The other day I saw the Bertrand Russell quote that says, “Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.” When I think of Italy I think of sunshine and warmth and love. You always see and hear of movies where the protagonist runs off to Italy and finds their true love while wandering the Italian streets looking for their hotel. Italy is very often romanticized and portrayed as this place of goodness and love where nothing can go wrong. The architecture is old and full of history, the food is fresh and local, and the wine is abundant. The picture of Italy that I currently have in my head is something like this: narrow, cobbled streets, open windows, ivy growing up trellises, warm coastlines, vibrant buildings, and flowing canals. I too have romanticized Italy in my mind and am curious to see if my mental image matches up to what actual Italy, and Venice, are like.
Italy has been so incredibly influential to Western culture. They were the hub of Renaissance innovation, especially Venice, and have touched arguably every aspect of modern Western culture in one way or another. As we have discussed in class many times, Venice housed some of the most innovative artists, architects, and musicians. They revolutionized the world of art, completely turning what had been the norm on its head.
Venice seems to be untouched by time, while at the same time always changing. The buildings are the same ones that were built during the Renaissance time, even if they had to have been rebuilt at one point or another due to crumbling infrastructure. It’s almost as though Venice wants you to enter into this moment frozen in time and independent of the passing of days. From the pictures I have seen, Venice reflects the old world style. They aren’t teeming with modern metal skyscrapers or streets bustling with impatient taxicabs.
As I mentioned previously, countless inventions, artworks, and buildings were created in the heart of Venice. For a period of time Venice was thriving with productivity and was the home of modern progress and ingenious creation. They fell within some of the most used trade passages, getting thousands and thousands of travelers passing through their land to trade goods and merchandise.
What’s fascinating to me though is that Italy still manages to be relevant even after all this time. There was the Roman period where the Roman empire had control of: Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, all of northern Africa, Gaul, Greece, and Spain to name a hand full of them. They had immense power back then and influenced many cultures and peoples. In addition, Rome is the home of the Catholic Church, specifically the Vatican. People travel from far and wide to get a peak at Vatican City and hopefully see the Pope. Catholicism is one of the most prevalent religions in the world and the fact that Italy houses the headquarters, so to speak, is not something to overlook. Italy had a part in most of history and managed to leave its mark in some form.
In the United States, we don’t seem to put the same importance on history as Italy does. We are a much newer country, hence why the architecture is newer and more modern. We show obvious signs of globalization and industriousness, but lack the respect and acknowledgement to what was previously there. We pride ourselves on our inventions and modern creations. We tend to ignore our past and think of it as a small stepping stone that got us to where we currently stand. Italy seems to keep their physical cities immersed in the past and in their history. From the pictures I have seen, most buildings are old style brick instead of the sleek metals of the United States. They don’t constantly change what they have. They build on it and fix it up.
The rich Italian history is one of the things I look forward to learning about the most while in Venice. Venice unknowingly tells the story of Italian innovation. Their history dates back much further than the United States’ history and I want to fully immerse myself in the creations that Venice has to offer.
I have traveled abroad a few times before this trip, so I am familiar with culture shock and experiencing cultures entirely different to my own. Since Italy is a part of western culture, I don’t think that it will be as quite shocking as when I spent the summer in Zambia. I think that there will be certain aspects of Venice that feel slightly familiar or similar to that of my own home in the United States. At the same time though, I know that the Italians live very differently than we do here in America and I respect those differences and want to learn more about them. I feel as though I am prepared to experience Italian culture and learn more about the rich history of the city of Venice. I can’t wait to hop on the plane tomorrow and fly to the place I have been dreaming about for months. See you soon Venice!
First Impressions of Venice
After spending a handful of days in Venice, I feel as though it’s time to write about some of my first impressions of Venice and Italy. Italy is a lot different than the United States, even though both are considered to fall under the vague realm of “western culture”. Some obvious and quick assessments that I made are: Italians eat standing up most of the time, sitting at a table is a luxury that is enjoyed for a minimum of three hours, walking is definitely the quickest mode of transportation, vaporetto is the subway equivalent in Venice, a lot of people smoke, coffees are way smaller, and street performers are abundant. Those are the main things I’ve noticed since spending time in Venice, there are a lot of little and subtle differences between the two countries, while at the same time both countries are very distinct from one another.
It goes without saying that geographically, Italy is much different than the United States and their history is much older and longer than ours, but they are kind of similar in other aspects. Both countries have pretty liberated populations of citizens. You don’t walk around the streets in fear of being attacked by some army from a foreign land. You have freedom and safety in both countries, which is definitely something I personally take for granted and forget about most days. Another similarity is the pace at which people move. If you walk slowly, you will get passed and shoved around by everyone else very quickly. That is true of Venice and the United States. People move at a brisk pace when they’re trying to get somewhere important. The pace slows down substantially when just strolling around the city or taking in the sights.
I do think it’s hard to pass judgments on a place that I’ve only spent a small amount of time in. I haven’t had the chance to explore the city in its entirety or wander around a campo for hours taking in all of the small details. It is true that you don’t fully understand something until you experience it yourself, which I think is accurate for visiting Venice. I wouldn’t have been able to even begin to form impressions of this city without actually visiting it and seeing it in person. Coming to a city after doing some research before, or in my case taking a class before, gives you invaluable insight, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for the real deal. I can google translate how to say certain phrases, but the locals say them differently and they put stress on different vowels or use different words or whatever it may be. I do my best learning by picking up on what the others around me are doing. I learned how to order food in Italian by listening to the local Venetians or Italians at the tables near me. I learned how to ask for the check at the end of the meal by seeing the man next to me do it at dinner one night. I learned that once the waiter has served you your food, they’re going to leave you alone until you seek them out. You could potentially end up sitting in a restaurant for four hours unless you seek out the waiter to settle the bill. I have picked up so many little quirks and tips just by being observant and listening to those around me.
The insight I have gained just by being completely present in the moment, asking questions of our very knowledgeable tour guides, and listening to the Italians around me have helped me learn much more about the Italian culture and people than a book could ever teach me. I am constantly surrounded by human encyclopedias of Italian knowledge, whether it be Sylvia who guided us around the Doge’s Palace and taught me about the role of the Venetian Doge or Professor Allen who showed me new parts of Venice and the importance of their architecture. It’s more impactful to learn about something while you are looking directly at it or you are listening to it. Going to all of the museums and learning about Tintoretto’s lengthy process of painting the Scuola Grande di San Rocco while looking at the actual works of art makes it real. I’m not just reading about it in a textbook or looking at copies of the art on google images. I am standing exactly where the artist intended me to be standing and I get to fully take in the masterpiece or building or invention. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be while learning about what I’m intending to learn about.