Takeaways From a Week in Naples

Entrance to Underground Naples

Entrance to Underground Naples

I had a great time in Naples and enjoyed everything about it – eating copious amounts of pizza, exploring the city with my friends, seeing the landmarks, learning about volcanic activity and the history of the surrounding areas, and  experiencing the culture at every turn. What I enjoyed most, however, was the same aspect of the trip that I most appreciate about every other trip I have gone on: the fact that yet another part of the world has been made more “real” to me.

What little I had already known about Pompeii and Vesuvius was taught to me through a textbook about ten years ago, and before this semester I would not have been able to tell you where in Italy they were located. I knew they existed, but to me they were only a history lesson and a tourist destination – much like Rome, the Vatican, and many other places that most Americans have heard of but never get to see firsthand.

But now, any discussion of Pompeii or Vesuvius will also bring to my mind the Phlegraean Fields, the nonsensical evacuation plan near Vesuvius, and Benedetto De Vivo’s persistent campaign for honest and impartial scientific opinions. Although I may never live in Italy or deal directly with the issues related to Vesuvius, the destruction of Pompeii is an important phenomenon for the glimpse it gives us of past life, and there is value in having a deeper understanding of such a unique part of human history. Additionally, the Roman influence that we witnessed firsthand while exploring amphitheaters and other ruins helped ingrain in me a sense of connectedness; ancient Rome had always seemed worlds away (in time and space), but walking through the “basement” of an amphitheater where gladiator animals were kept gave me a greater sense of just how real the culture was. Feeling more “connected” (as humans) with the Romans raised all sorts of questions about humanity – especially why the entire society was okay watching people get slaughtered for sake of an audience’s entertainment. This is the subject of just one of many interesting and deep conversations I had in and around Naples. Many of these conversations would not have happened anywhere else, so I was thankful to spend time in places where history seems to come alive.

Visiting a renovated/reconstructed Roman amphitheater in Campi Flegrei

Visiting a renovated/reconstructed Roman amphitheater in Campi Flegrei

I also greatly enjoyed hearing from Benedetto De Vivo. He gave quite interesting insight regarding the relationship between politics and science in Italy (as well as the danger of Vesuvius and the related building/evacuation policies), but he also got me thinking about the importance of professional ethics. While studying in school, there are occasionally situations where someone acts in an ethically unsound manner, but I have generally assumed that people will grow out of that or that they will eventually realize that the easy way out won’t pay off in the long run. While that may be true in many cases, hearing from Dr. Bodnar about ethical problems when it comes to reviewing papers and learning about the “incestuous relationship between [Italian] politics and science” from Benedetto has helped reinforce in me the importance of personal integrity when it comes to school and work.

Most of the trips I have taken this semester have been on a weekend, so Athens and Naples are the only cities that I spent more than three days in. I got a much better sense of the culture in both places, which I am very thankful for. While I can say that I visited Bratislava, Slovakia for a day (which is an entirely different story), there are few places that I have as complete a picture of as southern Italy or Athens. Of course, one cannot fully understand a country, region or city from only one week of exploring, but I’m thankful to have a better start than some other places.

Vesuvius, Pompeii, and the other sites are not only more important to me now that I realize the significance of the history (which seems doomed to repeat itself at some point in the future), but also because there are names, faces, and memories I now associate with them. I appreciate the inherent educational value of visiting those places and discussing their societal impact, but perhaps just as important were the relationships formed and developed – and perhaps the delicious food that brought us all together each night.

Da Michele's glorious Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita from Da Michele. Undoubtedly the second best pizza I have ever consumed; the best was their Pizza Marinara.

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3 Comments

  1. Kim Carlson

     /  April 24, 2012

    You say you’ll never live in Italy but I wonder what this trip means to you that you can apply to your everyday life (or future career). Yes, you may never live on the side of an active volcano but what does geography and science mean to a community?

    Reply
    • I think the bit about professional ethics and keeping science separate from politics is what I learned that is most applicable to my career, but with the variety of positions I could go into I’m sure geography has the possibility of coming into play.

      For instance, the issue of wind farms and surrounding communities. I did a research paper on wind energy last year for my intro to engineering class, and as I researched both sides of the controversies it can create I realized how much of a problem they can be to some people. I also spoke with my uncle, who lives in Fredericksburg, Texas near where they have considered constructing a wind farm, and really made the controversy seem much more “real.”

      I can’t foresee how what I took away from this trip will play into my future career, but I’m sure it’s likely to in one way or another!

      Reply
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