Rome

Being in Rome is like being in another country surrounded by another language, but with one significant twist: In Rome, I was immersed in an entirely new world of Catholicism.

It was like this in Costa Rica, too: At first the newness simply clings to the edges of your clothes, occasionally brushing up against your cheek, making itself known to you but not drowning you in its unfamiliarity. After a week or three, your body has adjusted to the altered air, and when you breathe it in, it inflates your entire self, steaming out of your lungs and pervading your entire body. Soon that too becomes electric, your awareness of it at its best; it tingles out of your fingers, nose, toes, and lips, and alters everything you touch or perceive.

It is so magnificent to be changed by something that has radically altered the history of Western Civilization, global politics, art and architecture, and human mentality for almost 2,000 years. And that’s just Christianity and Catholicism. The Roman Empire has been around for thousands of years longer than that.

It doesn’t leave, either. The electricity may lessen, but I am permanently affected by my time in Rome. I spent the entire semester studying the history and culture of Western Civilization while being completely surrounded by it,  but I came back with the knowledge that there is so much I will never know. What a beautifully painful thing to come to realize.

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We did it.

There were times I thought I would never make it to Rome, and while there, there were times I feared I would never make it back. But I went, I did it, and now I’m sitting at a table in my favorite coffee shop in the small town of Midwest City, Oklahoma and writing about it. I never thought I could travel all over Europe, but I did it. It makes me think, what else have I always wanted to do but shoved aside, thinking I never could? I’m going to dig those up, and I’ll make a toast to the next adventure.

Until next time,

it’s good to be home.

Peace.

Kelsie

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City on the Water

I like it when things aren’t what I expect them to be at all. It’s like when I meet a someone for the first time, or even before that, and I come up with these preconceived ideas about that person by what I see on Facebook, hear from someone else, or even just by what I think after having had a usually insignificant encounter with said person. We all do this. But once I really meet them and get to know them, they are so much better- I am not capable of creating an idea of a person even close to how dynamic and wonderful that person actually is.

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The Bridge of Sighs.

Venice was kind of like this. What do you think of when you think of Venice, Italy? Unless you’ve been there, then I imagine your thoughts on it were kind of like mine: a beautiful, whimsical city that is alive in the bright blue waters of the Italian coast, basking in the sun as tiny boats and gondolas glide throughout the canals, selling fresh fruits and vegetables as they swirl along with the romance of couples deep in love filling the air.

Hopefully you’re at least a little more educated about the current state of Venice than I was. While the beautiful city is a lot like what I just described, that’s not all it’s like: a culture heavily influenced by Renaissance, centuries of refining the construction of ships and bridges, a unique and rather intense political history of doges and Napoleon Bonaparte, the Black Plague, and centuries of innovative craftsmanship, including glass making. (The history of Venice is actually really really interesting; read more about it here).

But there’s even more than that, too: Venice is sinking. The marshy land and tiny islands that the entire city is built upon, due to increasing water levels and erosion, are literally sinking. And, as it goes, flooded houses the ruin of your family business tends to drive people out. It’s nearly impossible to live in the city, and it’s one-of-a-kind atmosphere is filling it up with tourists and not much else. I think that the authentic, ancient culture of Venice will have been washed away within the next 100 years.

I went on a gondola ride with some of my friends late at night. It was nothing like what I would expect: there is no night life, no music, no twinkling lights in the streets… nothing. The city is essentially dead at night. But, despite this, it was still beautiful: there is not much more peaceful than gliding through the canals of an ancient city, elegant buildings hugging you on both sides, and all you can hear is the gentle swoosh of the paddle in the water as the lights from the building windows reflect off the water. This is the authentic Venice.

Venice is not dead. I met the city on the water in the darkness and tranquility of the night. I think, really, this is how we truly meet things: Strip away all the assumptions and premature judgement, and let the city speak to you rather than you to it.

It will always be so much better than what I could have ever believed.

The Ultimate Tourist Trap

I think all of us who travel have done this at some point during our adventures. It’s a 21st century thing, really, and with so much of our generation traveling, it’s an easy thing to fall into. I know I’ve done it more than once.

It’s easy for us to go somewhere new and exciting and see all the unique differences that that culture offers and marvel in those unique tendencies that are so distinct from our own. We tend to pride ourselves in our ability to value those cultures for their individuality and experience that difference rather than be the “stereotypical tourist”, taking extra care to keep a safe distance from giant colorful tour buses, the corner McDonald’s, and the pestering salesman waving neon selfie sticks at anyone who breathes in his direction.

This is great, don’t get me wrong. Understanding cultural differences and learning from those is and will always be a good thing, there’s no doubt about that.

But I challenge you this: is it possible to focus to much on those exciting differences that we neglect to see how all of us, our culture and theirs, when it comes down to it, are all simply members of one single humanity?

We put so much effort into recognizing the worth of these cultures because the generations immediately before us have had some problems with this, yes? The internal dialogue is so predictable: Italians drink wine at almost every meal. I don’t do this in the States, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I appreciate Italy for it being so different! But after doing this too many times, our goal of appreciating those cultures for what they are ultimately does a 180-degree flip: they become a place so unique and so separate from our own that we ultimately isolate them. The conversation quickly becomes something else: They can believe what they want; I’ll admire it, but it’s not relevant to me.

How are we supposed to really learn anything from that culture if we’re so busy admiring and separating it from our own? And, if we truly believe there is nothing to learn from it, is that not devaluing to that culture as well?

Obviously the situation I just described is not as intense as I made it seem, but I won’t deny that it does happen in some level for all of us travelers. The solution is easy- Admire the uniqueness of other cultures, yes, but instead of focusing only on how those differences make them separate from us, search for how they bring out our similarities on a deeper level.

After all, we all are simply human.

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Thoughts of a semester.

Where are the Words

I read somewhere about a month ago that the best way to be a good author is not to see your life in a series of words. Sounds ironic, right? The author wrote that the best thing you can do for your writing is to just live. Don’t narrate your life, don’t look or feel or be something and understand that only in words. Don’t do that.

Feel. Love. Breathe. Be. These things can’t be explained even in the most beautiful and elegant piles of letters one can put together. They just can’t. Human life transcends that, you know?

So that’s what I’ve been doing: I’ve allowed myself to be. Will this make me a better writer? I don’t know. But do I regret it? Not a bit.

 

Until next time,

Peace.

Kelsie

The Mountains

Delphi Contrast

Early in the morning while the air was still cool we walked along the path that overhangs the side of the mountain and looked on as the sun began to lift the wispy morning fog out of the atmosphere. The mountains in the distance became more and more clear as we wound our way through the various grassy nooks that provided the foundations for ancient Greek constructions. As we snaked our way up, the temples became bigger and more marvelous. The Theater of Dionysus is carved into the stone, fairly high, on the side of the mountain and overlooks the entire mountain range. In this theater, the world is the backdrop. Even further is the gymnasium, which was created for the display of the great potential of the human body.

Only half way up I could lean over the edge to look down and barely see the tops of the trees in the wide valley below. Already I could gaze out and see the layers and layers of mountains, one after another, until they were so far away that they faded into a faint foggy blueness in the distance. If I looked directly up, I could see harsh red and grey rocky peaks peering over the top of the mountain I was currently on. Those tallest and closest to me were caked in thick, white snow. The gentle breeze around me carried the sunlight with it and made golden all it touched.

I created all the mountains and the earth, and yet I still felt the need to create you, and I love you more than all of this.

And yet as I stared out onto these great, majestic creations, I was surrounded by an outburst of flowers. White, yellow, purple, and pink delicacies sprinkled the bright green grass. As I walked by a field of yellow, I could hear the single hum of hundreds of bees doing their daily work. In other parts, birds sang out and butterflies danced in the air, stopping for an occasional rest on a stone or clover. The stark contrast between the greatness of the mountains and the delicate little flowers was a true mark of beauty.

I created all the flowers, the birds, the insects, and all the earth. Yet, I created you, and I love you more.

I understand why people would want to worship here. We understood it so well that we hiked all the way to the top of one of the highest mountains and celebrated Mass outside overlooking the mountain range and the sunset. I’ve never seen so many rich, vibrant colors at once.

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Delphi, Greece

 

I created all the mountains, flowers, sunset, and all the earth, and yet I still felt the need to create you, and I love you more than all of this.

I can’t grip it. Christ died for you and me, not for the mountains. He took the form of a man, not a flower, bird, or bee. It is humans that are marked as the crown of creation, nothing more. He created all of this, and yet, still He loves us more.

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Assisi is the most peaceful and beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

The climb up to St. Francis’ hermitage was steep. It took us an hour to trek what was barely a mile. The thought of St. Francis hiking the trail on the regular was enough energy for me.

The little cave we were climbing to could be what one would call a “thinking spot”. The man would go up there to get away from the hustle of city life and pray about what it was God wanted him to do. He agonized about whether he was called to be a hermit to pray for the people or to be with them, helping them and loving them in the person. I don’t think he ever actually figured this out.

Is this not such a human issue?  His struggle is so much our struggle, especially that of a near-graduating college student. I’ve felt that anxiety of not knowing what I’m going to do with my life. I could so vividly imagine the man lying on the cold floor of his little cave and begging God for some sort of answer about what to do and when to do it, falling asleep there, in silent contemplation.

But the hermitage, it turns out, was only half up the mountain. It was obvious to us that St. Francis would have continued to climb it, as far as he could, loving all the beauty of nature around him as he went.

So we did too. Passed “Trail for Experts Only” sign. Over the chest-high stone wall. Weaving up the mountain, we went on up, step by step, until our thighs were numb and the air was too thin to get a good breath. Up. St. Francis would have kept going.

We reached a barbed-wire fence just below the peak of the mountain and walked alongside it until we found an opening.

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 The beauty surpassed what could have ever come through in a lens.

The final stretch was the hardest of all. The climb was so steep we had to dig our hands into the rocky dirt to level ourselves, and the though the distance was short, our lungs ached for a break in the exhausting activity. But we continued; up.

The top was absolutely beautiful. Patches of snow were scattered across the peaks. Horses grazed on the hill across the valley. We could see the entire city of Assisi and all the calm and peacefulness that was so recognizable in the quaint little town was there even more so on top of this mountain. The sun was beginning to set over the town and all it’s marvelous colors were being delicately painted across the sky.

Assisi, your beauty and peacefulness are unfathomable.

 

When in Rome

Friends,

I am here. I have made it to the eternal city , the heart of the Church, the beautiful city of Rome. And, let me tell you, writing about it is really, really hard. I’ve been scrambling for words for a couple of days now but like beads on a tile floor they roll and bounce and lodge themselves in the dusty underbellies of the furniture: out of sight, out of reach. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no possible way to convey the awe of my experiences to you, and even if I could eloquently translate experiences into words on a page, it would be far less personal than if I were to share stories with you face-to-face where we can both chat away about some of our greatest adventures in life. My goal on this blog is to tell the most simple stories to you, the highlights of what I see or do. My goal here in Rome is to learn: learn about history, culture, philosophy, and, above all, humanity. How incredible that throughout nearly 200,000 years of human existence, there is something vaguely similar about it all.

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The sunrise begins to light up St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Perhaps that is the difference about being in a city so old. Being here is not only experiencing the unique beauty of a culture separate from my own, but one rich with history spanning thousands of years. The city of Rome, in many ways, contains a wealth of pieces that begin to tell the tale of human existence.

I am beyond excited to get to be a part of it for the millisecond I am graced to be here.

Until next time,

Kelsie