Italy / by Shaun Ventulan

Italy is a country of contradictions, beauty, and culture. Florence, Pisa, Rome, and the Vatican are so rich in symbolism that one has to find inspiration. Italy is a romantic’s heaven. Nature, nostalgia, and art flow throughout the city.

Florence is a city full of contrast. The algae infested waters that flow through the river, the deep blue skies, and the archaic hues of orange that span the homes in Florence defines untouched beauty in a modernized world. Florence, with its small streets and cobbled roads evokes an intimate appreciation of the city. Deep inside the vein of Florence, one will find the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, a monument that spans a hundred and fourteen meters. The massive construction that started in 1294 is an explicit reminder of the pinnacle of human perfection. Traversing the dome is a challenge on its own rite. The twenty-five minute excursion felt torturous. The narrow passageways and the slender, but steep steps became an immediate obstacle. When one does reach the top, the reward is the splendor of the city. An unobstructed view of the city brings about the thought of human ingenuity. Florence is indeed a magnificent city. I now understand as to why Michelangelo wanted to stay in his beloved city. The preservation of the past is important. One must not forget his or her roots.

Pisa is a beautiful mess. Although the monuments that surround the Leaning Tower are quite beautiful, nothing quite captures ones attention like the tower. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a reminder that mistakes can sometimes become a blessing. Had the tower been proper, would it be as significant? When one thinks of Italy, imagines of Coliseum, the Vatican, and the Tower are immediately evoked. Flaws are beautiful and once we accept ours, we become a piece of art.

Rome is amalgamation of the new and the ancient. The city itself feels like a dichotomy. Poverty is evident, yet Audemar Piguet and luxury boutiques are thriving. Gypsies and foreign migrants roam the streets hustling and begging, while others enjoy luxuries. That’s life. Although I did not enjoy seeing the polarity in the social classes in the city, I did find life in what is dead. The ruins of a great civilization can be found throughout the city. The appreciation of what was once great, but no defunct is a reminder of life and its climax. Everything great eventually has its end, but nothing truly dies. The coliseum evoked a mix of emotions – an appreciation of how humans achieved such a feat, but at the same time, disgust as to how the feat was achieved. Lives were lost in that stadium. To truly appreciate something, one must look beyond its aesthetics.

Throughout my time in Italy, the Vatican inspired me the most in terms of my appreciation of art. The Vatican itself is inhuman as almost all works are near perfection, but one also feels disgusted as to how the artifacts were truly acquired. A walk through the gallery is a reminder that one is walking through time. Every piece is a piece of history. Although one may say this criticism, is an attack, it is not. It is an observation. The Vatican does live up to its grandeur as the symbiotic relationship that the chain of Popes shared with various artists helped build a Fabergé in the middle of Rome. None of its grandeur would be possible without the help of Michelangelo. Michelangelo epitomizes the ultimate archetype of a true genius. From what I learned through traversing the halls of the Vatican museum with the help of an energetic guide, Michelangelo was inspired by one piece that defines his work. Michelangelo’s obsession with the torso can be seen throughout his work. The Sistine Chapel is truly a feat of human perfection. Whether one is religious or not, one feels a presence that cannot be explained. The paintings feel as if they are alive. Michelangelo’s dedication and sense of perfectionism can truly be seen in the paintings. Through his quest for perfection and dedication comes turmoil and despair. He slipped into deep depression after completion of the Sistine Chapel. The façade of perfection is at a cost. One should take life as it is and try to live it to its fullest. Obsessing over control and perfection only leads to despair.

Why am I doing this kind of analysis? I feel as if travelers often overlook the true beauty within the cities they venture. The appreciation of aesthetics has its limits, but appreciation of possibilities and interpretations are limitless. One can even find meaning in the ankle breaking cobblestones that span the entirety of Italy. What I’m trying to get at is the fact that if one truly enjoys traveling, one should learn to appreciate deep thinking. Sit down, people watch, breathe, observe, feel the textures, eat the food, and think. That is traveling. It’s not just about the pictures and passport stamps.