Saturday, December 29, 2012

What travel teaches....

Home again, I am missing the daily activity of exploring a new location, taking pictures of interesting stuff and then writing about it. I came back to the US for the holidays. The last two weeks have been filled with touching base with people, getting back into the home routine which includes cleaning out closets, sorting through three and a half months of mail, wrapping Christmas gifts, etc etc.

I visited with my friend Anna, and told her some of the more amazing aspects of that long trip to Europe. She asked if I'd learned anything. Well, of course! I learned tons about various artists, history, etc, but what has struck me as fundamentally more important are the historical connections that get made when travel takes you to places you've only ever heard of. What a lifetime of thinking, reading, and learning does is make connections in the present moment while standing in front of a painting, or seeing something as breathtaking as St. Peter's Basilica.

What I learned about art in Spain is how much El Greco from the 16th century influenced modern  impressionism in the twentieth century. His work and interest in his life was almost forgotten by the time the late 20th century rolled around, but interest revived, and his very modern impressionistic painting strokes were seen in new light and influenced a couple of generations of painters. I had viewed his work in high school, thanks to my Spanish teacher's large collection of art slides, but seeing the giant works in the Prado in Spain meant seeing for the first time, and the similarity of his work to modern impressionists was astounding. It made me go looking for information, it made me curious, and it made me go to Toledo to see his museum.

In Rome, I read a small text next to an ancient sculpture that set off another big connection. The blurb was about the wife of an emperor who was deified after her death and a temple was built for her. The ancient Romans deified people? I thought their pantheon of gods was solid and immutable, but no, they kept adding new ones as people died and others decided they deserved God status. Isn't that what the Catholic church does today, in slightly different form? They sanctify people, who in life were deemed to have accomplished miracles, saved people's lives and who in death, still miraculously heal.

My favorite of the modern saints is Padre Pio, a rather eccentric priest from Petrelcina who was known to go into trances and appear in other locations, sometimes half way round the world. He also suffered terribly from the Stigmata, with almost constant bleeding from the holes in his hands. His following, during life, was extensive, people packed his church when he was giving a mass, as much to receive mass from so unusual a man, as out of curiosity to see if he might fall into a trance and writhe on the floor. The day he died, the Stigmata disappeared and his lifeless body showed no signs of scaring or even healing.

When I told Anna about this interesting historical connection, she said, "Why do you think they call them Roman Catholics?"