Journal 8

The idea of crossing over the boundaries of binary opposites is seen in Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Marco Polo describes impossible cities, contradicting not only themselves but also the basic laws of science. For example, Marco Polo describes the city of Cecilia which sprawls unboundedly out extensively over space. “The places have mingled, Cecilia is everywhere…” (pp. 153) Obviously, the city of Cecilia is a violation to the physics law of conservation of mass and energy, the mass of any isolated system is always constant. The city cannot travel on infinitely, scientifically; it will stop at some point. However, when perceived from a symbolic perspective, Cecilia is perfectly realistic. It is a symbol of a different kind of world, a depicting a different aspect of Venice. The cities Marco Polo depicts are neither utopias nor dystopias, their boundaries, both physical and characteristic, are impossible to definitely define.

It is strange how one setting or situation, depending on how it is perceived, can be so starkly different; constructive and destructive, satisfactory and disappointing, both encouraging and depressing. This idea can be applied to situations in our own lives as well. For example, I consider my time in high school to be both the best and worst years of my life thus far. Coming into high school freshman year I was anxious about the typical teenage concerns, will I make friends or be a loner, be accepted or denied, be popular or a loser. So I decided to join track in an attempt to branch out, and make friends. The decision to join track was both the best and worst decision of my life. I would soon find out that my track coach would exponentially amplify my, initially, minor concerns of self identity. The best way to describe him is an angry soul, with a scowl eternally smeared on his furrowed skin. One look from him could infect me with an array of emotions, anger, insecurity, hatred…the list could go on. I dreaded school, because I knew track practice would follow. He was a callous old man, degrading to his runners, and unpleasant to be around. To put it shortly, he single handedly tainted my teenage years of high school. Reflecting back on those years, it was disappointing I wasn’t able to enjoy high school, it was unfair, and disheartening that someone in his position could be so destructive. However, looking back on those years, I realize that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through those four years. I grew up faster than my peers, developed thick skin, and become a strong and resilient person.

High school for me is comparable to the city of Cecilia. They are contradictory situations, unable to have definite boundaries because when looked at from different perspectives they offer completely different impressions.

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English Journal 7

Marco Polo crossed a variety of borders throughout his journeys afar, and as I reflect on my past two months here in Italy I realize that I, too, have crossed several different types of borders. When I hear the term ‘border’ I naturally (being a science major), think of the obvious dictionary definition of the word. According to Webster’s, a border is “the line that separates one country, state, province, ext. from one another; frontier line.”However, I have stepped beyond my usual way of thinking, and created my own definition of a border. According to me, a border is an at hand limitation which impedes one’s ability to freely, and completely enter into an experience. In terms of physical boarders, I have crossed quite a few, from Rome, Thessaloniki, Venice, Florence, Paris, Subiaco, Sorrento, Pompeii, Madrid, and very shortly, London.  However, the physical borders do not even compare to the psychological ones I have crossed. Physical boarders are clear and easily crossed; with a passport, map, small trolley, and a one and a half liter water bottle I can cross any physical border put forward. Physiological borders, however, are perplexing and difficult to overcome. They require a different kind of strength to cross. The most powerful one I have crossed during this trip was the idea of living in the moment. I have quickly found that two months in Italy comes and goes very quickly, and I have had to deal with the concern of returning to my original, conventional world, filled with traditional classes rather than having beautiful Rome as my daily classroom, studying on Friday nights rather than traveling to different countries, and monotonously serving costumers at a less than genuine Italian restaurant rather than being served delicious authentic Italian styled meals.

I remember having a dream the very first night in Italy; I was back in Ohio, working at Gervasi, being yelled at by my boss and repetitively bussing tables until the wee hours of the morning. From day one I was both consciously and subconsciously concerned with returning to daily life in the States, and this concern has continued throughout my entire trip. I found myself battling this mental border of simply living in the moment, and not thinking about what is to come once I cross the U.S. border. I love my family, and I love my life in the States, however being in Italy has led me to find the beauties and opportunities that exist outside the edges of Ohio. As I said before, physiological borders are the hardest to cross, simply because they are intangible. It has taken me much thought and reflection to cross this powerful border. However, I have ultimately come to the realization that all good things must eventually come to an end. Living in Rome has given me the chance of a life time, and it has completely changed the way I view my future. I am thankful for this opportunity, and even more grateful for the insight it has granted me in my current, and future life. Earlier, I described a border as an “at hand limitation”, I did so because for a very specific reason. Despite a border being a limitation in the present moment, I have learned that it eventually returns as a way to broaden your horizons.

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Art Journal #6

Upon first reading this journal prompt, I was happy to see that it was all about picking a favorite city. I thought to myself “this should be easy!” However, after reading Calvino’s book, and reading the prompt again, it is not as easy as it appears.  I found it difficult to choose a favorite city, simply because the cities are, well…invisible. Despite the fact that each of us will read the same description for the cities, our mental vision of each will be very different, and we will choose our favorite city based on these visions. Perhaps this is the meaning behind the title “Invisible Cities”, how can these cities Marco Polo is depicting be visible, if every reader has a different image of the cities? This dialogue between Kahn and Polo describes this very point:

“Kublai asks Marco, “When you return to the West, will you repeat to your people the same tales you tell me?” “I speak and speak,” Marco says, “but the listener retains only the words he is expecting…It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.”

I noticed that I did exactly what Marco Polo is describing here. After reading through each of the cities, I decided my favorites were Adelma, Argia, and Olinda. Adelma is a chilling city filled with deceased friends and family of Marco Polo. However when we, the audience, envision this city it will be completely different for each of us. The city will not be filled with the deceased people Marco Polo speaks of, but people we know. The city of Adelma is so haunting to Marco Polo, that is makes him question his own state of being. I like Adelma because it is not just another city, filled with beautiful scenery. It is an unsettling city, one which makes the foreigner question even his own existence. Argia is another city, very different from the rest, because instead of air, it has earth (pp.126). I chose Argia because it reminded me of the kind of environment worms and insects live in. It is completely opposite from our customary cities, filled with fresh air, and lots of space to move around. “The dampness destroys people’s bodies and they have scant strength; everyone is better off remaining still, prone… “ (pp.126). I like Argia, simply because it gives us a different perspective of the word city. Out of the three cities, however, Olinda is my very favorite. My reasoning for picking Olinda is not because it painted the prettiest image in my mind, or that it intrigued me the most of all the cities. It is simply because I was able to understand it better than all the rest because of the way in which Marco Polo described it.

After I read the description the words, “lymph” and “blossoming” stood out to me. I linked them to biology, and in doing so was able to understand the workings of the city. In my mind, Olinda is eternal. The name, to me, actually looks like the city, circular and continuous. I have discovered that the cities Marco Polo describes cannot be taken as literal cities, but rather seen symbolically. Therefore, what I liked most about Olinda is that it is a city of ironies. Despite its eternal nature, new structures are continually added. So it is old, and new, both static and ever-changing.  To me, Olinda can represent us as human beings. Despite growing old and gaining knowledge, our essence remains the same, just like the city of Olinda.

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English Journal 5

Initially after reading Calvino’s Invisible Cities, I was very confused as to what was happening in the plot line. However, after reading it again, and consulting our brilliant Professor, Ron, I discovered that the plot line was difficult to understand because it there really isn’t an obvious one, or at least one I am used to with a definite beginning, and developed characters. The book is essentially Marco Polo, a Venetian traveler, depicting various cities he has traveled to (or made up in his own mind as I discovered), and recounting them back to Kublai Kahn, the emperor. A large amount of the book consists of philosophical dialogue between The Kahn and Marco Polo. I found that during these conversations a clear connection is made between the two men, although the connection is not always implicit. For example, Calvino wrote “…between the two of them it did no matter whether questions and solutions were uttered aloud or whether each of the two went on pondering in silence” (pp. 27). Calvino offers no distinction between inner and outer realities, therefore we often times don’t know if they are speaking aloud, or in their own minds. Being a biology major, this was difficult for me to grasp this particular concept, seeing as everything I study is an outer reality I am able to see, touch, and study.

Their conversations also, are not always verbal ones. For example, he writes, “Marco Polo could express himself only by drawing objects from his bag…and pointing to them with gestures, leaps, cries of wonder or of horror, imitating the bay of the jackal, the hoot of the owl” (pp. 38). Kublai Kahn and Marco Polo’s relationship was so strong they were able to communicate even without words. In fact, often times Marco Polo preferred to rely only on gestures, and glances rather than words (pp.39). Although I found it difficult to understand reading it the first time through, I am beginning to appreciate Calvino’s purpose for his book. Marco Polo’s journey is comparable to our own journeys, here in Italy. We are traveling not only to discover things outside our own conventional worlds, but to also find ourselves.

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Art-Journal 5

This wonderful country has enlightened me to the artistic beauties which exist outside my own country. I have seen so many forms of art, from the She Wolf, to Roman graffiti, to the delicate pastries seen in bakeries. However, I recently had the chance to see a very different kind of art, the art of being a mother. Some might question this form of art; however I am fully confident in my idea. My vision of art is something not every person has, it is unique to the artist; it cannot be copied, or even taught, and true motherly instincts are not taught, they are simply known. The definition of a mother is not a woman who has given birth to a child, but rather any women who has taken on the responsibility of raising an individual, child or adult, blood relative or not.

This past Wednesday we had an amazing opportunity to step away from the attractions of the city, and business of campus life. We went to visit Mater Dei, an orphanage which takes in single mothers and their children. It is run by a group of nuns who have devoted their entire lives to helping the mothers, and raising their children. The mothers have all come from abusive relationships; as a result the children are often times rejected because of the horrific events their mothers have endured. Because of the personal histories of the women and children, the nuns have become adoptive mothers to both the children, and their mothers. They not only offer physical healing, but the spiritual and mental healing only mothers have the gift of providing as well. Mothers come into Mater Dei with and are mentally plagued with the memories of past relationships. The nuns then assume the motherly role of simply listening. It requires great deal of patience and understanding, a virtue not everyone possesses, but all true mothers have readily available. One of the sisters mentioned that often times the mother’s stories become taxing to the nuns own state of mind. Yet, they recognize that a huge part of the healing process involves listening; and for that reason the nuns will always have an open ear. This is one of the major beauties of being a mother, they perpetually give of themselves, despite any burden it may have on their own lives.

The same concept holds true for my own mother. I can remember when I was five I fell off my bike. I thought it was the end of the world, and with bloody hands and knees I ran to my mom crying. She calmly dropped whatever it was she was doing, and held me close to her. When I was in grade school, I remember holding my pet gerbil in my hands and watching it as it took its last breath. I was sure my world would end, and with my dead gerbil in one hand, and his makeshift casket in the other I ran to my mom sobbing, she stopped what she was doing, held me close, and took time to help me give him a proper burial. I can remember a year ago, being lost in a completely foreign country. I thought my life was certainly about to end, with my computer in one hand and tissue in another, I called my mom on Skype. She stopped what she was doing to answer, and comforted me from miles away.

I am not exactly sure what it is about mothers, but I feel as if their spirit itself is calming, it is innate; something a woman is born with, and in time discovers the incredibly powerful gift she has within her. Mothers are artists; there is no doubt in my mind, having the ability to stop all tears, heartaches, and even the end of the world.

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Eng 315 Journal 4

 

Despite being intellectual human beings, with the power to rule, and the ability to reason, we are flawed by nature. Every person struggles with the vice of temptation, whether it is an adulterous temptation, temptation of food, power, or money; somehow or another it haunts us all. It is even seen in the Name of the Rose, the issue of desire and temptation is a lasting theme throughout the novel. Salvatore lusts for women, Berengar wants young men, the abbot desires jewels and power, and Benno craves knowledge. For many monks, knowledge was such a huge temptation, so big, that they were willing to do anything in order to gain knowledge, regardless of what it takes to achieve. This includes heretical acts.

Knowledge in The Name of the Rose, was so highly valued, some monks would do absolutely anything if it meant gaining knowledge, Eco even related knowledge to a monk as adultery for a laymen, “A monk should surely love his books with humility, wishing their good and not the glory of his own curiosity; but what the temptation of adultery is for laymen and the yearning of riches is for secular ecclesiastics, the seduction of knowledge is for monks” (pp 183.) This can be seen in many of the monks in Eco’s novel, one in particular was Benno. Despite his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Benno is willing to break them, and sin, in order to gain knowledge (pp 183). This, in my opinion is heretical; going against ones core beliefs in an attempt to gain intellectual pride, or other type of appeal.

I saw this in my own life during my high school years. I went to Central Catholic High School. Obviously because it is a Catholic school, we are required to take religion classes throughout our four years. Unfortunately, however, many of the theology teachers at Central taught ideas contrary to that of their, so called, Catholic faith. One teacher in particular, however, seemed to teach these ideas defying the Catholic religion for the sheer pleasure of seeing students, such as me, become angry and argue issues during class. I can remember getting into heated arguments with him, and the conceited look of arrogance he had smeared all over his face, it disgusted me. Regardless of his responsibility to accurately, and truthfully teach the Catholic faith, he chose to defy certain Catholic issues, in an attempt to gain personal satisfaction. I, of course, being the one unruly student, went to the principal of our school thinking he would surely do something to stop such nonsense. However, for reasons I will not go into, nothing happened to this heretical teacher of mine. Regardless of the indolence of my principal, I did all I could to make right, this wrong happening in my high school.

Just as the monks yearned for knowledge, my teacher yearned for self-assurance and achieved it even if it meant going against the teachings of the Catholic Church. Just as I said above, despite the notion that human beings are higher, more advanced and intellectual beings, we are all flawed by nature….some more than others.

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Art Journal #4

I have now been in Rome for three weeks. I have seen so much, more than I have ever imagined, from the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, and the catacombs, to protests, and countless beggars on the sidewalk. If you think about it carefully, most of these things can be considered some form of art. Today, when we visited Piazza Navona, I noticed a different kind of beggar. He wasn’t one that paraded around a stubby arm, or infected leg, and he wasn’t one that used his child as a means to generate pity. The man was dressed oddly, his face was painted white, and all but the back of his head was shaven, and his wardrobe consisted of a thin, brown robe.  I finally realized he was mimicking the appearance of some type of monk. I watched him carefully, as he walked through the Piazza, wondering who he was, and what he was doing. Finally, he chose a spot to base himself, set a Styrofoam bowl down, and picked a position to stand in…completely still. He was motionless, from his legs, and arms to even his facial expression.

After a while, people began to notice him. I watched tourists approach him at a distance to take a picture. He robotically turned to face the tourists, raised his eyebrows, frowned his face, and looked down to his small Styrofoam bowl sitting empty in front of him. He held both hands down to the bowl, asking for money, but without saying a word. I watched to tourist awkwardly laugh, and look to his friend standing next to him. His smile was uneasy, and I could tell he felt obliged to give something. Within minutes, he was walking up to the “monk” and dropping coins into his bowl. Instantly, his face brightened, and he mechanically held his hand out in a sign of appreciation. I sat and watched as the same order of events happen, again and again. A Tourist slowly walks by, watching for any movement in the motionless monk, takes his or her camera to take a picture, and gets pressured into putting money in the bowl by this muted monk. It was amazing to me, how many people he was able to coax into putting coins into his bowl without saying a word. It made me think of the psychology the monk used in order to make money. With simple motions, and facial expressions, he made people feel obliged to give. At first their body language, and facial expressions showed they felt uncomfortable being put in such a situation, and to alleviate the awkwardness, they gave in and put a few coins in his bowl.

I realized that with only a few hours of doing this, he could actually make a decent amount of money. It was then I realized that this too was a style of art. He has mastered the art of standing perfectly still, making exaggerated facial expressions, and robotic movements, so as to master the art of begging soundlessly.

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