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Florence Experience Tough to Beat

Nathan Bode ’16 – Buonasera da Firenze! My name is Nathan Bode, and I am one of the lucky senior Political Science majors visiting Florence over Spring Break. With Comprehensive Exams behind us, the seniors (and lone junior) on the trip have appreciated the chance to get off of campus and explore the Tuscan city and countryside. Don’t let the gelato fool you though – it’s not all play and no work! I researched and prepared a short presentation to introduce our class to one of Florence’s most iconic pieces of architecture, the Florence Cathedral, or La Catedral de Santa Maria del Fiore. Like constructing the cathedral itself, giving a sufficient introduction to the gargantuan gothic church was no easy feat, and describing the austere power of such a space in a mere blog post will be all but impossible. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

BodeBlogSanta Maria del Fiore, completed in 1436, contains art and architectural influences from many of the great Medieval Italian artists such as Brunelleschi, di Cambio, and Giotto. The cathedral is located directly across from St. John’s Baptistery, and was one of the first construction projects in Florence designed in two distinct directions: not only anticipating how Santa Maria del Fiore would appear from the Baptistery, but also how the Baptistery would appear from the church. Because the church was funded publicly, rather than commissioned privately, it was to serve as a “church of the state” and a church of the people (aka “People-Tested, Machiavelli-Approved”). This dramatic change in architectural mentality is also reflected in the impressive façade of the Cathedral, formed to be viewed at many different angles and approaches, quite literally from many different walks of life.

Representative of the attempt at a public reclamation of the city’s greatness, the Cathedral dominates the city, particularly “la cupola” or “Il Duomo,” the massive brick dome sitting on top of the church. Decorated on the inside by Vasari’s Last Judgment fresco, the dome rises 376 feet and offers a breathtaking view of the city. As Wallies, we were not content to see Florence from ground level, and climbed the 463 cramped, spiraling steps to the top, ducking through stone tunnels and shoulder-width passages. Considering an accompanying senior, Marcus Kammrath, measures 6-foot-8, this was actually a serious task. Whenever the foot traffic to the top would momentarily jam, we would entertain ourselves by reading the many languages of graffiti scrawled in Sharpie around the “Do Not Write On the Wall” signs. After what seemed like hours on an endless StairMaster from Dante’s Inferno, we finally completed our hike; we were not disappointed. The panoramic view of the clay rooftops, the bells ringing in Giotto’s bell tower, and the infernal squawking uccelli were entirely worth it, and resulted in a high point of the trip (no pun intended) – although I think our legs will certainly be sore for the next month. With a few more days left in Italy, I don’t think it’s necessarily downhill from there – but the trip to the Duomo will be hard to beat.

Happy travels, Wabash!

Class Visits Machiavelli’s Private Villa

Josh Bleisch ‘16 – Today has been the best in Florence yet! We began the day by sleeping in (relatively speaking) and having a nice breakfast in the hotel. After catching up with everyone and recounting details from the day before, we walked around the corner to catch the bus to Sant’Andrea. Sant’Andrea is a tiny town in the hills of Tuscany where Machiavelli spent his exile from Florence. It is a huge understatement to say that this place was beautiful, and photos simply don’t do it justice.

Machiavelli-villa1

Prof. Hoerl talking with students before entering Machiavelli’s villa.

We walked around Sant’Andrea admiring the landscape for a couple minutes before our tour guide walked out. She showed us throughout Machiavelli’s family villa, explaining both what life would’ve been like back then, as well as how the villa has functioned in more recent years. Throughout this trip, we have walked around the same spaces that some of the world’s most important artists and writers occupied hundreds of years ago, but this experience was different. We were the only people there, and it was so easy to imagine Machiavelli sitting at his desk by the fireplace in a dark room writing The Prince—all the while thinking about how wounded and embarrassed he was to be exiled from his beloved Florence, which was still visible at the bottom of the valley outside his window.

We followed up the tour by having a massive and incredibly delicious lunch at the restaurant that is now part of the villa property. We ate many traditional Tuscan dishes including the much talked about bistecca alla Fiorentina. We all came away from that meal stuffed and satisfied. Needless to say, this day trip put a lot of what we’ve learned into perspective for me and for the rest of the group. Not only did we get to see some amazing scenery, we were able to learn and see what life was like for Machiavelli while he was authoring one of the most important texts in western political thought. We also got a great taste of Tuscan culture by dining and visiting a location that isn’t (at least constantly) inundated with foreign tourists.

 

Tyler Munjas ‘16 – As we returned from watching the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo, which sits above the city and provides a breathtaking view of Florence, I was reminded of how fortunate I was to have the opportunity of traveling to the city for spring break. Having focused on how the architecture of early 13th, 14th, and 15th century Florence influenced political thought and vice versa, the only true way to understand our studies was to experience first-hand the art and architecture of the city.

The desk where Machiavelli wrote "The Prince."

The desk where Machiavelli wrote “The Prince.”

Contrasting the private palaces of prominent families such as the Medici and Pitti, to the public spaces of the Duomo cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio, and Piazza del Signioria, it makes understanding the literature we read prior to the trip far more relatable. Luckily, Dr. Hoerl and Dr. Lamberton both have extensive knowledge on the subject and Florence itself, so at each stop we have made, they have provided us with great detail on what to examine and how to observe these spaces in a way that coincides with our class, specifically Machiavelli’s political theory.

Along with the coursework, though, we have also been immersed in authentic Italian food, supplementary artwork (the original David being the most impressive), and of course Florentine night life. Simply walking around the city and finding local and tourist favorite spots after each day of work has provided us with some unforgettable memories.

In addition to Florence, we spent today touring Villa Machiavelli in Sant’Andrea where he spent two years after a brief exile from Florence. We studied how after his exile he became much more pessimistic, which became much more clear today when we saw how his Villa from atop the mountain overlooked the very city that he loved, but rejected him. Our eccentric Italian tour guide took us from room to room, showing us the spot where he wrote his most famous work, The Prince. Additionally, we will spend tomorrow in Sienna touring the Palazzo Publico and Duomo of Sienna. All in all, this week abroad has been an opportunity of which I am grateful to have taken part. Though the week flew by and we saw so many important and enticing things, there is still so much more to experience. Hopefully, I will have the chance to do that at some point later on in my life.

Florence ‘Astonishing, Breathtaking”

The ceiling in the Florence Baptistry.

The ceiling in the Florence Baptistry.

Blair Littrell ’17Today I gave my presentation on the Baptistery of St. John and how important it was in our study of Machiavelli. After researching for several weeks about its artwork, structure, and relation to the city’s cathedral, I was blown back by how amazing and intricate the artwork was inside the Baptistery. The detail and the magnificence of the mosaic of Christ in Judgment was amazing, and the fact that it was in such great condition added to its shock factor. Although I’ve seen several pictures of the building and the mosaic inside from my research, pictures simply just couldn’t do it justice.

When we’re reading Machiavelli’s works in class, we hear about how the various noble families, the powerful guilds, and the various religious orders were able to exert their influence over the city of Florence, but reading about this political dynamic of the city just isn’t enough. Seeing Lorenzo Ghiberti’s famed “Gates of Paradise” and the Franciscan mosaic of Christ in Judgment in person was not only astonishing and breathtaking, but it also helped deepen my understanding of Florentine government and why it is that Machiavelli would have thought about politics in the way he did.

Celebrating the Past

A small stand in the Oyotunji village.

Gabriel Njimu Murei ’18- One of my favorite things about this immersion trip is when our class visited the Oluntaji/Oyotunji Kingdom. As we entered into the suburban village, we were greeted with a hospitality like no other. This included a complementary tour of the entire village and more importantly the religious shrines. These shrines contained artifacts and gifts to the orisha gods who set the guidelines and  of this upon this small society. After the tour was over we had a chance to socialize with the King. The King narrated on the purpose and motivation of the existence of the village. He stated that African Americans are portrayed as people who have no culture to value and be proud of. We are people who have no gods and our beliefs are based on the influence of the transatlantic slave trade. Therefore, the village promote and implement African traditions that were apparent before the trafficking of African Americans to the Americans. These traditions include respecting nature because everything is interconnected. Our past Ancestors layed down the thread work for the past, present, and future.

Robben Island Reflections

A group shot atop Table Mountain.

A group shot at Robben Island.

Christian Rhodes ’17 – 18 years – that is how long Nelson Mandela was incarcerated at Robben Island. Robben Island is a 2sq mile island just off the coast of Cape Town where political prisoners and other violent offenders were housed from 1961 until 1996, when it was closed and the prisoners were transferred out. Three post apartheid presidents were housed on the Island in Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, and current president Jacob Zuma. The Museum that is now accessible by the Public is a sign of such oppression that it is hard to swallow as a tourist visiting South Africa for the first time. The mere fact that we had the ability to hear stories from a former prisoner is very telling as to how far the country has come in terms of healing, but he made sure to point out that the process is not complete, there is still healing to be done. His life for 27 years consisted of monotonous routines and constant threats of violence from the Guards. He was the most influential individual in the Revolution for equality in South Africa. He was classified as a political Prisoner and enemy of the state for speaking out against the Apartheid government. Mandela spent his afternoons in the quarries carving out limestone and moving large chunks for nothing more than cruel punishment. He was confined to a single cell that was minimalistic and bare. The most inspirational part of the entire situation was the fact that Mandela himself was still able to love and forgive the men who locked him up for 27 years. The south African apartheid was a dark time in history but moving forward, awareness and forgiveness are how the country is moving forward.

 

Day One – South Africa

Immanuel Mitchell Sodipe ‘1P10902098 – On Our first full day in Johannesburg, we were greeted by birds chirping, bright sun, and a bit of jet lag. Warm breakfast, hot coffee and an introduction to the happenings of the day. Our tour guide, Malefi, talked to us about how he became politicized at the age of 13. This day was marked deeply by contrast –contrast between black and white and poor and rich. We’d leave our guest house, in Melville, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg, and drive towards Soweto, the township from which Nelson Mandela is from and the township that was ground zero for the 1976 student rebellion. Melville is predominantly white. Soweto is predominantly Black. It’s as if the color of poverty in South Africa is black. We saw the World Cup stadium a beautiful structure in the shape of a traditional tribal drinking bowl built to house the world’s largest and most expensive soccer competition. Maelefi told us that this didn’t bring many jobs for Soweto residents. Fifa uses “volunteers.”We saw the township engineered to be pitted against the mining compounds deprived buildings covered up by new developments to hide the poverty.We passed by Shanti towns on our way to the Regina Mundi Church– hogs by the river that floods it when it rains too much. The Regina Mundi church was a place Black South Africans organized for liberation for when the police came in, they could convert the organizing meeting to a church service. In class we learned and read about apartheid –separation and subjugation based on race. In post-apartheid South Africa, we saw the poverty that is a product of the past and also sustains it. Malefi told us that as much as the constitution has been a blessing –the ZA constitution being the most liberal in the world — it doesn’t change lives. Which got me thinking about the United States in comparison with South Africa. For as much as things change, things often stay the same. In the United States, Jim Crow (the set of U.S laws meant to separate and subjugate based on race) was said to end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the remnants of it –mass incarceration, deprived Black communities, child poverty, and other forms of state violence — still exist and destroy families. Likewise Apartheid was said to be over in 1994, but the remnants still exist and destroy families – And that’s just that, families live in –people live in– these deprived communities. Families are affected by racist policies and divestment. We’ve learned to see this, I believe, to focus on this (the affect on families) in our analysis of texts and history. P1090291-1

Rhodes and Greene on Ndebele

Christian Rhodes ’17 – Njabule Ndebele is a very interesting author because he is distinctly different than most of the other authors that we have read this semester. Ndebele himself came from a very educated household, his father was a teacher and his mother was a nurse. We can read Test as somewhat autobiographical because the young boy’s parents were a teacher and a nurse. Ndebele was also a Zulu, so despite the fact that he came from an educated household, he still was in touch with his Zulu roots. Ndebele himself followed in his father footsteps of academia. He has a BA in English and philosophy, masters in English literature, and a doctorate in philosophy. He has worked at or with 13 different Universities and Colleges and has 11 different honorary doctorates from Universities around the world. To this day he remains a significant figure in the South African higher education system. In Ndebele’s story of Uncle we see the story of a boy and his uncle. His uncle was not a visible figure in the boy’s life for many years. The uncle then made a reappearance and became a very important figure in the boy’s life. I read the story as a coming of age story for the boy because he sees his first female body and explores sexuality. His uncle also teaches him about race, ethnicity, identity, and many more things that father figures would. Ndebele’s style of writing is more passive than political. He stated that he did not write his pieces as political, but from a reader point of view, I think that it can be read as such. The intentional approach of not political makes me read more into what is not being said, rather than what is explicitly written. The fact that there is a lack of strong prevalent white oppressors is interesting because it is almost as if Ndebele is making a point about the struggle of growing up and living through apartheid in a unique way.

Zach Greene ’16 – In Njabulo Ndebele’s Fools and Other Stories, there are great metaphors used in the story “Uncle” to describe the changes in civilization over time. The Uncle in the story is visiting his nephew for a short time. In his desire to be a good Uncle, he decides to impart a bit of wisdom to his nephew. He describes the destructive force of volcanoes and how they are able to make large-scale change. The Uncle then goes on to explain how the history of people is made up by brief, but significant change. This metaphor leads the nephew to have an interesting and highly symbolic dream. Within the nephew’s dream, a sky full of planes appears over his township while everyone stands still in the streets. This first section of his dream appears to be symbolizing how the world seems to be flying by South Africa while there is great inequality. The outside world has no care about what is going on there and thus, South Africa does not change and the people are not moving. However, there is the point where the volcano erupts, or the great significant change in society happens. In the second portion of the dream, the nephew and the members of the township begin running around the township with no regard for where they are going. This could perhaps be a nod to the displacement of non-combatants during civil war and political instability.

Cramer and Campbell on Literature

Ben Cramer ’17 – From the daemon in The Golden Compass to the patronus in Harry Potter, the animal familiar is a common trope in children’s literature, so though Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City could hardly be considered suitable for kids, I was prepared for the story’s universe to follow similar rules. Typically, the animal companion is the embodiment of some essential element of one’s personality and in some way informs characterization. However I was thrown for a loop by some of the animal pairings. They’re not very consistent with textual personality traits. There’s something to be said for a disaffected film student becoming an Afghan warlord and getting, incongruously, a penguin, though Odi Huron has an apex predator while being the Big Bad at the end of the novel. Most troubling for me actually is Zinzi’s Sloth. Time and again we see she’s one of the hardest working characters in the novel, so a sloth really does not make sense. On a meta level, Zoo City is not a children’s book, so such simplistic approaches to character personalities would be a bit insulting to the reader. However, I’m also not content to read this as though the animals are arbitrary or random, and having only half or some of the animals mean something is lazy in a way that Lauren Beukes is not.

 

Ty Campbell ’16 – “Uncle,” a short story compiled within Njabulo Ndebele’s Fools: And Other Stories, describes a visit made by the main character’s maternal uncle. The uncle is a popular musician whom attracts attention of the village in which he is visiting. His musical ability can be viewed by the reader as being a unifying symbol of the oppressed while also being a symbol of colonial resentment. Through the introduction of the uncle, the reader is able to conceptualize a unifying factor of the South African anti-apartheid movement: music. Lightly during the short story, jabs and remarks made by characters tell the story of the oppressive nature of white rule and dominance in South Africa. The uncle, who is an active traveler, makes comments about the large control the State has on the village in which his sister and nephew live. As stated by the uncle, “…this being a small place, you can feel the foul breath of those stupid Boers going down your neck much more than you can in a big place like Jo’burg” (Ndebele 79). The uncle is likely referring to the strong police presence in the small town that enforces white culture upon the predominantly black African residents. Also, within a flashback to the main characters prior memories with his uncle, he remembers interactions his uncle would have with local men. In a conversation with the men about the news, the main character remembers, “They would reading the Golden City Post of the Sunday Times. After greeting, Uncle would say: ‘So what does the white man say today?’ ‘The usual thing,’ they would say. ‘So why keep on reading?’ ‘To make myself angrier and angrier!’” (Ndebele 71). The passage processes humor but is meant to be critical of the relationship between the whites reporting the news and the black Africans reading the media. Ndebele adds these types of scenes within the short story to set up the significance of Uncle’s character.  Self-expression and resentment to the oppressive white culture is a significant aspect of black South African rebellion to colonial rule. In the videos we have seen in class, music and dance were ways in which black Africans were able to resist cultural oppression while maintaining their native practices. In a description given by brother Mandla about Uncle, “this is how you are when you play the trumpet. When you play you are exaggerated. You are bigger than what you normally are because you have become all those who are listening to you” (Ndebele 78). The description is a great way of explaining how music is used as a unifying symbol, the music and movement is bigger than any one individual. At the end of the story, the villagers and come together outside the main characters’ home and collectively celebrate the expression of their culture. Uncle’s musical ability is a great example of the black South African unifying symbol of music.

Campbell and Artis on Biko

Ty Campbell ’16 – One of the topics that interested me the most from Biko’s I Write What I Like is the concept of Black Consciousness. The term is one that I’ve only recently heard of through my senior seminar class, focusing on The Black Arts Movement. In our class focusing on BAM, Black Consciousness and the Movement are forms of expression and self-identity within the United States. Although sharing many similar ideals, Black Consciousness in South African has a slightly different meaning and goal. Martin Delaney is credited with the beginning of Black Consciousness in the United States. Delaney promoted, “…the view that black people’s appreciation of blackness was a key dimension of their eventual liberation” (Biko ix). Later, W.E.B. Du Bois is credited with further promotion of Black Consciousness concepts in the United States. However, in South Africa, after Apartheid, Black Consciousness focused more on political awareness. As stated by Dr. Marshall during one of our classes, “Black Consciousness language incorporates political based terminology, especially in South Africa.” With Black Consciousness starting as an organized movement in South African during the mid 1960s, this would explain why Biko references several different political topics in I Write What I Like.

Ian Artis ’16 – Before this class, I had never read any South African literature. I had hardly read anything from African authors, let alone ones from this particular part of the continent. I read very little related to apartheid, racial consciousness, or government sanctioned racism. Going into this class, I was tremendously excited to see what would unfold in my study of this literature. Certain themes have presented themselves, one being the collective consciousness and self-perception of the oppressed. This theme is discussed in Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, and is called black consciousness. From the reading: “In essence, Biko’s black consciousness was “an attitude of mind and a way of life” (91). It was a new way in which a black person, previously with low self-esteem, began to look at him or herself.” I found this idea pretty interesting, since in the novels we’ve been reading, the perception of self plays quite a central role. In You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, the main character is constantly evaluating herself, critiquing herself, and defining herself according to her skin color and shade (which happens to be light, giving her a sense of comfort and ease of access in obtaining an abortion). Black consciousness sought to elevate the profile of blacks and heighten the black experience by changing the attitudes and self-perceptions of blacks. This idea was also the precursor to the black power movement, which instilled blackness as a point of pride rather than shame. As the readings continue, I’m looking forward to reading more about this idea and how it affects the characters in the novels.

The Village of Cooperstown: Baseball with a View

By Kevin O’Donnell

The city of Cooperstown is a lot different than one might expect when they first hear that the Baseball Hall of Fame is there. I always expected it to be a large, lively town that had so much to do for all ages. But to my surprise, it was a small, quaint town that looked as if it were just any other town in the United States. The only thing that sets this small town apart, besides the Hall of Fame, is the abundance of baseball memorabilia shops on the main street of the town (which is indeed called Main Street). These shops lead you to the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, the memorabilia shops aren’t the only signature of this town; the town also has an unbelievable view.

The town itself sits up on a hill that overlooks beautiful Lake Otsego. Not only does it look over this beautiful lake, but it also is surrounded by the tree-lined hills of upstate New York. This is most prominent during the fall when you see the changing colors of each tree. This beautiful town is a tremendous place to have such an amazing spectacle for America’s greatest pastime.

O'Donnell Lake


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