This blog has no thesis. It started as a travelogue, to keep interested parties updated with my travels during my PhD work. My travels were many, but the blogging was hard–I have a backlog of some 15+ entries to work through, but some of the motivation has faded as time has passed. At its inception, I thought this website could also serve as a professional portfolio as I went on the academic job market and (hopefully) became a professor. That ship has sailed, and thus the professional portfolio became irrelevant. Then, I decided to have bariatric surgery and this seemed a useful vehicle to keep interested folks updated easily. I have absolutely no interest, however, in making my surgery or my body the primary topic of discussion on this blog.
I still have the impulse to write. I no longer think that an academic setting is the path that I want to take. It doesn’t mean that I think my previous work was unimportant or has no teeth, I am just not sure that I want my work to exist and develop in and around a system that doesn’t have room to employ the scholars it turns out; can’t compensate me (and others) for my research; and for which I have to use my own precious free time and resources to accomplish. It’s a scenario in which I am doomed to be playing catch up. However, I will never say never.
Thus, the idea of branching out in my writing is also attractive. I love a good memoir and I love fiction. Am I capable of writing either? Who knows! Could I be an author of popular non-fiction? I don’t know! I haven’t tried. I’m not ignorant of the fact that all genres of writing require time and effort to get right. (Also, some academics have written some truly terrible fictional works…not all of us are Umberto Eco who can do both. I really, really don’t want to be THAT academic.) However, I don’t know that a public blog is the place to practice fiction writing and I’m not sure I would subject anyone to those attempts. (You’re welcome.)
In John Green’s latest book, The Anthropocene Reviewed, he quotes a writer friend of his, Amy Krause Rosenthal, who said, “For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life, pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info you need.”
This sentence stuck with me and I ruminate on it often still. The things that come to mind when I think of this approach are abstractions and not things for which you can be compensated nor or they ones on which you can (easily?) make a living. That’s okay for me though. I choose to interpret these words to mean what to do with your life not what to do for your work. They are not the same thing.
For now, I think this blog will take as its focus the things to which I pay attention. Crafting? Yep, probably. Random thoughts? Oh most definitely. Semi-academic explorations of mundane things? You can place your bets. Gushing and nostalgic book reviews? The odds are in your favor. Other here-to-unforeseen forays into randomness? Indubitably. Travel blogs? Yep, can’t stray too far from my origins and I can’t wait to travel once more.
Whatever this space winds up being, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.
My years in Bloomington are obviously some of the most significant of my life. I learned so much during this years– stuff about myself, art history, the world, everything really. It will be hard to say goodbye. Or, see ya later, because really, there will always be a next time. Deep breaths. There’s no crying in baseball. My time in Bloomington can be pretty easily divided into 3 distinct parts. The Early Years (2012-2015, comprising coursework and quals); Dissertating (2015-2019, comprising proposal, all sorts of travel, and my mom’s death), and Post-PhD (2019-2021, IAS and Pandemic). I’m going to write a post about all three. Why not?
When I moved to Bloomington in 2012, I had never stepped foot in the state of Indiana. I had some half-baked notions of what I would find–a blend of vague ideas about the US west of the Appalachians and stereotypes from Parks and Rec. Indiana (my part of it anyway) was NOT barren, flat prairie, but rather with rocky rolling hills. Most people do have a weird story about John Cougar Mellencamp (or his kids). Cities and towns do have really ornate courthouses (of COURSE made of Indiana limestone). There ARE a lot of raccoons. To be fair though, I’ve seen more skunk. (I have a long-standing theory that Bloomington *is* Pawnee. Yes, I know Bloomington pops up in the show, and no, that doesn’t matter to my theory.) Anyway. I digress.
It would be impossible for me to formulate a clear narrative of the first few years, so I’m going to hit the highlights. I know I’m missing things–critical important events and people–but at this moment, the things listed below are what categorized my early time in Bloomington.
Starting a Solo Adventure
I moved to Bloomington after what had been a rough couple of years. From 2010 to 2011, I lived with my grandfather while doing my MA and working a few jobs. My family had moved far away, then after my grandfather’s health declined, he moved to Texas to live with my uncle. It was rough, and I felt rather…adrift, but stuck both in terms of geography and situation. I was independent, but not. On a path, but not a certain one. I knew I wanted to go to get my PhD, but it wasn’t a guaranteed outcome. Thankfully, I was accepted to IU and the adventure could begin.
After a summer of fun, concerts with my BFF, visits to quintessential Virginia sites, I packed up all of my stuff, and moved to Indiana with the help of my Dad and siblings. It was mildly terrifying to move to a town and state I’d never been to before, where I did not know a single person, but it was also thrilling to be on this adventure because it was was entirely my own. I was in Bloomington because I chose to go to IU. I was at IU because I chose to study art history. I wasn’t sure it would all work out the way I wanted–with a tenure-track job at a small liberal arts school–but at least I was taking concrete steps to make that happen.
It wasn’t easy. The first semester was kind of rough. I was one of 2 PhD students and lived farther way than I had intended (the risk of renting online with a NoVA definition of commute). Everyone else was an MA student and grouped together a little easier because of the classes they took (or so I felt!).My expectations and hopes had to confront reality, and that always requires a little adjustment. I found my feet and my people eventually and it was seriously one of the happiest times in my life.
Loving Bloomington and IU
Bloomington seemed like a perfect little pleasantville, microcosm of a place. After living on the 95 corridor literally my entire life, it was refreshing to have real boundaries to a space (literally, you can tell the moment you leave “town,” still). After the sprawl of northern Virginia/DC, it was charming. An actually ‘main’ street/downtown area, with adjoining campus felt so novel too after George Mason.
CAMPUS itself was gorgeous. Both my undergrad and my MA were entirely different from IU’s. Randolph-Macon was small and quaint, beautiful, but definitely not really that impressive architecturally. Mason had a fine campus and was a huge school, but it was all very 1960s and 1970s (understandably). IU has a much more unified campus that is without a doubt, one of the prettiest in the nation. The landscaping is always great. The trees are always incredible in almost any season.
The architecture on campus fueled my excitement for scholarly pursuits. The gothic and romanesque influence *clearly* were meant to inspire Deep Thoughts unlike the boring brutalist stuff at Mason. Even better IU had an amazing museum and attached fine arts library in the same building as the art history department. It was THE LIFE.
Meeting So Many of “My” People
This one is it. Really, what made Bloomington was the people. In the first 2 years in Bloomington, I met more people who would become absolutely critical humans to my life. There are so many. Almost all art historians. I don’t take pictures of people (ugh) so I don’t have much to share here. All I have to say is I feel very lucky. I had opera buddies. Ice cream buddies. Art museum buddies (duh). Movie night buddies. Game night buddies. ALL SORTS OF BUDDIES.
There’s my friend L who I have been lucky enough to visit several times abroad and visit some really cool places. The first person to welcome me to IU, and who I would literally walk over the coals for.
Then there’s S&J who had become quick friends during our orientation, but then quickly welcomed me into their little group when it was clear I needed a friend. I spent literally so many wonderful moments with these two; they’ll always be my badass humans.
Year 2 brought three incredible humans, E, H, and K. I was so pleased to have found so many great people in Year 1, imagine my surprise when year 2 brought just as many amazing people.
Seriously, yo, when I count my blessings, it’s insane to think of how many of these blessings were introduced to me in this short window of time. In the art history department of IU, in Bloomington, Indiana of all places, no less!
The way it works in Bloomington though is that most everyone leaves. I’ve had to watch people I really care about move on to new and exciting things. What’s crazy to me is that I’ve managed to stay in touch with many who have moved away, some even thousands of miles away across the globe. But they leave and you stay. It’s hard watching them leave and not knowing when it will be your turn.
Discovering Drag Queens
In the grad office up there, one of my dearest amies introduced me to this little show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” You may have heard of it. This may sound random, but I have so many great memories connected to this show. I feel like it drew together many things I loved, provided some excellent stress relief, and much-needed inspiration, for some really difficult moments that would unfold over the next couple years.
Plus, I got to experience the much-beloved and unique, Uncle Elizabeth’s, which hosted drag shows in Bloomington before it folded.
In 2013, I finally got what I had wanted for so very long. A little baby kitty cat of my own. It was not an impulse decision, but it was still nerve wracking. I’d never owned an animal of my own before. It was a big responsibility. But oy! It was near instantaneous love. I went to the shelter wanting to get a male black and white cat, that I would name Gus. I left with a girl, grey and white that I named Livia. None of the boy kittens struck my fancy–there weren’t many. My friend L scooped up a girl baby and handed her to me. The first girl was too freaked out. L then scooped up 2nd girl baby, named “Eartha Kitt” and I didn’t put her down again until it was time to take her home. She was my baby. She loves me more than anyone else on earth and is my sweet perfect baby angel, even though she is a born crank, as evidenced by the picture below.
For those of you who were in Bloomington in 2012-2015, what did I miss? What were your critical Bloomington moments during these years?
2017 was a mixed bag. It didn’t suck as much (at least for me personally, world events is another story) as 2016, but it came with ups and downs. There were some pretty obvious highs, and some pretty obvious lows, namely, still grieving the loss of my mom played a very large roll that filtered into everything. You don’t realize how fundamental someone is to your life until they’re no longer there. BUT I like to take the time to reflect on what made 2017 bearable and okay. Here it goes, in no particular order.
Eurotrip 2017! Eurotrip 2017 was amazing–I’m still working on finishing up the blogs, but other writing endeavors got in the way. Returning to France after the aborted trip in 2016 after my mom’s death was a little hard, and solo travel for so long sometime wore on me, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I will never forget. In France, Croatia, and Italy, I visited sites, monuments, and museums of importance to my dissertation and enjoying every (almost) every second. Me in Ancona Italy checking out the Arch of Trajan.
Fitzwilliam Arthur I don’t think it’s terribly surprising that I got another cat this year, especially after the loss of my mom. This (not-so-little now) kitten is such a goof and I can’t imagine life without him.
Quilting I finished two quilts this year, one for a friend’s new baby (who is literally the cutest!) and one for my brother. I’m so happy to have found my craft, it gives me such satisfaction and enjoyment. My brother’s quilt was particularly special. When my mom died I was working on my sister’s quilt; she had asked me to make sure that I actually made a quilt for my brother too (a craft I had made a few years ago, I never finished my brother’s, largely because my idea far outstripped my abilities at the time.) I promised I would. So this quilt was super double special, it was for my brother, and for my mom.
YMCA I was kind of bummed to need to find work over the summer, but I *really* enjoyed working at the local Y’s summer camp. I got to hang out with some cool counselors, awesome teens, and delightful kiddos all day long. It was nice to be reminded that I’m good at at other things and be given some perspective on what the world is all about. It made for an exhausting summer of crafts, sunburns, splashes, and giggles.
Miss O I started nannying this year for a six-year-old girl and man. One of the best things I ever did. This kid is smart, funny, and just a lot of fun. Hanging out with her is another great dose of perspective. Oh and she loves Harry Potter so we’re basically soulmates.
Friendsgiving in Nashville I had *such* a good non-traditional Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving with some of my favorite people, in one of my favorite places. I even brought my cats!
Hard work! It’s been a productive year! I’ve worked hard, and made some progress that I’m proud of, and I’m hoping that it will only get better in 2018.
Self Care (and)
Networks of Support These two kind of go together, and I think it’s why I feel like I’ve made more progress in 2017 than any before. From professional and personal friends and colleagues, and knowing when take a break, I’m a lucky to have access to a variety of support networks that I have availed myself of this year.
Christmas 2017 This holiday season, to me surprisingly, was harder than last year. I think everything was too new last year for me to really process what the holidays are now that my mom has died. It starts with the anniversary of her death, immediately followed by my, my dad’s, and my sister’s birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, then Christmas…then my mom’s birthday is New Year’s Day. The holiday season will forever be bookended by these bittersweet dates now. However, we did Christmas a little differently this year, didn’t try too hard and didn’t push it. Us siblings got small meaningful gifts for one another and “Santa” didn’t bring us presents this year, but that was all okay. I had a great Christmas, in spite of the sads, and it reminded me how thankful and lucky I am for the family I have, both related and chosen.
Sorry for the long absence…life got in the way…to pick up where I left off…I was in Turin taking in the sights of the Piedmont.
My main goal for visiting the Turin was to visit the Arch of Augustus in Susa. Susa is a small town in between Turin and France. The train ride from Turin to Susa was probably one of the most beautiful of my life. Like Turin, it rained, but it rained on and off, and totally stopped long enough for me to hike out to my arch, do my thing, and then get back to the train.
The building at the peak of that mountain is the Sacra di San Michele, a former Benedictine abbey (now run by another order), that dates to the 12th century. (Umberto Eco based his novel, The Name of the Rose, on this Abbey.)
The city of Susa was charming and small. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there, but my path to the arch led me through the town center…The town was super sleepy and not very populated…but that was okay with me. Like in Turin, while I was walking through Susa, I had a hard time believing I was in the same country as Naples.
A small sampling of the small town of Susa.
Finally, I found my arch. I knew it was in the mountains, but I had no idea just how beautiful of a site this arch occupied. The view was incredible, like ridiculously so. So ridiculously beautiful, I was moved to song. Now for those of you that know me well, I am usually singing. I also love The Sound of Music, and most musicals generally. Perhaps unsurprisingly, while walking around the arch and its surroundings (see the pic below of what the arch overlooks), thinking myself entirely alone, I sang loudly and at full voice the title song from The Sound of Music.
A few minutes into my warbling, I realized I was not as alone as I imagined. Hidden below the hill, was a large group of teenaged students on a tour of the town. I heard some applause, and promptly blushed in horror as the climbed the hill to explore my arch. A few of them smiled and said, “brava!” and the tour guide leading them gave me the biggest grin..many of them didn’t care. Never have I been more glad to be confident in my vocal talents, and it’s a story I’ll remember for forever. And honestly…WHO WOULDN’T BREAK INTO SONG AT THAT VIEW?
Me and the group of students that caught me and my vocal stylings.
After completing my work, I headed back to the train station and the sky opened up. I enjoyed the view again on my way back to Turin. I treated myself to a late afternoon gyro (when in Europe?) and enjoyed my last few days in Italy.
Torino, or Turin, is not like any other city I’ve been to in Italy, and honestly, it didn’t quite feel like I was in “Italy” anymore. (Truthfully, now that I’ve been all over Italy, Italian is such a misleading adjective; there are not many constants.) The city, like Trieste, clearly had some glorious periods in the days of yesteryear and yore, but Turin wears its age better. It, unlike Trieste, does not have the shipping component, so it makes it feel a little less seedy — read: not at all seedy. However, unlike Florence, Siena, Rome, Venice, or Naples, Turin doesn’t seem to get its share of [American] tourists (this is my subjective understanding).
The view from my airbnb’s window. The city was completely charming architecturally, even if it was rainy.
I was only in Turin for a little while, mainly to visit another town that was super small, so I do not know a lot about its history. The main points of historical interest are that the Turin was the seat of the Dukes of Savoy, later the royal house of Italy, and the first capital of unified Italy. The seeds of unification were first sewn in Turin. If you have been to any town in Italy, chances are you have seen some street, square, or other landmark with the name “Cavour” (literally at least one in every town); this refers to Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour who was from Turin and instrumental in Italy’s unification.
The Piazzetta Reale, in front of the Royal Palaces of Turin, where the city’s museums are housed. You can see the main train station, Porta Nuova, if you follow the main street to the end.
In Torino, a few unhappy trends began for my trip — if I had to say I had a “bad leg” of my trip it would start here (even though I didn’t have a bad time). Turin began what I refer to as the “week of Rain.” It wasn’t actually a week where it rained on my trip, but it felt like it. However, there were a ton of covered sidewalks and storefronts that permitted folks to walk around without getting (very) soaked. The Great Curse of No Internet also began in Torino; my airbnb tried to get it working but they couldn’t verify what was wrong. Now, I’m a little ashamed to admit how much this stressed me out. The internet was my lifeline. I had settled into a really comfortable routine on this trip where I did all of my stuff out and about during the day, had a late dinner, then settled in for the evening with a few eps of whatever show was available to me on Netflix in Italy or France. Just the *noise* of someone speaking English to me helped with the loneliness factor A LOT. Losing that stressed me out. A lot.
My breakfast one morning…bicerin (it sounds like you’re calling someone the b-word), a cornetto con crema and some biscuits. Bicerin is a Piemontese drink that was invented in Turin that has espresso, chocolate, heavy cream or milk, and whipped cream. It was divine.
I only had one day to explore Turin and a I had a lot I wanted to do. The Museo Egizio had come highly recommended and as the only museum dedicated solely to Egyptian antiquity outside of Egypt, I had to go. It is a fantastic museum. Now I do have to be honest, for someone who had been used to quiet Croatia, relatively quiet Rimini and Ancona, the Museo Egizio was a little overwhelming. It was field trip central and I swear every Italian aged 6-9 was squeezed into the Museo Egizio the day I was there. I remember my field trips as a kid, and ones I’ve run myself as a camp counselor in college. You were in a line, there were many many rules and failure to follow the rules meant you could lose field trip privileges! Not the case here…I was overwhelmed and overstimulated by the noise. And the clerk said it was quiet that day.
One of the statues from the Gallery of Kings — don’t remember who, and it doesn’t matter, they all look the same (that’s on purpose) — The internet says Seti II
The collection was frankly fantastic. Turin houses some of the most precious Egyptian artefacts in Europe; much of it gained through archaeological exploits in the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection was organized chronologically, with ample and informative labelling and wall text, and audio guides that you could tailor to your level of interest. One of the things I enjoyed, but am still not sure how I feel about it, is how the museum consciously engaged with more controversial parts of its history. Collecting practices of the 18th and 19th century were often thinly-veiled pillage; while not necessarily coming down in judgement upon the folks who did the pillaging, the Museo Egizio definitely didn’t shy away from at least talking about it in great depth. And that is super important. Honestly, I won’t say you should go to Turin just for the Museo Egizio, but if you’re there, you really should go. Give yourself the entire morning.
Snaps of the Savoy Palace: Ballrooms, entryways, hallways, and armories
The Savoy Palace was the next stop on my list. In Italy, several “museums” are often grouped together and form one big museum, and that was the case here. I came to the Savoy Palace not to see the royal residence, but to the visit the archaeological museum. Fortunately, they give you no choice, you have to go through most of the museum to get to the archaeological bits. It was a great museum, though I wish I were more up on my House of Savoy trivia as it would have been more enjoyable to know the historical figures who were associated with the palace.
Silver bust of the second-century CE emperor Lucius Verus
The highlight of the Savoy Palace was this guy right here. This ancient silver bust is extremely rare. While busts of precious metals certainly existed in antiquity, many were quickly melted down and reused. This, like most ancient objects in precious metal, was found in treasure hoard in 1928. The objects were buried, likely in late antiquity, for safekeeping and never reclaimed. It was so much larger than I expected, not quite life size, but close.
Since Torino was my last stop in Italy, I wanted to make sure I did all of the eating. AND I did. I didn’t eat one bad thing. Mmm. I miss Italy.
View of Ancona from the Ferretti Palace, it was a gorgeous day
My brief day trip to Ancona was another thing I was not very excited about. It’s a prominent harbor/seaport on the Adriatic, and for whatever reason I had an impression that the city could be a little rough and gritty. It’s not entirely untrue, a large part of the city, especially on the outskirts, is unrelentingly industrial and it doesn’t have…the polish, of other cities in Italy, but it was by no means a place where I felt unsafe even for a moment.
It was however very hilly, and for the first time, the train station was much farther away from where I needed to go, not crazy far, but just not close. It is in many ways super liberating as an American to train into a city and use your feet to get everywhere you need to go. Ancona was this trip’s exception. Between the hills and the distance, I decided to take a taxi to the Archaeological Museum, which was at the apex of the hill, in the 16th-century Ferretti Palace. English was not a thing here in Ancona, at least not to the folks I interacted with, and again that’s fine– there was a brief hang up because I only had a 50 euro bill, and I misunderstood the price of admission, but it all got worked out. (SideNote/ProTip — in Europe, always go to BNP Paribas ATMs …they give you a choice on you’d like your bills distributed. I know there are others that do it, but BNP Paribas ATMs are everywhere. NOBODY in Europe likes a 50 euro bill unless your purchase is 50 euro even.)
The Ferretti Palace and the harbor at Ancona — The Ferretti Palace is blocking the view of my arch, which is in the harbor below. You can see a reconstruction of a group of equestrian statues on the roof…more on that momentarily.
This museum was technically the archaeological museum of the Marche, the region to which Ancona belongs. It focused super strongly on the proto and pre-historic eras of history, with a nice glimpse into the Greek and Roman history of the city as well. I had the museum entirely to myself. So I took my time exploring, and taking care of business. There was a lot to see that was interesting, and lots of sherds and things that (sorry sherd nerds) I glossed over. It was nice to take my time and have so much to wade through.
The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola, c. 1st century BCE/CE (a copy of the original currently in Pergola)
On my way out, the woman working the front desk stopped me and told me to follow her! It was in this moment that I learned I can a) understand Italian a lot better than I give myself credit for and b) I do very well when the subject matter is something I’m super familiar with– like ancient Roman sculpture and art. She told me that a lot of people missed seeing these guys, and they were important and no one goes to Pergola so I needed to check them out. The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola were found in Pergola in the 1940s and they were housed in the museum in Ancona until the 1970s when they were moved back to Pergola in a specially built museum. This is apparently a sore subject, based upon the guide’s tone and description. A copy was made however, which is what you see above. The Gilt Bronzes are SUPER important because they’re the largest surviving gilded bronze equestrian group from Roman antiquity. It comprises two equestrian figures (2 men, and 2 horses), and two women — the second rider doesn’t survive, and all of the other figures are fragmentary. Even in modern copy, it was impressive.
Isn’t this picture just so stereotypical Europe? At least in the minds of Americans?
After finishing up on the museum, I made the descent down the GIANT HILL OF ANCONA (after the flatness of Venice and Rimini, I was spoiled) to find my way to the Arch of Trajan, the major reason for my visit. Along the way I saw many scenic vistas and buildings, continuing to erase the negative conception I had previously had about Ancona. It wasn’t like any other Italian city I had been to (there are SO many wonderful little cities and towns that are each unique in their own way), but it was charming in its own right.
You can see the more picturesque Ancona (foreground) juxtaposed with the kinda-gross-Ancona (background)
I eventually wound myself down the switchbacks of the hill, and started upon the track to the arch. It was like immediately being in a different town because in order to get to the arch, you had to walk past a good mile of harbor stuff — a lot of it passenger ships. There were a few restaurants (most closed it was Sunday) and a nice walking path with the nice soft squishy material (what is that stuff called?) A good number of folks were out and about enjoying the pleasantly warm day.
The Arch of Trajan at Ancona
Eventually, there it was. The Arch of Trajan at Ancona in perhaps one of the most confusing juxtapositions of old and new that I’ve seen yet. The picture above captures some of it, but from all sides you had visible evidence of at least two millennia of cultural activity. It’s an impressive structure, one that was surprisingly difficult to photograph, thanks to the steps on the approach. It was a great spot for taking cheesy pictures of me in front of my arch thanks thanks to the architectural assemblage in the surrounding area.
Me and my arcchhhh
The rest of my time in Ancona was fairly brief and I had my only experience with the trains being messed up in Italy. The train was 45 minutes late. Luckily I didn’t have to be anywhere, but I was currently in a difficult spot because I *really* had to pee and the bathrooms only took 50 cent pieces and I didn’t have any (things were also closed because Sunday). The train FINALLY arrived, and I go to get on my car 3. Car three is closed down and other Italian speaking individuals spoke to the conductor who told them in very rapid Italian SOMETHING and gestured toward the rear of the train (and here’s where I learn how bad my Italian is)…I just follow them as they walk down the cars. Eventually we are stopped by another conductor, he examines each of their tickets and tells them something and I think he just assumed I was with them because I was just standing there like “uh…..Inglese?” and he’s like “Oh yeah! Car three is at the end. After car 8.” So to sum up, 45 minutes late, and two “Car 3″s! Ah the fun of travel!
The unfinished Tempio Malatestiano, designed by Leon Battista Alberti in the mid-15th century — the construction of this church’s history and its patron is scintillating. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta wanted the church to serve as a mausoleum for himself and his lover (later his wife). Eventually, Malatesta was excommunicated, ran out of money, and the church was never completed as planned. Alberti was super influenced by ancient Roman monumental arches — here he has divided the facade into thirds (like the Arch of Constantine) and the rondels in the spandrels are a clear reference to the Arch of Rimini, which is a short walk away.
Rimini is a beach town on the east coast of Italy, a popular vacation destination for many Europeans. I admit, that I was not looking forward to visiting this small town and was not very excited about it.
Don’t you just love when you have to eat your own words?
View of the historic side of Rimini and the 1st-century BCE bridge the Ponte di Tiberio. It was a delightfully spooky day and very “unbeachlike” weather, which is probably why I loved it!
Turns out that the train tracks split the town down the middle. On one side, you’ve got the beachy bits of the town and on the other, the older more historic area. All of my activities avoided the beach side and were firmly located in the historic center. Of all of the towns I visited in Italy, I felt the most comfortable here and I can’t really say why. It may have been my AirBNB which was a family home run by a woman whose children were grown. I felt like I was in a home, and not a hotel. She was so kind; I had a giant breakfast waiting for me every morning and a kind smile when I came home. We could not converse very well…her English was like 25x better than my Italian, but my Italian is *really* bad, but we tried! This was probably one of my favorite places I stayed.
When I rolled into town after a short train ride from Ravenna, I had very little time to get settled before having to jet to the city’s archaeological museum. I dropped my stuff and walked the short walk to the museum. Long story short, I arrived in Rimini on a Saturday, Sunday I was planning on visiting Ancona because the museum I needed to visit was closed on Monday. I THOUGHT that Rimini’s museum was open on Monday, but it was NOT. I was only in Rimini until early Tuesday morning, so I had to go RIGHT THEN.
The museum was probably one of the best local museums dedicated to archaeology that I visited (in Italy). There are TONS of regional/city-based archaeological museums all of various degrees of qualities. This one was pretty spectacular. It was right next to an archaeological site that was covered over, the so-called House of the Surgeon, and then the museum itself was spread over 4 floors. It was a lot of fun, and exactly the kind of museum I was into, super focused on the city’s development over time from literally the beginning of time to the modern era.
One of the in-situ mosaics from the House of the Surgeon in Rimini; super cool preserved archaeological site!
The rest of my time in Rimini was spent exploring the arch and the ancient bits of the city itself. The arch in Rimini was also way more impressive than I was expecting. First, it is HUGE. Second, the sculptural components on the arch are so much smaller than on later arches that are intricately decorated (like Septimius Severus or Constantine’s) that scholars have often described them as being diminutive. I didn’t find that to be the case, AND I think it’s a problem. For more, see my dissertation 😉
The Arch of Augustus at Rimini (27 BCE) facing the entry to the city — on the opposite end of the main road through town you come to the Ponte di Tiberio. The arch was encorporated into the city walls during the medieval period, which explains the nice little crenellations.
The city has great medieval- and renaissance-era remains that I definitely did not explore as much as I could. I explored exteriors and that was about it. I definitely want to head back to Rimini some day, and I’ll just have to do the new bits then.
The title of this blog should be preposterously bombastic, but Ravenna is nothing short of a miracle. The town itself did not stun; each town in Italy has its own character and so too does Ravenna, but it was a special kind of northern Italy ritziness that I did not love (or hate…it just didn’t speak to me or enthrall).
Yet, Ravenna was worth the three train rides and bus ride and thirty-one year wait. I started the day with my Italian preference a cornetto con crema and a cappuccino. I purchased my ticket that was good for San Vitale, Galla Placidia’s Mausoleum, the Orthodox Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Museum, and the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.
San Vitale (left) and Galla Placidia (right) are neighbors. Galla Placidia predates San Vitale by about a century and a half (give or take), but I visited San Vitale first. Galla Placidia has always been my favorite and I wanted to save it for last (of the two). It was so strange to see the interior of this church that I knew so well from pictures in person. Strange because it was so very familiar but in three dimensions AND the emotional response was legit.
Looking into the apse with the sixth-century mosaics.
I won’t go into huge amounts of art-historian detail, but I spent a lot of time looking at the mosaics. I also spent a lot of time eavesdropping on people as they were talking about the mosaics. Fortunately, most of the tourists that day were French, so I could follow along…especially because my French art historical vocab was “on fleek.” (That’s what the young kids are saying these days, right?) There was no source of light besides sunlight from the windows, and the greens and golds of the mosaics sparkled. The purple worn by the most important figures (Jesus, Justinian, and Theodora) highlighted them even more emphatically in person (because of the LIGHT) than is possible in photographs, even good ones.
One of the mosaics from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, with the Chi Rho and Alpha Omega, and grapevines all Christian iconography/symbols.
The Mausoleum itself is very small, though the ground level has risen over the centuries so that it is even smaller. The interior of this small building was magical. It was kept dark so that you can really see the mosaics. I was in there for about 10 minutes before it all went to hell (when about 40 French high schoolers tried to cram themselves into the small building that was already pretty occupied. I left Galla Placidia much faster than I had hoped.
After the super crowded Galla Placidia, the Orthodox Baptistery was a welcome respite. I had the structure nearly all to myself, except a few older ladies and couples. The structure was smaller than I expected and that made the mosaics all the more evocative and impressive.
After the Orthodox Baptistery, I headed over to the neighboring Archiepiscopal Museum, which was probably the most deserted of all of the sites I visited (I found out that the few friends who have been to Ravenna, none of them actually went to the museum, haha) and that is just too bad. The museum houses the material collection of Ravenna’s cathedral and lord, is it impressive. It includes a lapidarium (stones! usually inscriptions), episcopal regalia and ornaments. BUT the icing on the proverbial cake is the Chapel of San’Andrea and its mosaics (built during the time of Theodoric) and the Ivory Throne of Maximian, pictured above. The bishop’s cathedra is made of so many pieces of ivory (:( poor elephants and rhinossss) that are so intricately carved it took my breath away. Literally no one else came in the room while I was there. A few folks stuck their head in and looked at the chair like “why does this old chair have its own room?”
After lunch and getting a little lost, I went to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the last of the churches included on my ticket. By this point, I was SUPER tired and the cobblestones had done a number on my ankle. So few people came to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (there was one group there while I was) and I was the only person under 50. I definitely was starting to get a little saturated. It’s a term I came up with to refer to what happens after my brain has gotten overstimulated by what I’m seeing. It’s not that I’m not excited or entranced by what I’m seeing, but that sponge that is my brain has reached maximum saturation. It had been dipped into much art-historical liquid to fully retain anything else very well. I took a break for a while at a coffeeshop that was SUPER modeled after an American coffeeshop (I chose it for location) and wrote postcards.
The last stop was the Arian Baptistery, which I got to see for free. I had it all to myself (besides the very uninterested guard who was playing on her iPad). I didn’t stay super long, just looked my fill at the dome and then headed on my way.
My brief, one full day in Ravenna was just long enough to see nearly everything I wanted to see. I did not get out to see Sant’Apollinare in Classe (it’s a few miles out from downtown), not technically in Ravenna, but in the town of Classe. I walked past, but did not stop at Dante’s tomb (bad girl); I was on a mission that had nothing to do with 13th-century poets. I ate a lot of good food and gelato, and saw nearly all of the requisite late-antique sites, and checked a giant item off my bucket list.
Take my word for it. If you have even a small appreciation for art and history and you’re in north-ish Italy, take a few days and a few extra train trips and say hello to this city that holds so many critical art historical masterpieces that are not visited nearly enough.
I was only in Venice as a brief stopover on my way to other climes. I have no research reason to be there, other than it is the easiest big city close enough to Pula to travel into. BUT I had to spend a day in Venice. For a day, I think I got a lot done.
I took my time getting into the city. I stayed in the Mestre neighborhood on the mainland so I took the bus, which took about 15 mins to get into Venice proper (hotels and lodging is SIGNFICANTLY cheaper and I have trains to catch and the station is close by). Since this was just a ‘me’ day and not a ‘research’ day, there was no set itinerary besides wanting to see art, San Marco, and to eat some noms.
As soon as I got off the bus and walked like mayyyybe 50 feet, Venice was beautiful. It certainly was helped by the fact that it was a gorgeous 62 degrees with lots of sun. Now, normally I’m not a sun lover. The sun kind of hates me; it burns me with its rays so quickly, even when I take proper precautions against it. But after a week of rain in France, I was ready for something besides WET.
I needed breakfast so I stopped for a caffe and cornetto right next to the Basilica dei Frari. I had no specific plans to go there (shame), but I’m so glad I did. It was a great mix of gothic-y goodness with Renaissance opulence. I was probably the youngest person in there by 30 years, but that was okay. Titian is interred there, and one his masterpieces, his Assumption altarpiece is the piece de la resistance.
I continued to walk around Venice, picked up some post cards and stamps, walked and walked and walked. I loved how you would just walk around and stumble upon big piazzas and squares..thankfully there were signs that would point you towards prominent sights (Rialto, San Marco, Accademia, Pizzale di Roma) and even if they didn’t have that, you could follow the crowd.
When I made it to San Marco, I stopped at an expensive, but ultimately meh, caffè to eat lunch and do postcards. The restaurant, while expensive, had no coperto though I’m sure it was built into the price (for those of you that don’t know, a lot of restaurants in Italy have a charge at restaurants called “coperto”…it’s essentially a cover fee that you pay for your seat. Most places have it listed very discretely leaving some Americans feeling scammed or confused. It’s not a scam though, it’s a normal part of life. HOWEVER, sometimes the rate is exorbitant when you’re in tourist areas…for example, in Naples we once had a 6€ coperto PER PERSON…it’s usually closer to 1 or 2€). So I didn’t mind paying 6 euro for my bottle of water to sit in front of Basilica San Marco for an hour.
I walked around the exterior of San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, and checked everything out. An outstanding day with gorgeous views. The interior of S. Marco was incredible, but unfortunately not photographable. After San Marco’s I went to the Museums off the square that consisted of the Venetian history museum, the archaeological museum, and a few other collections. It was there that I met a very nice couple currently living in Naples– we hit it off and she told me if I’m ever back in Naples she’ll take me to Paestum!
I wandered around a bit more, grabbed some gelato…vanilla and pistachio and then headed back to my airbnb. I had a nice dinner at the same restaurant from the night before then went back to my room. It was a day full of noms, art, and walking.
After catching the train, I arrived in Trieste, where I would be catching the bus to Croatia. Trieste also has an arch, though it is rather unremarkable and there’s not a lot known about it. I didn’t really know a lot about Trieste, and after walking around the main area, I don’t know that I’ll be itching to get back. It was beautiful, but it was very shoppy and night-lifey, two things I’m just not into. If I were to resort to stereotypes, I would say it essentially felt like the Naples of the north, but with money. Besides the main square, the architecture was all really ratty. Who knows, maybe it cleans up nice in the summer.
I did love the Roman ruins I found, even the sad, small little Arco di Ricardo.
My bus for Croatia left really early in the morning the following day, so it was an early night for me. The bus station was surprisingly hard to find…There was a bunch of scaffolding surrounding the entrance so it was not clearly marked at all. I found it though, with plenty of time to spare.
Gussie is a gift from my friend Lindsey (she had it MADE for me, by a friend of hers! Check them out!). He’s a delightfully nerdy stuffed version of the Augustus of Prima Porta; I mean, the details are amazing, from his protruding ears, to the distinctive hair style, and his gesture. He’s one of my favorite possessions and I love him so much.
Two Nasty Women and and Emperor: Me, Best Friend Ashley, and Augustus out adventuring in Nashville in January 2017
This might be a little superstitious of me, but he’s going to be like a good luck charm for me on this trip. A little token and reminder that I love what I do, I love the folks I’ve met along this academic journey (and some of them are fond of me too, I guess), and to live in the moment and be happy. Because dang if this little guy doesn’t make me happy.
Gussie brushing up on his French history before we head off to Europe! He’s very up on current events. 😉