Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: Italy - St. Francis of Assisi
 

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The Immersion Trip!

 

It is far too dangerous for the College to continue sending its promising students on immersion trips!
Days ago we were whisked through the Tuscan countryside in route to Siena, the Italian city, Professor Cook explained, written off for having an extra chromosome. We strolled open-mouthed down winding avenues adorned with Dante etchings above and cathedrals at every end. We picnicked in thousand-year-old piazzas, watched the sun sink below vineyards, and then imitated as best we could the ‘bella figura’ composure, that stately air of nonchalance the Italians hold when they walk. In a day and a night, all plans of graduate school and business connections disappeared; in their place stood foggy thoughts of learning Italian and moving to where ballads drift nightly through open windows – of throwing ambition to the wind and becoming forever drunk on Italy.
That spell stops tomorrow, and with it ends our royal tour – quite literally, in fact. Yesterday a Countess escorted us through roped-off barriers in Florence’s Franciscan church. Hard-hatted, we climbed scaffolding and stood within inches of medieval frescoes and stained glass windows, as the Italian artist who will resurrect a faded crucifix explained how anyone goes about restoring 700 year old art.
In Assisi we wine-ed at the renovated home of a British eccentric; what used to be a pigsty now holds his personal collection of ancient Grecian pottery, oil lamps from the time of Abraham, and Roman statues of divinities. He insisted we know two things: that even the rarest of art should be enjoyed (even if that means using a 2000 year old Grecian oil scraper while bathing) and, despite his proficiency in art history, that he was not “learned”, because he could not read the classics in their original languages. The night was both a crash course in art history and a fine case study of what makes for an interesting life – in the British gentleman’s case, that meant Byzantine altar pieces, devotion to St. Francis, and being regularly advised by Professor Cook on what ‘Madonna and Child’ painting to buy next.
Had we, perhaps, months longer in Italy, we may come close to competence in advising purchases of world-class art; if not that, then at least full literacy in the craft of reading art. I’ve spent many afternoons in national galleries, but rarely have I gotten past the prettiness of the art – if it’s mesmerizing, then all very well; if not, I walk on. Now, however, paintings are more than their colors and shapes; they’re alive in suggestion, and to be read. Such is the lesson that comes after touring the finest religious art of Italy with Professor Cook, and I doubt it is a lesson that will fade; when you’re shown a country by a man who loves it, you tend to adopt that love. It is as if we’ve all sworn life-long friendships with Italy. The question now is whether that enchantment will live but in memory or whether its charm will continue to cast foggy thoughts of forsaking prior ambitions and sailing the Atlantic for good. We are, after all, already past introductions.
Jacob Stump- ‘11