The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus once famously stated: “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” This was a comment on the ever-changing nature of the universe and how after even a moment has passed, things will have changed. When you return to the river, it won’t be exactly the same. The water has probably eroded the shore a little. It may have even made the river deeper. Depending on environmental conditions, there may be a different amount of water in the river… The water molecules in the river itself will without a doubt be different. Things change. This week, I returned to my river – Italy. I traveled nowhere I have not been before and many things seemed as if they were exactly as I had left them, yet I can’t get over how strikingly different the entire trip felt.
The first time I went to Italy was on a tour with the Peabody Children’s Chorus. I sang with the chorus for ten years and I would not hesitate to say that as a whole, my experiences in the Peabody Chorus were some of the most meaningful experiences of my childhood. I believe that choral music, especially children’s voices, has the potential to be one of the most beautiful things a person can experience. It allows for communication on a level deeper than words, or even many other forms of music can (this is coming from a musician who plays two instruments). There are no instruments to hide behind, just person-to-person communication. It feels like beauty in its purest form. To create something that beautiful – especially something that one can only create when they join forces with others is a very special experience. It is an experience that I found very valuable, special, and exhilarating. As I associate these locations with those experiences, it felt a little empty at times. Regardless of how pretty or ornate a space is, it seems infinitely less magical when you have experienced its intrinsic beauty while singing at the same time.
On the flip side, my Peabody trips were wonderful experiences, but our many hours of regular rehearsals and the many more hours to prepare for the trips left minimal social time. Additionally, a few of my closer friends in the chorus were not able to make it on the trips. I did make new friends of course, but this time I was able to experience Italy with people that I know pretty well.
We started in Rome late Thursday night, which, with this being Holy Week, was flooded with tourists. It was much worse than when I had previously visited in June/July. We had four full days there, and we were a little exhausted from the stressful pre-spring break week we had just experienced, so we took things pretty slowly. We hit everything important, ogled at all the famous things you never expect to see with your own eyes, ate lots of delicious food, and ate even more gelato. By the time Tuesday rolled around, we were ready to head to Florence. We took a high speed train there (173 miles in just over an hour! The US really needs to hop on the cheap, high-speed train band wagon.).
I definitely like Florence better than Rome. Florence has less famous things and places, but it is much prettier, more pedestrian-friendly, and overall, a more enjoyable place to spend time. When we got there on Tuesday afternoon, we walked swiftly from the train station to our Airbnb room to check in because the host had to go pick up her kids. She was very nice, showed us around the apartment, and had done all of the artwork lining the walls herself which was really cool. She kissed us all goodbye and then was off. The apartment was really cool. It had a loft with a glass floor on one side (this was a little scary at times), and a terrace which you had to climb a ladder to get to, but after the climb, you were rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of Florence. Florence is a very short city (there are no buildings taller than the cathedral), so you don’t have to go super high to get an incredible view. That afternoon, we wandered around, and I took my friends to some of the more famous squares and things you don’t need a ticket for. We also ran into a few friends we didn’t even know were in Italy. One acquaintance from Lafayette who is studying abroad there, quite a few SLU Madrid people, and two of my roommates were there. It’s pretty cool to run into people you know unexpectedly when you are thousands of miles away from home. That night, another friend joined us after spending the first half of spring break in Paris with his parents.
The next day, we woke up and waited in line to see the Statue of David (I must have been some sort of VIP last time, because when I went last time, I’m pretty sure we just walked right in). The line was about an hour and 45 minutes long, but it was of course worth it, because the statue of David is pretty amazing. In the evening, we climbed up to Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s a park on the other side of the river with an amazing panoramic view (even better than our terrace) of the city. The climb was tough, but the view was unforgettable. After sunset, we climbed back down and had dinner before we crossed back over the river. There are clearly fewer tourists on this side of the river, as no one in the restaurant we went to spoke any English. I liked it – it felt very authentic.
On Thursday, we woke up pretty early to take a day trip to Pisa and Luca. There really isn’t much in Pisa besides the tower, but it’s one of those things that you must do when you visit Italy. On the bus, our tour guide spoke in English, Spanish, and German (plus Italian to the bus driver), though I found myself paying more attention to her Spanish than her English because it was easier to understand. When we got to Pisa, we had a short guided tour and then two hours of free time. We took all the necessary silly pictures and then ate lunch. We actually ate at the same restaurant where I ate lunch last time I was in Pisa, but I didn’t notice until we had sat down outside, noticed the view, and looked at the menu. We each had our own pizzas for lunch. Believe it or not, that is completely socially acceptable in Italy.
I really like Luca mostly because not a lot of tourists go there. Unlike most places you go in Italy, when you look around in Luca, you find Italians, not tourists looking back at you. For a few hours, you get an opportunity to see what real life in Italy, outside of the touristic cities might be like. About three hours after arriving in Luca, we got on the bus home. When we got there, we made dinner and then went off to bed because we had another early day on Friday.
On Friday, we woke up at 6:00 to catch a train to Venice for the day. Venice is one of my favorite cities because it is so unique. Venice is composed of a bunch of islands just off the east coast of Italy. The train tracks actually run out to them on a bridge. What makes Venice so unique is that there are absolutely no cars – only boats and pedestrians. Instead of a metro or bus system, they have a network of large boats that stop at designated places around the city (this is how we got to the city center from the train station). The taxi drivers all drive small boats with yellow taxi flags on the back. On top of the uniqueness, the city is also breathtaking from nearly any position and angle. It’s a very relaxing and enjoyable place to spend the day.
It rained on Saturday, so we couldn’t climb the cathedral dome as we had planned, but we climbed the 414 stairs to the top of the bell tower instead which gave us an equally incredible view that included the cathedral and its dome. For dinner, we went to Eataly which actually also has locations in the US. It was recommended to us by an Italian woman in the Rome metro.
As much as I love Italy, it feels really good to be back in Madrid. I have a lot of things to catch up on since I’ve been gone so long. Madrid really has become somewhat of a second home to me. I’m definitely not ready to go home yet, but I’m curious as to what it will be like when I return to my other river – Lafayette. This entry was a long one, so if you made it this far, you must really like me, so thanks for that.
If you want to read any of my previous entries, you can do so at: http://voices.lafayette.edu/category/scott-paulis/
For those of you interested in my tour of Italy with Peabody, here is a link to the recording from the trip: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/748j4rdx5ylj943/AABReCLN4p-qiiE0ZvUfVjFua?dl=0
Choral music is often unfairly dismissed as boring, so I would really encourage you to find somewhere where no one will disturb you for six and a half minutes, sit down with an open mind, and listen to the first song (Ave Maria) with your eyes closed. Please listen until the track is finished and only then, open your eyes and decide if you’d like to continue. Happy Listening!