This is the 11th installment of a series of #content meant to illuminate the first study abroad trip for UConn student Sten Spinella.
I was angry at the people I went to Venice with because it seemed like all they wanted to do was go shopping and drink coffee and walk around. I wanted to do things! I wanted to go to museums and ish. I commend them on a gondola ride that was informative and memorable, if only because I’ve never driven in a boat on roads made of water, and also the novelty of it, and there were a couple of the same mindset as I, but I was the only one sleeping over in the city, and none of them wanted to separate from their group and get lost before taking their train back to Florence that night. So at around four, I separated from them and went to the best museum I’ve ever been to.
It was an art gallery and a historical museum at once. It had an extensive armory used by Venetians centuries ago, it had senate chambers, judicial chambers, places where the accused waited to be tried, it was grand, grand, grand. Impressive murals were painted on every wall. It was proof of an oligarchy of the highest grade. Like Florence once was, Renaissance Venice was a functioning democratic republic by the rich and for the rich. Half of the museum consisted of the old dungeons for prisoners. To get to them one has to traverse “The Bridge of Sighs,” which was the last glimpse of freedom, a look out on the canal and the large body of water, the boats and the people, before being brought down to the dungeons. Italy is my Bridge of Sighs.
That night I spent too much money on food and walked around this beautiful and unique city. The buildings seemed to magically rise from the water. The streets were made of water, and I didn’t see a single car. You’ve heard this all before. It’s sufficient to say that this was a real place and that surprised me. I’d known it described in books but to see it risen fully in front of me, to have proof, was exceedingly special.
I stayed in my first hostel that night. There were two Asian girls, one from China, one from South Korea, and one German boy. I went out to eat with the Chinese girl and the German boy, and they wanted to get a drink after, but it just made me sad. I did not want to be with them. They were cheap stand-ins for my real friends. So I walked in the rain along the water until I came up with a short story. After that I allowed myself to return to the hostel and fall asleep.
It’s important to get out and learn Italy, which is why, unlike some of my roommates, I don’t drink every night, or every other night, then sleep half the day as if I’m at UConn. At least one cultural event a day, whether it’s food, or a museum, or a garden, or even just a long walk, is enough to sate my hunger, my hunger to know another place like I know the States. But I’m not really learning Italy, excepting a few circumstances. I’m learning what Italy was.
Before my last week in Florence, I visited Rome and met up with the Ferruccis. They provided me with housing, which included a comfortable cot, and the grandparents bought dinner for me both nights I was there. For the rest I was on my own, but damn, knowing people is always helpful, and the Medici always knew the value in generosity.
And it’s helpful to know these Republican grandparents. They are beyond good to me, and I respond by being very polite, by being interested in what they have to say, and by not bringing up politics. But Peter, Peter couldn’t help himself. He likes to hear from me, to talk to the liberals, and he’s a pretty moderate Republican. Yet, he’s voting for Trump. He’s been duped. He hates Hillary. He doesn’t understand she’s a moderate Republican. Today’s Republican party would rather vote for a racist than a liberal or an honest-to-God Democratic Socialist. So yeah, we had the talk. I held my own. The brothers told me afterwards that I did well.
I’m in Italy! Enough of the political talk. I toured the Coliseum and the Forum with the boys, as well as the Castle San Angelo. I saw the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Trevi Fountain, etc., etc. Everything was so large…Rome is like New York if New York had thousands of years of history and Rome was a part of anything new. Being in this place with the brothers, the displacement of being used to them in Tri-Town, was palpable, surreal, and the made the experience more enjoyable. We went out at night – Ben often to clubs. Saturday night Andrew and I found a piazza of Italians. We sat down and drank beer. An Italian dude adjacent gave us tobacco, papers, and a lighter. This, and the long meals with the three courses and the endless wine, made me happy.
Now I have two papers, a presentation, and two exams to take care of before Thursday. Once I’ve completed all that, I’m free to be a Florentine for two more days before my Saturday flight home. There will be food, fireworks, farewells, but I’m ready to return. I want to stay, but I want to be back with my people. I’ll hit my favorite eateries, go back to the Boboli Gardens, walk around more, try new things, new drinks, restaurants, gardens, museums, before I have to come home. But return I will, and glad I’ll be, glad I’ll be back with my hometown friends, glad I can see my UConn friends, glad I’ll be to be a son and brother again, a boyfriend again, even a waiter again. I’ll be international again one day. An American, though? Why start now?