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Published: June 29th 2016
When I was in college the second time to get my teaching degree, I could not get any education classes my first enrolled semester. So I took Children’s Literature and Fun Classes. One of the Fun Classes I took was Art History 101—seriously, introduction to Art History. I had been blessed to live in Europe and had seen a lot of art masterpieces but had no idea what I was looking at. I thought, “This will be a giggle.” I cannot tell you how that class changed my outlook on not only art but history itself and how art and history literally dance through the ages. Second semester of my quest to become a teacher, I took all education degree required classes (I mean, really, I already had a college degree; wasn’t like I needed electives) and Part II of Art History. I was blessed to have a lively and dynamic professor who made this stuff real and tangible. In fact, the first A I ever received on an exam was in her class and I called Mark at work and literally blew his eardrums out saying, “I GOT AN A!!!!!” He took me out to dinner that night. Score.
One of the periods of art that I love the most is Byzantine art, primarily for its simplicity and sort of black and white (or, should I say, silver and gold) stark presentation of what’s important. The biggest person is most important. If you’re not sure who the biggest person is, look for the halo. It is such a wonderful representation of the mindset of the people of the mid to late middle ages. It spoke to me. Interestingly, the other period of art that I learned to love the most is abstract expressionism. If you want to talk Jackson Pollack, I’m your girl. Love me some Jackson Pollack. Anyway, when in college, my professor talked about the mosaics of Ravenna, Italy. On this itinerary, we were going to Ravenna, Italy. TOTAL SCORE!! Okay, seriously, we’ve been to all of the Smithsonian Enrichment Lectures. Our nerdom is well established. Our excursion today was Ravenna Mosaics.
Mark, Michael and I went to Janet Jones’s lecture (The Myth and Facts of Alexander the Great—I already said we were nerds!) and as we were walking to the lecture, I saw Skate and she came up and said, “Grammy’s looking for you.” I said, “She can find us in the lecture.” When the lecture, which was really wonderful, was over and we were walking out and Mom was in the internet café. Michael was with us and we both walked up and said, “What’s up?” She said, “I want to go into Ravenna. Will you take me?” Both Michael and I said, “Sure,” and in very little time we were off.
Now, when Mom says, “I want to go into XYZ,” what that means is, “I want to shop in XYZ.” Mark took one look at that opportunity and said, “See you when you get back.” That hubby of mine. Smart man. We took off, however, and boarded the shuttle to Ravenna, a lovely drive where we say a flock of flamingos and these amazing fishing shacks with huge nets on the Lagoon of Ravenna. Once we got into Ravenna, we found out that the main objective was to find a knock off Chanel bag. Michael was like, “Really?” I looked at him and said, “Really.” The trouble with Ravenna is it is a really small town and they do not have knock-off handbags. Tough. I had put into Yelp “Replica Handbags” and it had taken us to a street but no luck. At one point, she stopped and asked a parked police car about handbags. Michael and I looked at each other. Uh oh. When when she finished, Michael said, “Mom, you cannot ask the police about knock-off handbags.” She said, “Michael, I know that. I was just asking them if they knew of good places to buy handbags.” We wandered around a bit and then decided the best thing to do was get some gelato before heading back to the ship. Mom spotted a place with the big plastic ice cream cone and we went there. The gelato was in round bins kept under cover. SCORE! Il Nazione on Piazza del People is GREAT gelato. Write that down.
After our gelato break, we went back to the shuttle so that everyone could get their afternoon tours. The ride back was equally entertaining although no flamingos. Maybe later. We got back to the ship at 1:20 and Mark’s and my tour left at 2:15 so plenty of time. In fact, when I got to the suite, he wasn’t there. Up lunching with nieces and nephews or some such. Good for him!
Good news, though, he was back in plenty of time for us to make our 2:15 rendezvous in the Seven Seas Show Lounge.
Mark and I were committed to ART. Well, I was committed to Art and it has already been established that I married up so he was committed too. Wait, he’s a nerd, he was happy to do this. Our tour number was called and we exited the ship and found our guide, Roberta, in her pencil skirt and snappy high heels. Seriously. High heels. On cobble stones. Gotta love the Italians. Never say die, mi amore. Anyway, she got us shuttled onto our bus and then gave us a brief introduction to Ravenna, which included the Illyrian people (like Albania and Croatia) and then the Greeks and the Romans and the Ottomans and Venetians and the Austro-Hungarians. Same song, 87th
verse. It truly is amazing how much of this geographic region shares a common history.
Our first stop was the Basilica San Vitale, a large building, very typically plain on the outside. Once you get inside, though—wow! It was absolutely beautiful and covered with intricate mosaics. Roberta had told us that mosaics are made with small stones, semi-precious and precious gems and gold and silver. They are cut into squares and rectangles called teslas and applied one at a time to the mortar. She said if you could touch them, they are very rough because the height of each tesla is unique. But they sure make lovely pictures! The mosaics depicted stories and people from scripture, including Isaiah, Moses, Jeremiah, Amos and all of the gospel authors and their symbols. There was a mosaic of Jesus as man and Jesus as God. God is always represented by a hand coming from the sky. Roberta called it The Bible picture book in stone. Behind the altar on either side of the wall there were large mosaics of Emporer Justinian and his court and he was carrying the chalice. On the other side there was a mosaic of the Empress Theodora and her entourage and she was carrying the bread. Roberta said notice that the empress is the tallest/thinnest/most beautiful person depicted but Justinian is not as attractive although he still had the biggest halo. She said that the picture of the emporer is more realistic because he was actually at the basilica when it was dedicated but as far as they know, the Theodora was never in Ravenna. She said, “That way she could always be taller/thinner/more beautiful than all the other women.”
After the Basilica, we went out the back door and visited the Mausoleum of Gailia Placidia, the mother of emperors who had the mausoleum built for herself. As with several mausoleums her bones are not actually inside but there are three sarcophagi so if they ever find her bones, she will have her resting place. It was like a little jewel box, again, plain on the outside but immaculately decorated in beautiful mosaics on the inside. A large mosaic over the entry way is decorated with a starry sky. There are not words to describe this. Breathtaking.
We took all of this in and took about a million pictures and then left and walked to the tomb of Dante, the Italian poet. He was born in Florence and they have a tomb for him there as well but his bones are actually buried in Ravenna which is where he died. Roberta said that during a festival celebrating Dante they have each year, a contingent from Florence comes and asks for Dante’s bones and the Ravenna people always say, “No. He died here, he stays here.” So there.
The next stop on our walking tour was Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo, built by Theodoric as his local church. The church has a long nave and a beautiful mosaic of virgins on one side and martyrs on the other. Roberta pointed out that the the mosaics have been changed through the years. In one area where there are columns with curtains between them, she pointed out that you can see a shadow behind the curtain where a head used to be and on one column you can see a hand and on another an arm. She said, “Someone did not want those people in this church so changed the mosaic.” In another area there is a small mosaic of a man carrying a basket. She said there was worker in the 17th
century who was hired to fix the mosaics when they needed restoration and he just took it upon himself to change things. What was now a basket used to be a jug. The apse of the church is a stark contrast in baroque style with white walls and gold curly cues. Roberta said most Italians hate it and, in fact, it was hidden behind a curtain for a long time but now it is open and the historians say it is what it is.
After this, we had about an hour of free time. Mark and I walked to the gelato place (yum x 2!) and then got back on the bus. There are 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ravenna, nearly all having to do with mosaics. If I had it to do over again, I would not have taken the tour but just taken the shuttle into town and gone to see as many of those places as possible. Ravenna is a very navigable town and we would have seen a lot more. What we saw was gorgeous, though, and something I have wanted to see since I was 24 years old.
Since the tour didn’t leave until 2:15, we didn’t get back to the ship until around 6:30. The other tour people had gone wine tasting and they didn’t get back until closer to 7. Mom had invited Keith and Rob to have dinner with us tonight so we settled on a later dining time, 8:00 in Compass Rose. Keith is a PhD psychologist and Rob is a radiologist. Rob is pretty steady but Keith has a huge personality; they complement each other well. They have enjoyed my mom so much and have fussed over her daily. When Julie was walking Mom back up to the suite one time, Keith was in the hall and said, “LIBBY!” He gave her a hug and said, “Libby, don’t listen,” then turned to Julie, “Every time I walk by her door I say, “Libby! Libby Libby Libby Libby Libby!” Mom loves to be fussed over so this was an extra birthday gift.
After dinner we went up to Galileo’s but didn’t stay too long. It had been a busy day. Tomorrow—Solvenia. No idea what to expect except another adventure!
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