build this gigantic structure, and 2000 years later it is still standing.
Before I came to Italy I didn't think that I would enjoy coming to Rome and had originally planned on going to Venice. After this trip I am ecstatic that I changed my mind at the last minute, and I was able to see and experience everything that is Rome. I would have to say that it's one thing to read about Rome and the ancient times, and it's another to physically come in contact with buildings and items from that time. With its jaw-dropping architecture and its impressive artistic works, Rome has provided me with a better since of history than anything I have experienced thus far in Italy.
Steves, Rick. Rome. Berkely: Avalon Travel, 2011. Print
Entry 1: Monday May 30- Thursday June 2, 2011
Sorrento and the Island of Capri
For our first travel break six of us, and Dr. Waddelow decided to head south to the southern part of Italy. We took one bus, two express trains, and the Circumviana, a local train that runs from Naples to Sorrento, to our hostel. The trip down instantly set a bad impression for me, but our two main excursions, a private boat tour around the cost of Sorrento and the island of Capri, and a trip to the ancient city of Pompeii while we were in Southern Italy helped me reevaluate my first impression.
The very first experience, in Southern Italy was not a decent one. I was on the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento. After standing for most of the ride, Mary Royall and I were finally able to get a seat in the car. A few stops later, there was a gang of boys beating on the train window of the man in front of Mary Royall and I. At first we thought that they were just trying to get the man's attention, but then they started getting really rough when Mary Royall got a little skittish and jumped out of her seat. Once they notice that, they decided to move on to our window and since our window was also cracked open a little bit three of the boys started to pull the window down. They were literally hanging on the train window with their feet off the ground. I decided to just ignore them and I turned in my seat so that I wasn't looking at them. I thought that if I didn't pay attention to them they would stop. Instead of stopping they got worse. When I turned away from them one of the boys threw a lit cigarette into the train and it landed on my seat, since I wasn't looking in their direction I didn't notice it until it started burning my butt. I jumped out of my seat with a few choice words, and turned to look at them. Since I didn't know what to do with the lit cigarette, I decided that I would throw it back out the window. So, I picked it up and flicked it at them, they moved out of the way, but then one of the boy spit at me. Luckily I was able to duck out of the way, but some spit still landed on my arm. Then another boy spit at Mary Royall, she also ducked out of the way, so instead of landing on her like the boys had intended it landed on an older Italian man's face, and the man's whole demeanor changed. He shot out of his seat so fast and started speaking in Italian that I thought for sure he was going to physically hurt the boys. Instead he just yelled at them and then went to our window and pushed it up so that they couldn't reach, throw or spit in. As the train began to pull out of the station I believe I went into shock as I started to shake and laugh hysterically. As I reflect on this incident I believe that there was some anger behind their actions, anger at the life that they are forced to live. They were old enough to be educated, if not completely finished with their university degree, yet they were hanging out at a train station on a Monday evening. Perhaps they were like the people we discussed in IDS. They are some of the people who have an education but are unable to find a job, and they were just using us as an outlet for their anger. Needless to say, as this incident was the very first thing that I experienced, it did not engender me towards southern Italy.
Luckily, the next morning was much better, and we were able to go on a private boat tour of the coast of Sorrento and the island of Capri. This was the most remarkable experience I have had since I have come to Italy. Since we booked the tour through the hostel we met in the lobby and the captain, Luca, came to pick us up and made two trips to take us down to the docks. Once there we were met by the captain's first mate, Enricco, who showed us to the boat. As we walked up to the boat we were all blown away by the reality of the whole situation. We couldn't believe that we were about to get on a boat with two people we had just met and they were going to transport us, feed us lunch, and show us things that a commercialized tour boat tour would never be able to. Luca started by taking us down and around the cost of Sorrento while Enricco pointed out significant things on the coast line. Then he took us into a small cove where we got up close and personal with a natural waterfall on the side of the cliff. He even got so close that the boat actually went under the water fall and we ended up getting soaked. We then headed further down the coast and advanced on towards Capri.
The first thing that Enricco pointed out to us as we came up upon the island of Capri was Tiberius house perched on the top of the mountain. It was hard to see from this distance but it was easy to tell that the house was one of great magnificence. The sight of his house on top of the hill made us wonder how many times he threw people who opposed him off the side of the cliff into the waters below. We were then taken to see the white grotto. It was easy for us to see the simple reason behind its name because the walls of the grotto were stained a brilliant white. Unfortunately we didn't get a lot of time to look because there were boats waiting in line to show their customers the beauty of the white grotto.
Afterwards, Luca took us to the green grotto, which is a cave of which the walls are a hazy color of green with an opening on both sides. When they brought us to the first side of the cave with the boat I was shocked at how remarkable it was, but then they brought us around to the back side of the cave, and we were allowed to jump off the boat into the Mediterranean Sea. The water was quite frigid but it was completely worth it. I was able to swim all the way into the green grotto from one opening to the other, and when I laid on my back and looked up at the top of the cave it was so breathtakingly beautiful I almost thought I was dreaming. There were also three smaller caves that were opposite of the grotto and I was able to convince Mary Royall and Jessie to come into those caves with me. I had hoped that I would see some fish or an octopus in the caves but I had no such luck.
Once we were done swimming in the green grotto Luca took us to the famous Blue Grotto where we could pay to have someone take us into the cave to see it. Unfortunately there were so many boast there that we didn't really want to wait, so we ended up continuing on towards the port of Capri where they let us off so we could explore the island. It was fascinating to see how the main square is perched onto to the hill, I would think that everyone would slowly move down towards the bottom so that they wouldn't have to walk up that hill all the time, but I must admit that I can understand why they choose to stay perched on the top of the mountain because the view from the top truly is spectacular.
The third day we were in San Angello, it was pouring down rain, so we couldn't climb Mt. Vesuvius, but we went to the ancient city of Pompeii instead. I had read about it in books when I was younger, but I really wasn't prepared for the enormity of it. This city really provided me with a look at what life must have been like 2000 years ago. Pompeii was established in 600B.C and was known then as a middle class port city, but when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D it was buried under 30 feet of volcanic ash (Steves, 853,856). When Mt. Vesuvius erupted it produced a mushroom cloud that sent dust, rocks, ash and cinders into the air and as the wind blew the cloud it began to fall on the city of Pompeii and 2000 people were buried alive (Steves 856). While we were there we were able to see two of the bodies that were uncovered from the ash. It was odd because the bodies were covered in a film that kept the bones of the body positioned exactly as they were when they died. Seeing the bodies was fascinating yet depressing and made me wonder what they were doing at the moment of their death.
I was also able to see the streets, and since I had read about them before coming I was able to explain to my friends what the big stones across the streets were used for. They were used by the people of Pompeii when they flooded the streets to clean them. Since it was raining we were actually able to see these stones in action. Tourists were utilizing them in places where the road had started to flood because of the rain. We also noticed that they designated which type of street they were. If they were one way streets they had only one stone and if they were two way streets they had three stones. We also stumbled upon the Terme del Foro, the Baths of the Forum, which the men used as a gym in which they could workout then relax in a cold bath, hot bath or a warm bath (Steves, 861). It was weird to compare their version of a gym, which was basically just a courtyard, to the gyms of today, which have all of the machines that men use to work out. We also got to see the Lupanare, the brothel, of Pompeii.
To be honest I was really shocked at the frescos that were above the doors in the brothel. The pictures weren't just suggestive like I thought they would be. They were genuine pictures of sexual things that men and women engaged in when men visited. Maybe back then it was more acceptable for men to seek out the comfort of prostitutes than it is today, or maybe they just didn't see those frescos as something vulgar. Another thing that I noticed though our tour of Pompeii was the number of stray dogs that roamed the area. They were literally everywhere, in the brothel, in the baths, and in all kinds of small places that had an overhang so that they could get out of the rain. When we were leaving I noticed a sign that talked about the dogs, and I found out that the archeological people who excavate Pompeii, and the people who regulate Pompeii have decided to adopt all of the dogs. They care for them, feed them and spay and neuter them.
This trip really was an eye opening experience. I never expected to be mistreated by locals on the train to Sorrento, and then the very next day have my entire opinion changed by a private boat tour with my three best friends, a swim in the green grotto and a visit to an ancient city that was once a bustling city of the Roman Empire. This trip has taught me that first impressions can sometimes be misleading, and that I should enjoy each and every moment because I may never get an opportunity like this again.
Steves, Rick. Italy. Berkeley: Avalon Travel, 2011. 853-56. Print.