Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dead in Roma

In Rome, one the primary focuses of our educational mission was to help our students to learn to become better tourists. Our hope was that during their time in the program they would broaden their tolerance for and understanding of other cultures while learning to see their own in a new light. Ideally, their experience abroad would teach them to be more deeply critical and appreciative of their own, American culture. This mission seems especially important in the face of contemporary tourist behaviors which are often complacent if not outright malicious.

Today, I ran across this article in The Independent. The article is about two Roma girls (more commonly known by the slur "Gypsy") who drowned at a beach in Napoli. Their bodies were hauled ashore, towels laid over them, and then left on the beach for upwards of three hours before authorities arrived. During that time the vacationers at the beach continued to swim with little regard for the dead women. The picture in the article depicts some of these vacationers lounging only tens of feet away.

Incidents like this force me to wonder if some sort of moral or ethical education should be a necessary component of a study abroad program. Of course, there is a certain morality implied in the pedagogy of broadened horizons, but only implied, and really very softly so. This picture shows tourists carrying on with their tourism in the presence of two freshly dead teenagers. I'd like to assume that this sort of disregard for human life is beyond the behavior of our students, but I would have assumed it beyond anyone. Additionally, I have to wonder if this incident is indicative of an attitude about going abroad, especially to Europe for Americans, that dictates a disregard for ethics and morality. The logic being that since some laws do not apply while visiting another country, no laws apply.

It is easy to forget that there is a large and very lucrative dark side to tourism. Some Western men visit South East Asian countries because sex with children is either legal or the laws against it are not enforced. Some people visit other countries to hunt animals that would normally be illegal to hunt. Other people visit certain countries to do drugs they cannot do at home. There is a reasonable case to be made that many American college student enjoy studying abroad in European countries because few have legal drinking ages. While not all of these acts are morally equivalent (for example, raping a Cambodian child is not the moral equivalent of getting stoned in Amsterdam), the will to escape the legal authority of one's country of origin is. Call it the meidung effect (meidung complex?). And, it is easy to confuse these acts of transgression, that have their genesis in a rejection of the law, as morally comparable because of this concomitant disregard for the law.

So, although drinking to excess is not the moral equivalent of doing nothing about a dead body, both acts can be, however accidentally, rationalized as a part of the experience of being abroad. The logic being that if one is able to jettison one moral norm from home, why cannot one jettison another, and another, and so on. This is a particularly difficult lesson to teach, because a study abroad program is usually focused so heavily on getting students to open up to foreign cultural norms, that the lessons of when and how to reject them are rarely important enough to be included in a curriculum. Educators assume that they do not have to add "unless someone is dying and no one else will help" to the end of "When in Rome..."

So one has to wonder how this happened. Do the Italians really not care at all about a couple of dead Roma children? Were there no Italians around? Did the tourists not know who to call? Were the tourists simply fitting in with the Italian culture by ignoring the human tragedy laid on the beach before them? Is it a normal human behavior to ignore the dead body of stranger?

Ultimately, I doubt that our students need such a simple moral lesson, but they might need a practical lesson in who to call if you see someone in trouble. They also might need to be told that fitting in to another culture does not mean that they have to accept and engage in every behavior. They have the space in their luggage to pack their morality, ethics, golden rule, religion, or whatever else it might be that guides their decisions about right and wrong when they travel abroad and perhaps that needs to be a part of (even if a small part) the study abroad curriculum.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Heavy Metal Monk

In Italy I learned that different orders of friars often specialize in certain activities as a means of making money. For example, some orders make candy or alcohol and sell it to tourists. While there seems to be no indication that Cesare Bonizzi is in it for the money, this is certainly an interesting activity for a holy man.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pictures of Rome

Motivated by my trip to the Eternal City and fond memories from my time in The Protege Philharmonic, I purchased a copy of Respighi's "Pines of Rome" as performed by the CSO under Reiner. I have listened through the work three or four times since it came in the mail this morning. It has been fun to relive my high school orchestra days a little, even in this pathetically detached way. Regardless of the sentimentalism, the beauty of Respighi's work justifies a listen, especially for anyone who has visited Rome. Part of the theme of the first movement, "Pines of the Villa Borghese," was used as the basis for the childhood theme in the movie Shoe-Shine. We watched the depressing, but moving DeSica film in our Italian Neo-Realist film class which ultimately motivated the purchase.

When I ordered the CD, I did not pay close attention to the album art. As it turns out, the cover is plastered with nine images of famous places in Rome including the Colosseum, Fountain of the Naiads, Trevi Fountain, Appian Way, and the Fountain of Neptune. These images make sense on face because both the "Pines of Rome" and the "Fountains of Rome" by Respighi seek to recreate places in Rome through what is referred to as symphonic poetry. In the "Pines of Rome," the last movement is supposed to represent the pines of the Appian Way and this album cover appears to sport at least two pictures of it (maybe three; it is difficult to tell). The third movement of the "Fountains of Rome" is named after the Trevi Fountain and the fountain is also featured prominently in the upper right hand corner of the album cover. The center picture is of the Triton Fountain which is at the north end of the Piazza Navona and the name Respighi gave to the second movement in the "Fountains of Rome."

The project of matching visual representations with musical representations of places in Rome seems straightforward enough, but the album cover also includes a picture of the Colosseum centered at the bottom. None of the movements of "Pines or Rome," "Fountains of Rome," or "Roman Festivals," Respighi's three symphonic poems on the topic of Rome, attempt to depict the Colosseum in any way. It seems that the memetic momentum of the image of the Colosseum alone justifies its inclusion on the cover of the album. Similarly, the Fountain of the Naiads located in the Piazza della Republica is included to the immediate left of the Colosseum. While not as famous a site in Rome as the Colosseum, the fountain is very well known and is often depicted in pictures framed similarly to the one used here. It seems that the Colosseum and Naiads have been included for the sake of making the Roman theme of the CD as recognizable as possible. I guess it is too bad Respighi did not capitulate in selecting the most recognizable locations to title his movements by.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Pictures from Rome

I've poster about sixty of the better images to my flickr account. Follow the link to see them. Many of them overlap with what I have already posted here, but a few do not. They are also searchable on flickr.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

School of Athens

Communities of artists, particularly painters, when they are grouped together are often referred to as belonging to the same school. Most often artistic schools are named after the place where the artists were from or one of the leading artists in the group. It seems as though there have been artistic schools named after half of the cities in Italy: Florence, Venice, Padua.

One artist who inspired a following that was named for him was Raphael. Raphael's works can be found all over Rome. At the Barberini gallery there is a painting called "La Fornarina" that is said to have been his lover as painted by him. At the Borghese Gallery, one can see both "Young Woman with Unicorn" and "The Deposition of Christ." The Vatican Museums contain some of Raphael's most celebrated work. Aside from "The School of Athens" pictured above, the Vatican Museums also have "The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament" and "The Transfiguration of Christ."

Some artistic schools, like that of Raphael, are created around great artistry, but not necessarily as an act of premedidated creation by the artists themselves. In fact, many times the label of "The School of..." is an anarchronistic term inscribed over a set of works that seem to hang together in some important historical way. In Raphael's painting, "The School of Athens," an intellectual school is being overtly created through his art. The term itself is an example of an anachronistic label. Many of the thinkers depicted did not exist in the same place or at the same time. Zoroaster, depicted the bottom left, would never have been in the same place as Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy to whom he is supposedly talking. The reverence for these classical figures was a central expression of the Renaissance and depicting them in the same room with important Christian images was part of Pope Julius II's project of incorporating the pursuit of knowledge into the Catholic Church's agenda.

Raphael's painting thus makes us aware of the politics of a such a label as "The School of..." That label is imbued with a lot of power. Depending upon the value associated with the school being identified, the label can enhance or devalue the works of certain artists and thinkers. It can also group together or tear apart certain artists and thinkers who may have other ideas about how their work relates to the work of others. It is interesting to find that even metaphorical schools cannot escape force of politics.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Damnatio Memoriae tu Geta?

One of the more fascinating aspects of being in Rome and getting to see art from the Republican and Imperial periods, is that there are many figures who have been excluded. For example, I have not seen a single bust of Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix. Busts of Sulla do exist. There is a bust of the dictator in the Glyptothek in Munich, but I have not seen any here in Rome. At the National Museum of Rome, I was able to see a series of three busts including one that must be similarly rare.

As I discussed in an earlier post, I was assigned to read about this fella, the emperor Septimius Severus for a seminar that I took at WIU. He is the one with the arch in the Forum. He is also known for being the first emperor to be born in Rome's African Province. He was known for cleaning up corruption in the senate, but doing so by turning Rome into a thinly veiled military dictatorship. Septimius had two children; one became the emperor Caracalla and the other was named Geta.

Not surprisingly, there are busts of Caracalla in almost every major museum in Rome. I think I have photographed four or five of them at this point and this picture is from the same room in the National Museum of Rome as the Septimius bust above. After the death of Septimius Severus, Caracalla came to power with his brother, Geta. They were within a year of the same age of each other, although Geta was the younger of the two. After less than a year of sharing power with each other, Caracalla had his brother and most of hist brother's family and supporters killed. He then had the senate order a "damnatio memoriae" or damnation of Geta's memory. The order meant that all public records of Geta's existence, especially including monuments like busts, had to be destroyed. The order aims to enact governmental auto-amnesia.

So, when I saw this bust, which is labeled "Geta?" by the museum, I was fascinated. At first, I thought it surprising to see a bust that could possibly be Geta at all because it was theoretically ordered destroyed. Then, I had to wonder if since it was Geta's memory that was damned, perhaps this bust which does not bear an inscription labeling it "Geta" did not have to be destroyed. In any case, the African features and brotherly resemblance present in the bust's face do seem to make a compelling case for this being Geta Severus.

It is interesting to see this process of purposeful forgetting at work in Rome. We certainly have modern equivalents that seem less pernicious such as striking evidence from the record in a courtroom, but we also have some less benign habits of forgetting collectively. It is easy to forget (heh, irony) statements like George HW Bush's at the end of the Gulf War "By God, we've kicked the Vietname Syndrome once and for all!" At the time, George C. Herring wrote an insightful article about the statement in Foreign Affairs (1). He pointed out the effort that has gone into remembering Vietnam in the United States as a self-inflicted defeat.

Of course, the effort that goes into remembering events in a particular way as a society will come as no surprise to scholars of public memory, but to see it at work all the way back in ancient Rome lends a historical view to the process that grounds it as one of the basic behaviors of collective government. That is, to the things governments have sought to control throughout history (territory, violence, loyalty, etc.) collective memory can be added. It is also interesting that the Ancient Romans could at least be legally honest with what they were doing. They had a process and a declaration for purposeful forgetting; it did not happen surreptitiously.

Further on in the National Museum, I ran across an exhibit of mosaics from the one of the Severus Family's villas. A plaque there explained that the villa was identified as the Severus's because Geta's name was etched onto the pipes of the plumbing. I guess some shit isn't worth digging up for the sake of forgetting.

1. George C. Herring, "America and Vietnam: The Unending War," Foreign Affairs (Winter, 1991): 104.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Om Nom Nom Nom

"You like being a liar, with pants constantly on fire?" - The Monarch

The picture is of me at Santa Maria in Cosmedin. This is where our class started our walk up the Aventine Hill. I walk by this church everyday on the way to and from class and there is always a line out front to do just what I am doing. My pensive posture and forced smile are a result of the legend that accompanies the large stone slab into which I am resting my left hand. The "Bocca della Verita" or "Mouth of Truth" is the ancient Roman equivalent of a lie detector. If you have been telling lies and you stick your hand in the stone mouth, it is said that the monument will bite your hand off (1). While I have no illusions about the inanimate nature of the piece of stone, it does appear entirely possible that the rock might break on someone having the same effect as biting. It is amusing to watch people get their picture taken at the monument. Few dwell for very long with their hand it its mouth.

1. Fiona Wild, ed., Eye Witness Travel Rome (London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1993), 2007 edition, 202.