Italy and Oxford- Summer 2015


Roma is magic. Today we made it to Rome! It really didn’t hit until Jesse, Bond, and I were sitting next to the Coliseum watching the sun set behind the statue of Apollo the god of the sun. It was spectacular. We had a crazy adventure with a cab driver who showed us the lesser known parts of Roma and obviously had a deep love for the eternal city. Tomorrow we meet up with the rest of the group, but I am already in love with Italia. So the cab drive story. To get to Roma we had to pay a cab driver 100 E which was sketchy because he had to come pick us up in the same place. Being good Oklahomans we obliged and gave our Italian driver the cash. After an amazing day of getting lost as well as gellato, we arrived back at the designated spot at 10 pm (22 ore).  Instead of being picked up by the same guy, a new guy in a new car comes running out with a smile shouting Bond’s name. He says the other guy was off for the night, but that we should go with him, so we did. Being a little creeped out I asked him that I wanted to learn more Italian, but I think that he thought I said we wanted to see more of Italy. Anyways he smiles and says I have a big surprise for you. We all look at each other a little suspiciously, but we keep quiet. We go down this small ally to a big door surrounded by ruins with people in front of it. He instructs us to get out of the car, and says to look through the keyhole. We wearily look through the keyhole and see the most spectacular view of the Vatican. He called the building the people’s building, and that the richest men in Rome built it for the people. We then get back in the car and drive back to the hotel, talking about 80’s rock the whole way, besides Jesse who was passed out from the day’s excitement. It was a wild and crazy ride, but one of the best memories I think I’ll ever have.


I WILL learn Italian. Today we met up with PLC at the Roma airport, and everyone is exhausted. Having that first day to adjust was amazing because everyone looks like zombies stumbling off the plan plus, of course, we were able to look around Roma. The bus ride to Arezzo was long, and besides a quick brake to let Noah relieve himself, uneventful. Even so, it was a great time , and I always love hanging out with everyone.

Once at hotel Vouge, a 4 star amazing hotel in the middle of the city near Piazza Monaco. Kirk Duclaux, the OU in Arezzo president, (the legend himself) gave us a quick history of the city, but his wife, Charlotte Duclaux, gave us a tour of the entire city. We saw the ancient Roman forum where the Renaissance family of the Medici created a beautiful statue in their honor. The hill side though was the real spectacle. Miles of mountainous terrain that was dotted with houses and vineyards and olive trees created a storybook before our eyes. We then walked around the city a little more, but because of exhaustion most people took a nap. Being slightly more adjusted, I was able to stay awake and go try my first experience of real Italian red wine, vino rosso. It was amazing to my uneducated pallet, but the free happy hour appetizers were nearly as amazing. We met back up with the group for a dinner of epic proportions but small portions. I had pasta and meat sauce, but the winner of the night was the pesto. It is interesting to see how they flavor their food because they focus on the spices instead of the salt and sugar in the sauces. After dinner we got our first taste of the local gelatto, but hit the hay pretty quick after that. Roma is magic, but Arezzo is just as amazing.


First day of class. I got up early to get my day going, and had breakfast with the crazy runner girls.  Their breakfast is interesting because they eat a little, and then have a second breakfast later.  A little expensive for me, but definitely cool. The prices here are actually less than in America for the amount you get. My expresso was a Euro instead of the $3 or $4 in the States. Orientation was pretty straightforward with Charlotte and Kirk adding a fun little pickpocketing skit. After that we all went wandering around to little cafes to have a little lunch before the next class.

At 2:00 (14) we started class. Kirk began with a beautiful interactive lecture over what art is which I personally loved. The idea that art can be universal as well as personal at the same time is something that I have thought about for a long time, but had struggled to put into words. The classroom was filled with hot air and the beautiful sounds of the music school next door which only set the mood of wonder even more.  Kirk attacked us with provocative questions about what we thought art was, and would never accept any answer fully. From the chaos I was able to understand that art is communication. What the artist is trying to communicate was the important part. We learned the styles of artists from expression of self the propaganda, but they all are trying to communicate something. I don’t know if it is the jet lag or what, but I feel like  my ability to critically think has been impaired so far on the trip. I had taken a poetry class last semester, and so I have a basic understanding of what art should be because of its proximity to poetry, but there is a disconnect. The best way to describe it is that I feel fuzzy. Anyways the class provoked a lot of ideas, and all I want now is an hour to talk to Kirk about them in a less chaotic environment.

Dean Ray was up next. I have always been interested in what Dean Ray had to say about things because of his talk on education reform I listened to my first semester, so it was an honor to finally have him as a direct teacher. The class was set up less as a lecture and more as a discussion which was much more inviting than the first lecture; however, each style perfectly captured the teacher’s personality. Dean Ray systematically broke down everything we needed to know, and opened the floor up to debate which is my favorite part of any class. The good and bad Italies that we talked about were not too dissimilar to the good and bad United States which was interesting to see. Both are self serving and in deep finical stress, but they set their systems up completely differently. Besides that the introduction was very informative, and I cannot wait to see how the discussion will continue tomorrow.


Caritas and Piero delou Francesca.  Today we were talked to by Luco from an international Catholic organization called Caritas that provides relief all over the world. Luco described a non-convertive organization that was different than those that are so popular in America. In Caritas the main focus is to improve not only the lives of these people, but to help them help themselves which is monumental for Americans to hear. I, as well as many of my cohorts, have grown up with the American hero that swoops into Africa and disaster areas to provide them with things, with materials, but this perspective showed me that we just leave afterwards. There is no emphasis on development. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. We are sadly stuck on giving the world their fish, and I think it is because we like being the only fishermen. Getting away from that analogy America truly does like to be in charge of how things work. Think of what they are teaching us to be like in school. I have heard “what is the outline for the blogs” a hundred times because we are being broken into being obedient. At the risk of sounding angsty I fear that a lot of PLCers see being a leader as being in charge of a situation which is why I love to see the perspective of Luco. We need to be directed away from the world’s hero and understand that we need to be part of the world, not over it. Caritas does a great job of this by being that teacher as well as a provider for all of these different migrants entering their country. Some facts that I found fascinating after the lecture while talking to Dean Ray were that Italy has a 36% rate of unemployment for young people with Spain and Greece at 50% while the US has an unemployment crisis of 12%. That is perspective.

We took a five minute break only to come back to Dean Ray’s wonderful discussion. He started the debate off by addressing how the US is dealing with their immigration policy in relation to Italy. In Italy they have grown from 1% migrant to 7 % migrant in 25 years (1990-present), which is unprecedented, but they have not been preventing people to come until recently. What sparked the debate was Hank being on the empathetic side claiming that America had to moral obligation to let these people in while Parker took the other extreme of thinking of Americans first. My position  is that there needs to be a balance. As discussed yesterday the way that the US is set up we naturally polarize which only causes a pull away from any moderate thinking. We discussed an idea that we need to try a different approach to all or nothing by trying the Caritas way of helping others, help them help themselves. Sadly we ran out of time to debate further, but tomorrow I’m sure we will continue.

At lunch we found our new local spot. The name was Virtuoso Madre (maybe) and we all fell in love. Everything was natural, the people were more than friendly, and the wine was fantastic. Bond, Zach, Courtney, Brooke, Abby, Maggie, and I all hung out there and another shop near by called Zara’s for an hour or so before going to Kirk’s next lecture.

Piazza San Francesco is probably the most frequented piazza in all of Arezzo for us PLC people, but this time we were able to see another side of the jewel of Arezzo. By chance we stumbled upon a woman named Sandra who thought she was our tour guide, but turned out to be another guide for another program. I mention her because I was able to learn a little Italian, my main goal while in Italy. I learned good luck is In bocca a Lope which means in the mouth of a wolf. The proper response is crepi which means that the wolf dies. Very odd but very cool. Kirk then took us all into the church and it was awe inspiring. The vaulted ceiling as well as the beautiful murals brought back feelings of wonder before God. We learned that the artist Piero delou Francesca painted the church in the Renaissance (1452-1466) as a Franciscan fryer. Kirk passionately exclaimed that the monks were war hungry who also believed in humility and being poor to reflect the life of Jesus. The most exciting part of the pre-church lecture was the Golden Legend or the Lives of the Saints that have many different stories about that bible that weren’t actually in the original text. The art in the church told the story of finding and proving the true cross. Back to entering the church we walked past the tombs of the wealthy laymen to the Baci chapel. There Kirk animated the warn out walls into an elaborate story of finding and proving the cross from its conception on Adam’s grave to Saint Helena’s miracle, proving its credibility. He then said that all of that was great, but not what was so spectacular. The fact that laymen, workers even, were being shown in this sacred place was a huge shift away from the universalism of the past to the individualism of the Renaissance. Being alive in the most individualistic time in history besides maybe the 70’s, I have never known what it was like to not feel like an individual that matters and is autonomous in my actions, but this allowed me to feel a little of what they felt everyday. An isolation and confusion that was almost washed away by seeing miracle happen to Joe Normal. It was spectacular!


Today we went to Rondine. This is a small international town designed to put citizens from conflicting countries in a setting where they can get to know the person behind the flag. There were 30 kids from every major conflict area such as Israeli and Palestinian and Russians and Chechens. It was interesting to see these college kids looking to change the world in a very minimalistic and isolated way. They were not like the other groups we met with because they did not really have a fire underneath them. They knew what they wanted to do and why, but there was a sense of tiredness in their eyes. They have been fighting the good fight with no real return. I admire their persistence and I hope they continue to flourish.

The person I became closer to was an Israeli named Raz. It was actually his last day in Rondine, and you could tell. He was more straight forward than the others because he had nothing to lose, and he spoke his mind which I respected. The most interesting part of our conversation was his willingness to point out our flaws. A person who speaks two languages is a bilingual and a person that speaks one is American. He was blunt and brash, but it was nice to see that persecutive of how the world really views us.

Later in the day we went to a winery in the country side. It was a movie. The vines were perfectly green and the wine maker was passionate about his pure, organic product. The best part though was being able to just sit with everyone and laugh over amazing pieces of art. We learned how to check for clarity and Clark outshined all of us by guessing what was in the wine. The class and art is spectacular, but the memories with everyone are the true treasures.


Today we learned about water. Ok maybe a little more than that. In Arezzo there is a problem with a private French company controlling their water supply. This is extremely important because the Arno river starts in Arezzo, and so the water of Florence and Pisa is affected by this as well. These dedicated individuals were so successful they were able to get to Rome for a national vote to take the water back and actually won with a 97% agreement. The only problem is that the law was simply not followed. I believe that this is the bigger problem than the specific water crisis. The obvious corruption of the government is rampant, and these activists have to pick themselves off and try again another way. The leader of the organization, Comitato Acqua Pubblica, is actually running for mayor of Arezzo to try and finally fix this problem of corruption that is so deeply seeded in the Italian political system.

After the presentation Dean Ray presented us with three questions to think about in response to this constant failure of the public sphere.

1. What level of government should activists try to attack?

2. Why do companies control representative governments?

3. Who should provide public goods such as water and sewage?

These questions are just as important in America as they are in Italy because of how we set up our own system. In America the trend is to privatize while the Italians prefer publicizing their communities to get rid of the variable of profit. I believe that their needs to be a good balance between the two. Without a drive to excel and compete there would be very little progress, but without a public sphere there is a power shift to the companies favor.


Today we went to Stia. This small town north of Arezzo was picturesque in every sense of the word. It was a cloudy, rainy day, and Clark organized a hike for us. We ended up having a more urban hike through small villages, but it was just as spectacular. The higher we climbed the more we saw of the beautiful Italian countryside. This was probably my favorite day just because I was finally able to just talk and get to know a lot of people I do not normally talk to in a group of 14 instead of 54.


Today we went to Cortona. This city is located on a hill above a valley west of Arezzo (I think). It was a little bit of a tourist trap, but it really did a lot of people well. I was part of the group that made it to the top of the hill while a lot of other people simply shopped. We were able to let our guard down a little and let our American show. People got ice in their drinks, and were able to talk English to the store owners. I would not like to live their during the semester, but it was nice to be a little more comfortable after being thrown into a new culture.


Florence. One of the most spectacular places I have heard about with the Duomo, the David, and a rich culture run by the Medici. I loved the history and the ideas of the past, but there were way too many people to handle. I felt, looked, and probably smelled like a typical American tourist, and I did not really like it. Back to the art though

Kirk kicked off the day for me on the train ride over where I learned a little more about the history of Florence and its connection to Arezzo.  How Arezzo was controlled by the Medici like most of Tuscany, but with a rebellious kick to them. In Florence we emerged from the train station to be slapped with the awesome history that was anything but hidden from view. The Duomo took up a good chunk of sky while other churches spread out around it. In proper style we began our tour by traveling back in time to the age of Michelangelo where if you didn’t know where you were it meant you weren’t supposed to be there. The city was split into these ruling families that dominated neighborhoods autonomously until guilds united the cities for the sake of profit. It is almost beautiful to be able to see the natural evolution of the society from segmented to a a fragile collection of powers. This whole class has been watching the evolution of the Rebirth, but the be able to see how things are physically built on each other is spectacular. The most interesting part of Kirk’s tour was when we saw the side of a church where three statues capture the medieval, early Renaissance, and later Renaissance. The first was built into the wall, very flat with little expression. It was actually a madonna and child like every other piece of medieval art we have seen. Very universal and almost dull. The next piece was a little more open and contrposto, looked more natural. Finally the last piece became a person, an average Joe as Kirk said. It brought this character that was on high down to the normal people where they could relate to it. This is what I believe makes Renaissance art so important. In the middle ages the goal was to paint a universal expression of what was ideal while the Renaissance focused on the individualistic aspect of the art. In a way what they wanted to convey was the opposite of what it actually did. By being individualistic the art could be anyone, universal, while the universal pieces where disconnected and more reflective of what the character was as an individual. That is why I believe this time period is so important even today. We are able to individually relate to this individual universally.


Back to Florence. After a day to understand the layout of the city, it was better. Still way to crowded though. I was finally able to try a more local spot, but it was also very touristy. My favorite social aspect was finding a beautiful guitar that I was able to play. It sounds simple, but being able to play the same songs on this guitar in Italy as mine in America helped me make a connection. Now for the art.

Again Kirk started us out by a church review the three main evolutions of the sculptures again in preparation for the David. The statue was of St. George before he slays the dragon. At first glance it looks like just another statue, but the story behind it says so much more than I imagined. Because it was made of stone, it was built by the stonemasons guild, because it was not attached to the wall, it was Renaissance, because he has a worried look on his face, he is able to evoke a dialog about what he was thinking. The world was getting smaller because the person looking at the art was finally included in the process. You are part of the story for the first time in history, which we take for granted today. Once we did arrive at the mythical David, we saw the same features as St. George earlier in the day. The universal quality of individualism is taking place. We are able to understand the fear in David’s eyes, the anatomy makes him look natural but commanding, and the sheer size of the sculpture speaks to its importance. All of what I have talked about revolves around three main themes of: classicism, individualism, and the rise of the vernacular. Basically the revival of Roman ideals that are becoming more popular allows the people to relate directly to these characters instead of mindlessly looking at an “ideal.” The responsibility of art goes from the things being sculpted or painted, and shifts to the people receiving the art.

One artist that we focused on was Michelangelo. A “smug bastard” as he is sometimes described, he changed the way art as well as the artist was viewed by society. The artist became an individual as the paintings conveyed. He was in charge of the direction, and as a result he was able to do what he wanted to accomplish. This freedom was unheard of in the middle ages which is shown when we hear “the master of a church” instead of an artist’s name. His example also opened the flood gates to what artists could do creatively. Without his almost selfish intentions, art would not have been able to progress the way we know it today.


Today was our last day in Arezzo. To finish our time Kirk took us around to all the different Franciscan and Dominican churches. He explained that the Franciscans were the fire and brim stone churches while the Dominicans were more of a scholarly order. After the tour we had our last class with Dean Ray. Here we went into more depth about the similarities and differences of Italy and America. I found it interesting that the Italians view the American system of government as the best way to get things done while Americans cannot stand the grid lock it creates. The best part of the day though was the BBQ at Kirk’s house. It was by far the best bonding time we had as a group and you could really feel how we created a family.


Today we said goodbye to Arezzo and hello to Siena. Even so I will always have a home in Arezzo.  In Siena we saw a few pieces in a museum, but the true beauty was the Cathedral. This beautiful building was unlike anything we had seen before. It had tile frescos on the floor depicting amazing battle scenes that the Fransicans were known for, but the real eye catchers were the cherubs and music books. In the main space as well as a side alter there were cherubs looking down from the lantern as if from heaven which I had not seen before anywhere in Italy. The next spectacle were the music books. These man sized books took up an entire room, and showcased Guido Monaco’s notation (Go Fam!). Everything about that church was amazing from the stripes that tapered off on the walls to make it look taller than it really was to the grandiose clock at the back. We then set off for Roma!!


Today I got to be back in Roma. Kirk gave us a tour of the city stopping at some less traveled spots including a church that he wanted to be married in. We learned that these churches and plazas became places to celebrate life in a society that was wrecked by death and war. We then walked to the Coliseum. This time we were able to actually go into the marvel, and it was just that. We learned that mass is held in this old pagan palace which made me curious to what the relic of the Coliseum is. After a lot of pictures we walked over to the ancient forum, the center of the empire. It was humbling to see the center of the magnificent Roman Empire that stretched farther than any other Empire in history reduced to ruble. We walked by the spot where Caesar was rumored to have been murdered and created his famous salad. Still my favorite spot in Roma is next to the cat sanctuary. It is an insignificant pile of ruins next to a new apartment building, but what makes it so remarkable is what its not. Everyday real Romans walk by this like we walk past Dale in Norman. This is the place that it clicked for me that the Rome of the past and the Rome of today is the same thing. Being from the new world I can only just begin to understand how old the world is, and who all has been in it.

Later that day we talked with the anti-mafia group Libera. This was not my favorite group just because we were all tired from our hike around Rome as well as a pretty hefty language barrier. I always feel bad not knowing Italian just because we are in their home and they are accommodating us when we do not return the favor.


Today we went to the Vatican. All I can say is that it is indescribable. We were herded like cattle through some of the greatest art and buildings in the entire world. Luckily we had Kirk, but I’ll leave that alone. He gave us such great insight into the school of Athens and the Sistine Chapel, but as always we were able to travel the less beaten path and see great works by Caravaggio who appealed more to the vernacular and used a spotlight style more than his counterparts. Probably my favorite painting in the Vatican is The School of Athens. It is the greatest combination of the greatest minds up until that point in human history. I wonder what a modern School of Athens would look like? Then St. Peter’s Basilica. My favorite sculpture of La Pieta is there which was amazing to see. To be at the center of Christianity was an incredibly humbling experience. This whole trip has knocked me down a few pegs from my American centralism. After an exhausting ride we popped out into Roma and quickly relocated to the Bone Church. This was definitely different than the Vatican with the darker side of Christianity taking the for front. The bones were arranged in an ornate fashion that was creepy but beautiful. Once again Roma is showing her magic.


Today I saw a Holy Roman Mass. Just like everything else we have seen it was big and spectacular. We saw Pope Francis, we think, give mass to the entire Catholic world just like every pope before him. This tradition is something I always admired about the Catholic church. You are part of this community that stretches generations and around the world simply by what is said on the same day every year. After mass we began our adventure to the Catacombs. I would just like to start by saying Clark Stroud is a hero for getting all of us there and back in one piece AND paying for our admission!!!! Everything I know about traveling I learned from him. Anyways we got to walk along Via Appia, the most important Roman road in Italy, and Clark made friends with some random Germans while we waited in line. The Catacombs were a thing of beauty. The whole time there was not a feeling of death but of remembrance instead. I wanted a lantern that was in the gift shop but it would have definitely broken. That night we had our last family dinner which was bitter sweet. I love my Italian Family, and the friendships I have made I know will last a lifetime.


Today we walked through the Jewish Ghetto. Kirk explained that even though Italians did give up Jews to the Nazis there was a strong tie to the community that prevented many residents from giving up their neighbors. The stubborn Italians used their powers for good! I do have to say everyone reading this has to have a Jewish style artichoke before they die. We also walked past an arena that the Coliseum was modeled after and learned that people lived above it. Romans and their cannibalistic architecture. After a 2 hour walk we finally made it to Greenpeace where we learned about the environmental side of activism that was really strong in Italy because of the Mediterranean region. I liked how organized they were in comparison to Libera. The rest of the day I was navigator and translator for Burkely, Sarah, and Anthony. The mall was not up the street and Double ganger was not down the next road. It was frustrating but a great memory.


LAST DAY IN ROMA. Today we met with the fabled 5 star movement. This is Lucio’s party and they did not dissapoint. They were professional and talked tough. You could see their passion for change and their drive to get their message across. I appreciated the groups aim on destroying corruption in the government, and I hope for Italy’s sake they succeed. Then the farewell dinner. Oh my goodness this was the funnest night in Roma easily. We had a singer and piano player who let us all have a blast while waiting for a great meal. We got Kirk and Dean Ray to give speeches, but more importantly we all were able to relax and have fun with each other. Italy has changed my outlook in so many ways and I cannot wait to start the next journey around the other countries in Europe. Ciao for now!!


5 thoughts on “Italy and Oxford- Summer 2015”

    1. I have once again read your up date and find it outstanding and am reliving my times in Italy, with all its wonders. May you continue to be inspired in finding about the wonders of the world.
      My love,

  1. You are soaking all the great aspects of life , Italy, your professors and , for me, the florence art/ David. I have a wonderful book re. Machiavelli and artist of David and Medici family support You are to be admired for your perception and attention to aspects often lost to Americans !

  2. Had I not already visited the wonderful places you describe so vividly I would certainly plan a trip there. You enthusiasm and love for Italy is contagious! May you love the next leg of your journey as much!
    Love you! Ciao!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *