Travel Writing: Journal #3

While travel and tourism may seem synonymous with each other, I believe that they are anything but. Tourism brings to mind large groups of white people navigating busy streets while following some person carrying an umbrella. Tourists tend to be the ones who visit a place purely for sensory pleasure. They seek out the beaches of the Caribbean, the food of Italy, and the sites of Paris. While tourism isn’t necessarily something to be looked down upon, it is a trip solely focused on relaxation and pleasure. A tourist wants to experience another country or state while still keeping the comforts of their own home.

Travel, on the other hand, is an opportunity to step outside of one’s comfort zone and dive headfirst into a different culture. It gives one a chance to experience an alternative way of life and escape from the vice of comfort and routine. As Paul Fussel wrote on the first page of his introduction to The Norton Book of Travel, “The escape is also from the traveler’s domestic identity, and among strangers a new sense of selfhood can be tried on, like a costume.” When one loses oneself to another culture and fully embraces all that culture has to offer, true travel is experienced.

Travel is about understanding others. One cannot do this without experiencing their lives firsthand, and that includes the troubles they endure. While tourism is focused on pleasure, that is not on the radar of a traveler. Travel is best when it is uncomfortable. In every area there are poor and suffering people and if one truly wants to know what it is like to be a part of that city or country, they must immerse themselves in every aspect of the culture, including the impoverished. Trips to areas like India, Central America, and Africa are far from vacations. They are excursions taken by those who want to empathize with the world and feel that face-to-face interaction with their brethren is the best way to do so. Global travellers are not visiting these areas to relax and have a good time. They journey to these places as a way to better understand humanity and how to help others. Rick Steves really emphasizes this in the video. He talks about how one has to have a particular mindset if they are going to visit India or Africa. One cannot go to a place like that and expect to be comfortable; they have to be willing to not only step but leap outside of their comfort zone in order to make the trip worth their while. It is that leap that distinguishes a tourist from a traveler. While a tourist steps, travelers leap.

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About Social and Economic Differences

“Excessive economic and social differences cause scandal, as well as reduce the cause of social and international peace.” Before agreeing or disagreeing with this sentence, it must first be clarified. What is scandal? Typically scandal is defined as a disgraceful or disreputable action (Dictionary.com). However, the Church defines scandal as something that leads another person to sin. The next thing that begs to be defined is this so-called cause of social and international peace. Peace is achieved through harmony and co-existing with others, so what better way to achieve this than to live by God’s rules? God himself and living the way he wants us to is the cause of international and social peace.

Social and economic differences could greatly disturb this. Economic differences breed social contempt and discontent. When there is a lack of middle class and/or a surplus of the impoverished, many problems can arise. There is often a great increase of crime, teen pregnancy, and drug use in areas with a high poverty rate (http://www.ted.com/speakers/richard_wilkinson.html). Also, if there are large upper and lower classes and a small middle class, there could be an increase in greed. People could be more susceptible to take advantage of one another. This was seen in the years preceding the French Revolution when the upper class was continually taking advantage of the poor and increasing their poverty instead of helping them. Without a decent sized middle class to balance things out, there will be social discontent.

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About the Roman Catholic Church

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The word “catholic” means “universal” and that is what the Catholic Church is – a global community of Christ’s followers that has existed for nearly two thousand years. The church technically began with Jesus and his ministry, but it officially began when Peter became the first pope. Since then, the church has accrued over a billion followers, making it the largest branch of Christianity today.

This is all with a little help from good ole Emperor Constantine I. He is the man who made it legal to be a Christian with the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. Thanks to this document and some political savvy per Constantine, the Church and the Holy Roman Empire sort of merged. During this time Catholicism spread all over Europe and became the dominant religion. Because of Constantine’s influence, the Catholic Church became rather “Roman.” As the Romans of the time switched their religion from paganism to monotheism, they kept many of the same architectural and artistic styles that were seen in Roman paganism. Some Christian symbols have their roots in paganism because of this, giving Catholicism a little Roman flavor. Take a church like the Pantheon, for instance. This was originally constructed to be a Roman temple, but it was converted to a Catholic church later on as the religious climate of Rome changed.

The Roman side of Catholicism can also be seen in how many followers the Church has. As the Roman Empire stretched across the then-known world, the Catholic Church is truly global today. It has followers in every country and missionaries are constantly working to spread its message even farther. Yes, we truly are Roman Catholics.

Travel Writing: Journal # 2

Upon reading the excerpt from Twain’s Roughing It, I believe that he definitely shares the American mentality that the road is a sacred space. As the title suggests, the narrator’s journey is not exactly ideal; somehow, though, he remains very positive about the whole thing and still appreciates and loves the entire journey.

Part of what makes travelling so exhilarating is the anticipation of the unknown. The time it takes to trek from one place to the other leaves ample room for imagining one’s destination in the most poetic and ideal way. Excitement builds with every mile and it is this child-like feeling that can deaden the many discomforts that accompany every journey. This, I believe, is what Twain’s narrative exemplifies. The situations encountered by the narrator in Roughing It aren’t exactly ideal, but he remains thrilled with the very thought of leaving behind the familiar in exchange for the new and unknown.

The narrator’s journey begins with significantly sizing down his luggage. When he and his brother discovered that their trunks were overweight, they left behind much of their belongings and only kept what was “necessary.” This appeared to be symbolic of leaving behind past experiences and ties to home in exchange for the new experiences to be had along this journey.

On page 7, Twain’s narrator declares, “There was a freshness and breeziness, too, and an exhilarating sense of emancipation from all sorts of cares and responsibilities, that almost made us feel that the years we had spent in the close, hot city, toiling and slaving, had been wasted and thrown away.” The road seemed to make the narrator feel that any other way of spending his time was pointless unless he were journeying or discovering something new. It instilled in him a sort of “travel bug.” He wanted to see more of his country and felt that staying at home for as long as he did was a waste of time. Why stay there when one could easily spend time exploring a new place?

Throughout the story, nothing seems to faze the narrator. Even on a night of what sounds like extreme discomfort, he remains thrilled just to be on the road. He is completely enamored with the idea and sensation of travelling. On page 19, while describing a particularly bumpy night, he says, “The pistols and coin soon settled to the bottom, but the pipes, pipe stems, tobacco and canteens clattered and floundered after the Dictionary every time it made an assault on us, and aided and abetted the book by spilling tobacco in our eyes, and water down our backs. Still, all things considered, it was a very comfortable night.” This passage really brings to light how thrilling it was for the narrator to be on this journey. Although this narrative predates the interstate, it is obvious that the stigma attached to travel was alive and well then, too. The narrator shows the wide-eyed excitement through which a journey can help one to see the world.

Travel Writing: Journal #1

Gaudium et Spes is a document that tries to clarify and assert the Church’s place in the modern world. The church leaders were aware that as times changed rapidly, the role of religion changed as well. The Catholic Church needed to reclaim its position and remind the world of the values it stands for. Gaudium speaks about the need for global outreach and the importance of understanding as much about fellow mankind as we possibly can. At first, this does not seem like the type of document that relates to travel writing. Its focus is mainly God, Christianity, and how those two things fit into the modern world. However, upon closer examination, I realized that there are some aspects of the beginning of Gaudium that relate to travel and its value.

In the first paragraph of section three, Gaudium states, “Hence, giving witness and voice to the faith of the whole people of God gathered together by Christ, this council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for the entire human family with which it is bound up, than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems.” The problems that this sentence refers to are, as previously mentioned in the paragraph, those of man’s place in the world and the role of humanity. These are incredibly difficult concepts to grasp for any person, and it is doubtful that anyone will ever truly find the answers. However, the Church aims to help people to discover the answers that they believe to be true and they want to share these truths with everyone. Christianity aims to better the world and help everyone reach heaven, and they do this through outreach and furthering their understanding of other people. This is something that traveling can do as well. Through first hand experience, you can really learn what other cultures believe and value and how to better interact with people from those cultures. Travelling can ultimately further one’s understanding of humanity, which is also a staple of Christianity. You cannot help others if you do not adequately understand their needs, and what better way to comprehend this than by experiencing their situations first-hand? Travelling gives us a way to see the world in the flesh; no camera lens or computer screen needed. Gaudium later states, “We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.” This is exactly what travelling can teach a person. By diving headfirst into a culture and stepping out of your comfort zone, you can experience humanity as it really is and better understand the people you share this planet with.

About Piazzas, Siesta, and More Italian/American Contrasts

When walking through Rome or looking at a map of the city, it seems like every street leads to a piazza. No matter where you go, you are bound to end up in at least three along the way. Piazzas are basically town squares and while Rome has them in abundance, each one manages to have unique features. Some are more extravagant while others are subtler. Sometimes I don’t even realize that I am walking through a piazza until I try to look for a street sign and glance up to discover that I have stumbled upon yet another Roman town square.

The sheer number of piazzas is a testament to the rich history of Rome and a sign of how many changes and face lifts the city has gone through. Different people have felt the need to create piazzas to commemorate one thing or another and over the years, and Rome has had a lot to commemorate. By visiting a piazza such as Piazza Navona, you can really feel some of the history and extravagance of Rome. Piazza Navona is home to the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or the Fountain of Four Rivers. It is a hallmark of Baroque architecture and one of Bernini’s most famous works. To accompany this large fountain are two others, both in the Baroque style. Surrounding the fountains are artists displaying their paintings and tourists taking that much-needed gelato break. Stopping in a piazza is an opportunity to appreciate a part of Rome while resting and taking a break from the taxing business of exploring the city. Piazzas give tourists a chance to see a site while relaxing – a staple of the Italian culture.

While Rome is a city that demands to be explored, it is also one that demands its rest. There is a constant flow of people walking the streets but the local shopping scene deadens between the hours of 1 and 4 as Romans take that time to be with their families and eat a relaxing afternoon meal. They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day – well, that’s probably because everyone took a three-hour siesta in the middle of the day. In America businesses view time as money. Every hour is another chance to further profits. Closing up shop in the afternoon is unheard of; after all, that is a prime shopping time. At home, the afternoon is when I am most productive: I shop, do homework, and run miscellaneous errands. Here, afternoons are viewed as a time for leisure and pleasure. Italians are a surprisingly laid-back society that places family time ahead of work. Of course, not all Italian businesses are like this and not all Italians have this mind-set. However, most of the little shops and natives I have observed seem to share this mentality.

By sitting in the famous Piazza Navona, I observed this. A lot of the restaurants and shops immediately surrounding the piazza were open during siesta to attract eager tourists with fat wallets, but by venturing a few streets away from the bustling area you would find more local, artisan shops that shut down during those hours. A walk through Termini would make this restful mentality seem like a myth, but a hunt for a local shop open between 1 and 4 proves that Italians place a high importance on leisure and relaxing. I appreciate rest as much as the next person, but I’m not sure I could ever become accustomed to that part of the Italian culture.

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About Exploring the Old and the New

This week we had an assignment that is easier said than done: find a non-Italian restaurant and take a picture of the sign and menu. In Italy, all of the restaurants seem to have the same variations of pasta and meat dishes. However, among the signs advertising gelato, pizza, and sandwiches, I managed to find a Japanese – or, rather, Giapponese – restaurant. I’m not sure yet if I’ll be adventurous enough to try their sushi, but it was nice to find something that reminded me a little bit more of home. Although I love Italian food, we Americans are spoiled with the variety of ethnic foods we have readily at our disposal on a daily basis.

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Prior to finishing my assignment, my fellow “roamers” (that was a terrible pun, I know) and I stumbled upon my favorite shop thus far. At first glance it appeared to be a simple used book store, but further inspection revealed two baskets filled with old postcards for the modest price of one euro apiece. These postcards featured landmarks not just from Italy, but the rest of Europe and the Middle East as well. Most of the postcards had messages hurriedly scrawled across the backs, nearly all of them in a different language. Even though we couldn’t read the messages, the five of us thoroughly enjoyed looking through these little artifacts. Some of the postcards dated back as far as the 1920s, and others were as recent as the 1970s. It was fascinating to see some of the contrasts and similarities between sites and destinations then and now. We easily spent close to an hour looking through those two baskets and each walked away with multiple postcards. There’s something about looking at used items that stirs feelings of connectedness in me. It makes me wonder about the person who previously owned the item and their emotional attachment to it – was there any? Did they receive it as a gift? If so, did they like the person who gave it to them? How did this item end up in this shop? A few of the postcards were in English and reading the mundane sentences written on them made me realize that while things have changed, they are still somehow the same. Sometimes it takes a glimpse of the past to remember its place in our world.

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About Religion and a Question of the Past

135-a-history-of-religionThe past is one of the vital organs of every major religion. It is what gives each their unique and valued traditions and also what gives them their clout. Without the history behind Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, these religions wouldn’t have the global communities that they do today. No one can deny that the past is critical to each of these faiths, but is this history also a hindrance?

I cannot personally speak for Judaism or Islam, but as a Christian I see a lot of differences between what is preached on Sundays and the ideals that many Christians hold. This is especially true of the Christians of my generation. There seems to be a disconnect between the youth and religion. I believe a lot of that stems from how old our religion is. Many teachings seem outdated in the lifestyle of today, so most young Christians will disregard them. There are many strange Old Testament teachings that we don’t follow because they “don’t apply to us anymore.” Well, who’s to say that some New Testament teachings don’t apply to people today? This isn’t necessarily my opinion, but it is one held by many members of my generation.

Along with religion appearing outdated, the past wrongs of religions have turned many away from the idea of religion altogether. Wars and crusades may not reflect the current mentality of a religion, but those events are something a lot of people refuse to move past. It seems that as time passes, people become more intrinsically focused and that just isn’t a mentality that meshes well with religion. If the faith of our world is going to return to its former gusto, something will have to give. So what will it be: the people, or the pulpit?

About Citizenship and Why I’m Not as Italian as I Thought

A citizen is a person who is native to and/or inhabits a place. Technically, we are global citizens simply by living on this planet. However, most people move through their lives without fully embodying this title. They fail to venture outside of their own borders and truly explore the lands we share this planet with. Sometimes travelling the world is not enough. To fully be considered a “global citizen” we must not only visit other countries but also make an effort to understand the culture and traditions behind the people who reside in those nations. Visiting Paris and look at the Eiffel Tower does not suffice. You must absorb the city: savor its food, wander its streets, visit its shops, listen to its language, and gaze thoughtfully at its foliage. You need to lose yourself in a city to learn what it truly means to live there. Following guidebooks and strict itineraries leaves you prone to aching feet and a foggy memory of just the city’s Greatest Hits. With your nose in a book and your eyes to the ground you fail to see what is around you and truly appreciate everything a place has to offer. By following your heart and your eye, by saying, “Oh, that street is beautiful. I wonder where it leads!” you can see a city or town for what it truly is. By meandering and exploring you can find the true essence of a place and learn what it feels like to be a “global citizen.”

The Italian culture is different from my own in ways that I never expected. From paying to use the restroom to being quiet on the trains, there are small contrasts everywhere. I am a person who tends to speak very loudly and when my friends jokingly reprimand me for this, I blame it on my Italian heritage. However, when I came to this lovely country I found out that the people here aren’t as loud as my spirited family. Most Italians seem pretty reserved and quiet. On trains they read newspapers, have quiet conversations, or, most often, sit pensively during the ride. Perhaps the largest contrast to American society is the value that Italians place on pleasure and relaxation. They take hours out of their days to rest and relax. Businesses that could be open to further their profits often close during these hours in order to rest. The American mentality focuses on making the most of every minute to earn money whenever possible, whereas Italians value family and pleasure above monetary gain.