Sicilia Secunda!

It’s a fine morning in Rome-crisp, but still bright. These past few days, it really has begun to feel like fall. Usually by this time at home I’ve been treated to a full New England autumn filled with lingering walks and yardwork wrapped up in layers with sweaters galore. I miss the leaves decorating the trees and the crunch of autumn beneath my feet. On our trip yesterday to Ostia, we enjoyed a morning hike in the closest thing to wildlife less than an hour from Rome (we saw a family of deer!). Sturdy -looking pine cones dotted along the paths and-feeling a rush of nostalgia for home-I immediately needed to crush one with my boot. However, when I tried, I found that it was solid and heavy. These pine cones were not meant for crushing, but rather for lobbing at the head of someone you wanted to take out. Yes, fall is here, but no, it is not like the falls I have come to expect. The leaves fall, but don’t change color for the most part.  And while it is cold, I do not find myself toting around steaming mugs of tea just to stay cozy. It is in part because of these reasons that it doesn’t seem like my birthday is a mere three days away. How could it possibly be my birthday when it’s sunshiny, flowers bloom in the garden, and it’s been so long since I’ve seen my family? Speaking of my birthday, I have already received some cards and, though I’ve yet to open them, they already make me feel so warm and fuzzy! I’m sure after my birthday especially I’ll miss you guys! In the meantime, I’m still very much not caught up on my posts and best get back to Sicily!

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Where I left off, we were in Syracuse for the night at the enchantingly cultish hotel. The next day, Tuesday, we explored the sights of Syracuse itself. Syracuse is one of those cities that really shows Sicily’s varied history. For example, we began the day admiring one Baroque piazza with its Cathedral. The church began as a Greek temple to Athena built in the 5th century BCE, became a cathedral in the 7th century Late Imperial Roman days CE, was converted into a mosque during the two centuries of Muslim rule, and reconverted into a Christian cathedral in the early 11th c. CE. Inside this cathedral you can see the columns from the Greek temple alongside simply gorgeous Byzantine mosaics done by Arab masters all wrapped up in a Baroque façade.

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We spent some more time in the lovely urban area and the amazing museum of Syracuse. The museum was actually closed, but somehow our program director, Franco, got us in for two hours while we were completely alone in the archaeological museum! Even though the layout was a bit wonky at times, this was one of my favorite museums yet. They had so much inside! A lot of Medusa imagery (the first attested image of the gorgon!!!!!) and many Cybeles: these are just two of my favorite things!

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075066 (this little unguent bottle is the same basic shape as the one I’m researching for my internship!)

We also got to explore some of the great early Greek sites! The advanced Greek class (which I am sadly not a part of this semester-sigh) sang poetry for us in an amphitheater and it was so gorgeous. At another part of the site, in the so-called Ear of Dionysius (as dubbed by the one and only Caravaggio on the run from the authorities!) they sang again and it echoed just beautifully. The Ear is actually an artificial limestone cave-an old quarry/water cistern. Legend says that the tyrant Dionysius I used the cave as a prison for political dissenters so that he could eavesdrop on any plans they might make, or that he used the perfect acoustics to amplify the tortured screams of his enemies. It’s funny that our class sang within the Ear because at one point in the war, prisoners were kept here in just abominable conditions. Legend goes that the prisoners of war all sang out Euripides together and their guards were so moved that they wept and let them go free.

 

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We spent Wednesday in lovely Morgantina which is a seriously awesome archaeological site. I don’t have all that much to say in retrospect, but it was very important and very pretty. Random fact: the third century BC bath complex has one of the earliest examples of barrel vault arches (which is very strange considering that this was a random smallish city).

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We ended our day gazing at the lovely mosaics! There is a house nearby which is just COVERED with mosaics called Villa Romana del Casale-it has the largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics anywhere. It was built in the early fourth century outside present day Piazza Armerina and hosts room upon room of mosaics in the North African style. It includes such famous works as the “bikini girls” and the Great Hunt. This thing was just ridiculous-it’s like two hundred feet long and contains millions of tesserae! So big it’s completely impossible to even take a picture of the thing! It shows the hunting and transport of the wild animals which would be used in venationes in the arena.

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This night did not include a beach, but rather a ramble through the woods and some really lovely star gazing. In Rome, the city is lovely, but the lights never let any stars shine through the light pollution. The sky remains a strange mix of dark while still being lit. So we were very excited to find that out in the country the stars are just lovely. I missed them. It always strikes me as painfully poetic that you just can’t take a good picture of stars; they can only be truly wondered at in person.

Vale!

Sicilia Prima

Ah, where to begin?! It’s been ever so long since I updated. It’s strange to think that in this past month I’ve spent a week in Sicily, a week in Venice and Florence, and a week in midterm mode! I had decided to try to stick to the highlights for brevity, but an inability to condense an entire week of pretty much nonstop insane experiences into one post might has caused me to expand my bounds. Here is the first installment of who knows how many on our week in Sicily.

We left Rome for our first day in Paestum (in Calabria) in a bit of a downpour. It poured harder than I’d ever seen it in Rome all through that day, which is funny because I had only gone back up and grabbed my real raincoat at the last minute. Usually if I’m prepared for the rain, as I’ve come to realize, it will inevitably clear up to become a roasty 80 degrees.

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Paestum was really an amazing site, however, we were all soaked through and shivering and just desperate to go inside rather than gawk at the amazing temples all around us; I felt a bit guilty about that. Once were inside the museum it was really nice. I saw the Tomb of the Diver there!

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I was impressed enough just at the museum itself and hey! Tomb of the diver, wow, but then our 60 year old professor in charge wove some heartbreakingly sad story about how maybe you can see evidence of some romance in the frescoes. Perhaps the young man died and is now going to rejoin his comrades and lover who have been waiting in death at the banquet for him to come to them. All the sobs.

He’s like, I’m here guys-I finally made it.

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And then his dear comrade is seated alone waiting for him, looking up when he approaches…

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It was so worth the rain.

That night, at our hotel, we experienced our first “Franco Surprise!” Franco is our program director and one of the most well-connected people I know. His surprises happened at least once a day over the trip and usually included swimming or wine of some sort. This first night, he showed us to this wondrous beach.

It was all the best of Italian beaches-warm, so salty, and with spectacular views. It extended so far out without dropping off. Franco had to keep telling us to come back in because it was so tempting to just keep going. The mermaid in me was pleased.

After a delicious dinner pairing the freshest local seafood, homemade pasta, and the worst house wine I’ve tasted in a while, a bunch of us played cards and ventured down to the water in the moonlight (a tradition I practiced almost every night of our trip). While we were by the water, fireworks began going off in the distance.

Day two was a bit of a snooze except for the part when we SAW THE RIACE FREAKING BRONZES!

AH

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For those who aren’t art history/classics geeks, these are two bronze statues that were dug out of the sea. They date from 460-450 BC (prime dates for Greek sculpture) and contain clay that places their creation in Argos. They were found off the coast of Calabria perhaps sailing from Greece to Rome. They show an artistic transitional period between the archaic and classical styles called severe. They have inlaid eyes of ivory and limestone, silver teeth, copper nipples and lips;). It’s just amazing that they’ve survived!

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Image(I like the restorers in this one-they’re all thinking ‘how fancy is this moment?!’)

Day three began with a trip on the ferry from the mainland to Sicily. I love the ferry!

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Monday was also the day in which we got to visit the prettiest place ever-Taormina!

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019 021(what a DREADful hotel!)

I went for a few days in high school as part of the Italy trip and I was so happy to go back. Just. Ugh. How is any place this beautiful every day? I know I’ve already mentioned that for my Latin text, we’ve been reading the Thyestes. Well, in honor of the lovely theater in Taormina, we performed selections from the Latin and English translations.

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We began on the stage itself until we were kicked off and finished in the orchestra pit. A surprising number of people also in the theater stuck around and sat just to watch us which was pretty cool. It’s good (and surprising) to know that love of the classics lives on enough for random strangers to sit and listen to something they don’t understand in the baking sun for over half an hour.

For lunch we were on our own in the town. I had been speaking to the professors as we started wandering and ended up eating with them. We had one of the best meals EVER. We started with octopus salad and raw swordfish sliced with olive oil and Sicilian lemons. I had the traditional pasta norma and out of all the pasta norma I was served in Sicily (I swear it comprised about 5 meals), this was hands down the absolute best. They had this special dried ricotta cheese to sprinkle on it…so good. For dessert we had the local version of this delicious desert that translates to “cheesecake.” We had the same thing at dinner that night 50 miles away and it was completely different. After we had finished, Franco told us that he knew we weren’t going to drink at lunch, but it’s Taormina after all so why not some grappa? Thus grappa we drank.

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We finished our sites for the day in Syracuse mountain-goating at the above-pictured Castle of Euryalus! This site was never  actually a castle, but a really cool fort.

The hotel we stayed at this night was all new and big and pretty. The rooms were separate villa houses and it had a pool! There was also only three other people there so it looked like a weird cult. At first I was disappointed that we had a pool and not the beach, but late that night while sitting beside the quite excitingly lit up pool, we found out that the beach was only a ten minute walk away! Hooray for every night at the beach!

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Thus ends Part One of the Sicily Saga.