Last semester students and faculty screened a documentary, The Cross and the Gun, directed by Jesus Garcès Lambert, investigating the relationship between the Catholic Church and organized crime in the wake of Pope Francis’s condemnation of Italian crime syndicates, such as the Mafia and ‘Ndranghetta. The documentary was filmed shortly after Pope Francis excommunicated Mafiosi and detailed some of the difficulties that local priests and parishes were having in carrying out the papal order; various Mafia groups ordered arson attacks, personal attacks, and even killed some courageous priests in retaliation. It was a remarkable documentary that intersected with Italian social history and church history.
This semester, students in Dr. Schwarten’s Social History of the Mafia class had a unique opportunity to attend an exhibit entitled “Just for Passion.” This exhibit at the MAXXI features the photographs of Letizia Battaglia, also known as the “Photographer of the Mafia.” Her portfolio of work is a photo-essay that vividly documents the crimes, murders, and desecration of life by members of the Mafia. But her corpus of work extends so far beyond that, chronicling also life in Sicily spanning a forty-year period. The black and white photos are stunning in their subject matter, their beauty, and provide a lens through which to see Sicilian life from all points of view–from the most powerful to the least politically significant. Battaglia was also a journalist and many of her photos served as the anchors for news reporting on Mafia crimes and the victims of Mafia violence. Click here to see some of her most well-known photos.
The site visit is in keeping with the mission of CEA and the PC-Rome program to use the city and its environs as a classroom. As a result of that excursion, students in the class had a visual, physical way to understand the social history of the Mafia. They will be expected to integrate the photos and commentaries by Battaglia into their analysis with other course readings and materials. Interestingly enough, on the following day, headlines in Italian newspapers reported that a bishop in Sicily had banned Mafiosi from acting as godfathers in baptisms or to be admitted to confirmation. If you are interested in seeing one of the news reports, click here. It seems that we have come full circle…
Last Friday, CEA and PC students also had a wonderful opportunity to take a day trip to the gardens of Ninfa, a Romantic landscape garden created in a unique micro climate about two hours outside of Rome. Ninfa was a thriving medieval town located on the Appian Way. Pope Alexander III was crowned there in 1159. The buildings in the town date back to the 9th and 10th centuries and have fallen into ruin. The gardens were designed to flow naturally around the ruins of of the medieval town, including a castle, several churches, town walls, and towers. It features flora from all over the world. Because it is a fragile ecosystem, visitors are only allowed infrequently and must follow strictly along a prescribed route. The trees were in full spring blossom and were beautifully reflected in the many streams, springs, and ponds that dot the 260 acre park. Ninfa is an Italian natural monument and is run by a private foundation created by the Caetani family (the original owners). After a truly idyllic time in what has been called “the most Romantic garden in the world,” we proceeded to a nearby vineyard outside of the hillside town of Cori. It was founded by Marco Carpineti and features organically grown grapes and olives.
There our guide explained the completely organic way in which the wines are produced. Some of the wines produced there are aged in clay vessels reflecting ancient wine-making traditions. Interestingly, they are topped with a plastic contraption that enables the gases of the wine to escape (see photo at right). Thanks to this device, the winemakers are also able to test the wine without having to open the entire jar. Our guide pointed out the device was based on one of Leondardo DaVinci’s designs. Our tour included lunch, featuring olive oil pressed at the vineyard and a wine-tasting.
The trip to Ninfa is one of the featured AICAP’s (Academic-Integrated Cultural Activity Program) required for students in the Photography, Environmental Ethics, and Food and Wine classes, but open to all. Once again, students enjoyed a field experience that related directly to their course readings and themes; or in the case of the Photography class, provided them with a unique opportunity to practice their natural light and landscape photography skills. Two of our professors who teach the mandatory Italian classes also accompanied our group…this really enhanced the experience since students had another chance to grow their Italian language skills.
These intersections between academic study and field experience are the essence of a truly authentic study abroad experience and is one of the strongest features of the CEA/PC-Rome program. It was a memorable experience for student and faculty alike. Thanks for tuning in! Go Friars!