We’ve been home for a month now and despite my best efforts, there is no more time to write about our trip to Italy. Instead, these are my notes and reflections of our remaining days in Assisi and Rome in Italy.
Florence to Assisi
We boarded a train for Assisi and found our way down the tracks for two hours.
We arrived under a sprinkle of rain and looked out the window to see the city of Assisi resting on a hill. The city looked like something from a textbook.
We arrived and met our host Francesco at the cafe that he his father and brother owned.
Our check-in was magical and even recorded for posterity.
We spent our first day wandering around and eating a late lunch or early dinner at the little pizzeria next door to our place.
We downloaded a tour from the laudable Rick Steve’s Europe website.
We followed the first tour around the city.
The next day took a tour of the church named after the town’s most famous resident, Saint Francis. The theme that was recurring during the tour and in almost all representation of Francis were the examples of how Francis was willing to surrender the comforts that he had grown up enjoying. for his entire life until that moment.
The repeated story was that Francis confronted his father and removed all of his wealthy clothing as a physical example of his renouncement of all worldly things.
His wife Claire. Followed his bath and with her Poor Claire’s she created a women’s nunnery that lived by the same example that Francis founded his monastery.
We left Assisi and our friend Francesco behind with a sadness. Assisi felt magical and welcoming in the same breath.
Our last stop was Rome
We started with an afternoon landing at the train station. When we checked in and put down our belongings we went outside to find somewhere to eat. then we went to the Vespa rental and secured a pair of two wheels to let us get around town. That evening we drove out to the Coliseum and then around town. It was a challenge to recognize the way the Italians drove.
Lane-splitting is common back home, but there is still an adherence to the need for the double-yellow line. In Italy, lane-splitting is a flexible concept. The double-yellow line is more of a suggestion than a hard rule. When traffic backed up or was just moving too slowly the scooters would dip and drift around and between the cars. It was very common to see a scooter coming straight toward another vehicle. Sometimes it was another scooter, other times a large truck.
We started at the Coliseum. It was really breathtaking to walk around the stones and see the way they fit together like carved pieces. Our tour guides were a little unimpressive. But, the knowledge we gained was decent and we moved on.
Next came the forum. It was probably the most peaceful place I have ever been.
For all the crowds and the growing heat of the day, it felt so comforting. I had the sense that if I needed or just wanted to I could lay down there on a block of stone or a just the ground. I felt like the arms of the place like the past of the place would keep me safe and warm and at home.
The next day Tracy had arranged for us to take a private tour of the Vatican. Our guide was wonderful. She understood where we need to pay the greatest focus. She often pointed to the ways we could stop and rest and enjoy a drink of water.
When we reached the place that stood above the place where St. Peter’s tomb lay there were no pictures allowed and no talking. Our guide warned us that when we entered we would be able to turn around and see the beautiful paintings by Michelangelo.
Later we walked down to the post office and bought postcards for our parents. We took video and stared in wonder at the beauty of the thing.
The church was originally the place where the body of Peter was kept. Peter was one of twelve disciples of Jesus. When he joined up his name was Thomas. Jesus told him that he would be the rock and cornerstone that the Catholic Church would build upon and changed his name to Peter. When planning for the Vatican expanded the church to include an outdoor arena there was an intent made to make the extensions curve so they appear to look like two large arms. The hope was that each person who entered the arena would feel the welcoming embrace of the church.
Our final stop was the Pantheon. It is the largest domed structure to pre-date Roman construction. The width of the dome is the same as the base of the building.
It houses the statues of many old gods and after it was repurposed for the Catholic church it began to hold the bodies of saints. The light through the stained glass at the top was soft and dreamy.
Our trip was over. We dropped off the scooter and had dinner at the same restaurant where we ate every night since we had arrived.
In the morning we gathered our luggage and took a taxi to the airport. We left the city where we first landed more than a week ago. The plane lifted off into the air and we carried memories of Florence, Assisi, and Rome into our hearts.
The story of a community is revealed when it responds to change. Communities claim many things, and the people within them proclaim even more. The decisions that are made when times are bad are a reflection of the possibilities that might be realized when they improve.
The Athletic Club
I ate breakfast with my friend DJ on Monday. We met at my place around 6:45 a.m. and walked down to the Athletic Club. The club opened its doors right before the NBA Playoffs began and even before the Golden State Warriors secured the championship, it had promoted itself as the home for World Cup action. The club was open every game day at 5 a.m. for the earliest matches.
Today the first game did not start until 7 a.m. Our challenge was that there were two games that were playing simultaneously. We had chosen the Uruguay vs. Russia matchup to see just how well Russia stacked up against established competition. Their first two wins were essentially blowouts against teams that struggled to compete. Uruguay has been a major player in the World Cup for decades. Their games had been close challenges and each time the players displayed their mettle. Russia would need more than momentum to defeat Uruguay.
DJ and I both played defense on our college soccer team back when we were old enough to dream about a career in professional sports. We ordered coffee and covered the hot topics in soccer. DJ brought up the newest documentary ESPN 30 for 30 called Nossa Chape about the rebuilding of an underdog soccer program from Brazil after most of the team perished in a plane crash in 2016.
DJ was heartfelt in his descriptions while summarizing the film. I really appreciated that he focused on the value of the community that the team had created before the crash. The players and staff cared about each other and all the families on the team, as much as their own. It made his explanation of the challenges that the club faced when it tried to rebuild the program that much more tragic.
The intention was honorable. The desire to rebuild in the memory of those who were lost is commendable. Honor and intention were not enough. Survivors felt forgotten, the pressure to succeed became an unbearable weight that hampered the players, and a secret that would change the scope of the tragedy was slowly uncovered.
It also brought up an interesting point about the United States Men’s National Soccer Team and its failure to qualify for the cup this time around. When we were younger becoming a member of the USMNT was a dream, and because of our age, we believed that it was still a possibility. If nothing else it was an aspiration that drove us to want more, to try more, and to be more.
I can only imagine what the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, or the National Football League represent to the players who dream of attaining professional status. When I was in high school and even after, Major League Soccer was a fledgling program. It was so small that it appeared that only players from international teams and European leagues and maybe the odd USMNT all-star or college standout made the cut.
And there were rumors. So many confusing stories about how to get in or what route to take. We wanted answers and we watched the games on television and we dreamed without any path to reach them.
Islands of Responsibility
The more we talked the more we were reminded of the community that DJ left when he moved from Oahu to California. He told me that the recognition that Hawaii was the nexus for cultures from every part of the world had led to a conscientious decision to recognize each of them equally. It was a shared responsibility that valued the need to work together.
Responsibility is a necessity on an island when the size of the land and the number of people using it guarantees that it will fail without responsibility. This is not an option, but a life and death understanding. Each person’s actions directly impact every other person on the island. It makes them dependent and accountable.
Wrapping Our Arms Around a Community
It also strengthens the bonds of community. By relying on each other, caring for each other as much if not more than we do for ourselves is the backbone of great communities. I do not know that a lack of community was a factor in the U.S. missing a shot at the World Cup in Russia. I do know that its best chances will come when the community values described by my friend, values exemplified by a soccer team from Brazil and the chain of islands that create the state of Hawaii.
The game ended and DJ and I went on to face our separate afternoons and evenings. Later I watched Portugal and Iran battle to a draw, much like Spain and Morocco were doing at the same time. I could not let go of the idea of community that DJ had planted in my head. It invaded the podcast I was recording and it became a theme that was more than I was capable of addressing because I was still wrapping my arms around it.
Hawaii and North America are very similar. Both are masses of land surrounded by water. The amount of land is finite. We can choose to wait for the space to run out and then treat each other like a community that must depend on each other, or we can act now and strengthen a bond that will make us stronger when our growing population requires us to live closer together.
Sometimes you meet a friend for breakfast and enjoy a polite conversation. I was lucky enough to watch the World Cup with my friend and teammate. When it was over I walked away with a reminder of the value that our teamwork created when we were younger, and what it now meant for our friendship.
We had already seen the statue of David. It was gorgeous and stunning. Our guide Sylvie had explained that David had been viewed in a public square for decades. That love had brought it indoors. But, why here? We were told that it had been a center of learning since 1784. What was this place before?
Before it was the Acedemíe
It was a hospital. The Friary Hospital of San Matthew. The adjoining building was the Convent of Saint Niccolo of Cafaggio. Little is recorded about the hospital before this time. Peter Leopold, the Grand Duke of Tuscany chose the building because it adjoined the Accademia di Belle Arti or the Fine Arts Academy. The collection was regularly updated with paintings gathered from other convents and monasteries by Grand Duke Peter Leopold and then Napoleon.
Why it Mattered
It was a place of learning.
Students went there to learn perspective and proportion from the statues in the “Gipsoteca Bartolini.” The statues were plaster casts made by legendary sculptor and academy professor Lorenzo Bartolini. The molds were pierced with steel pins or rods. Students could use these pins for reference when they compared limbs and fingers with the head and torso.
A key value of the Rennaisance was the return to realistic art that portrayed life with fullness and authenticity. One aspect that arose from this pursuit was the concern given to perspective. The pins allowed them to scale fingers, toes, eyes, lips, nose, and chin. It brought life to statues and paintings by making them appear more human.
The Gipsoteca meant “the hall of models” creates a visual timeline from Neoclassicism and Romanticism. Bartolini’s busts and medallions were in high demand from Russian, Polish, and English families.
The large collection of infant statues were the specialty of Luigi Pampolini. Pampolini’s ability to match Bartolini in grace and beauty rose the two sculptors to equal fame in the eyes of Florentine’s art patrons. The details they capture are so clear they provide insights into hair and clothing fashions and popular ideologies of the time.
A Sanctuary for Musical Instruments
The same passion that brought to life painting and sculpture during the Rennaissance can be seen in the exhibits housed at the Museum of Musical Instruments. The 50 original pieces of the Grand Ducal collection include the roots of the piano invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori and the tenor viola made by Antonio Stradivari.
Cristofori and the Pianoforte
Cristofori was born in 1655 and worked for the son of the Duke of Tuscany making harpsichords and clavichords. It is believed his work on the first piano began during the 1690s. The first version was completed in 1709.
The pianoforte was the first name of the device Cristofori invented. By connecting each key to little hammers that strike the strings, the instrument that would become the piano produced a louder sound than the clavichord. The complication of dampening the sound from the string was avoided with an escapement. This allowed each hammer to fall away from the string immediately after it was struck.
Numerous innovations produced tones that reflected the force used by a player striking the keys. This new instrument did not catch on for a very long time. Cristofori was among at least 100 other artisans He was considered a mere tinkerer.
The piano he created was modified many times over the three centuries that bring us to the modern piano. The changes replaced Cristofari’s name with words like Steinway, grand, and upright.
Imitation is the Sincerest Form…
Stradivari crafted over 1,100 musical instruments before his death. Over 650 still exist today, but there are also thousands of replicas that were inspired by the different changes and styles of violins he produced. To many collectors, this has led to confusion about what is an authentic Stradivari instrument. Adding to the problem is the addition of the phrase Antonio Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno followed by the numeric year.
A travel blog is much like the destination it describes. The academy was a place where we went to see the statue of David by Michelangelo.
What we found was more than the home for a brilliant sculpture by a legendary artist. This was a home where students worked and strived. The evidence of the artists they aspired to emulate line the floors and walls.
Now it is the home for paintings, sculptures, and musical instruments that offer a timeline in three dimensions.
Click the link to contract blog content from Seth.