John-Paul Heil, Staff Writer
Like waking up from a particularly long and wonderful dream, my experience in Italy has come to a quick and sudden end. Florence is now but a memory, an incredibly intriguing and now sadly past chapter of my life. Because my past four weeks abroad were the most busy and my favorite of the semester, I will refrain from covering them shallowly and will instead present three snapshots of my last month in Italy.
The first snapshot comes from March 26, the date of our audience with the Holy Father. St. Peter’s itself was one of the most impressive sights I saw in Italy and perhaps my favorite place in the world, but even its looming edifice in St. Peter’s Square paled in comparison to the man who made each and every one of the several million person crowd feel like they belonged there. The images of Pope Francis we have received in the media have not been overblown or exaggerated—the man has an energy about him which is rarely seen even in a young man. He exudes charisma and holiness, and the fact that I ended up being about ten feet away from him at one point was an immense honor.
The second snapshot comes from April 7, the day our Italian teacher took us on a tour (in Italian, of course) of the Palazzo Vecchio, the ancient palace and former Medici seat of power in Florence. The opulence of the Palazzo simply cannot be described fully: paintings hundreds of feet long, accurate maps of the entire known world from the 1590s (including a surprisingly-accurate depiction of America), secret passageways, private chapels with the most vivid colors—the list goes on. But none of these forms of material wealth held a candle to the view which awaited us at the top of the Palazzo’s tower. The Palazzo is one of two equal high points in Florence (the other being the Duomo), but, having been to the top of both, I can say for certainty that the Medicis had the betters view. Florence from that height was nothing short of breath-taking, seeming less like a city and more like a Renaissance painting.
The final snapshot comes from April 17, the final day of our semester and the date of our farewell dinner with AIFS. The magnificent, multi-course meal of pasta, pork roast, and potatoes (an alliterative feast) did not distract from the fact that this was the last time we had with each other as a group. Speeches were made, tears were shed, and large quantities of wine were ingested. The AIFS staff member who had worked closely with us all semester told us that we were her favorite group and the best group she had ever had. After our disastrous attempt to take a group picture almost ended in some combination of a car crash, a riot, and a public disturbance (seriously—I am not making this up), we each went our separate ways. I took a long walk through the city, seeing all of my favorite sights. But none of the things I saw could match the level and quality of the people with whom I had spent the last three months. From our first dinner together at Il Teatro to our final excursion up to Piazza Michelangelo with a bottle of rose wine to see the sun set, I have made memories with the people on this journey (our professor and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Malone, included) which will last me my entire life. So to each and every one of you, I would like to express my immense gratitude for our time together. Thank you for sharing so much of yourselves with me and for joining me on this adventure of a lifetime. You, and the times we had together in that queenly city of Florence, will not soon be forgotten.