When I initially started this blog, my vision was that I would transcribe my ‘larger-than-life’ escapades whilst travelling around the globe, (a guess a little like something out of the Disney film Anastasia) and I had come to envision it as being a more articulately expressed For Dummies guide. Awkwardly enough, I have found myself in the position in which I acquire such a guide, rather than in the position in which I am able to impart the esteemed knowledge of voyage. In short, my inadequate ability of self-expression and lack of knowledge has curtailed this very vision of mine. Instead I’ve decided that what I would actually like to discuss in this blog post is probably one of the most imperative experience I have gained whilst on my two week excursion, travelling through Northern Italy and Greece (besides learning how to deal with the inevitable tension that accumulates when travelling alongside 3 other girls)- that is grasping how to value the finite time that we have. Before I sound too pretentious, or lest any misunderstanding arise in that I am suggesting that I’ve mastered the art of time, what I’m trying to say, is that between all the hustling and bustling of trying to cram in as many (free) tourist attraction sites, when we actually took the time to just sit down and stare at the clouds I was reminded of the beauty of absence and how easily we forget the gratification of doing absolutely nothing (and yes, doing ‘nothing’ is stereotypically associated with immobilised elderly people, but I think this almost nonbeing takes course in two period of our life- our youth and our old age- the difference is that in youth, you have more of a say as to exactly where you would like your nothingness to take place, whereas in old age it sort of just dawns upon one without consent.) Now don’t get me wrong I have thoroughly enjoyed the last week in Italy- it has been action-packed, filled with more drama, and more natural and man made beauty than my eyes have been exposed to this whole year. I do think however that sometimes we attempt to see so much of the world that we forget the integral satisfaction in just lying back allowing time to pass by and in observing the moments that are shared between others.
Sitting outside the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, I began to ponder why do people have such an unquenchable desire to travel? As with everything in life, there is the ‘optimistic’ and ‘pessimistic’ approach in striving to reach an answer to this question. Admittedly, my initial perception was one more in line with the pessimistic stance, with the main reasoning being that it is the inherent flaw in mankind’s acquisitiveness that propels us as a species to aspire to see and experience everything ourselves. I’ve seen so many churches over the last week in Italy, all of which I am sure are subtle in tone and diverse in their own individual ways, but in a mass communal sense, they are- for me- very much more of the same, (here I refer predominately to Catholic churches) –ornate and ostentatious embellishments, with the €2 donation to light a candle dotted around the perimeter of the church. Yet almost every-time we passed a church I wanted to look inside, as if in not doing so I could be potentially depriving myself of some crucial experience. Perhaps it is simply for the very fact that I can say I saw them all.
Moving onto the optimistic response to the question, I guess this line of thought has its foundation in the Greco-Roman concept of theoria; travelling for the sake of knowledge. Studying this concept last semester in the context of the Odyssey, it is tangible to see how Telemachus’ adventures as a means to ‘secure’ his own ‘identity’ is heavily dependent on his own experiences and wisdom (having an absent father figure, who traditionally would be the source of a young man’s moral and literary instruction), but how far does this concept relate to modern day expeditions? According to Slatkin, quite a bit: “however much the poem valorizes home, it is travel and the proto-ethnographic cultural comparison travel invites that allows the son…to re-think…the space of home.”
I cannot take credit for putting forward this point of view, for when I opened up the question to my friend, she provided me with the alternative insight of travelling being in fact a humbling experience, in that one allows oneself to be immersed and overwhelmed by the talent and skill of others or of nature, which only naturally pertains to one wanting to see more and to recapture the feeling of awe and incredulity. I would like to believe that more often than not, people do indeed travel for the intrinsic value of travel itself rather than by virtue of a checklist which they simply aim to complete, but the remaining problem for me, is who obtains the authority to decide what monuments and markers are valuable enough to be a ‘must-see’? Evidently, certain statues, paintings and piazzehave repeatedly been visited over the years and with good reason, but when my memory unavoidably denigrates, the reminiscences I will retain won’t be the specific artist who built La Torre di Pisa in the piazza dei miracoli or the type of material used to build il duomo in Firenze, it will be about the moments I experienced with the people I was with. This was my second time visiting Florence, only a year later (I visited last February on a school trip and only for a day-trip, so a very different experience) yet to my surprise, I didn’t re-fall in love with the architecture and I was no longer astounded by it as I imagine I had been a year prior. In fact in a strange way I felt accustomed to the city already; un locale of some sort. What I did fall in love with was the experience of being with my 2 of my amazing friends, in what I suppose is meant to be the best years of our lives. Just knowing that I would never be able to get this moment right here and now back ever again, and having no regrets or desire to spend it with anyone else was what really, for me, made my experience singular and memorable.
Ironically, I’d like to end this blog post with probably the one piece of art that has stood out to me the most during my week in Italy, which in relation to the other famous art works is probably remote and insignificant, but nonetheless has moved me more profoundly than any of these imposing structures.
(Peggy Guggenheim Collection Venice/ Venezia)
De Chirico developed what he himself described as Metaphysical Painting, in which he disrupted our normal sense of scale, space and the relationships between things to create a sense of dream. Here the plaster bust with its eyes covered (like Homer, the poet is blind), the mannequin, the fish mould and the obelisk are compressed into a narrow vertical format that creates a claustrophobic and enigmatic space. The forms, though rendered as solid and static, bear no apparent relation to each other. Such a combination of elusive meaning and displaced objects was to fascinate the Surrealists a decade later.
De Chirico sviluppa quella che lui stesso definisce Pittura metafisica, che sconvolge le nostre normali percezioni di dimensione, spazio e relazione tra le cose per creare un’impressione di sogno. Qui il busto di gesso con gli occhi coperti (come Omero, il poeta è cieco, il manichino, la forma del pesce e l’obelisco sono compressi in un angusto formato verticale, che crea uno spazio claustrofobico ed enigmatico. Le forme, sebbene presentate come solide e stazioni di significati inafferrabili e oggetti dislocati affascineranno i surrealisti un decennio più tardi.
Perhaps the answer to my question lies in the Socratic paradox ipse se nihil scire id unum sciat– I know one thing; that I know nothing, for there seems to be something rather humbling and unassuming in Socrates’ line of thought here, that he’s only so wise as the next person in knowing (and accepting) that he knows nothing.
Slatkin, Laura. A Companion to Ancient Epic. Ed. John Foley. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. 2005.