Oh Snap! Focusing on Michelangelo’s David
Nov07

Oh Snap! Focusing on Michelangelo’s David

I have been told that it was Napoleon who first said that, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  True or not, it would be fitting in a way for the historical caricature of the inferiority complex to have preferred the manipulability of images to the potential poison of the pen. In any case, and in part because we quote the above so much, I want to take some time to consider the occasions where the best decision may be to put down our cameras and make some sentences. I admit that the compulsion to document appears inherent in human beings, and to photograph something is to freeze it in time in a way unlike that of any other medium. But, for our own creativity’s sake at least, I think we ought to switch it up sometimes. The question is, when? Most people are aware that Florence, Italy is home to Michelangelo’s famed statue of David. On the ride up from Naples – having coordinated a lift using the handy autosharing website, carpooling.uk – Kat told me that visitors to the Academia Gallery were no longer permitted to take pictures of the statue, even without flash. Anyone who has ever visited a museum will know that photographing old and precious works of art is often forbidden. It is never fully explained why this is the case, but one assumes that it is to avoid the deteriorating effects of camera flashes. A quick Google search will tell you, however, that this is not the case for more resilient sculptures and that flash-free photography is safe for any work of art. Regardless, part of me was happy knowing that the incessant clicking of cameras in Florence’s tourist-packed city centre (punctuated by hiccups of silence from awkward iPad photography) would be under ceasefire. Like most museums in Florence, the Academia Gallery (David’s home since 1873) is expensive and the line is long. Personally though, I think this one was worth the money. Given that there are at least three fake Davids scattered throughout the city which, while made from different material and are thus of a different colour, provide a good sense of the look and size of the original, we were even tempted (being the budget travellers that we are) to forgo the eleven euro entrance fee to see it. Ultimately we decided to pay and, I must say, were not disappointed. Since I introduced this piece by suggesting that the written word, too, is capable of “capturing the moment” – and I don’t want you to think that I’m just saying things for the hell of it – I will...

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The Vatican Part II: Indian in the (solid gold) Cupboard
Oct29

The Vatican Part II: Indian in the (solid gold) Cupboard

If you visit the Vatican in Rome, one thing you will not see is a statue of William Black Hawk Petawanaquot. He is allegedly located in a square in the heart of Vatican City, somewhere beyond the luxurious walls that hide countless other treasures from the world – my copy of Lonely Planet’s europe on a shoestring introduces the Vatican as the “jealous guardian of one of the world’s greatest artistic and architectural patrimonies.” At one time, Mr. Petawanaquot (not quite “Father”, since he was murdered in Rome only days before he was to take his final vows) was set to become the first Native American to be ordained as a Catholic Priest. He also happens to be Kat’s great, great, great, great, great grandfather and, as such, we were on a mission to find “him.” Sadly, though perhaps predictably, our search was cut short by Vatican security officials, who informed us that only St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, and the Sistine Chapel were open to tourists. To be honest, I don’t understand why people say they have “been to the Vatican” when all you really get to do is cram like sheep (in a flock?) into the few designated areas made available to you. Anyway, the existence and location of the statue had been verified by a Canadian priest friendly with the family, and the guards seemed to at least recognize the address, but reaching it was, to our extreme disappointment, out of the question. Stifled in our quest, Kat and I paid for a coffee and grabbed some WiFi, thinking if nothing else we might find a Google image of the statue or at least a description of its whereabouts. We came up empty yet again, but what we did find was something just as interesting if slightly less personal. Thanks to the key words “first” and “native” and “catholic”, we came across a recent New York Times article about the impending canonization of the first Native American saint (and a woman to boot). This was some weeks back. Pope Benedict has now followed through with the canonization of Ms. Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman from New England who lived in the seventeenth century. Afflicted with an array of small pox-induced disabilities (including partial blindness) and having lost her parents at an early age, the young Kateri converted to Catholicism at the age of twenty and began a life as a devoted servant of God – taking on the practice of self-mutilation, she was said to have prayed for hours at a time, often outside in harsh winter conditions. She fell ill and died at the age of...

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The Vatican Part I: Inspiring Agnosticism
Oct17

The Vatican Part I: Inspiring Agnosticism

It has often been asked of high profile “New” Atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, the late Hitchens – take your pick) why, despite being the only country to enshrine, in the First Amendment to its constitution, a separation between church and state, the United States has become an almost unique site of freewheeling religious fervour. Concrete answers to this question appear hard to come by, but a plausible (and ironic) one is that the Constitution’s relegation of religion to the private sphere has allowed it to grow in much the same way as free market industry. It has also, and I think this is key, prevented religion from being forced down people’s throats (there may be disputes about teaching evolution in grammar schools but a state religion there has never been). Freedom of religion has arguably made the United States more immune to the tyrannical elements of faith that can turn people away from the church (or mosque, or temple) altogether. Our trip recently brought us to one of the world’s truly great cities. Rome is a veritable outdoor museum. Not a corner is turned without confronting an architectural masterpiece or ancient remnant of a legendary civilization. And at the centre of all the grandeur (actually a little to the Northwest) lies the greatest draw of them all, the richest city in the world – in possession of observer status at the UN – and the home of His Holiness, the Pope: Vatican City. Each day, this most powerful and secretive of institutions attracts tourists by the thousands, many arriving at its gates before the sun in the hopes of escaping the hellish mid-morning heat. Our first stop was the impressive, and free, St. Peter’s Basilica (one of the largest churches in the world) located at the head of a square of the same name. The building’s majestic exterior is surpassed only by the unabashed decadence found inside. The building’s interior covers some 15,000 square meters, with a staggering amount of gold, silver, and bronze intricacies, countless statues and paintings, and 150-foot ceilings – all the faith-inspired glamour you could possibly wish for. But what struck me more than the extravagance, which can be found to a lesser but still impressive degree in countless cathedrals in Europe, was the distinct feeling that I was not merely visiting another Christian historical site. The prevalence of nuns and other church people pushing their way through the hordes of tourists, and the intense security at every turn, served to remind me that, far from visiting a relic of the past, I was at the gates of a thriving and immensely powerful political machine....

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My Scariest Travel Moment
May17

My Scariest Travel Moment

By Andrea Sherrodd Naples is overwhelming. That’s what I remember about it—chaotic traffic, loud noises, crowded streets. After coming back from Capri, a place I consider paradise, Naples was quite the shock to the system. It was 2006, and I was studying abroad in Rome. I was nearing the end of my three month Italian adventure, and for a final hoorah, our instructors had planned a little getaway to Capri for all 32 of the study abroad participants. We were on a tight time schedule—we had a limited amount of time to get from the time we disembarked from the ferry in Naples to get back to the train station in time to catch our train back to Rome. The first bus that approached the stop was so full it looked like it might burst at the seams. Our group of 35 people with all of our luggage looked at each other anxiously—the bus clearly didn’t have room for even one more person, let alone 35 more people. It was the same situation for the next two busses. Finally, our instructor decided the bus wasn’t a viable option. He hurriedly motioned us towards the taxi stands, shouting “Get a cab to the train station; I’ll reimburse you when we get back to Rome!” So we rushed at the cabs, and together with three other girls, I piled into the last cab. I was riding shotgun, which meant I had a front seat to the chaos of the streets of Naples. Our cab driver was terrifying. Somehow he managed to be driving a stick, smoking a cigarette, texting on his cell phone, and driving through and around other cars, up on sidewalks, seemingly playing chicken with every inanimate object in Naples. He also kept doing something really strange—he kept aiming his phone at the backseat, towards the other girls, and opening and closing it. I was perplexed, but more worried about my imminent death via vehicle accident to dwell on it too much. We finally arrived at the train station, amazingly all in one piece, and as I clumsily climbed out of the cab, the driver made a kissy noise and face at me. I rolled my eyes and slammed the door. I turned to commiserate with the other girls, laughing at the insanity of everything that had just happened, when I realized they were white-faced and definitely not laughing. “Are you okay?” I asked. “No!” breathed one of the girls. “Didn’t you see what was on his phone?” I told them I hadn’t. Then they proceeded to tell me his screensaver on his phone was an animated cartoon of...

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The Wonders of Trento
May07

The Wonders of Trento

Even the most dogged traveler cannot exhaust Italy. Each region possesses individuality and unturned corners worth investigating. Unassuming Trento in Trentino Alto-Adige is no exception. Residents of Trento joke that their city is not a true part of Italy but “South Austria.” Trento’s outward Italian identity crisis is due in part to its proximity to the Austrian border as well as some border revisions between Italy and Austria over the years. Visually it lives up to the anomaly. Lying in a glacial valley of the Brent Dolomites along the Adige River, the outskirts of Trento look like a place where you could stumble upon a wandering Von Trapp leading a billygoat by hand. Meanwhile, approaching the city by train from the north or the south, it’s still very much Italy: the villages leading up to Trento are bursting with vineyards. Trento is worth a half or full day stopover on your way to Verona to the south or Innsbruck to the north, or incorporate your visit into a longer exploration of the region’s lake and mountain towns. Bolzano, a 40 minute train ride to the north is a gem. Completely bilingual in Italian and German, it is a smaller, sunnier Innsbruck. Take advantage of the mountains, Trento’s strongest asset, and enjoy the small city’s taste and history where two cultures have melded. How to do Trento in a day: Obviously, few people holiday to Italy for a day, but it is possible that you may want to visit Trento on a day trip from a more “major” destination.  From the train station you are already positioned close to the city center, which, like many Italian cities small and large, is anchored around the Piazza del Duomo. Follow brown tourist signs there by cutting through Piazza Dante directly across from the station. Trento’s center is enticing— a flinty Neptune and his scepter top a Renaissance fountain where university students slouch with their friends and couples share gelato from the Grom gelateria nearby. Grab a gelato yourself (recommended: mela verde when it’s warm or the ciccolato fondente when it’s cold) or have a coffee in one of the square’s café’s with outdoor seating. Enjoy the scene of the piazza: the stately Duomo and Neptune’s fountain are only overshadowed by the backdrop of mountains. Peek inside the nave of the Romanesque Duomo cathedral, once headquarters of the Council of Trent, a player in Europe’s Counter Reformation. A recording in English on the history of the cathedral is available from machines located on the left side of the cathedral for €2. Next head for the mountains. Pick up picnic supplies at Conad (take...

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