Entry 3: June 17, 2012
When first arriving in Pompeii to see the once existing city, there were so many people you deals—deals on water, deals on lunch, and deals on a tour. It amazed me how many people knew English that were there. It is of course better for business that way—seeing as most of the people that go there are English-speaking tourists. We decided that we didn’t want to spend an extra 10 euros for an English speaking tour-guide when we could navigate ourselves using the map and pamphlet the “information” center gave us. To be honest, I had only heard about Pompeii on movies but did not know that this was a true event that actually occurred. Going to see the remains of Pompeii and learning about the site first hand, gave me reason to do more research on the topic.
I was really confused when we came across nothing but ruins. The people around us were talking about how “that is where they washed their clothes” and “that is a kitchen” and “a really important person lived here.” The visit however left me intrigued and inquiring to know more. So, I decided search for more information about this disaster and found that:
On August 24, [year] 79 Mount Vesuvius literally blew its top, spewing tons of molten ask, pumice and sulfuric gas miles into the atmosphere. A “firestorm” of poisonous vapors and molten debris engulfed the surrounding area suffocating the inhabitants of the neighboring Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. Tons of falling debris filled the streets until nothing remained to be seen of the once thriving communities. The cities remained buries and undiscovered for almost 1700 years until excavation began in 1748. These excavations continue today and provide insight into life during the Roman Empire. (The Destruction of Pompeii Eye Witness to History.com)
I was intrigued by all the things that were recovered and how so much can be learned about a group of people from their remains. The disaster had taken place close to 2000 years ago and to think that we are so advanced today to learn so much from ruins astonishes me.
Some of the evidence of the existence of these people had been found in a collection of letters written by a young man called Pliny. He wrote about the event as it happened and his experience:
An ancient voice reaches out from the past to tell us of the disaster. This voice belongs to Pliny the Younger whose letters describe his experience during the eruption while he was staying in the home of his Uncle, Pliny the Elder. The elder the Pliny was an official in the Roman Court, in charge of the fleet in the area of the Bay of Naples and a naturalist. Pliny the Younger’s letters were discovered in the 16th century. [In one of his letters, Pliny says:] Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood…We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room. (The Destruction of Pompeii Eye Witness to History.com)
Imagining such a disaster seems impossible for me. Did they think to evacuate? Did the eruption of Vesuvius occur to them as being an issue? Did they know what was happening to them? What kind of precautions could they have taken to save more lives or did they take any precautions? The entirety of the eruption is said to have lasted for more than 24 hours “on the morning of 24 August. Those who fled at once, unburdened by possessions, had a chance of survival, for the rain of ash and pumice, mixed with lithics, that descended for several hours was not necessarily lethal. It is clear that many, like the elder Pliny, thought their best chance was to take shelter and weather the storm.” (Andrew Wallace-Handrill “Pompeii: Portents of Disaster” BBC History) Even though it lasted for a long time, people were still unable to save themselves and help others get away in time. This was of course a traumatic incident. The whole city was buried in the dried substance as a result of the eruption. Usually after disasters, the people would seek to rebuild and repopulate the areas, but Pompeii and Herculaneum, the neighboring city, were not rebuilt nor reoccupied.
After being covered in about 20 feet of ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, over 1500 years later, the search to rediscover the town and the lifestyle of the people begins. Since that time, insight to how they lived becomes clear; however the search is an ongoing one. “The architect Domenico Fontana was called in and he unearthed a few more frescoes but then covered them over again, and nothing more came of the discovery” (Wikipedia “Pompeii”). Some have said he did this because he felt that some of the paintings needed to be censored due to the sexual content in the paintings. Others have seen this act as “a broad-minded act of preservation for later times as he would have known that paintings of the hedonistic kind later found in some Pompeian villas were not considered in good taste in the climate of the counter-reformation” Wikipedia “Pompeii”). For whichever reason he covered the paintings after having found them, a lot of the crediting of the paintings goes to Domenico Fontana. For the last 250 years, tourists from all over the world come to see the remains and findings of Pompeii. Tourists—of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, and languages—can go to the Pompeii site to see the ruins of the houses, kitchens, bathrooms, streets, and so much more. It is truly an amazing place to visit but also a devastating reality that impacting an entire society.
Entry 2: June 17, 2012 Travel Break #2—Sorrento
Do you speak Italian?
I, as many of the other girls, didn’t attempt to learn any Italian before departing the US. I don’t know why it did not occur to me in all my preparation to study some simple Italian phrases because I was going to a country where Italian, not English, was the first language. I guess I had assumed most people would know English and language would not be that much of a barrier. In our time in Sansepolcro and other regions in Italy, we have been encouraged to practice our Italian. Staying with others who speak English gives one so much lee-way to not having to speak any other language. I’ve realized that we end up sticking with the groups of people and eating at the restaurants that speak English. On our travel break to Rome, we came across a lot of people that did know English but were still encouraged to speak Italian and understand what they are saying in Italian. In Sorrento, on the other hand, everyone seemed to speak English and we were not expected to know any Italian.
Even though we would speak in as little Italian as we knew, the Italians in Sorrento would respond to us in English. We found this very strange. Instead of being spoken to in Italian, everyone seemed to assume we were both English-speaking. In several instances, store clerks and waiters would ask us if we spoke Italian and look at us bewildered. The Italian we knew would be basic; words we would expect many people staying in Italy would be able to comprehend and/or say. We were only saying small words –like bonjourno, grazie, ciao—and numbers. It was not hard at all to find someone that spoke English on our way to Sorrento, going through the train station, the Circumvasuviana, getting directions to Hotel La Pace, or signing in at the Hotel. When we first arrived in the main square in San Angelo, near Sorrento, after getting off of the Circumvasuviana, we needed directions to get to our hotel. The directions we printed from Google Maps stated that the distance was short but we couldn’t find any street names so we didn’t know where to go. We stopped by the first open tourist-y shop and said Ciao. The woman responded, “You speak Italian?” We responded no and proceeded with our question. She told us the directions in clear-cut English and she warned us that it was going to be a long walk. We went in the direction she told us and after about 5 minutes we came across another square. We stopped at the pharmacy across the street and asked for further directions. The woman there spoke English rather clearly also and told us to continue up the hill until we saw Hotel La Pace on our right. After about 10 minutes, we finally arrived and realized that it was not that far of a walk as the woman at the first square had anticipated.
Our stay around Sorrento continued very smoothly, seeing as everyone knew English and we could easily find a way around because English was written in most places to guide tourists. The people in Capris spoke English, as well as the people in Pompeii and traveling on the Circumvasuviana. The hotel staff was probably the nicest people I have ever come across in my stay away from home. At the end of our stay at Hotel La Pace during breakfast, I decided to ask one of the cooks, Luca, who was particularly nice to us, the reason for so much English in Sorrento. He responded that “English is a global language and so to get a job they would prefer you to know English but it is not a requirement.” Then I asked him about why there was such a difference between Sorrento and Rome in the amount of English that is spoken. He replied that Sorrento had been a tourist-y area longer than other places in Italy and so accommodations for the visitors to the city who mostly spoke some English. It is almost like they meet at a common language, which is English. Sorrento has welcomed tourists for centuries. “The city of Sorrento flourished in the 19th century with new developments in trade, agriculture and tourism…Sorrento became part of the Kingdom of Italy in the year 1861. In the 20th century, the town was a favorite tourist destination in Italy, and was frequently visited by famous and wealthy people” (History of Sorrento, Italy Travel Tips: USA Today). Even though they learn British English, it is still very interesting that they learn English to communicate with those people that will be staying in the area.
Sorrento’s reputation as a historic tourist region is proven through multiple official websites guiding tourists through the area. “Many civilizations have lived in this area: the Etruscans, the Greeks (who gave the city its urban layout that is still clearly visible today in the historical center), the Oscans, the Romans. Later came the subjugation to Byzantium… [and a few others]” (History, art, and Culture SorrentoTourism.com). These different people brought various cultures to the area and influenced the area which is now Sorrento. For centuries, Sorrento has been famous for its tourism.
After a long period of stagnation, the beginning of the 18th century saw a time of cultural, economic and social rebirth for the whole Sorrento peninsula, at the top during its inclusion in the so-called “Grand Tour,” a journey through the most important Italian sites that every young European noble of the time had to make to complete his cultural, historical and literary formation…The same period saw an intersection of…[the] progressively the tourism industry that is currently the most important sector of the Sorrentine economy. (History, art, and Culture SorrentoTourism.com)
After all these different people have come to this area, various cultures have mixed and the people in the area adopted these different cultures. Over time, people have still come to the Sorrento area for vacations. Just as Luca from Hotel La Pace had said, the history of Sorrento gives evidence to catering to a wide range of tourists for centuries, so the need to speak English has given the people in the area more of connection overtime to the various people that come to the area. English has become a more universal language and so the people of Sorrento have found knowing English to be more convenient to working and living in the area.
Entry 1: June 2, 2012 Travel Break in Rome
The Perfect Place Was Not So Perfect
We were very excited to go to Rome and seeing the capital of Italy. Rome is only about three hours south of Sansepolcro. Together, we planned for the trip—the bus tickets and times, the train times, the hotel check-in and check-out, the shared cost of the hotel, and the plan for what we wanted to do while we were there. Rome is now famous for its intriguing history and presence of the Vatican and Papacy. It is the center of the Roman Catholic Church and relates to all other Catholic churches in other parts of the world. Thousands of years ago, the colosseum and other notable structures in Rome were built and are still present today. Rome, due to its history, holds a lot of European history, as it was the center of the ancient Roman Empire. Today, people from all over the world come to see this city from academic, historic, cultural, and religious perspectives. I was so excited to be able to see this wonderful city, though I realized afterwards that my view of Rome was disturbed the company I had chosen to travel with.
The little bit of knowledge I had of Italy was almost all focused on Rome. I knew it had a rich history and a cultural and religious reference to many people.
Revolution overtook Rome in 1848, as the Pope resisted approving revolutions elsewhere and was forced to flee from his fractious citizens. A new Roman Republic was declared, but it was crushed by French troops that same year. However revolution remained in the air and the movement for the reunification of Italy succeeded; a new Kingdom of Italy took control of much of the Papal States and was soon pressurizing the Pope for control of Rome. By 1871, after French troops left the city, and Italian forces had taken Rome, it was declared capital of the new Italy. As ever, building followed, designed to turn Rome into a capital; the population rose fast, from roughly 200,000 in 1871 to 660,000 in 1921. Rome became the focus of a new power struggle in 1922, when Benito Mussolini marched his Black-shirts into the city and took control of the nation. He signed the Lateran Pact in 1929, conferring on the Vatican the status of an independent state within Rome, but his regime collapsed during the Second World War. Rome escaped this great conflict without much damage, and led Italy throughout the rest of the twentieth century. In 1993 the city received its first directly elected mayor. (Robert Wilde “The History of Rome” About.com)
With this background of the city, I had intended to walk through a history book and admire the colosseum and relive the dangers and highlights of the gladiators and what took place in the arena. I wanted to appreciate all the historical sights and the presence of people from other countries centering on the same area. My plan was however ruined by the constant complaining, worrying, and demanding of a fellow traveler.
After getting off the train in Rome, we headed with all of our things in the direction according to Google Maps would lead us to our hotel. We however got to a fork in the road soon after and could not see any street names that matched the one we were supposed to take, so we stopped at a restaurant nearby. In English/Italian, we asked they guy working there to point us in the direction of our hotel. He told us, or at least we think he told us, that the directions we had were no good and we needed to go the other way. We walk the way he says and soon hit the highway. Inside of trying to help navigate where we should be going or asking someone for help, my fellow traveler would continue to complain about the heat and the distance and the weight she had to carry, as if she was the only one who was experiencing the uncomfortable state we were in. I ignored the whining and asked every group of what seemed to be locals where we could find the hotel. Many people did not know what the hotel was and this made me nervous, but nonetheless we had to keep moving because there was no use in just standing around. We came to a little bookshop and asked the lady inside if she knew how to get to our hotel. She was very helpful; she photocopied a map out of one of her shop’s travel guides of the streets of Rome to help us find our way. She then highlighted the path we needed to take and bid us on our way. Not too long afterwards, we were lost again. For the third time, the same individual wanted to spend her time complaining instead of attempting to help us find our way.
Within one hour of being in Rome, I was ready to head back to Sansepolcro; not because I did not like Rome, but because I did not think I could go another minute with the continuous complaining and negativity. Then I realized that my plan to leave Rome at that instant would not have been a solution to my problem. If I had left to Sansepolcro, I would have been followed, just as I had been followed for the past hour in getting lost in Rome. I decided to shift my focus; I really wanted to see the colosseum and that was what I was going to do before leaving Rome. With more questions about how to get to the street our hotel was on, we finally arrived. I got one thank you and one rude “finally” for my hard work. This was not what I was expected but I again told myself that I was there to see the colosseum and to ignore everything else. The next twenty four hours passed by as slowly as they possibly could. The next day, we went to the center of the city, where most of the main attractions were located. It was very cool seeing all the ancient structures and what was left of them. Tourists consisted of people from all other world. The colosseum was the last structure we saw and it was the only one I wanted to see, though seeing the others was insightful to the history of the Romans and ancient times. Reflecting on my overall travel break to Rome, I would say that the greatest lesson I learned was that one bad apple can ruin the whole experience. I was accompanied by a very bad apple and felt that my whole experience in Rome was affected by her attitude. I love the idea of having travel breaks to get attuned to the different culture and strengthen your autonomy, though now I know that patience and dealing with others positively even when they are negative is the biggest hardship of all. I had a harder time with a fellow traveler than I did with adjusting to being on our own with not much guidance. I now realize that this kind of annoyance and frustration is also something that an individual has to cope with while being abroad and away from their normal environment.