Entry 3: June 17, 2012
Saint Clare of Assisi
Although I grew up going to Catholic Schools and taking religion courses all my life I never drew any practical application from it. It was not until visiting and experiencing first hand that I truly understood its application to my life. June 13, 2012 was the date of our final excursion to Assisi. Assisi, a small, picturesque, hilltop Tuscan town, has been the site of many pilgrimages made by individuals of the Roman Catholic faith because of its interconnectedness with Saint Francis of Assisi. However it was not the visit to Saint Francis’ large two story basilica that left me reflecting upon the qualities that I possess and define me as a person.
Saint Clare was a lovely and wealthy Italian noblewoman who later became the founder of an order of nuns now known as the “Poor Clare’s”. Clare grew up as an educated young lady that befitted her noble status. It was from her mother that she became a woman of prayer, strong in her beliefs and who was gentle, brave, and generous. In the thirteenth century Clare became aware of the teachings and ideals of Saint Francis. She soon longed to be a part of the movement but choosing such a lifestyle was not common or befitting of a woman of noble status. During a long period in which she reflected and met with Saint Francis, Clare decided to choose a life of poverty and Christ. During the night of Palm Sunday Clare escaped from her family’s home and ran away to a small chapel outside the walls of Assisi. It was there that she dedicated her life to God. Saint Francis cut off all her hair and gave her a brown rough habit to wear. This was done at the feet of the alter of the Virgin Mary of Angels. That night Clare was protected by papal interdict against intrusion by her family; as her family would attempt to take her back by force. After some weeks Clare was moved to another monastery and there she was joined by her sister. When her uncle tried to remove the two girls from the monastery all attempts came to no gain the two girls were valiant and opposed to all for their beliefs, unusual in that times for any woman. On August 11, 1253 Clare died after being frail and in worsening health. She will forever be known for risking and giving everything away for the sake of her beliefs. She I an example toy women everywhere for what they should want to become; strong, resilient, brave, and independent.
After reading further into Clare’s background and experiencing firsthand the people’s love for her I have come to appreciate what she stands for and what she died for. After further reflecting I truly believe that women should read her story and attempt to model her and her example. It seems to me that if women in Italy possessed some of these qualities then women may not be viewed in the objective way that they are. I wrote in my last journal that unless women stand up and let their voices be heard then things will never change in Italy. Perhaps what the women in Italy need are the qualities that Saint Clare possesses. If the women in Italy were stronger, more resilient, and braver then they would stand up and fight just as Clare did for her beliefs. She did not let anyone not even her own family stop her from facing her fears and fighting for what she knew was right.
After this trip to Assisi I became more in touch with myself than ever before. When writing this journal I was faced with the task of looking inside myself and asking; do I possess the qualities that made this woman a true woman? Am I strong, brave, and resilient? Before this trip I would have answered with I don’t know. Now I would answer with an adamant yes! I am strong because I have had to depend on my own intuition. I am brave because I have faced many challenges of assimilating into an unknown culture, and I am resilient because I faced these challenges, for the most part, alone.
Entry 2: June 9, 2012
Women in Italy
When walking down the street and looking at all the beautiful Italian women it is difficult not to be jealous of their lives. After all they have the reputation for living la dolce vita however, as it turns out this lifestyle is not being sustained. It seems to me that women are slipping through the cracks and if something is not done about this one of Italy’s most prized commodities could disappear from sight.
In fact a recent survey of 4,000 Italian women revealed that they are the most dissatisfied with their lives when compared to five other European countries that underwent the same survey. The survey also found that about one half of Italian women regretted getting married and two thirds regretted having children. Although to be quite honest after reflecting upon what we have been discussing in class I can understand their feelings.
When observing it is often difficult to understand why women would feel this way after all most fathers are seen with their children both on weekdays outside the home and in church on Sundays. However, delving deeper is what is needed to truly understand this issue. One could draw the conclusion that perhaps fathers are out with their children is because mothers are the only ones that can be trusted not to burn the house down using the stove or flood the house using the washing machine. This is not so difficult to believe once you have heard that research found that seventy percent of men do not know how to work a stove and ninety five percent do not know how to work a washing machine. However, this is because a large proportion up to age thirty have lived with their mothers and have not had to learn to how preform domestic duties. Also when even the government views women as sex objects it is hard to move past the stereotype that women are not meant to be viewed as anything more than the tiger in the bedroom and domestic goddess in the kitchen. This being said it is easy to see why women in Italy are the unhappiest and regret so many things.
When I was first reading the articles we had to read and review for class I was infuriated I thought that surely this cannot be true. After all I had never experienced anything like this before and I like to think that I came from an Italian family that stayed true to their roots. My mother and father both work and share the household obligations. Although the kitchen is my mother’s sanctum and my father knows this he does not hesitate to help with dinner, or wash clothes. However, after I had finished reading these readings and doing research of my own I came to the realization that my family’s situation is a prime example of only a select few Italian households. Also after I had read this I went back and read back over my journals of the days and nights I had gone out and came to open my eyes on the fact that this does not seem to faze Italian women. I remember writing in my last journal that I was surprised at how forward men were with women and how uncomfortable I felt by this; but one thing I do not remember is any Italian woman voicing how being objectified in public made them feel. They never once moved their lips to speak about how someone whistling or slapping their rears made them feel. It seems to me that women have come to accept that they will always be viewed as sex objects. Until this acceptance wears off and women get fed up the cycle will continue Italy’s women will continue to be the unhappiest in Europe.
It seems that many women in Italy are under the impression that the man of the house is meant to be the provider and the woman is meant to play the traditional role as housewife. This to me seems to be doing more harm than good, the next generation of “mama’s boys” is on their way! My mother once told me that “the man may be the head of the household…but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head anyway she wants it.” Meaning that if she wants to change things it is going to take her saying enough is enough. Women need to stop doing all the cooking and cleaning. They need to make men see that commitment is an equal partnership.
There have not been many times since I arrived in Italy that I have thought badly about the Italian culture and how I wish I could change it, however, in this circumstance I do. When I reflect on things like this I like to think about how my life in America would be so different if I was expected to conform to this mold of the perfect Italian woman. It is not my dream to be a traditional housewife nor do I want to be constantly objectified in public and on TV. That behavior does not make me feel beautiful but disgusted!
Entry 1: June 2, 2012
People-watching involves observing people to get a feel for the beauty and social intimacies of the people around us. Nowhere is people-watching more interesting than in a culture you have never been before for it allows to observe the common everyday occurrences of a new culture. This is exactly what I did when I arrived in Sansepolcro. I had already preformed opinions of the Italian people however most of this changed when I actually sat down and observed the Italian people in their natural setting. For my people watching expeditions I concentrated mainly upon the cafes. I would sit down and slowly sip my cafe mocha and write in my journal about the interesting things I saw. However, I did not want to concentrate my viewing of the Italian culture to just one location so I also visited a church service and a bar at night. In all of these places I observed behavior that seemed to be unique to Italian culture.
As I sat down to drink my mocha I noticed numerous things about the individuals walking up and down the main street however nothing was more obvious than the behavior of the women. It was as if they were walking up and down their own life size cobblestone catwalk. It was watching this that brought me back to a passage I had read in La Bella Figura “The good-looking attendant was putting on a fashion show in the sky, and no one dared to interrupt.” As the women walked up and down the streets they carried themselves with true poise however, never missing the chance to look around and see just who was staring at them as they walked down those streets. I also noticed the same woman walk by at least three times; as if it wasn’t clear before it was now, she wanted everyone to know that she had arrived and was there to be noticed. After sitting there for a while longer and upon reflection I was again brought back to a passage from La Bella Figura. Severgnini states that “Italian women take great pride in putting themselves together.” I my opinion Italian women do this because Italy is the fashion center of the world; after the entire name Italy is practically synonymous with the word fashion. Therefore in Italy to fit in with the rest of the fashion conscious women you must strive to stand out from the crowd.
Upon visiting the church service Sunday morning I had pre formed opinions about what I thought I would see. I grew up in an Italian household my mother and grandmother trying to share as much as the heritage with me as they possibly could. My family was always close and tightly knit therefore when I went to this church service I expected to see mothers and fathers with their children sitting quietly just as I was expected to have done. As it turns out most of my opinions were off base. I observed mostly fathers with their children not many mothers and the children were free to wander within reason. If fact one child was playing hide and go seek. The other thing I noticed was the fact that time was not the main priority with most individuals. Many families came in after the church service had already started and even then continued to mingle in the back with their children. This was especially interesting because in America this would not have gone over very well, you are expected to be on time and on the rare occasion that you are late for church you do not dawdle in the back. Also in American churches children are expected to be quiet and act like angels reincarnate if they are present during the church services; there is no wandering and especially no playing hide and go seek. I believe that this is the way it is because family is an extremely important aspect of Italian life. Family, whether you are talking about immediate family or the church, are both extremely important to Italian culture. Family was and still is the main source of support for Italians during tough and hard times. In fact it is said in the catholic faith that family is the only foundation of society.
However I didn’t feel like I could write about my experiences without experiencing what individuals my age in Italy do for fun. It was during my observations that I realized there are many differences between American nightlife and Italian nightlife. In America there is drinking, dancing, and loud music that accompany the evening. However, in Italy it does not appear to be this way at all. During my night out in Italy apart from the whistles and gawking stares that came from the Italian guys as my friends and I walked through the night was fairly calm. In Italy it is apparent that the phrase slowly sip and savor is in full effect. In America shots that are poured are thrown back whereas in Italy shots are sipped and the taste of the alcohol is savored. In fact during my time at the bar I felt as if I was drinking too fast. Also in American bars there is loud music and dancing. In Italy this is not the case. Loud music may be played but it is meant to accompany the conversation and drinks you are having with your friends and dancing is apparently non-existent as I have yet to see it in a bar. The only thing about that night that I have never experienced before was the obvious whistles and stares my friends and I received while out on the town and to accompany the stares of their male counterparts Italian girls also stared. However, it was not a friendly stare but one that I haven’t seen since middle school when cat fights were in style, it was a stare that declared war, a stare that said you are invading my territory. During my night out I formed many opinions as to why certain things happened. For instance, it is obvious to me now that in Italy drinking is meant to accompany something social. They do not drink just for the sake of drinking. This, to me, again points to the importance of togetherness and family. Drinking and food are things meant to bring people together. During my time out I also developed opinions about the behavior of both guys and girls towards us. I came to the realization that we are foreign and unique to them something that must be stared at and investigated. As for the girls it must feel somewhat like middle school after all we are stepping on their territory; may the invasion of the golden goddesses commence!
Throughout writing this journal I came to many realizations that may have never been reached had I not gone out and experienced these many different Italian environments first hand. Writing this journal was extremely helpful in helping me gain insight into the new social intimacies of the Italian culture. Although my assumptions may not all be correct I look forward to further experiencing and therefore forming new opinions.