The Silence and The Sounds: My Senior Experience in Italy

This morning, our seniors led an assembly detailing their adventures in Italy. Below, we share the reflections of one of those seniors,  Lucy Jones.

After our plane lifted off from the tarmac of the Atlanta airport, I rifled through my art history notes from junior year one last time, taking in the same static images and bullet points of pieces and places that we had been studying for years, and tried to imagine what it would feel like to finally set foot in our destination. To be in Italy at last, a place with more history packed in a single site than I had experienced in my entire life, the focus of so many hours of discussion and study, and the object of all our daydreams for the previous several weeks. Despite these wonderings, all the anticipation and dreaming of the past seven years couldn’t have prepared me for the first time we drove into Rome. As our bus rumbled over the winding streets and uneven cobblestone pavements, among tiny beeping smart cars and motorbikes, I have never felt so immersed in a crossroads of cultures. Graffitied bars were ensconced between the most towering and breathtaking monuments the world has ever known, their pockmarked white stones and frothing pediments mingling in a sky crisscrossed with an entanglement of clotheslines and electrical wires. Minute shops with their colorful wares bursting onto the sidewalk, pink and tangerine and sand-colored apartments, streets jutting out at rakish angles and snaking unpredictably around long stone buildings— all of it converged dizzyingly around me, a fluid arabesque of culture. It was the first time that Italy rendered me speechless, though certainly not the last.

One of the most powerful testaments to the permeating influence of being immersed in such indescribably beautiful surroundings was the continued presence of that very silence that I experienced on that first day. At home, our vivacious group was seldom, if ever, voluntarily silent, but some sacred vacuum of sound tailed our class throughout our tour, and newly descended upon us each time we entered the next chapel, catacomb, or cathedral. No one had to admonish us to be quiet, to stop whispering, to save our conversations— the very spaces themselves, so cavernous and colorful and carefully crafted, almost quivering with the weight of holiness and thousands of years of history, silenced us effortlessly.

We all felt it especially keenly in the churches, such as when we first entered the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican. Something about being plunged into such an exquisite and meticulously crafted feat of art and design, with every square inch of its walls intricately covered in the vivid hues of Michaelangelo’s heavenly scenes, made the space appear other-wordly— charged with the divine. This feeling that we were experiencing unclouded glimpses of Glory soon became a common one, though it never lost its arresting and wonderful impact, and never ceased to make us feel as if we had left far behind those the students who had taken notes (now so inadequate!) on these very sites mere months before.

Of course, we weren’t quiet all the time. When we first entered Florence, for example, all trudging along with suitcases in tow, eyes fixed carefully on the narrow sidewalks in front of us, suddenly someone from the front of our file let forth a jubilant whoop, piercing through the dusk and causing each of our downturned faces to lift simultaneously. Then we saw all at once what had prompted the cry, and now our own— Brunelleschi’s Duomo, looming enormous and ruddy in the setting sun, our first true vision of the Florence we had poured over and dreamed of for the past four or seven or twelve years at Westminster. We cheered, we clapped, we shouted in awe; all craning our necks higher and higher as we approached, each delighted visage reflecting the same incredulous joy that such things as we had only seen between the pages of our textbooks really were standing tangible and larger-than-life before us.

And so it was for the entire fantastic twelve days— undulating between the breathless hushes of reverence and the joyful noises of unadulterated wonder at the glories of God and man that crowded in on us at every turn. It was truly beautiful to see the entire range of those reactions playing upon the faces of all of my classmates at each new marvel, to stand in front of Caravaggios and Berninis and Michaelangelos and to see some weeping, some gazing stunned and solemn, some (myself included) unable to suppress their joyful laughter at the lavish gift of such transcendent and long-anticipated beauty. Everything was all the much sweeter for the years of waiting and wishing and wondering that had preceded them, and the feeling of seeing the subjects of our studies vibrant and tangible in front of us is one that I doubt I will ever experience so keenly again.

Singing at Trattoria Der Pallaro:

Singing “Agnus Dei” at the Basilica of Sant Agustino in Rome: