25 November 2012
I can’t believe that we are actually about to start our last week here in Sansepolcro. Back in August, I thought that this week would never come (not in a bad way). Now that it is here, I am feeling very different emotions than I thought I would feel. Of course I miss my friends and family in America, but I didn’t expect to feel so upset about leaving Sansepolcro in a week. Over this past week, I have fallen even more in love with Sansepolcro, and I’ve realized that, as they say, a piece of me really will still be here when we board our airplane back to America.
This week we had lovely guests staying with us as well as a couple of lunch guests. It is always nice to hear other Americans’ opinions of a small Italian town, and when they tell you that they are awestruck and in love with it as well, you can immediately bond with them. On Thursday, we also had our Thanksgiving dinner. Our teachers from the schools that we are volunteering in, the students from our conversation class, and our host families were invited, as well as friends in general from Sansepolcro. Basically, everyone we have met in the past three months was there! The meal, cooked by Margherita of course, was spectacular. It was all American with two huge turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and corn, cranberry sauce, as well as some appetizers. The girls and I also spent the previous night making eight pumpkin pies which served as dessert. During the meal, we helped the Italians make ‘hand turkeys’ and write what they are thankful for on the back. Reading all of them at the end of the night was very touching. What I loved the most though was conversing with the Italians and realizing that I am really going to miss all these people. The girls and I prepared a thank you speech to our teachers, Margherita, Sara, John Rose, and Dr. Webb, and by the end we were all in tears. All the people of Sansepolcro have made us feel like this town really is another home to us and I don’t think any of us expected to feel so attached to it.
The girls and I were also invited by one of the students in our conversation class, Salvatore, to his house for dinner last night. He told us that we were just going to be playing video games and having pizza. Of course though, it was way more than that! He lives above the Carabinieri station (police) because his dad is a senior officer there. We got a full tour of the station, got to see the inside of a jail cell, and they even turned on a car with all its lights flashing for us. After a ‘Just Dance’ Wii party, it was time for dinner and his mom, Anna, went way over the top! We had a full four course meal with appetizers, pasta, main course, and dessert. Anna went out of her way to make sure that we all had enough food to eat and his family is just the sweetest. Anna even made us all necklaces that are all unique; I’ll definitely treasure my necklace forever. I’ve learned that Italians are the most hospitable people and they always take great care of their guests. The dinner made me realize even more how much I love the people of Sansepolcro and how much I’ll miss every single one of them.
It is safe to say that this week I have realized how special this semester has been and how I’ve really settled in here in Sansepolcro. It’s going to be difficult next Sunday to get on the bus to Rome going to the airport, and I’ll miss not being able to hop on a train for a travel break to go wherever my heart desires on the weekends. There really is no way to express how much I will miss Sansepolcro, and Italy in general, and I cannot wait to come back.
Entry 11: November 19, 2012Speaking Italian
Before coming to Italy, I knew literally no Italian. Of course I knew the common “ciao” that everyone who has ever been to an Italian restaurant knows, but nothing beyond that. In high school I took two years of Spanish, and before coming to Italy, I hoped that perhaps all that Spanish would help me out a little. Instead, all it did was confuse me even more. When we first learned the Italian alphabet and how to count numbers, I kept switching between Spanish and Italian; it was very frustrating. Now, however, almost all my Spanish is forgotten and I learned so much more Italian this semester than I ever thought I would!
Our Italian professor, Valeria, is certainly one of the best in all of Italy. Her youngest son is in the class I volunteer in at the elementary school, and her husband is an astronaut, which is pretty neat. She has been very patient with us in learning Italian, and made it much easier than I thought it was going to be as well. Those of us who had no Italian before starting this semester all started out in her Italian 101 class, then we moved onto Italian 102 halfway through the semester. All seven of us here are also taking a class called ‘conversation class’ which is the equivalent to a 200 level language class. Valeria is in charge of the class, and every Tuesday night, eleven high school Italian students join us at the palazzo for an hour and a half of conversation. The class is in half Italian and half English; there is also always a topic for the class that we focus on.
With Italian 101, the first couple of things we learned were the alphabet, numbers, and simple vocabulary. We also learned the basics of Italian grammar such as conjugating the three types of verbs in Italian which are –are, -ire, and –ere verbs, how to form sentences and say I, you, he/she, they, we, and you all. In each chapter we learned more vocabulary and grammar, completing about a chapter a week.
Overall I found learning Italian much easier than when I learned Spanish in high school. Living in a culture where the language that you are learning is surrounding you twenty-four seven helps tremendously. More people in Italy actually know English than I thought would know it, but I always try to whip out my Italian unless I really don’t know how to say something. All this verbal practice along with finding the way in which I learn another language best (flashcards and writing out grammar cards repeatedly) made for my success in Italian this semester. I was so nervous before coming over here, because I thought it was all going to be thrown at me the second I arrived. However, just picking up the key phrases like Ciao (Hello/Goodbye), Quanto costa (How much does it cost), Mi dispiace (I’m sorry), Grazie (Thank you), and Prego (Please/You’re welcome) got me off to a good start.
All the locals, as well as people in the places we traveled to, were always so patient and helpful to us and I hope that even when I return to the United States I’ll be able to hang onto my Italian.
Journal 10: November 12, 2012
On Thursday, November 8, three other girls and I jetted off to Krakow, Poland. We went with a program called the “Auschwitz Jewish Center Program for Students Abroad” and we spent four nights in Krakow learning about the history of the Jewish religion, effects that the Holocaust had on this population of people, and Jewish life today in Poland. Eight other American students studying all over Europe joined us for the weekend as well and the program’s wonderful director Dara Bramson was with us every step of the way. Over the weekend we toured synagogues in Krakow, saw the Jewish Ghetto in Krakow, and spent one of the nights in a town an hour away called O?wi?cim, or as it is more commonly known, Auschwitz. In O?wi?cim we toured two concentration camps: Auschwitz I and Birkenau or Auschwitz II. Overall the experience was very emotional, and it was one of the most meaningful weekends of my life where I learned more than I ever thought I would.
Over the weekend, our main tour guide from Krakow, Maciek, told us everything about Jewish life in the past and in the present in Krakow and made sure that we were able to see as much of the city as possible. He told us that, before World War II, the population of O?wiecim was fifty percent Jewish. Of course, this changed with the Nazis’ “Final Solution” plan, and today there are only about one hundred and fifty to two hundred registered Jewish citizens in O?wiecim which now has a population of 40,000. This is because after the war, for obvious reasons, many of the remaining Jews from Krakow and Oswiecim fled to other parts of the world, mostly Israel, where they restarted their lives. However, part of what this program focused on is the thriving Jewish life that exists in Krakow today as we saw one night at the Krakow Jewish Community Center. There is a push for recognizing and remembering the past, but also to move forward and to build a strong Jewish community in this part of Poland once again.
One of the most memorable moments for me this weekend was when we were lucky enough to hear a testimony from a woman named Miros?awa Gruszczy?ska whose family assisted a young Jewish girl in escaping the liquidation of the ghetto in Krakow during the war. She was honored with the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ award a couple of years ago, which is one of the highest honors given by the Israeli government. To hear such a firsthand account in person touched all of us, as she explained it was a risk of life or death that her family took on for helping the girl. Miros?awa even told us about the scariest moment her family ever experienced in which a couple German officers entered her home one day. Luckily, the officers had not heard a Jew was hiding there, instead they were there to enforce a curfew rule. Miros?awa told us that she still keeps in very close touch with the girl, who now lives in Israel. For me, this was the highlight of the weekend because I have always taken an interest in the Holocaust, and to hear this personal account was astounding.
Another part of the weekend that I will always remember was touring the Auschwitz I camp. Our tour guide was phenomenal and we were lucky enough to have her as our guide at the other concentration camp as well. Everyone knows the famous black gate at Auschwitz with “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Sets You Free,” on it, and walking through this gate was an odd moment for me. Knowing that hundreds of thousands of innocent people had walked through those same gates in the Second World War with no idea of their fate sent chills up my spine. Also at Auschwitz I, there was a room which many people have heard about, that has a case of two tons of human hair in it. I got choked up when we walked in this room and was not able to look at the case for long. Our tour guide told us it is now known that the hair in that case was all shaved off people after they had already been gassed because traces of the gas were found in the hair. There were many moments this weekend that were hard to take in, another being when we actually walked down into one of the gas chambers. Everything that we learned about and saw was sadly real, but I am glad I got to experience it all this way.
I am so glad that I chose to apply for and go through with this program. With my own eyes, I was able experience and see what I was learning, which is the best part about study abroad. Meeting other students studying abroad and having these experiences with them was unique as well. Poland is not somewhere that I ever really thought I would travel to, but it is an absolutely beautiful country! The language is much more difficult than Italian to grasp, but we were able to catch onto some key phrases such as “cze??” which means hello, and “tak” meaning yes. I am so thankful that I got the opportunity to participate in this one of a kind program and I soaked up every second of it.
Entry 9: October 28, 2012The Real Gems of Rome
These last four days, I was fortunate enough to spend my time in one of the world’s greatest cities. The city in to which we flew into almost two months ago, and the city which I have been yearning to visit since, Rome, was my home for this weekend. I have never been in a more beautiful city with so many ruins and so much history everywhere; I definitely soaked it all up.
One of the other girls and I stuck together during the weekend because we knew that we wanted to get the same experience out of, and see all the same things in, Rome. In just one day we managed to see the Coliseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. We spent a good half of the next day in the Vatican City, touring Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. I had always dreamed of seeing the main sights such as the Trevi Fountain and the Coliseum, and they definitely lived up to my expectations; but, I ended up falling in love with the lesser known places even more.
The Forum is immediately next to the Coliseum and, before visiting, all I knew about it was that it was a place full of Roman ruins. Of course, it is much more than this, as the Forum was the epicenter of daily life in ancient Rome. By using the Rick Steve’s audio guide on my friend’s iPhone, we were able to find the area where Caesar’s body was burned, where the famous priestesses of Rome lived, as well as the arch through which heroic warriors would through in their victory parades. Trying to fathom that all this happened right where we were standing was difficult, but it sure sent shivers up my spine.
Another place in Rome that was on my ‘to visit’ list, though I wasn’t exactly sure how interesting I would find it, was the Sistine Chapel. My friend and I spent a good half of one day in the Vatican City seeing St. Peter’s Basilica and then the Vatican Museum in which the Sistine Chapel is. It takes a lot of winding through the museum, between tour groups, and up and down multiple staircases, to get to the Sistine Chapel, but it was well worth it. I knew that Michelangelo’s famous portrait of God reaching out for Adam, with Adam reaching out for God as well, was in the Sistine Chapel, but I had no idea it was on the ceiling! Much less that it was a part of a storyline on the spine of the ceiling that tells of nine different scenes from the book of Genesis. Michelangelo started painting it in 1508 and finished in 1512. Also, contrary to popular belief, he did not paint it upside down, but instead just standing up on scaffolding. Here again, my friend and I used her iPhone with Rick Steves audio about the Sistine Chapel to learn all about Michelangelo’s work inside the chapel. We learned that once he finished painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo had basically painted a football field’s worth of ceiling and wall frescoes; and of course, it was all breathtaking and mesmerizing.
My weekend in Rome probably could not have gone any smoother or better than I could have hoped. Of course it was amazing to see all the main sights that I’ve always dreamed of seeing, such as the Trevi Fountain and the Coliseum, but I learned that the real gems lie inside places where you would never expect them to be. Having some sort of an audio guide or guidebook is also a huge help because you can learn so much more about what you are looking at than you would have known otherwise. It was difficult to say goodbye to Rome, but I left with a lot of dreams fulfilled and knowledge gained that I am excited to carry in my memory with me.
Entry 8: October 23, 2012Monterchi and Madonna del Parto
The best aspect about all my classes here in Italy is that everything and everywhere we are learning about is right where we are. Especially in Art History, on most days we venture out to a church in Sansepolcro or go to the local library, because the material and art that we are learning is down the street! This week, Professor Banker took our class to a nearby town called Monterchi. It is very close to Sansepolcro, about a fifteen minute drive, and it is very small in size. The town is well known for being the place in which the famous fifteenth century Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto resides. It is a fresco done by the artist that originally sat in a church that is actually visible from the museum. I wrote about this fresco for my first English paper, so I was ecstatic when Professor Banker told us our field trip for the day was to go and see it!
Piero della Francesca himself is the heart and pride of Sansepolcro. He was born there in 1412, his father was a leather maker, as well as a merchant, and Piero was the oldest child, with five younger siblings. Piero first started his career as an artist in 1428 when he had an apprenticeship with a painter. All throughout his life he did commissioned work in Italy; he traveled everywhere, from Perugia, to Florence, Ferrara, Loreto, Arezzo, and Rome. However, whenever he had some time off, he always returned to Sansepolcro. Many of the works he completed in and near Sansepolcro are still in the area, most notably the Madonna del Parto in Monterchi. It is believed that Piero completed this fresco in 1460 after the death of his mother, who herself was born in Monterchi. It depicts a pregnant Madonna, which is a very unusual subject matter of fertility since Madonna is rarely portrayed as physically pregnant. The Madonna in this fresco stands with one hand on her stomach and the other on her hip, which Piero did on purpose to make her seem more lifelike. In the fifteenth century, this fresco was relatively controversial because it did not show Madonna as the divine figure that she was usually portrayed as.
The museum in which this artwork is now on display, contains only this fresco and another room which tells about its discovery. In this room, there is a window through which you can see the little church in which the fresco originally resided. The people of this area are very keen about Piero della Francesca and that is easily recognized in how they make a whole museum just for one of his frescos. Like all frescos from the fifteenth century, this one is missing some pieces, but all in all, it is surprisingly intact and vibrant. Many times it is difficult to grasp that a piece of artwork right in front of your nose is over five hundred years old, but when that does strike you, it is amazing! It is even more amazing that we are living right in the middle of everything we are learning about in the classroom. This aspect of being here in Italy was one that I knew I was going to love, because learning in this way is only possible through study abroad!
Entry 7: October 12, 2012
The City on the Water
This weekend we all completed our second travel break. We could go anywhere our hearts desired, and I, along with four other girls, chose to spend the weekend in the city on the water also known as Venice, or Venezia in Italian. The weekend could not have gone any more perfectly and it was definitely my favorite weekend so far.
When planning the journey to Venice, I learned that there are at least a couple of islands which are part of Venice that many people like to venture out to. The main two are Murano which is the glass island, and Burano which is the lace island. I knew that I wanted to go to at least Murano for a couple of hours this weekend, but I had no idea how I was going to end up getting there! I quickly figured out though that Venice has a service of public boats called vaporetti which will take you basically anywhere in Venice. The other girls and I invested in passes that would allow us to unlimited access to the vaporetti and bus system all weekend. Buying that pass was one of my best investments all weekend because we definitely got our money’s worth! At first, it was pretty overwhelming when looking at bus and boat boards to figure out what boat or bus we wanted to take. However, it all ended up being very simple and we never got on the wrong boat or bus! We ended up easily being able to go to Murano and Burano on Saturday and it only took a few hours altogether.
In Murano, we were able to see a glass blowing demonstration at a glass factory. Afterwards, we got caught up in the factory store and were amazed by all the beautiful glass that was made right there in Murano! There is not much else to the island, so we next took a boat over to Burano which is an even smaller island. Burano is known for all the bright houses that line the canals, along with their lace, and we were able to get some very nice pictures. It was well worth going over to visit those two islands because although they are part of Venice, they are so different from central Venice, and otherwise we would not have seen that part of the city.
On Saturday after Murano and Burano we took another boat over to San Marco which is the main tourist area of Venice. It is where San Marco’s Basilica is as well as the main museums. As we quickly figured out, this part of the city is also more expensive, but we enjoyed just wandering around the piazza because it seems that each different area of Venice is architecturally different from each another. Having learned some architectural terms from Professor Banker this semester, it was really neat to be able to identify the different architectural structures as well.
Although it was rainy on and off and colder than we expected it to be, I absolutely loved Venice. As with any city, I left things to do for next time that I am already looking forward to. I could never get enough of winding through the canals because there is no other city in the world like Venice.
Entry 6: October 7, 2012
It is so hard to believe that my semester here in Italy is almost half over! Before coming over here, I thought that a semester would feel like forever, but half of it has already come and gone in the blink of an eye. Not to mention that we’ve only been on one out of our four big travel breaks so far, so when those come up, time will fly by even faster.
We had this weekend free to do whatever we wanted, so two other girls and I decided Saturday would make for a nice day trip somewhere. We decided to go to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower! It is a commitment to get to Pisa; it takes an hour bus ride to Arezzo to the train station and then an hour train ride to Florence and another hour train ride to Pisa. We also made our schedule so that we did not have much time at all in between trains. Consequently, on our way to Florence going to Pisa, my friends hopped on the train and the doors closed before I could get on! Luckily thought, after a couple seconds of panic the train doors magically reopened and I dove onto the train.
I had heard that there was not much to see in Pisa, however I have to disagree with this. The town has a river running through it which is very charming and the streets are also narrower and laid out differently from what I’ve seen so far in other towns. Of course there is also the Leaning Tower built in 1173 and the Cathedral which are the main attractions. They are both built with beautiful white marble that take your breath away. When we first rounded the street corner and saw the Leaning Tower we were all like little kids because we were so surprised that it really does lean, and it leans a lot! There were many people doing the famous pose of acting as if you’re holding up the tower, so we did not feel as silly when we did our own photo-shoot.
From researching online beforehand, we found out that it is actually possible to climb the Leaning Tower. The tower was closed for a couple of years for repairs and reopened in 2001 allowing people to climb it again, so of course we hopped in line for our tickets and climbed it! Compared to climbing the Duomo in Florence, climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa was easy despite the fact that you can really feel the ‘lean’. The tower is leaning because, when it was being built, some of the land underneath gave away so construction stopped. A hundred years later, an architect decided to finish the tower even though it would still be leaning. It was really exciting to climb one of Italy’s most iconic landmarks, and the view at the top was spectacular, as you can see all around Pisa.
I am glad that I decided to go to Pisa this weekend because it gave me even more experience with traveling around before our first big travel break next weekend in which I am headed to Venice. Traveling in a foreign country is also not as difficult as it seems. All it takes is some pre planning and double checking at train and bus stations that you have the right time and track number and you’re good to go. Well, unless they are late, there are strikes, or track changes! The motto for traveling is definitely to always be prepared.
Entry 5: October 1, 2012Fun in Firenze!
Florence, or Firenze as it is called in Italian, was our adventure for this weekend. We spent three full days and two nights exploring the city that is known for its art, leather, and breathtaking views. Our hotel was an old convent and was just as charming as the city of Florence itself. Florence is also a rather concentrated city as you can easily get from one end of the main sightseeing area to the other on foot, however there is so much to see and do, we barely got started before it was time to leave.
Florence has some of the world’s most famous works of art including Michelangelo’s “David”, and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and “Primavera”. There are countless art museums in Florence, but the one that most people head towards is the Uffizi which is a sixteenth century palace that was originally just the office of the richest family in the world, the Medicis. The Uffizi has housed innumerable priceless works of art for hundreds of years and there is so much in the Uffizi that it is very overwhelming but definitely worth it. Any kind of art that you can imagine, ranging from Roman sculptures, Renaissance altar pieces and paintings, to even modern day pieces are in the Uffizi. Literally, the Uffizi has it all!
The main leather market that is in the heart of the city of Florence is also something hard to ignore about the city. It is impossible to not walk through it at least once, and if you’ve ever been to Chinatown in New York City, it is a similar experience. When we first arrived in Florence, we trekked from the train station through the market to our hotel and it was one long crowded walk. The market has anything you want from leather jackets, purses, wallets, jewelry, accessories, clothes, and tourist knick-knacks. Many times we found ourselves wandering through the market for fun because it is also a good place to practice simple Italian phrases, such as the most important one, ‘Quanto costa?’ (How much does it cost?)
What I personally loved most about Florence was all the spectacular views. We climbed to the top of multiple palaces and buildings and the scenery of endless terracotta roofs, town squares, tall centuries old buildings, and mountains in the distance made for a breathtaking view each time. Undoubtedly the best view we got was when we climbed to the top of the Duomo. The climb up there is definitely not for the faint of heart as the winding staircases, super tight hallways, and edging around up top in the inside of the Dome almost made me (and I am not afraid of heights) afraid of what was next. However, once you emerge outside at the top, feel the breeze, and take your first glimpse at Florence from a bird’s eye view, you fall in love.
Florence is already at the top of my list of cities to go back to someday. It is a very charming city that has so much history in it and as Dr. Webb says, “You need a lifetime in Florence” even to begin to see most of it.
Entry 4: September 23, 2012
Although the list of things that I love about Italy is basically endless, one thing that I absolutely adore about Italy is all the art. Literally, there are frescoes, statues, and paintings everywhere I go! In seeing them around just about every corner that I turn, it becomes easy to also forget how old all the art is. Especially in the part of Italy that we are in, there is a lot of Renaissance art. This means that most of the artworks date back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; there is no doubt that some artworks are even older!
This weekend we did another day excursion and went to Anghiari and Arezzo. We took a quick ten minute bus ride to Anghiari (see picture) and spent two and half hours there. It is a very small town and everything was pretty much still closed while we were there except for a couple of shops and of course, a cafè. Spending the morning there sipping on a cappuccino was lovely and I definitely plan to hop back over there when I have an afternoon and evening free.
After Anghiari we took an hour bus ride to Arezzo to spend the rest of the day there off on our own (not to mention we had to figure out the bus system to get ourselves home too!). Compared to the other places we’ve been so far, Arezzo is very urban and it was almost a bit of shock to all of a sudden be in a busy area like that. However, the number one thing that Dr. Webb recommended we saw was Piero della Francesca’s “The Legend of the True Cross” at the church of San Francesco. It is a series of twelve different frescoes telling the story of Christ’s cross, and it is amazing! Before seeing the exhibit, I thought the frescoes were just going to be across a wall, but they actually went all the way up and down the back walls of the church and even up on the domed ceiling. Some of the frescoes, as those from the fifteenth century tend to be now in the twenty-first century, were peeling with some pieces gone. However, for the most part the colors were still vibrant and most of them were still fully intact. In Arezzo we also toured Casa Vasari Museum which was an artist named Giorgio Vasari’s home in the sixteenth century. He decorated his own home by painting all the frescoes and most all the paintings that were in there himself! I thought it was really neat, especially because the frescoes weren’t just in random places throughout the house, but placed everywhere, and they were magnificent.
Next weekend we are off to Florence for two nights and I am even more excited to see all the art Florence has in store for us. Michelangelo’s David is perhaps what Florence is most known for art wise, but I am also looking forward to seeing some Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli works as well. There’s nowhere else in the world you can see art like this!
Entry 3: September 16, 2012
The Travel Bug Strikes Again!
I have always been someone who loves to travel anywhere whether it is to the beach, another state, or even just down to the grocery store! Sitting at home all day is rarely ever how I want to spend my day. When I left home three weeks ago, the days leading up to it were full of excitement and wonder at the thought of soon being five thousand miles away from home. Also known as the travel bug! I couldn’t wait to get on the airplane and jet off to Italy and finally land here and be immersed in the culture as soon as I stepped off the plane. It’s so comfortable and homey here at the palazzo that I settled in right away. However, yesterday we took our first day trip out of Sansepolcro to Spoleto, which is a town about two hours away. It was our first time leaving Sansepolcro since arriving three weeks ago, and the travel bug hit me again. The minute we got back from Spoleto, I wanted to get back on the bus and go somewhere else!
Spoleto, though, is absolutely beautiful. All day we explored around and saw a Roman house, the Duomo (which is a huge cathedral), a palace, and a couple of churches and museums. It is a little bit more urban than Sansepolcro, and has a lot more hilly streets, as Sansepolcro is basically flat. It is just as charming as Sansepolcro though and I found myself trying to snap pictures of every building we passed by! Lunch was probably my favorite part of the day because we ate at a little hole in the wall family run restaurant/bakery with our art history professor. I had a prosciutto sandwich and a nutella cupcake, which is not the healthiest meal ever, but it was divine! Our meals were cheap too, which is great for student budgets, and the people there were so sweet. We were asking them all the Italian names of food, what was in them, and even ended up taking a picture with the waiter! It is discoveries such as this little restaurant that bring out the travel bug in me and make me to want to travel around to find more of them! Spoleto was only our first excursion of many on this trip, and it definitely has me ready and set to explore Italy even more over these next three months.
Entry 2: September 10, 2012
Celebrating Italian Style: Il Palio della Balestra!
Lately I feel that I’ve been living in one big celebration full of Renaissance costumes, drums and trumpets, crossbow competitions, and random mini parades. Well that’s because I am living it! Il Palio della Balestra is the annual crossbow competition here in Sansepolcro, but it is more than just a crossbow competition. For two weeks, which has turned out to be the first two weeks that we are here, the town immerses itself in its historical culture. It is basically like stepping back in time for two weeks! There are countless events that take place in the main piazza (which is the town square) throughout the festival. Everyone who is involved is dressed up whether they are the crossbow men, flagmen, or part of the procession. Also throughout the days in which there will be an event that night at the piazza, there are at least two or three parades a day. The parades consist of the drummers and trumpeters parading through town playing all the way through, and sometimes there are flagmen as well. Most of the time, they actually stop right outside our palazzo, and so we can hang out of our bedroom windows to watch them and fill up our cameras’ memory cards with video footage.
Sadly, the last day of the festival was yesterday and so there will no longer be the joyous sounds of trumpets filling the streets throughout the day. However, this week I discovered another part of Sansepolcro that I have fallen in love with. The Museo Civico is the local art museum here, and for Art History class one day we took a field trip to it. It is not even a five minute walk from our palazzo, which is another wonderful thing about Sansepolcro; everything is super close!
The museum itself is beautiful, it also has a gorgeous rooftop view that overlooks the town piazza, and the pieces of art inside are even more gorgeous. I’ve always had an interest in art and so from the first day when we started hearing about a Renaissance period artist who was from Sansepolcro, Piero della Francesca, I knew that I couldn’t wait to see some of his pieces. When we got to perhaps his most famous fresco, “Resurrection”, I was in awe at how simple looking yet lovely it was. Also the fact that the fresco is in its original location from the 15th century is even more amazing. Needless to say, I can foresee that I’ll be spending a lot of my free time at the Museo Civico because it is not often that famous pieces of art are a couple of footsteps from your door! Additionally, as we take our first excursion outside Sansepolcro this weekend to a nearby town Spoleto, I cannot wait to discover even more about Italy that is so different from home. Let the celebration continue!
Entry 1: September 9, 2012
As my first week here in Sansepolcro comes to an end, I think it is easy to say that in this one week I have been exposed to more culture than I have ever been exposed to in my entire life. Although this is not my first time abroad, it is my first time being in a country in which English is not the main language. Hearing fluent Italian being spoken all around me the moment I stepped off the airplane has caused a lot of culture shock in and of itself! However, I quickly learned to relish every moment and I am shocked with how much I have learned in seven days from simply immersing myself in everything around me.
The town of Sansepolcro has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Everything about it is picturesque Italian; from the centuries old palazzos, cobblestone streets, and amazing food! Sansepolcro also has about seventeen churches, mostly medieval, just by itself, and it is not a large town. Our first day here we were able to see several of these magnificent churches which all have their own pieces of original artwork that are centuries old. Most of the pieces date back to around the 14th and 15th centuries and they are all placed in churches around town with no security whatsoever! However, arguably the most famous piece of artwork in Sansepolcro has to be Piero della Francesca’s fresco “Resurrection” from the 15th century. It still remains in its original location and is viewable from the street through a piece of glass. In English class we have already read an article by Aldous Huxley that explains the significance of this fresco and how important it is to Sansepolcro. I cannot wait to see it in person!
This week we have also been able to experience the Palio della Balestra, which is the annual crossbow competition here in Sansepolcro. Everything in the town seems to transform back into Renaissance times as people dress up for the occasion and the town goes all out. We learned that some of the costumes are actually inspired by Piero della Francesca’s artwork. Copies of his “Resurrection” are also around town on posters and flyers celebrating Palio della Balestra as well as the millennium of Sansepolcro which is taking place this year. The genuine appreciation that the Italians have for their historical past is very refreshing and touching to see. Sadly, I do not think that we as Americans appreciate our heritage with the same tender loving care that the Italians do with their even longer one. This culture has already in just one week become so close to my heart and I cannot wait to continue to fall even more in love with it over the next three months.