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Arrivederci Italia

Two weeks ago, I set off on a pretty grand and nerdy adventure to Italy. I had made a wish many many years ago in the Trevi Fountain. When I had made that wish, I had done so certain that no matter how long it took, that I would one day return to Rome. I had no idea when the year started that May/June would find me in Italy. The purpose of this journey was to do a cross cultural comparison of libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions. This led to me asking a few questions. Who are you at the moment that you begin a journey? Who were you when you made the decision to take the first step to depart? Who will you be when the journey is over—whether it is a journey of 2000 steps or 2000 miles? I knew that this would not be an ordinary trip. For one thing, I was not going like my 2003 self, which was a struggling student on a very tight budget. That me had never gone to Europe and wasn’t even sure of what I wanted from life. At that point, I had traveled to Italy with friends who were also studying abroad in Spain. We were in awe at everything. We stayed at crappy hostels, ate peanut butter sandwiches to cut cost, and looked at the world through the eyes of 20 year old college kids from America. This trip to Italy would see me 12 years older, maybe wiser? Still trying to figure out what I really wanted from my life. Ha…

This time around, I was a working professional. I had already obtained my J.D. and my Masters in Library and Information Science. This alone meant that I would look at Italy and the purpose of this trip through different lenses. I had an impression in my mind that I would see amazing history—that I knew from my first trip, and that I would see examples of a rich cultural heritage. Now, I had studied legal systems that utilized Roman law. I had read about ancient volumes of works that were stored in places across Italy. And, I cannot neglect to mention the artwork and architecture of the place. But was there anything else? Was there something more that I was supposed to find out? The past several years, I had been giving with my time and energy. I had experience what I felt to be a whole gambit of life—and I desired something different. More peace, more love, more adventure. Before I left, I had worked a lot and was feeling a little unsure and uncertain about what I truly desired from my future. Who was I even as a person? As 2015 Heather? I thought about these things on the plane. While reading one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, I came across this quote, and thought how appropriate it was.

“A journey is an adventure. Henry Miller said that it is far more important to discover a church no one has heard of, than go to Rome and feel obliged to visit the Sistine Chapel, with two hundred thousand tourists shouting all around you. Go to the Sistine Chapel, but also get lost in the streets, wander down alleyways, feel free to look for something, without knowing what it is. I swear you will find it and that it will change your life.”  ― Paulo CoelhoWarrior of the Light

I was as Paulo Coelho said, “looking for something without knowing what it is.” In the last two weeks, I learned about more than just libraries, museums and gelato. I did find more peace, more love and definitely more adventure. On my first day in Rome, I sang along to Michael Jackson with the cab driver. I met two delightful families—one set were dairy farmers from New Zealand, and the other was a pretty well off family from India who were going on a grand tour of Italy and Greece. They were very nice and pleasant and the world felt a bit smaller and kinder. It did not matter that I was far from home—there were elements to remind me of home, and elements to remind me that there was a lot of world beyond my pond. I arrived at the Convitto Internazionale de ST. Tomasso D’Aquinas. This was basically a boarding house for priests and nuns located next to a building called the Angelicum—a school for theology students from around the world. The convitto housed 50 priests and 3 nuns. They represented 17 countries, and were all very nice. I also ran into a priest from Wisconsin one day—he was wearing of course, a Green Bay Packers hat. Go Pack Go.

My colleagues who were on the trip with me: Anita, Keegan, Samantha, Valerie, Austin and Dr. Chancellor and I set off on our adventure. Exploring the city, finding food, and planning out our next days. Over the next several days we a lot of things which included:

  • Going to the Forum
  • Seeing the Colosseum
  • Visiting the Capitoline museum/library
  • Going to Palantine Hill
  • Visiting the Vatican Secret Archives
  • Vatican Library
  • Reunification Memorial
  • Visits to Several Churchs: St. Peter’s, St. Giovanni, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Lorenzo and Santa Crouce
  • I also took a weekend trip to Assisi
  • We went to Florence, saw the Laurentian Library, visited the Medici Archives Project, Went to the Uffizi, the Medici Chapels, the Duomo, the Leather School, Santa Croce, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, Ponte Veccio and so much more.

In the time that I was doing all of this, I was also spending time with the people on my trip. I learned about their aspirations, their lives, their passions, and we bonded. I leave Italy with 6 new friends who were my family for 2 weeks. We laughed together, experienced staying in the hotel from hell together, discussed silly things and then in the same vein discussed deep issues related to life and Library Sciences. They were also very respectful of the times when I needed time by myself. For example, when my uncle passed away, they let me know that they were there to offer support, but they also gave me space to process what was going on. I really appreciated that. It was nice to be around like minded individuals who were kind, gracious and accepting.

I also spent some time by myself in Assisi, the place where St. Francis of Assisi was born. It was a wonderful place. Very peaceful…so I had the peace that I was seeking.

At the end of it all. As I closed the doors to my room at the Convitto, and got ready to head home to America, I knew that things were not the same. I was not the same person who left Washington DC two weeks ago. I came to learn about the libraries, but instead learned some fascinating things about myself. So I cannot say what the thing is that we are all searching for…but I do believe that it is a personal sense of peace, the knowledge of things that we are passionate about, and the ability to feel free to be ourselves and to love each other. We are never the same person that set off on a journey. Thank you Italy. Arrivederci.

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Galileo Galilee Museum

http://www.museogalileo.it/en/visit.html

One of my favorite places on our trip to Florence was the Galileo Galilee Museum. This was not a part of our regularly scheduled trip plan, but it was a must for me. I have always been a fan of the cosmos, astronomy, and how those people from ancient civilizations utilized math and sciences to help their lives function smoothly. For those who don’t know, Galileo Galilee was probably one of the greatest scientists of all times, and often considered the father of modern astronomy. He was a scientist, mathematician, physicist, philosopher and astronomer. Basically, Galileo was a super nerd, and he probably loved to look at the moon, and the stars. He was a star gazer like me, so going to his museum was a must. He got persecuted for his believes, and was then later vindicated when it was discovered that he was right. The sun does stand still, and the planets revolve around it. This was a heliocentric view that was not popular at the time because it stood in opposition to the views of the church. Outside of the museum on the ground are beautiful glass engravings of the astrological signs. The museum itself has a definitive modern feel. The rooms are organized by topic—but the focus is on science, geography, mathematics, and astronomy. There is also a glass case containing Galileo’s pointer finger and thumb. There are tons of telescopes and other scientific materials throughout, and you can get a sense of how much this one man really contributed to the field. There is also a great library within the museum. Two of my colleagues were able to tour it on a different day. Overall, this was a place to visit in Florence.

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The Medici Laurentian Library:

http://www.bml.firenze.sbn.it/index_ing.htm

On Wednesday, June 3rd we visited the Medici Laurentian Library. It was located close to the Medici Chapels, and the San Lorenzo Piazza. Essentially, everything in Florence is based on the Medici family. It houses more than 11,000 manuscripts, and was originally the repository for the private collection of the Medici Family. The art and architectural structure of the building were all designed by Michelangelo (who was the resident artist for the family). Currently, the research library is located on the ground level, but that requires special permission to gain access. The upstairs now serves as a museum of sorts. It was done in the traditional grey stone that seemed so common to Florence. The former reading room was flanked by beautiful stain glass. The tiny collection of works that we saw in the Library were impressive and included work done on papyrus, and a few very ancient and illuminated volumes of work. It was definitely worth the 3 euro entrance fee. The Library gave off the feeling that the Family was very concerned with giving on a scholarly and sophisticated air to complement their works and dealing with the banking and political fields. This was one of my favorite stops in Florence.

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Florence for Library Nerds

Florence, Italy proved itself to be a cultural hotbed for Library and Archival lovers. The entire city is teeming with a very rich history that was heavily influenced by the Medici family. While my group and I were in Florence we were able to visit the following places together and separately, and to also experience the flavor of the city.

  • The Medici Chapels: This is the mausoleum/final resting place for many of the Medici family. This includes a very large room for the Medici princes. It was all designed by Michelangelo who was basically their family artist for many years.
  • The Piti Palace and Boboli Gardens: Just a very impressive structure that reminded us of the wealth of Florence and Tuscany back in the day.
  • Uffizi Gallery: The location for some Carravagio, Bottacelli, Michaelangelo and other important Italian artist’s work. The Birth of Venus is located here and was very magnificent to see. I would pass on seeing the gallery though if I was short on time in Florence.
  • The School of Leather: I was able to visit the Leather School before we departed. This is a school that has taught students about making leather goods since ancient times. It is located by the Santa Croce church, and you can actually see students from around the world learning the craft—which stems from back in ancient times.
  • Central Market: This is a wonderful place for food. We were able to try a variety of delicious dishes for a reasonably priced amount.
  • Ponte Vecchio: Just worth mentioning for going to take pictures of the river… very scenic.

Overall, Florence is a beautiful city filled with lots of history, culture and its own unique flavor.

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Art and Architecture

One of the amazing things about Italy is that no matter where you are, you are guaranteed to see some amazing architectural accomplishment, and also random artwork peeking out at you from every corner. I was mostly able to capture in photographs, the architecture of churches and temples. There are literally ancient churches everywhere, and most of them are elaborate and beautiful. In addition , Italy is known for producing some of the world’s finest artist of all time—Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Caravaggio, Botacelli and so many more. One of the things that I noticed was that there are many local artists, and just street artist who are also very talented. While many are doing quick jobs for tourists, if you look closely at the works displayed it is easy to see the passion and the talent that went into the work. During the daytime, artists line the corridor of the Uffizi gallery, and it is just a reminder of the artistic legacy of this country. You may even be walking down the street and run right smack dab into a piece of beautiful artwork just on the side of a building. I was very impressed with the architecture and artwork of the churches here in Italy. The details on the buildings are very intrinsic and filled with detail. Some great examples of this are the St. Francis of Assisi Basilica, the San Giovanni in Laterno church, the Santa Maria Maggiore Church, and who could forget the Duomo in Florence? All very beautiful, and all a great reminder that while times change, some things such as a love for art—still remain.

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Medici Digital Archives Project

On Wednesday, June 3rd, our group went to visit the Medici Archives Project in Florence. It was a really cool project. Here is the website: http://www.medici.org/

Basically, they are attempting to digitize and create a very useful tool for researchers around the world. In 1966, the Arno River in Florence flood.  This great flood damaged a lot of Florence’s cultural center—including parts of the Uffizi gallery. The Medici Family archives were housed there. The Medici Family were not just any old family of Florence. They were one of the most renown, wealthiest, and greatest families in European History. Their lineage spread across European royalty and the papacy. They were involved in everything from banking to trade to politics. They left behind an incredible collection of documents—letters, etc, that can provide researchers today with valuable historical and cultural information. Though the collection was not affected by the great flood of 1966, it was decided that the location of the Archives should be moved to a more secure location. It took 20 years, but the State Archives of Florence was built and now houses the collection, and the Medici Archives Project. According to the Project, “This archival collection ― comprising over four-million letters distributed in 6,429 volumes and occupying a mile of shelf space ― covers a chronological span of two hundred years, from 1537 to 1743. It documents the political, diplomatic, gastronomic, economic, artistic, scientific, military and medical culture of early modern Tuscany and Europe.” (MAP). Our group was given a private presentation on the project—their goals, their challenges and their daily ins and outs. I was also able to flip through the pages of a volume from the early 1500s. It was written very beautifully by a cardinal from Rome to the Medici family. I was able to garner through the use of the word “morte” that someone named Baccio had died. It was very exciting in the most nerdy way possible! Overall, the project will attempt to digitize as much of the collection as they can. It requires funding and man power, but they have an incredible cataloging and metadata platform called VIA, that can provide researchers with valuable information outside of Florence. Currently, if someone wants access to the works they have to come to Florence, and request 2 volumes 5 days in advance. If they request the wrong work—tough luck. This digitization effort will facilitate researchers in profound ways. Also with their cataloging system, they are also coming up with a unique way to cite the works. They reclassify each digitize item with a number—researchers can cite to the number instead of using a URL, which is not aesthetically pleasing to see in Bibliographies. The visit was very interesting, especially given that most of the employees were not Archivists or Librarians by training. However, it was very insightful and gives a lot of hope for digital projects.

Medici Family Member

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Gelato: La Dolce Vita aka The Sweet Life…

Having been in Italy for little over a week, I think it is fair to devote an entire post to Gelato. Part of why I am here is to conduct a comparative study of Italian culture, and it has come under my observation that Gelato plays a central role in Italian culture. For those who don’t know—gelato is Italy’s version of ice-cream. There is an entire website devoted to Italian gelato that does a good job of describing the differences between gelato and ice cream, etc. http://www.italiangelato.info/Resources-For-Gelato-Maker/How-To-Make-Artisan-Gelato/Differences-Between-Artisan-Italian-Gelato-Industrial-Ice-Cream-And-Soft-Ice-Cream.kl

For me, I have noticed that gelato is everywhere. It is in all of the cities that I have visited, and it is available on pretty much every block. I have noticed tourists and locals alike delighting in the sweet variety of the flavors. I have noticed groups of senior citizens laughing and chatting in the very sing song Italian while enjoying their gelato. There are many variations, and many accompaniments for gelato—ex. Macaroons, wafers, or smaller cones.

In taking a break for gelato, we also take a break for life—to take a moment to enjoy the moment, and to take pleasure in something so sweet. There is a flavor for everyone—whether you prefer fruity flavors or chocolate. I don’t think it matters if you are in America, the islands, or in Italy—there are certain things that deserve to be savored and enjoyed.

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Greetings from Assisi

Today finds me in Assisi… I am doing well, despite feeling a bit of sadness at the unexpected loss of one of my favorite Uncles in Jamaica–at any rate, he is in a better place, and I can feel his love all around. His legacy will live on simply because of the good person that he was, and that he encouraged me to be…

Assisi, Italy–is located in the Umbria region of Italy. It is I believe the only land locked region of Italy–but that is cool–the mountains are beautiful. I came here intentionally–because this is the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi. If you know me well, which if you are getting this, you do–then you know that I am a big fan of St. Francis, although I am not Catholic. He was all about things that I value–love, kindness, compassion, and peace. His prayer says:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

I took the train early this morning from Termini (aka Shady train station central). That was an experience. Between trying not to get pick pocketed, and warding off shady people “trying to help”, I figured out how to find my train and get to my platform location. The train was bound for Perugia which is the Capital of Umbria. We wove through green mountains, past olive tree groves and tucked away rivers. It was very peaceful and actually made me think of Jamaica–which made me shed a few tears for Uncle Harry. I know, water bucket. Lol… Anyway. I got off at Assisi and took a bus crowded with nuns, monks, and tourists up a hill to the old town. The air was immediately  sooooo fresh, and clean that I had to breathe in a deep sigh of relief–just to be away from the hustle and bustle of everything. The town itself is very cute–terraced levels of brownstone winding up narrow, cobblestone roads with flowers providing bursts of colors. I had booked a room at a place called the Hotel Giotto a few months ago. Booking anything in Italy is a risk because you aren’t sure what you will get, but it was well worth it. Since I got here early, the receptionist said I had to wait for 2 hours but that it would be worth it for a “magical room that overlooks the valley.” In the interim, I went walking to the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and ate gelato while I waited. Everything is peaceful here and everyone is friendly. It is the complete opposite of Rome. I am in my room now…and figured that this would be a good time to share the pictures that I have on my google drive. The pictures that I am sharing now are from the first few days in Italy. It is about 600 pictures so skim or take your time or don’t look at all lol… It covers the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, several very beautiful churches, lots of food, lots of gelato, the Vatican Secret Archives, the Vatican Library, and randoms of my colleagues that I am here with. We have really had quite the adventure. We are staying in a place called the Convitto Internationale di Tomas Aquinas…basically it is a boarding house run by an Order of DOminican monks and 3 nuns. They house mostly priests from around the world (17 countries represented) who are studying Theology at the Pontifica University. We are literally walking distance to everything–the Colosseum, Forum, etc. We are in the oldest neighborhood in Rome. The place is run by Father Luke who is a jolly priest from Iowa. Lol… He has a great sense of humor and is a very nice fellow. Apparently the priest like wine–I noticed in the kitchen two very large casks of wine. LOL…I can never wake up in time to go down to see their mass or to have breakfast (bread and coffee)…so I usually miss out on the entertaining conversations with them.  Two of my friends on the trip and I also did part of a walk called the Camino de Sete Cruces– Walk of Seven Churches. It is basically a 12 mile walk to see 7 churches and ends at the Vatican. A lot of “pilgrims” make the walk during Holy Week. The churches get progressively larger and more beautiful. The one thing is that not a lot of people have heard of this walk. Count on a bunch of Library nerds to know about it though lol…We were only able to see 5 of them +St.Peters because of time constraints… but they were very impressive. I have also given up trying to speak to people in Italian, and as my friend here Anita says, I just speak in English until people do what I want them to do lol… Anyway, At the end of this two weeks, I have to create a project that documents what I have done and what I have learned about the libraries, museums and cultural institutions that I have seen. My friend suggested that I call it, “Eat, Pray, Library” lol… and I think I will go with that. I am not a religious person, but I consider myself to be very spiritual. At every corner there are things to constantly remind us of our spirituality… and to also take moments to enjoy the magic and beauty of life. Of course, the food has also been delicious… lol… The libraries and museums house some amazing collections of the ancient world, so I have been in nerd heaven. I imagine myself as one marker in history–in a long history of people who will visit these places, and will walk this path. What will we see, and who will I be after this two weeks has gone by? Questions for another time. For now, I am going to take a nap and then go on a long walk around Assisi–there are some Roman ruins that I want to see, so I want to preserve my energy for that. I will add that being here makes me miss America and my family and friends immensely. There is something about leaving home, that makes you know where the heart is… The serenity and peacefulness of this place has been good for my heart and mind which has had things that needed sorting out lol…Have a great day…
P.S If you would like to get an abundance of pictures which I haven’t been able to upload to social media because the internet here is slow, let me know, and I will email you… 🙂
:)

🙂

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The Eternal City

Today is May 26, 2015. This is my group’s third day in Rome, and yet is has felt as though I have lived an entire lifetime here. (My toes can attest to this). Everything about this place challenges the senses to pay attention—notice for example the taste of your food. The way that melon is actually very delicious juxtaposition next to mozzarella and prosciutto. Or the variety of Italian gelato flavors…mango, pistachio and creama have been my favorites so far. Can you tell, that I am totally here for the delicious food? Hahaha….And wine, let’s not forget the delicious assortment of wines. …OK OK… Well that and the great cultural history. Yesterday, for example, we took a tour of the Forum, and also Palantine Hill. The Forum goes back to the time of Augustus, Julius-et-tu-Brutus-Caesar, Titus, Vespatian (aka Patron Saint of the Vespas) lol (J.K. I made that up), and so many other really old dead guys. But the history that they left lives on…and so does the history of the places where they pillaged a lot of this stuff from. It does not take away through from their remarkable skill for making lasting buildings. I mean, seriously, in this day and age, they build a structure and one hurricane later it is gone. These ruins are representative of thousands of years of withstanding nature and people. So fun fact from the Forum—the eternal flame of Rome was guarded by several women called the Vestal Virgins. They were selected between the ages of 6-10 and then they served in this very prestigious position for 30 years. They had to remain Virgins until their term was over otherwise they could be buried alive. If they were “buried alive” they were basically locked in a cave with a small amount of food, and they were expected to just starve to death. They were not outright killed because the Romans did not want their blood on their hands. The Vestal Virgins home was located right next to the military headquarters of sorts, where the top military leaders were treated like demi-gods. I wonder what was the ratio of Vestal Virgins who were buried alive because of this clear set up lol… Have you ever seen a woman in any era of history not swoon over a guy in uniform? Anyway, I digress… Palantine Hill is also in the vicinity. This is the place where Romulus and Remus aka founders of Rome were said to be found and nursed by a she-wolf. It is one of numerous hills in Rome—yes, a hilly place. Palantine Hill would eventually become prime real estate and where most of the high society Romans wanted to live. It has an amazing view, incredible fresh air, and it just feels like the place to be.  The whole place is covered by beautiful flora and fauna so you get the sense that you are not just somewhere historical, but also a bit magical as well.

We also went to the Colosseum which was very grand and impressive. I have found that most of the monuments were built by very powerful people to leave a statement about their wealth, status and power. The worst thing that could be done to someone powerful back in those times was to write them out of history—even going so far as to etch their name out of large monuments. The Colosseum was a place where I closed my eyes for a bit, and imagined what it was like to be there for an event. If you had to be on the top level, the truth is that your seats were going to royally suck. At any rate, the building itself is very impressive, and replete with history.

Another treat for my group, was a real treat indeed. Everyone here is either a librarian, or interested in libraries and archives. The Vatican does not allow many people to tour the Secret Archives anymore, and even if they do, there is only a certain point to which they may go. Because we have an awesome organizer/professor, and because of the affiliation with Catholic University, we were able to get a private tour of the Vatican Secret Archives. Getting into the Vatican City was not an easy feat lol, partially because none of us speak Italian, but we got through, and went to the Apolistic Library entrance. There we had a private security guard, and our guide who led us on the most amazing tour of the Archives. So, the word “secret” actually comes from a Latin word for “confidential” so the name Secret Archives is just a reference to the confidential papers of popes, and nobility throughout the old world. There was so much to see, and as a Librarian/Mega Nerd, I was pretty much in heaven. There are things that date back to what seems like the beginning of time. A lot of the rooms were painted with absolutely beautiful artwork, that also left a record of what was happening at the time. We also got to see the document that Henry VIII sent to all the nobility asking for their support in getting an annulment from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Bolyn. We also got one of the best views of Vatican City, St. Peters, and Rome from the top of the Archives. We were not allowed to take pictures on the inside unfortunately. However, on a strictly librarian angle—the flash/light is not good for the preservation of materials. They also gave us a gift from the Archives, which I thought was very nice.

There is so much more, but that is just a quick recap of a beautiful last 3 days. Who knows what the next 11 days will hold… from the looks of things, an eternal experience.

Our lovely group on top of the Vatican Secret Archives roof...

Our lovely group on top of the Vatican Secret Archives roof…

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ROMA :) Visions of Italy

On May 23rd, I departed for Rome, Italy to study Libraries and Cultural Institutiions in Rome and Florence, and to do a cross cultural comparison of these libraries and institutions with those in the United States. On the other side of this, was and is my desire to explore Italy, and to live out the eat part of, “Eat, Pray, Love.” My colleagues and I travelling from The Catholic University of America, arrived in Rome on Sunday the 24th of May, and we are staying in a Dominican monastery with several really cool priests. From my room, I can see the Coloseum, St. Peters, the Roman Forum, and various other ancient treasures of the Eternal City. It is absolutely breathtaking and amazing (pictures to follow). Stay tuned for more of this amazing experience and adventure.

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