Human empathy is a complex web of raw emotion and pure connection…it is the life of our lives. When ignorance and greed give me fear, empathy gives me hope. To empathy…
I started the morning helping Trine prepare pumpkin pies at our place before heading to Gevninge in the early afternoon to help Ava prepare food. Actually, most of the work was already done, but we hung out and played cards while we waited for the turkey to cook. Kaitlyn and Jessica didn’t arrive until late as they traveled to Sweden that morning. They made up for being late though by entertaining us with a little gangster dancing (that’s what they called it anyway). By the time everyone finally arrived and we sat down to dinner our appetites were alive!
The food was spectacular: turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes covered in a syrup, butter, nut sauce, salad, fried onions, and breads. The drinks were equally luscious: an assortment of champagnes, bodied reds, and a chardonnay. Forks dug and knives scraped, and the sounds of conversation were drowned in the void of silence. Not an awkward silence, but a Thanksgiving silence. The Thanksgiving silence.
Hours later, stomachs expanded beyond normal capacity, we continue feeding, now on the excitement of stories. We exchange tales, finding comfort in our mutual humanity. France, Denmark, the States…all just homes in a global community. Stories span time and space, universal connectors amid a fractured world. This tradition is not Danish, nor is it American. This is tradition of love and connection is a tradition of humanity, bound in the very social fabric of our beings.
And then, of course, there is dessert. Pumpkin pie and rice pudding…Mmmmm delicious! It is Danish tradition: whoever finds the whole almond in the pudding gets a prize. We eat until it is found, or until there is nothing left to eat. The true-hearted never relent, and the wicked hide their treasure. It is a battle of will, digestion, and over-indulgence. May the best man or woman win!
Thursday is normally a slow starting day…we sleep in a while, then throw the turkey in and alternate between cooking, cleaning, and lounging the morning away. By the time dinner is ready we have not really done much but prepare to eat! Sadly Thanksgiving is not a holiday here, so we still had class 😦 But the DIS Thanksgiving dinner was worth the lost day off.
Apparently Kaitlin invited all of DIS, but with Friday off and no family around it seems most students decided to travel. Better for us, because the dinner was a cozy affair with less than 15
people. We alone accounted for almost half, with myself, Kaitlyn, Lauren, Jessica (Kaitlyn’s friend studying in France), Ca, Leonard, and Simon dominating one corner. Joining us were several girls from DIS, Madi, and Kaitlin and her boyfriend. Kaitlin and Madi prepared an enormous amount of food and, together with what the guests brought, we couldn’t finish it all. I ended up with leftovers to bring home to the fam 🙂
The official turkey day was a blast. We ate and drank and laughed for hours. I taught everyone the importance of the ‘nap & lounge’ Thanksgiving technique, and Simon was quick to learn. He kept up his appetite all through dinner and even past dessert!
We went around the room and said our customary thanks, and everyone mentioned family, friends, and the opportunity to be in Copenhagen or host DIS students. I lamented the absence of my family, but I praised the belonging I’ve found with my new family and friends here in Denmark. They have truly made me feel at home!
The Christma slunch was an excellent festivity filled with wondrous food, warm people, and tons of entertainment. We pigged-out on traditional Danish goodness: Frikadeller (Danish meatballs), Risalamande (rice pudding), Flæskesteg (roast pork with crispy skin), Herring, and rye bread, as well as some not-so-traditional dishes like a cheese and spinach casserole(made especially for Lauren, of course). To top it all off we had chewy cookies, delicious brownies, and even some zucchini bread. Mmm good! I definitely ate too much, especially after a weekend of food with Denitsa, but it was so worth it!
We spent an afternoon at Versailles and it was largely what I expected: absolutely uncomprehendingly ridiculous, when taken in context. Many places in Europe are gaudy and ornate, but few can match the grandeur of the palace and the extravagance of the grounds. Moreover, taken in light of the fact that Louis XIV spent enough money on the palace to provide everyone in France with food while common workers spent over half their income on bread..yeah, it seems ridiculous. Elsewhere in Europe similar stories exist of extravagance in the face of poverty, but nowhere besides Versailles is it so well displayed.
Since the Louvre is free to the public on Friday nights we headed over after Versailles. By this point we were of course tired from the extensive traveling and long day at Versailles, but we needed to keep to a schedule since we were only really in Paris for two days. The Louvre…well it is overwhelmingly huge. There is no way to see everything…you could spend days in there if you only study a few pieces and glide over the rest. A full study..it would probably take years. Sadly, the Mona Lisa is quite the disappointment. after so much hype you would expect an astounding work, but its size, placement, protective glass, and usual crowd prevent it from being a good experience. I doubt it would even be that interesting without these distractions, as it is definitely not one of the most intriguing works of art I have ever seen.
Still, it was nice to say I’ve seen it! I would definitely like to return to the Louvre someday, although I would like to learn more about art and art history for doing so. Additionally, where the Italians provide no brochures the French expect everyone to read their language. Few works had descriptions in English, and I found myself wishing I could only understand more about some of my favorite pieces.
Saturday morning took us to Notre Dame, a truly beautiful cathedral in the heart of Paris. The gothic architecture is among some of the best I’ve seen so far, and it was great to finally see a cathedral that served as one of the central locales in my Humanities architectural studies. The towers immediately reminded me of that old Gargoyles cartoon I use to watch as a kid =P I also wondered how Quasimodo could possibly have fit in the bell tower, as the entrance doors were tiny! The inside is made entirely of wood as the marble could not have withstood the vibrations from the enormous bell…it would have cracked and eventually crumbled. Quick fact: most if the original bells were melted down and made into cannons after the French Revolution. However, the great bourbon bell Emmanuel, confiscated by the revolutionaries, was returned to the south tower will it still rings for important events. The remaining four bells were given to Notre Dame by Napolean III.
For whatever reason we decided to climb the Eiffel Tower in the same day as Notre Dame…so many stairs! The tower is honestly quite ugly, so I can see why the people of the originally intended location, Barcelona, rejected it. I bet you didn’t know about that! Anyways, it is ugly but the view from the top is gorgeous. We reached the top after dark, and saw a stunning panorama of the metropolis. Sadly the ascent was not as beautiful, as the French seem to think it works well to close all the ticket offices on the second level (where you must buy an additional lift ticket to reach the top). They open and close the offices in a cyclical pattern, so when they’re all closed you feel pretty confused. I bet they do it just to screw with us.
Sadly, I never asked for freedom fries. All the French people we met were actually quite nice, and since their art was a much-needed break from the zillion religious images of Italy’s renaissance collections. So I figured I wouldn’t be an American asshole.
|Yeah, we crossed this traffic pretty much right before rush hour began. Stupid? Yes.|
When we finally found Archi Rossi Hostel we were impressed with its quality. The room was acceptable, the bathroom clean and usable, and the outdoor terrace and garden stunning. Compared to Rome this place was heaven, and it was definitely the best hostel I’d been in so far. After a brief rest we headed to the leather market around San Lorenzo where we walked among hundreds of stalls selling purses, belts, scarves, jewelry, and all number of other trinkets. Sadly boots were in short supply, and the only cheap ones were not in my size. I looked throughout our stay in Florence but unless I was willing to pay upwards of $100 boots were out of my reach. Oh well. Probably for the best anyways, seeing as I was broke by the time I returned to Denmark.
Next on our tour was the Galleria Accademia, site of Michelangelo’s famous David. The museum had a decent collection of artistic works, but the David is definitely the centerpiece here. Standing approximately 17 feet tall the sculpture is physically imposing. As with all such things seeing is believing, and I highly recommend anyone in Florence visit this wondrous piece. We grabbed an excellent dinner at a little restaurant near our hostel. Spaghetti carbonara and wine, complete with some garlic bread we got for free when the restaurant accidentally doubled someone’s order. Perfect. Afterwards we checked out the Duomo by night, a beautiful sight. Some hours later, after wandering the streets and snapping some photos of the river at night, we finally returned and fell into surprisingly comfortable bunks.
Wednesday began with a free guided tour of the old city provided by the hostel. The two-hour experience was infinitely insightful and I felt a lot more knowledgeable about the city when we finished. I especially enjoyed stories of the Medicci family, as they ruled Florence almost interpreted for over 300 years and commissioned one of the greatest art collections in the history of the world. We saw all the big sites: The Basilica of San Lorenzo, the Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), Palazzo Vecchio, and the Little Pig, among others. Afterwards we ventured to the Uffizi where we were greeted by a collection of sculptures depicting the most famous men of Florence. Sadly, photography was not allowed within the museum and the only shots I snagged were looking out from windows on the upper floor. By this point we had already had quite the sophisticated day, but we continued our adventures at the Duomo. Rather plain inside, the true beauty of the Duomo lies in its unbelievable dome. A wonder of a construction (read its story online), the Dome was the largest dome of its time and built entirely without outside supports! The dome itself is beautiful, and the views from atop its outer terrace are to die for!
Thursday was only a half day, but we managed to get in another excellent tour, this time of slightly more obscure locales such as the justice building and an amazing gelateria. Although I felt infinitely more intelligent after these tours there is still so much to learn! I want to return to Florence one day and give it the time it truly deserves!
Florence was my favorite city for any number of reasons. It is everything Rome is not: quiet, quaint, and beautiful. I love the city and I never feel overwhelmed by tourism. Even the galleries were different, having a more solemn and personal feel rather than a “see everything and take pictures to prove we were here and acted as much like annoying tourists as possible” vibe. People actually stopped to appreciate the art and I never felt overwhelmed by never-ending throngs of people. Florence is indeed a beautiful place.
Ok, enough philosophical rant. Rome is filled with spectacular sights. Trevi Fountain is indeed a beautiful place, and as the legend dictates, you must toss coins into the fountain. One coin brings you safely home, two finds you an Italian lover, and three transforms your Italian lover into your Italian spouse. Although I only wanted to toss in two I ended up doing three because I wanted to send one in long distance from the steps!
The Colosseum Palatine, and Roman Forum were also cool but they’re mostly just ruins with nothing spectacular. Honestly, my favorite part was seeing them at night. Their beauty was astounding…I no my pictures will never do them justice! The Pantheon was similar, and it was exciting to be there but not terribly interesting. I feel like that is how the majority of Rome was: my excitement of finally being at each location eclipsed my actual excitement for the place. Around every corner an old, architecturally amazing building stood waiting for discovery. The beauty of these buildings was soon lost on me, and the allure of the city began to fade. What really got me going though were three of the places we spent the most time in.
First, the Vatican Museums. No quick tour could do this place justice, and without a tour guide it was further reduced. Despite these shortcomings, our trip was beyond description. The power and wealth of the Catholic Church, fluctuating greatly but always present in the last millennium shows in this massive collection spanning the entirety of the Old World. Rafael’s School of Athens was my first major excitement, and I was quick to point out all the philosophers I knew. My memory from senior year of high school was a little fuzzy but I could still pick out some of the greats like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates! The Sistine Chapel was surprisingly not as fantastic as I would have hoped, but I attribute this to my severe memory lapse and the huge crowds.
St. Peter’s Basilica, another part of the Vatican, was another excellent experience. The main area in the apse is a tourist zone and is accordingly ridiculous. The Piéta teases me from a corner as it draws out just enough memories to make me lust for more information while full recall lies beyond my fingertips. The true draw to this area though, besides the magnificent vaulted ceilings, was the small Chapel of the Holy Sacrament on the one side. Here Bernini statues dominate your eyes while the grand organ sneaks into your periphery. A sign before the entrance warns “Only those who wish to pray may enter,” so I donned my spiritual hat and knelt down in front of the grand altar to perform my own form of prayer. I doubt the Catholic Church would have approved of my infiltration, but I silently observed the spirituality of the sanctuary and basked in the glory of Life.
The Vatican was a marvel, but without any religious significance it could not even come close to comparing with the Capitoline Museum. Here, in the world’s oldest museum, lies the glory of Rome. I turned absolutely giddy at my first sighting of the statue of the She-wolf with Romulus and Remus. I mean seriously, my excitement was not contained…I even did a little dance! Whenever I talk about Rome, which has been often since arriving in Europe, I always mentioned the statue. Finally setting eyes on this epic rendition of the glory of Rome was enough to make me squeal like a schoolgirl.
Following the She-wolf were many excellent exhibits which I have learned about, such as the statues of the mounted Marcus Auraleus and the black and red pottery. We eventually found the terrace and found ourselves overlooking a breathtaking view of the city. All this beauty surrounded me, yet nothing compared to the temporary exhibit that awaited us on the fourth floor…
|No pics allowed…this is not mine.|
A collection of Leonardo and Michelangelo’s sketches, letters, and other materials happened to be on display at the Capitoline while we were in town. I was so inspired by the pieces…they made me want to research Leonardo and really learn more about his legacy. I want to remember everything I’ve forgotten and learn all that I’ve never known. Leonardo was a pure genius…his designs were sometimes centuries before their time. Flying wings? Hah, nothing of this sort would come to be for centuries! Seeing his genius in person was more inspiring than all the other great works I’ve seen combined. This will be one of my new hobbies: I will read, watch, and learn everything I can about Leonardo and the setting of his life.
Seeing these artifacts and considering the immensity of skill and knowledge contained within these great renaissance men, I feel as if I am wasting the gift of intellect I was given…this needs to change.