A dull ache for a sharp object

When Mom’s pocket knife gets confiscated in Italy

 

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Photo: Paul Felberbauer on Unsplash

When the security employee at the gate asked me to step aside, I remembered. My pocket knife. Oh no, my pocket knife, I thought, realizing I had left it earlier in the little cosmetic bag inside my purse. I had forgotten to check it with my luggage and now I was at the gate and my knife was going away.

The uniformed employee explained in her thick Venetian accent, “We must take this from you. If it’s you really need, you go downstairs, fill out the form, and it be sent to you.”

Standing there, I knew we wouldn’t have time to make those arrangements. And besides, it wasn’t a valuable possession. But then again, it was.

For twenty-five years, I had carried that pocket knife.

Back in 1990, I had chosen it from a mound of identical ones heaped in a small cardboard box next to a cash register in the sporting goods department at a Kmart in Topeka, Kansas. It had cost my boyfriend (now my husband) an entire dollar. It featured a steel blade, a wooden casing, and bronze hardware that over the years, had polished to a golden shine from being nestled in my purse for so long.

Similar to how candy bars are placed at checkout stands to captivate small children, that box of $1 knives held equal allure for the fishermen and hunters who visited that department. Not that I was one of them. We had gone to the store to use the restrooms tucked away behind the restaurant at the back of the store. As he waited on me, he spotted the knives and bought one for me.

“Keep it in your purse. It’ll come in handy,” he told me. He was right.

That little knife had been many places… all over Missouri and Kansas, Nashville, Asheville, several cities in Maine and Vermont, Columbus, Atlanta, Sarasota, Highland Park, Phoenix and other Arizona locals, multiple sights in the Los Angeles area, Oregon and Washington State, Cape Town and other South African cities, DC, New York City, Taos, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Dallas, New Orleans. Over the years, we had journeyed across the country to attend annual family reunions, exhibit my husband’s ceramic art at festivals, and accompany him as he served artist residencies.

And now, its final destination would be Venice, Italy, where it would be left behind, a hindrance to a quick department, discarded inside a gray plastic tub under the counter.

I regret leaving that silly little knife because it wasn’t just a pocket knife. It was a symbol of family life and motherhood and had been more often used for non-cutting tasks. That knife spread peanut butter on sandwiches many more times that it ever cut into a fish or snipped a cord on a tent or tarp. It was this mother’s indispensable tool. As such, it was always easy to locate.

My son and daughter both knew I carried a pocket knife and I passed it back to them at least once or twice on every road trip we took over the years. Need to break open a family-sized plastic bag of M&Ms? Get Mom’s knife. Opening a DVD? Get Mom’s knife. Got a stray thread hanging from your hem? Ask Mom to hand back her pocket knife.

Just prior to leaving Venice, as I buckled up inside the plane, regretting my decision to leave my knife, I recalled how six years earlier, I had flown from Johannesburg to Atlanta with a knife my son had purchased as a souvenir. Despite its massive four-inch blade, he had somehow forgotten to pack it in a checked bag. I offered to stow it inside my purse, warning him it would likely be confiscated at our first departure.

Nope. X-rays and inspections by hand never discovered it. Of course, that would happen to a brand new knife without any peanut butter experience. And of course, that knife has since been long forgotten, I might add.

As for my knife, I have since replaced it, but the blade on my new one is narrower and not quite as functional as the one left in Venice. I mean, you can spread peanut butter on a slice of bread if you really want to, but it’s the not the same as my Kmart special.

I’m one of those people who feels sorry for the last Christmas tree on the lot. So it’s no surprise that I’m still feeling nostalgic for my lost pocket knife… a year and a half later.

Somewhere in Italy, it’s languishing in a gray bin of confiscated sharp objects. Maybe it’s been recycled by now. Maybe it’s been donated to a charity. Hopefully, it’s performing some mother’s mundane tasks, making her life a little easier, and definitely more memorable.


Had an experience similar to mine? Like this post, follow my blog, and feel to leave a comment about any precious object that’s drifted out of your life. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Someone doesn’t like Laura Ingalls Wilder

The quest for the “universally embraced” author

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By NBC Television Network [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In July, I wrote a  post called “Punishing Laura Ingalls Wilder.” This post was about the recent decision by the Association for Library Service to Children to change the name of its Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

The name change was made, according to this document from then ALSC President Nina Lindsay to the group’s board of directors, because “Laura Ingalls Wilder has long held a complex legacy, as her books (the Little House on the Prairie series) reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced.”

My mind fixes on “not universally embraced” over the words “racist” and “anti-Native,” since those two elements would preclude the approval, and I ask myself, So is that what this is all about? Being approved by all? No dissension? No variety of opinion? No provocation?

Wouldn’t that make for boring reading?

Diversity in literature is what I would rather see. Latino perspectives. Native perspectives. African perspectives. European perspectives. Historical perspectives. Contemporary perspectives. I want to read it all.

And I would think the ALSC does, too. Here’s what Lindsay wrote in a bio on the organization’s website, “At its best, the public library enables a freedom of the mind that is foundational to social equity.” Sounds like an open and appreciative mind. Sounds like someone who values all perspectives.

So why the snub to Wilder? Why deny inclusion to Wilder? Because someone somewhere disagrees with her perspective? Because someone somewhere in the universe doesn’t embrace her?

If the ALSC wishes to honor only an author who is universally embraced, well, no thank you. And good luck finding one.


Even though it’s been a few months since the ALSC changed the name of its award, I’m still mulling it over. Leave a comment with your thoughts on this topic. Thanks for reading!

Travel to places that make you feel small

Monument Valley is good for that.

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Photo by Maria Sabljic on Unsplash

Those spires. Those ledges. Those bluffs. Behemoths of weight and mass, rising from the high desert floor with quiet heft and bulk.

The space between them is as much a part of the experience as the monuments themselves. My perspective disintegrates. My awe overwhelms. There is no way to determine: how far is that from me? How much expanse between those mittens?

The valley appears surreal, other-worldly. The interior of a cave where the sky forms the walls.

I hear the purr of a single car traveling the dusty road, a red thread snaking in the distance. Other than that, nothing. Even the breeze is silent, its sound swallowed in the burnt sienna drapery of rocky canyon gowns.

The valley transforms me and I am small, insignificant, a dot of breath in the stillness.


We travelled to Monument Valley three years ago and I’m still thinking about it.

Click like if you enjoyed this piece and follow me for an occasional travel post. Also… I would love to hear about your own canyonland experiences. Feel free to comment!

 

Punishing Laura Ingalls Wilder

Write inclusively… or else.

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Photo: Carl Newton on Unsplash

Little House on the Prairie, Ch. 11—Indians in the House

By Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Laura was frightened. Jack had never growled at her before. Then she looked over her shoulder, where Jack was looking, and she saw two naked, wild men coming, one behind the other, on the Indian trail.

‘Mary! Look!’ she cried. Mary looked and saw them, too.

They were tall, thin, fierce-looking men. Their skin was brownish-red. Their heads seemed to go up to a peak, and the peak was a tuft of hair that stood straight up and ended in feathers. Their eyes were black and still and glittering, like snake’s eyes.”

I remember reading this excerpt as a young girl when prairie mania reigned in one small slice of American pop culture. The craze for all things “prairie” owed its popularity to a series of nine volumes collectively called the Little House books. Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series’ popularity was aided by the launch of a TV drama, Little House on the Prairie, starring Michael Landon. I owned the entire Little House set and a pricey collectible wall calendar. I even visited Mansfield, Mo. with my family to tour Wilder’s final home where she wrote her books.

Spellbound through that breathless chapter where the Indians later entered the Ingalls cabin for tobacco and cornbread prepared by the girls’ mother, I considered how vulnerable the Ingalls were as they settled into the frontier of the Osage Indians who lived nearby. Based on my own background and Wilder’s perspective as told through the eyes of Laura, I never considered the vulnerability of the Osage and their culture. I just wanted to keep reading and turning the pages, so I could finish the book and dash off to the bookstore to buy the next.

The sage was enthralling and heart-breaking: white settlers making a home on the American frontier, occasional clashes with the Native Americans, Laura’s coming-of-age, tenuous friendships with the Olson family, Mary’s blindness.

Diverse? Not at all. Inclusive? Nope. It was 1975. As such, Wilder’s Little House series was considered a darn good story and was deemed worthy of recognition.

Until last week.

That’s when the American Library Association (ALA) and its branch, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), decided to change the name of its prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Inaugurated in 1954 and awarded to Wilder herself for her book series, “This award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature,” according to this ALA newsletter.

Sounds reasonable. Few would disagree that Wilder’s books indeed made “a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature” over the years, albeit not universally among readers.

Here’s how ALSC President Nina Lindsay explained the name change in a letter to her board of directors: “Laura Ingalls Wilder has long held a complex legacy, as her books reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced…”

She continued, “Today, this award elevates a legacy that is not consistent with values of diversity and inclusion—something we did not fully understand as a profession when we created the award. While many of Wilder’s books received Newbery honors, (and one may easily find other books within our award canon that don’t live up completely to our current values), we recognize that the name of an award itself holds significant power… The ALSC Executive Committee noted that the name of the award is a currently potentially significant barrier to achieving our goals, and is within our power to change.”

It’s a change many authors, publishers, librarians, and teachers advocate. Debbie Reese, founder of the comprehensive website American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) and a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman, believes the images contained in Wilder’s books of “Native people, cultures, and history work to misinform young readers.” One example of misinformation is the dehumanization that appears in Chapter 11. Here’s one instance:  Wilder writes the Osage Indians’ eyes were “glittering like snake’s eyes.”

To counter these messages that misinform young children, the AICL website recommends works “by Native authors who write books that provide children with accurate information about American Indians.”

After all, Wilder’s books do contain racist depictions and stereotypes (in Chapter 11 of Little House on the Prairie and in other books in the series) of Native Americans and Africans. In addition, Reese cites Wilder’s recurring descriptions of the land as “empty” and her arguable notions that Indians were primitive beings without civilized, autonomous societies.

Therefore, to celebrate contemporary authors with an award named for an author whose perspective is found objectionable, seemed incongruous for some members of ALSC, which exists to engage “communities to build healthy, successful futures for all children.”

And let’s not forget this: the ALSC is not censoring Wilder’s work. Anyone can still purchase her books or find them at their local library. The ALSC merely removed Wilder’s name from its prestigious award.

It should also be noted that the decision does not appear to have been made hastily and members did not unanimously favor the change. An ALSC task force conducted a survey of members and ALA ethnic affiliates. The results: 305 favored the name change; 156 did not. Still, according to the ALSC task force’s recommendation, “We believe that this decision serves the best interest of our Association, its members, and all of those they serve, not only now, in 2018, but in the long term.

But what about history? Is it wise to attempt to remove evidence of the prejudicial attitudes from our past by denigrating the authors who recorded them? Wilder’s works were clearly set in the past and while they contain objectionable content for some, they remain a historical account. According to a statement from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Mo., “Mrs. Wilder believed her books to be historically accurate and reflect American life during the Western Movement. However difficult it may be to agree with social mores within these years, the fact remains that was a different time and what was accepted then would not be today.”

Even so, the quest for diversity and inclusion in historical literature takes precedence. With its action, the ALSC is indirectly controlling authors by condoning the events, characters and the actions of the characters those authors write about, historical or otherwise.

Regardless, the end result of all this is that now Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name comes with a warning label attached. And so does the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This is what that label says:

  • Your characters will speak and behave with respect for all.
  • Your plot’s conflict must offend no one now nor in the future, and include the diverse views of all parties.
  • Your character’s thoughts and impressions must not be their own, or the author’s, but of those with the ability to make institutional change within the prevailing culture.

In short, write inclusively or you will be punished.


Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts? Click like and leave a comment so more people may see this and be able to weigh in. 

How to forget the Holocaust

ELA Brave and True: A Blog by Marilyn Yung

Remove it from the curriculum

germany-2372511_1920Concentration camps, including Auschwitz, posted these words: Work sets you free. | Photo: Pixabay

Are we forgetting the Holocaust?

I asked myself this question recently as I perused an English Language Arts curriculum map for grades 6-8 and found that out of dozens of texts the curriculum uses over the three years, only one text addressed or had any connection to World War II:  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. However, this book, while an excellent and necessary text, does not focus on the Holocaust; instead, it depicts Japan’s brutal treatment of American POWs during wartime.

The curriculum map I browsed through recently is commonly known to teachers as Engage New York. It is more accurately called EL Education, formerly known as Expeditionary Learning, an open educational resource that can be accessed at no cost online.  It is a rigorous Common Core…

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Of Tenacity and Cupcake Sprinkles

How I found connection in the Basilica of San Vitale

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These aren’t paintings, but mosaics made of thousands and thousands of tiny glass tiles known as tesserae. The gold tesserae are actually two clear glass tiles that sandwich a layer of gold leaf. The entire surfaces of these walls are mosaic; the only areas that aren’t mosaics are the windows and the marble columns. Photo: Katherine Yung

Here’s a scenario: Your daughter requests sprinkles on the cupcakes you’re baking for her birthday party. However, pretend the shaker needed to sprinkle on the dotted decorations has not been invented yet, and the only way to get the sprinkles perfectly placed and evenly dispersed on the cupcakes is not by scattering them with your fingers, but by applying them one by one, with tweezers perhaps.

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Photo: Unsplash

Adding sprinkles to the cupcakes now will take days, weeks or longer. The task will be one of intense devotion and labor, simply because of the time involved and the perseverance needed to complete it.

Now imagine that each one of those precisely placed sprinkles is similar—I know… it’s a stretch, but stay with me—to a shimmering miniature glass tile positioned into a mosaic inside the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, a city of 160,000 near the Adriatic Sea.

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A detail of Empress Theodora, from the mosaic in the apse of San Vitale. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One by one, each tile is placed into the scene. One by one, each tile forms a bit more of the image. This will take twenty years at least. It’s a painstaking process and creating the picture would be much faster with brushwork, but glass is the medium and a stunning mosaic is the goal.

Each tiny piece of glass—some are half the size of your pinky nail—symbolizes perseverance and an acute attention to detail and artistry, and—by extension—to Christ.

Cupcake sprinkles are the comparison that came to mind when I began to write about the mosaics inside the Basilica of San Vitale. My family visited the basilica in March of 2017, during a much too brief daytrip to Ravenna. The church, whose namesake was a Roman soldier martyred during the Christian persecutions, was begun in 526 and consecrated in 548.

The mosaics of San Vitale are so well-known in art history circles that they have earned the basilica the description, “the most glorious example of Byzantine art in the West,” according to Ravenna: City of Art.

On the morning we visited, the interior of San Vitale was drenched in sunlight that streamed in through the windows of the church.

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A photo from across the basilica. Notice the intense patterning even in the marble floor. It’s difficult to stand close to the tesserae at San Vitale. Most of the mosaics are positioned above eight feet. The patterns you see below the windows are mostly marble mosaics. Photo: M. Yung

As I stood in the grandeur of San Vitale, sheer awe at the handiwork overtook me. Sheer wonderment at the dedication and tedium. Sheer astonishment at the skill and collaboration it took to not only conceive the images contained in the murale, but also to source the materials, create the artwork, and execute their application and installation on the high walls of this old, old church.

In the sunlight, the golden tesserae dazzled. These are actually pieces of gold leaf sandwiched between pieces of clear glass. When they were pressed into place by medieval workmen, the gold tiles were angled to best reflect the sunlight, or the glow of a candle or lantern.

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A closer photo of the apse and the mosaic that shows Christ resting on a globe surrounded by angels. The far right figure in brown carries a miniature version of the basilica, offering it to Christ in service. Photo: M. Yung

As we took our self-tour, I stared up and pondered the mosaics and felt nearer to those laborers and artists who spent many years of their lives creating these mosaics. I marveled at their tenacity to produce these works without power tools and machinery, electricity, plumbing and other conveniences.

Would this sort of devotion be practiced today? I don’t think so, but then maybe it was different for these medieval workers.

Would the tedium of producing these masterpieces have been more endurable for those to whom the time of Christ was only four hundred years earlier? True, four hundred years is a long time, but wouldn’t the time of  Christ have been within their mental grasp?

To compare, would I find it easier to devote myself to glorifying the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock? I don’t know of anyone from that era, but I do feel a connection of sorts. I know what their concerns were and what motivated them. I can identify with them to a degree, while I find it nearly impossible to identify with people of Biblical times. Perhaps medieval workers could.

As I continued in my thoughts, my husband and daughter sought the two mosaics-within-the-mosaics below. The mosaics of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora are considered the masterpieces of San Vitale.

The first photo below shows Justinian surrounded by his court, clergy members and soldiers. The emperor holds a bowl that contains bread for the Eucharist. Justinian never visited this basilica, according to Dr. Steven Zucker in this Khan Academy video lesson, but this mosaic was his way of asserting his power and authority from Constantinople, the Byzantine capital.

The figures in both mosaics are highly stylized. Laura Morelli, art historoian and author of The Gondola Maker, explains it this way: “A more eastern aesthetic characterizes the mosaics completed in Ravenna during this early period. Elegant, slender, flattened figures on a shallow spatial plane stare out with huge, staring eyes.” The two famous mosaics clearly reveal this style.

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The mosaic that shows Emperor Justinian with his court, clergy, and soldiers at left. Even the borders and frames that surround the central image are mosaic. Photo: Katherine Yung

The mosaic of Empress Theodora rests on the opposite side of the apse and mirrors Justinian’s mosaic. In this piece, the empress carries a chalice of wine for the Eucharist. Wearing a finely detailed gown, Empress Theodora is surrounded by her imperial court and attendants. She wears elaborate jewelry, and, like Justinian, is surrounded by a halo.

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The mosaics of Justinian and Theodora are the “pieces de resistance” of Basilica San Vitale. They are found in art history textbooks as supreme examples of medieval Byzantine art. Photo: Katherine Yung

Ready to finally move my gaze from the brilliance of the gold, I focused on the frescoes that cover the ceiling of San Vitale. They were completed much later—in 1780—byartists from Bologna and Venice. While they are beautiful, they cannot compare, in my opinion, with the luster of the mosaics.

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Frescoes, water-based paintings on plaster, adorn the center dome of San Vitale. Photo: M. Yung
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My husband and son, at left, gaze up at the frescoes that surround the mosaic-drenched apse. Photo: M. Yung

I felt our visit was coming to its end, and I noticed that even the floors of San Vitale were intricately decorated. Miniscule marble tiles did their best to distract me from the golden “eye candy” above. Over the centuries, the floor tiles do show some wear, but are amazingly colorful and durable. The most wear is to the floor surface itself, which, in some places within the basilica, contains depressions from heavy traffic patterns from worshippers and tourists.

The detail in the flooring reinforced my thoughts about the devotion of those early medieval artists; they spared nothing—not even the floor—in their tenacious pursuit to glorify God.

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Photo: M. Yung

As we exited the basilica, we took photos of its rustic appearance and its unusual structure of two stacked octagons. Its unusual shape does not follow cathedrals designed in the typical shape of the Latin cross, but instead evokes eastern influence from Byzantium. From the outside, one would have no idea of the grandeur within.

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The contrast between the exterior and the interior of the Basilica of San Vitale is striking. The bricks were repurposed from demolished structures in Rome. Photo: M. Yung

Visiting the Basilica of San Vitale was a lesson in humility, reverence, and connection. As I walked across the same floors, gazed up at the same artwork, and whispered in the same hushed tones that countless others whispered down through the ages, I knew that my visit was not about sprinkles on cupcakes.

It wasn’t even about the magnificent golden mosaic masterpieces. It was instead about connecting, in one sense, to historical Christianity, and in a broader sense, to humanity.


Thanks for reading! Please click “like” so others can find this post more easily. Feel free to leave a comment about what your mind wanders to when you gaze at something truly beautiful.

Dear new parents: Complicate your child’s life. Spell their name weird.

Test drive some of the names I’ve collected for this post.

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Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

Dear New Parents,

It’s time to choose a name for your baby, the most beautiful baby who has ever existed in the entire history of the Earth. How do you even begin to accomplish this most important of destiny-defining parental tasks?

Well, based on recent trends, you start by choosing a somewhat traditional name, but then you spell it weird. For example, thinking about Sarah? Go with it, but make sure you spell it Sarrah. Prefer Sydney? That’s fine, just spell it Sidnee. It’s cuter that way, and complicated, too, and besides, everybody’s doing it. All good reasons.

To help you choose a name and spell it weird, below please find a two-step form so you too can make life difficult for your newborn.

Step 1: Once you understand your motivations behind choosing a name for your baby, you’ll know nothing more than exactly why you would do this to a kid. Check no more than two, (okay, maybe three), below:

___I want to make my child re-spell their name a bajillion times.

___I want to take revenge on my child for a difficult labor and/or delivery.

___I want to show the world how creative and individual my child will be and I’m going to do it with my child’s primary identifier.

___I want to make my child repeat the re-spelling of their name, double-check and triple-confirm that it’s right, only to see it still spelled wrong on the receipt, coffee cup, diploma, etc.

___I want to ensure that my child will never find a pre-printed personalized key chain, miniature license plate, or bracelet ever in their entire life, thereby saving me $5.95 plus tax at least three times every time we go someplace new.

___I want everyone to know that my child is so unique, I have no choice but to bestow him or her with an equally unique name that makes everyone ask, “What?! Who?! Whyyyyyy?”

Step 2: Once you understand your “why,” test drive some of the names below. You’ll find more girl choices than boy choices. Not sure the reason, but it seems people spend way more time trying to be cute with girls than boys. Circle your first, second, and third choices, and then apply them to your dog or spouse over a two- or three-day period or to save time, go with your number one choice and force it upon your child for all time.

The names and their traditional spellings are on the left below, followed by the weirdly spelled variants, which by the way, are actually spellings I’ve seen lately on social media and on TV.

Girls’ Names

Abigail–Abagayle

Alexis–Allexous

Britney—Brytani

Cassidy—Kassadee

Casey—Kaci

Chloe—Chloey

Crystal—Chrystle

Emily—Emmali

Hailey—Halee

Katie—Kadee

Kimberly—Kymberleigh

Kinsley—Kinzlea

Lexi—Leksei

Lindsay—Linsie

Madeline—Madalynne

Mikayla—Micayla, Makaila, Makayla

Olivia—Alivia

Sierra—Syiera

 

Boys’ Names

Caley—Kaylyb

Conrad—Konrad

Jared—Jarid

Jordan—Jorden

Lucas—Lukus

Trey—Tray

Cameron—Kamryn

These are all I’ve been able to collect so far, but they should be enough to get you well on your way to complicating your child’s life. So don’t forget: as the parent, you are in total control here. Consider the long-term effects of your spelling choice… then choose the weirdest spelling you can dream up.


Heard or seen any outlandishly creative spellings for traditional names? Click “like” below and reply in the comments. Also, feel free to correct me if I’m taking this a bit far or have failed to see some redeeming value in the weird spellings of names. 

 

Verona is the bomb dot com

And other observations my daughter made when she visited on a daytrip from Venice

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From the Arena di Verona, the city bustles with vitality during a spring garden show in Piazza Bra, one of the largest public squares in Italy. Photo: Katherine Yung

My daughter spent three months living in Venice in 2017 as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. Her time there was magical, challenging, beautiful, and life-changing. On four occasions, she day-tripped with her friends away from the 124 islands that compose Venice to visit these cities: Bologna, Padua, Verona, and Vicenza.

Since her return, we’ve enjoyed many conversations about her time in Italy. This post is about her daytrip to Verona, home to 257,000 residents and located on the Adige River in northern Italy.

The interview answers are just the two of us talking; see the photo captions for more detailed notes and facts about her trip.

 

How did you get to Verona? We left the train station in Venice around 8:45 in the morning and arrived in Verona around 9:30. It really doesn’t take long to get there! And let me just start by saying it was the first sunny and clear day of spring. The weather in Venice during the first month or so of my stay there had been rainy, gray and cold, and we were all ready for some sunshine. I didn’t have to wear a jacket at all. It was absolutely beautiful.

Once we arrived at the train station, we had to walk quite a distance to reach the central historic part of the city. It probably took around twenty to thirty minutes. We walked past a café and decided to get cappuccinos for breakfast and then we kept walking to get to the old city walls. This is considered the heart of Verona. The walls are about fifty feet high.

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The old city walls of Verona mark the historic center of the city. Photo: Katherine Yung

What was first on the agenda? After reaching the center of the city, we decided to go to the arena first to meet Alessandra, one of the interns at the  Guggenheim museum in Venice who had returned on her days off that week to Verona, her hometown. She was going to be our guide for the day.

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Arena di Verona was the third-largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire. The 20,000-seat arena has a packed schedule for 2018. Built during the first century, the arena is home to a full schedule of productions, including an opera festival held every summer. Seats range from 18€ to over 200€, depending on the production and performance. Photo: Katherine Yung

To get to the arena, we walked through Piazza Bra, one of the largest public squares in Italy. There was a garden show going on. Vendors were selling flowers and citrus trees and other plans and lawn supplies. It was very busy. There were people everywhere.

The arena di Verona looks like a coliseum. It’s made entirely of stone and is literally a big stadium. They still hold concerts and theater productions there. It’s crazy old. The day we went to Verona was the first Sunday of the month and throughout Italy, there are discounts to state-run museums. At first, after meeting Alessandra outside the arena, we couldn’t decide if we wanted to go inside, but because it cost only 1€, we went in to see just how large it was.

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Inside the Arena di Verona. There’s not a lot to see, but my daughter and her friends decided to go in anyway, since entrance cost only 1€. Here’s a spectacular nighttime photo of the arena. Photo: Katherine Yung

Where did you go next? After we saw the arena, Alessandra took us down one of the main streets, Via Mazzini. It’s a pedestrian-only street. It has tons of shopping with lots of retail clothing shops.

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Walking down Via Mazzini in the retail heart of Verona. Photo: Katherine Yung

Did you see anything touristy? Yes! That was next! From Via Mazzini, we continued down to Casa di Giulietta, the “house of Juliet” from Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet. Legend has it that the stone balcony that’s in the courtyard was the inspiration for the scene in Shakespeare’s play.

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The balcony at Casa di Giulietta. Photo: Katherine Yung

The balcony looks exactly like what you would expect it to. There’s also a statue of Juliet in the courtyard. It’s free to see. You pay, however, to stand on the balcony where you can have your picture taken. There’s a sotoportego—a tunnel-like walkway—you walk through to get to the courtyard. There’s a wall where people have written love notes on this wall. It’s totally black with writing and spray paint. It’s covered with notes and anything and everything people can find to stick their notes to the wall with… gum, Band-Aids, whatever.

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The wall at Casa di Giulietta is plastered with notes of love and friendship. Here, my daughter and her fellow interns from the Guggenheim in Venice left their mark. Photo: Katherine Yung

Did you see any art while you were there? Yes, we were in Verona on the very first day of an exhibition of Toulouse Lautrec, the French illustrator and painter. The show was at the Verona AMO-Palazzo Forti. It was a show totally devoted to his work. I really wanted to see it, so another intern and I went. The tickets cost 15€. We were at the museum for an hour and fifteen minutes. It was an incredible show. The galleries were painted in French blue and a dark, muted magenta. There was one room where all of his prints were displayed. This room was arranged like a café with tales in the middle and strings of light bulbs that led to the center of the ceiling. Seeing this show in this gallery was the highlight of the day for me.

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Photos weren’t allowed in the Lautrec exhibition. These are brochures from a page in my daughter’s travel journal.

Where did you go for lunch? We went to a restaurant my friend knew about. It was called Terrazza Bar al Ponte. You can sit outside on a balcony over the river that runs through Verona. We were hoping to find a place on the balcony, but it was so crowded outside that we had to sit inside. I ordered totellini with sausage. The pasta was a very thin dough and there was sausage flavored with rosemary and cheese. It had a spicy flavor, but the spiciness wasn’t overkilled. The tortellini was in an olive oil and light butter sauce. It was super light… a lot of food, but very light. The service was great. We did have to wait around forty minutes, but in Italy no one seems rushed when there’s food involved and there were five of us. Also, the staff let me charge my phone behind the counter.

Where did you go after lunch? After lunch, we crossed the Ponte Pietra, a stone bridge that crosses the Adige River and then we walked to the top of Castel San Pietro, the location of the first settlements of Verona. The settlements date from the 7th century… before Christ! From the castle, you get this amazing panoramic view of Verona. There are restaurants there for lunch, but since we had just eaten, we took a walk to the top of the castle instead. There were stairs everywhere. It was quite a hike to get all the way up there, but I’m so glad we did because the views were incredible.

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Looking up at Castel San Pietro from the walk across the Ponte Pietra (the stone bridge) over the Adige River. Photo: Katherine Yung
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Looking down from Castel San Pietro to the Adige River and Verona. Photo: Katherine Yung

Where did you go after the Castel San Pietro? We went to see the Arco dei Gavi, an arch constructed to honor a family by the name of Gavi. Under the arch, you’ll see stones from an ancient Roman road. We walked over the stones—they’re smooth and rounded around the edged—under the arch. You can see the ruts from wheeled chariots and whatnot that used the roads back during Roman times.

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The famous Arco dei Gavi, one of the few arches not constructed to commemorate a military event, but rather a family. Napoleon dismantled the arch, but it was rebuilt in 1932. Photo: Katherine Yung

What, no gelato yet?! After the Arco dei Gavi, we went to Piazza delle Erbe, a square that’s the business center of the city. And business for us meant, I guess you could say, the business of gelato. I had one dip each of raspberry and lemon-mint from a shop called Pretto Gelato arte Italiana. It was so good. I really preferred the lemon-mint and wished I had ordered two dips of it.

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Raspberry and lemon-mint gelato in Piazza delle Erbe, the political and economic center of the city. Photo: Katherine Yung

What was next on the schedule? After gelato, we walked to the Castelvecchio & Museum. It was old and beautiful. So much history right there.

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The spectacular brick ramparts of Castelvecchio, now Castelvecchio & Museum, which protected Verona in medieval times. Built in 1354, the castle sits alongside the Adige River. Photo: Katherine Yung

In 1957, Carlo Scarpa, who’s a famous modern Italian architect, began renovating the castle. This in effect created the museum. Throughout the museum, there are rooms with paintings and sculpture. There are also rooms full of weapons that were used back during the era when the castle guarded Verona.

When he was doing the renovations, Scarpa put a modern spin right on top of the ancient. He was making the castle usable again and also put his modern style on top of the old. He intentionally made details stand out so you’d notice the contrast between the old and the new.

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This staircase inside the museum shows Carlo Scarpa’s mixing together the new with the old. Photo: Katherine Yung

After touring the Castelvecchio, we noticed it was around five o’clock, so we decided to head back to Venice. We got back to Venice around six o’clock.

Where does Verona rank on your list of the cities you visited? Well, no doubt, I think it’s the most vibrant. It was the most surprisingly charming. Before we went to Verona, I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect it to be so packed with activity and with so many things to see. There were so many sights… and maybe the weather spoiled me a little, but it is probably the one city I would go back to first and spend more time in.


I make no apologies. As a writer and parent, I feel perfectly entitled to take full advantage of my daughter’s experiences in Italy by wringing every possible story idea from it! Yes, our family did visit her in Venice for a week, and while we saw so much in that time, we envied the luxury of time her three-month internship allowed.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, click “like” so more people can find it, and feel free to leave a comment!

 

 

 

Vicenza: where the art is the city itself

And other observations made on a daytrip from Venice to the City of Palladio

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Corinthian columns line the loggia of the Palladio museum in Vicenza, Italy. Photo: K. Yung

My daughter spent three months living in Venice in 2017 as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. Her time there was magical, challenging, beautiful, and life-changing. On four occasions, she day-tripped with her friends away from the 124 islands that compose Venice to visit these cities: Bologna, Padua, Verona, and Vicenza. 

Since her return, we’ve enjoyed many conversations about her time in Italy. In this and future posts, I’ll be relaying the details of each of these short excursions. This post is about her daytrip to Vicenza, a city with an approximate population of 113,000 full of architectural gems that was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994.

The interview answers are just the two of us talking; see the photo captions for more detailed notes and facts about her trip.

 

How far is Vicenza from Venice? It’s only a 45-minute train ride that goes through Mestre, which is near Venice on the mainland and then Padua before arriving in Vicenza.

What did you do first? We first walked from the train a few minutes to the city walls. Then we made our way to the Palladio Museum. It’s a large museum situated within the Palazzo Barbarano. The museum showcases Andrea Palladio, the Italian architect who designed tons of buildings all around the city. Palladio lived in the early 1500s, so he can be considered a High Renaissance artist.

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The city walls of Vicenza. At this location, pedestrians enter beneath the arch in the darker portion of the wall. Photo: K. Yung

The museum has old and rare sketchbooks and drawings by Palladio. Those were so interesting. It was amazing to see how well-preserved the papers were.

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The museum is also famous for all of the dioramas they have of Palladio’s designs. These aren’t old, but they are really valuable, so anyone—and especially art historians and architects—can understand more about how the buildings were designed. You can get a sense of the effects that Palladio achieved with his symmetry, like the long views down corridors.

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Dioramas attract many to the Palladio Museum. Here, architecture and art history scholars can see up close the Palladian features that created this ubiquitous architectural style. Photo: K. Yung
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Photo: K. Yung

Was symmetry his trademark? Well, one of them, along with columns. He’s why columns are popular in homes and public buildings. Basically, his work was about highlighting classical Roman architecture, and symmetry was one characteristic. His designs influenced architecture around the world. It eventually became called Palladianism. Palladio’s work is easy to recognize because he had a very distinct style that totally revolutionized the architecture game. And lots of people are familiar with Palladianism, even if they don’t realize it. The White House and the U.S. Capitol—and thousands more examples around the world—are good examples. So is Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.

Did you have a tour of the Palladio Museum? Yes, we had a guide who spent 2 ½ – 3 hours showing us the museum, which was our main goal in visiting Vicenza. There was an exhibition being shown there called “The Mysteries of Palladio’s Face.” It was all about portraits of Palladio—or the fact that there aren’t portraits of him. No one really knows for sure what he looked like. Even drawings of him are different. However, there was a drawing we saw where he had actually sketched his hand onto the paper. Kinda cool because at least we know it’s his hand, y’know?

You were there such a short time. Did you miss anything? The Villa Rotonda was closed when we were there and that’s one of Palladio’s most famous and influential works. It’s a square building with four entrances, one on each side. It’s one of the most recognizable structures of the Renaissance.

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The Villa Rotonda contains four identical facades, which add balance to the complete design. Photo: Stefan Bauer, http://www.ferras.at [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
What did you do after the Palladio Museum? After that, we walked around downtown to see some of the other buildings. There’s a whole street in Vicenza called Corso Andrea Palladio… it’s lined with multiple palaces and buildings that were at least designed by Palladio if they were constructed during his lifetime.

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In this photo, you see the Teatro Olimpico on the right. Built from 1580-1585, the theater appears deceptively rustic on the exterior, but on the inside, the design does an “about face” and High Renaissance style takes center stage. The plaque that declares the theater’s designation at a UNESCO World Heritage Site is displayed at right. Photo: K. Yung

Then we went to the Teatro Olimpico. It’s a performing arts theater that Palladio designed. Today, the theater does live theater productions. You can go inside the actual theater and sit and look at the paintings. You can also see the façade that Palladio designed and the illusion of the set itself.

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This photo does not show the theater’s majestic interior in its entirety. Visit here for fabulous photos and a full explanation of how optically revolutionary this theater is. Photo: juliacasado1 on Pixabay.

On the interior, parts of it plays tricks on your mind due to optical techniques. For example, it appears that the set is very deep based on the perspective you see through the entrance with the blue sky beyond. The ceiling of the theater is painted like the sky and it’s encircled by large-scale Olympic figures.

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The theater hosts dance and theater productions today. Photo: K. Yung

What else did you see on such a short trip? We went and saw the Basilica Palladiana. It’s a building downtown that you can easily identify because of its copper roof. They issued a contract to Palladio in 1549 to renovate the building because of structural problems that occurred over the years. Today, there are restaurants and shops around it, plus exhibition spaces for art and architecture shows. One thing that makes the basilica significant is that it shows the first example of the Palladian window. Palladian windows have a center window with a semi-circular top and then one rectangular identical window on each side.

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Vincenza’s Piazza dei Signori, where the Basilica Palladiana is located to the right of the dark brick tower in the photo above. The distinctive copper roof is visible behind the statues that line the upper edge. Photo: cusarina on Pixabay.

After going to the basilica, we decided we wanted to have lunch outside on the plaza, the Piazza dei Signori. We found a quaint café in the sun and… wait for it… had some pizza that was altogether forgettable. It was more like American pan pizza. I’m sure some people liked it, but I was disappointed. I didn’t even make a note of the name of the place. Oh, well. That was literally the only downside to the whole day. I would love to go back!

How would you sum up Vicenza? It’s a quiet city with an off-the-beaten-path feel to it. It’s very beautiful and important. It’s like a giant art museum, but the art is the city itself.


I make no apologies. As a writer and parent, I feel perfectly entitled to take full advantage of my daughter’s experiences in Italy by wringing every possible story idea from it! Yes, our family did visit her in Venice for a week, and while we saw so much in that time, we envied the luxury of time her three-month internship allowed. Check out my profile on Medium.com and find more stories about my daughter’s other daytrips around northern Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

The bluest blue I’ve ever seen

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The Scrovegni Chapel was commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni, a Paduan lender. It is considered one of the masterpieces of Western art. Giotto di Bondone, considered the first of the Italian masters, painted the frescoes in the intimate space. Giotto, (1276-1337), is considered the most important Italian painter of the 14th century.“His works point to the innovations of the Renaissance style, which developed a century later,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Photo: K. Yung

And other observations my daughter made during a quick morning trip to Padua from Venice

My daughter spent three months living in Venice in 2017 as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. Her time there was magical, challenging, beautiful, and life-changing. On four occasions, she day-tripped with her friends away from the 124 islands that compose Venice to visit these cities: Bologna, Padua, Verona, and Vicenza. One day, she travelled to Ravenna with my husband, our son and me when we visited over spring break.

Since her return, we’ve enjoyed many conversations about her time in Italy. In this and future posts, I’ll be relaying the details of each of these short excursions. This post is about her morning trip to Padua, a city that claims to be the oldest city in northern Italy. It’s a short 26 miles from Venice.

The interview answers are just the two of us talking; see the photo captions for more detailed notes and facts about her trip.

How did you travel to Padua? We left from the Venice train station at 9 a.m. It took barely thirth minutes to get there.

What was the most important thing you saw in Padua? Our goal in going to Padua—of Padova, as the Italians say—was to see the Scrovegni Chapel. It’s covered on the inside with many famous frescoes by Giotto. He was a painter during the Middle Ages. He was known for the expressions he painted on people. The frescoes in the chapel are literally in every art history textbook I’ve ever seen. The chapel is extremely small and floor to ceiling it’s jammed with frescoes.

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Another view of the floor-to-ceiling frescoes painted by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel. Giotto is considered pre-Renaissance; his work takes a step away from the Medieval style. Photo: K. Yung

Did the chapel meet your expectations? Yes! It was exactly what I hoped it would be. Giotto was known for using blue and the frescoes there were way more intensely vibrant than I expected them to be. The color was the bluest blue I’ve ever seen.

Before you even enter the chapel, it must be readied by the staff. They adjust the humidity level in order to control the air quality inside and they also regulate your entrance time because the air quality must be adjusted to protect the frescoes. Many of them are fragile. Some are entirely gone. Some are faded and chipping away. They were completed in 1305, so that explains the deterioration.

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This photo shows the most famous fresco (center) in the Scrovegni Chapel entitled “Lamentation of Christ.” The anguish in the facial expressions of the figures is one characteristic that makes this fresco so well-known. Photo: K. Yung
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The gardens and grounds that surrounded the Scrovegni Chapel were lush with the spring season in Padua. Photo: K. Yung

Where did you go after the Scrovegni? We went to Chiesa degli Eremitani, literally the Church of the Hermits, which was a religious order under St. Augustine. It’s a very tall church with a woven, wooded lattice roof. There area frescoed bricks on the wall. At the front where the altar is, there are two or three little chapels. There are interesting frescoes that go up into the domes, but only to a point.

The church was bombed in World War II and they were almost totally destroyed. Over the years, the building has been renovated. There are fragmented frescoes where black paint has been applied showing what the image would have been had it not been bombed.

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Inside the Chiesa degli Eremitani, the frescoes show scenes from the life of St. Augustine. The damage done to this church is considered by art historians to be Italy’s “greatest artistic wartime loss.” Photo: K. Yung
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This photo shows the devastation of the bombing from 1944. Fragments from the destroyed frescoes have been found over the years and inserted onto the plaster in the precise spots where they were believed to have been placed originally. Photo: K. Yung

Did you grab a meal while you were there? Yes, after the Chiesa, we ran to get pizza somewhere on the way to the train station. We also managed to find an American coffee shop and I ordered a chai tea latte for the first time while I was in Italy. Chai tea is not a thing in Italy, by the way.

That was also about the time we realized we had bought the wrong returning ticket to Venice. We made our way onto the next train back, but didn’t have time to purchase tickets. It was a confusing ordeal. We planned to pay while we were onboard the train, but no one ever checked our tickets.

We made it back to Venice by 2 in the afternoon, which was around the time we were scheduled to get ready to tour Damien Hirst’s mammoth exhibition, which is totally another story.

Would you like to go back to Padua since you were only there for a few hours? Yes, of course, it would be great to go back. There are so many things I know we just didn’t have time for. One would be the Basilica of Saint Anthony. Someday… someday.


I make no apologies. As a writer and parent, I feel perfectly entitled to take full advantage of my daughter’s experiences in Italy by wringing every possible story idea from it! Yes, our family did visit her there for a week, and while we saw so much in that time, we envied the luxury of time her three-month internship allowed. Check out my profile on Medium.com and find more stories about my daughter’s daytrips around northern Italy.

Verona is the bomb dot com

One way up and one way down: the “freaking tall” towers of Bologna

Vicenza: where the art is the city itself