Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back in the US - with Italy in our hearts

Sorry for the jetlag delay on this post. As it began, so it ended, with a cab/shuttle ride to the airport, security, waiting, anticipating/dreading the long long flight. In the midst of that was the pondering all that had transpired these 3 wonderful weeks: the great art, food, surroundings, and culture. 24 hours, almost exactly after we walked out of the hotel in Rome, we were walking through our door in Southern California. The next day was unpacking, laundry, napping, and a bit of food.

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 21 - a bittersweet goodbye

Today was a "free" day for all of us. Some students went to Naples and Pompeii, while others stayed in Rome. We all meet tonight for a last dinner together. It was a cool and rainy walk to the restaurant but we all had a good time laughing and sharing about our days. We are all ready to go, yet sad that it is over. Departures vary throughout tomorrow and even extend to Sunday or Monday.

It has been a great trip. Dr. Leopardi did an excellent job as professor, teacher, scholar, doctor, nurse, and friend. We all are very very grateful for all the effort and care she obviously put into the course.

There will be one or two more blog entries. There will also be a book produced that chronicles the course day-by-day as well as having an entire spread showcasing each students pictures and reflections on the course. The book should be complete by the end of February and will be available for purchase on The cover is the final image posted today.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20 - last day continued

I will be posting more pictures and updates from Friday and our final group dinner together.
Also a book will be available chronicling our adventure, complete with stunning photography from both the students and blogropher. Stay tuned...

January 20 - the last day

Today marked the last official day of class instruction. Tomorrow some of the students are going to Pompeii and Naples. Others are staying in Rome, all will be packing and preparing to leave in the next 48 to 72 hours.
The students were split into two groups since the Borghese Museum will not allow tours over 15 to go thru at one time. The first fifteen leave at 9:30ish for the hour trek by foot, No. 8 tram, foot, No. 63 bus, and then foot again. As it was raining when we left, though the sun broke out as can be seen from the park picture, the traffic was bad. The first picture shows what was going on outside the bus window in the middle of the street. Don't miss the bit of motor scooter driving right next to the bus. The appointment is from 11 to 1 pm. The second group met Professor Chimenti at the cat sanctuary at 2:00 pm in the rain so they can be taken to meet up with Dr. Leopardi in the beautiful park grounds that surround the Borghese. On the way we passed under what was a Roman aqueduct, that then became an exterior wall of Medieval Rome, that is now a stunning piece of architecture for us to walk thru as we head into the park on our way to the museum. The museum closed from 1 to 3 for an unexpected union meeting and then reopened. Chaos reigned. Several of us got to witness a heated discussion between employees. As you can see from the picture even the poster was paying attention. There are no pictures allowed inside. This museum goes so far as to make all visitors check their bags and cameras at the door, not even the Vatican was that strict. Please look up the museum or works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Bernini, Titian, and Botticelli on line to see what we saw.

Studies in Color: Tabby; #14

by Jamie Florance

We were fighting a battle we couldn’t win. Humans had been encroaching for years on all sides. There were a few of the mouth-breathers that had allied with us, but did not make our lives any less uphill. For every one of us, there were thousands of them. Breathing, eating, and shopping.

Life in Rome was not easy. I grew up in a roped off area of the Forum. They would tell me years later that great humans met here for politics and religious reasons. Now it had been reduced to ruins. Where once stood a temple, now stood a pile of rocks and a vague idea of where the corners were. Where a cult of Vestal Virgins used to hover over a fire, a small Asian girl now blows her nose. Where merchants use to sell their goods, Indian Sopriso blows pan flutes and sells their album for one Euro. It was ridiculous how the humans were divided, conquered and united, divided, and united in their currency.

They spoke in dollars. They had a language, but this was just a pretense. And being a cat did not make this any easier. You can imagine the difficulty of handling coins and bills when you walk on all fours.

I was thirteen in cat years when I met Terry. Lots of cats in Rome looked like him. He was colored black and a chocolate flavor of gelato. What set him apart was a patch of hair missing on his back right before the tail. He was 7 cat years older than me and taught me a lot about the humans.

He pointed to the places where they walked and how some walked that way every day to their jobs. They needed the jobs to get money. The humans had a battle of their own. There were so few appetizing ways to make money, so many of them settled for the less than appetizing ways of making money. He also pointed out the tourists. Just like the ones I had become familiar with at the Forum. They walked back to their temporary hotel rooms after a night of inebriation and frivolous spending. Their taxi cabs ran loose on the street at the loss of fellow felines. Mom and dad cats. Brother and sister cats.

It wasn’t all bad though. The humans who did side with us opened a sanctuary. Here cats could be cats. That is, unless one of the newer attendees accepted a piece of mozzarella from a small girl holding her mother’s hand. This is unless said mother and child crossed the street in a hurry and the cat thinking, “they must be headed to more of this better-than-catfood cheese stuff.” This is when a Fiat heading to its respective work place in record time collides with the mozzarella seduced cat.

It wasn’t a pretty sight, but it happened. Some of the cats who were alive before the sanctuary opened its doors had had things like this happen to them. Sometimes worse. Vespa scooters severing tails. Supertrams tearing limbs. And the dogs. To the tourists the homeless man’s dog just looks tired. That is, until it has to eat. This is how Terry’s dad went. Cornered in an alley near the Pantheon, the two dogs zeroed in, taking their time, savoring the kill. With no way out, Terry’s dad said his good-byes. He gets tears in his eyes every time he tells this part. His dad says, “We can at least put up a fight,” and when Terry goes to jump into the action, his dad kicks him out of the way and takes them on by himself. Eventually he can only occupy one of them and right when Terry is inside the dog’s mouth, a pizzeria opens its door to the take the trash out. His dad makes a last ditch swipe at the dog chewing on Terry and tells him to run. Terry says not a day goes by where he doesn’t regret leaving him there with those two dogs.

“Those dogs man, those dogs…”

This was when he came to the sanctuary. Pizzeria workers specializing in making pizza and not cat repair, brought him there with a nice note. They patched him up and after a few days, he started talking to me. If he saw me smiling at cat jokes told by the other residents or letting the visitors rub the spot under my chin that makes you close your eyes and exist in pure pleasure, he would remind me that life is linear sadness. That any happiness you experience is a blip along this line. When you are a younger cat, the blips occur more frequently but eventually give way to sirens, graffiti, and cigarette smoke. He said I would know what he was talking about soon enough.

While other cats would climb the ruins and bask in the sunlight and move accordingly to where the sun appeared after diminishing in the previous spot, he would stay in his cage. When cats would bury their faces in a casserole dish filled with wet cat food, he would lay under a desk. He said he only liked the dry food because it tasted more like life did. Although, I never did see him eat. I assume it was sometime during lights out. After we were all deep in cat like nappish slumbers. I used to think if cats could smoke cigarettes, he would be the first.

It was some time in January when our faith in humanity was restored. I was resting my face on a marble pylon, paws crossed. I was awoken to a rubbing of the incredibly hard to reach spot on the top of my head. When I opened my eyes, it was the face of a tourist complete with a camera in his free hand and a blue listening device on his chest, suspended by a lanyard. This was accompanied by an equally blue headphone. He was Taller than most and mustached. After the scalp rubbing had ended prematurely, I watched him walk downstairs to the sanctuary. He wasn’t like the other humans. He carried himself like nothing was wrong but knew very well that everything was in fact, wrong. I believed he even understood our plight. An aura of trust radiated from the man. After a series of meows in an American dialect left his mouth I saw Terry come out into the sun.

The two of them approached me. “The time has come to leave all this behind us, Giovanni. Our guest tells me of a new world beyond these ruins, beyond the Vatican, and beyond the city limits of Rome. A different world. Still clouded with cigarette smoke and littered with graffiti, but with friends. He is traversing across Europe with like-minded students. Eloping with 15th and 16th century Renaissance art. They have seen Michelangelo’s David. They have seen Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. They have seen Rafael’s School of Athens. And they want to see more. Come with us Giovanni. He has room in his carry-on for two. If you decide to stay here, I can assure you your life will be replete with more of the same. Come with me, and the possibilities are endless.”

The mustached man followed us back to the sanctuary. My mind was decided. My paws on the ground felt a new sensation of excitement with every step I took. He spoke of the Leopard Lady and how her knowledge was vast. Years she spent, inhaling images and academic texts to better teach the student and his peers. Where others saw murals depicting a past too archaic for words, she saw rich narratives and gave them context. She explained how symbols were deliberately placed and how there was not just one way to read a work of art. She would engage the students in dialogues using a Period Eye consisting of the context in which the work was produced and with the contrast of their contemporary reception. It was all very exciting.

Terry did not own anything but I took my time gathering my things. A ping-pong ball with a small dent in it, a mouse toy that had once upon a time hinted the smell of cat nip, and a feather from a pigeon that my mom had killed. These were all placed in a Hello Kitty pillowcase. I waved goodbye to some of the others and even hissed at a few. The volunteers gave me a look like, “Ciao, we will miss you, but there will be plenty of other kitties that will eat the food that you will no longer be eating.” I was content.

The next day we were cruising sky high at a thousand meters. The city that had taken so much from us was finally behind us. Our first stop was London. We saw Warhols at the Tate. Kings and Queens at the National Portrait Gallery. From there we went on to the Louvre. Da Vinci there and Caravaggio here. Baguettes with Manet and Monet. Then siestas in Spanish Prado with Velazquez and De Goya. When our tastes for Europe had exhausted, we relocated to the States.

Traveling takes its toll on the feline body. Rest was inevitable. We had decided to start new lives in America and moved in with the mustached man. Terry sat in on many of Chapman University’s art classes and I became somewhat of an art collector myself. The first Saturday of every month we engaged with cats like ourselves at the Santa Ana art walk. Critiquing amateur artists and Terry even exhibiting some works of his own. They were the best of times. We were in search of art and it was everywhere.

We traveled everywhere, yes. But Italy was in our hearts, forever.