Sunday, August 9, 2009

Time to Say Goodbye

On August 2 at 7:30 a.m. it was time to say arrivederci. It was hard to believe that two weeks at Cal State Fullerton and four weeks in Italy were coming to an end. It is always sad to leave these groups of students since we become one big family, watching out for one another and sharing with one another.

When they arrive in the United States, they will be different. They will appear more mature, more worldly and more sophisticated. They also will have a better understanding of other cultures.

These are the greatest teaching experiences of my life. I get to share the country of my ancestry with a great group of students in what has become CSUF's largest summer study abroad program.

I also get to enjoy the company of my good friend, Cal State San Bernardino Professor Dr. Robin Larsen, who said half way through the program, "we are going to do it again next year." Yes, we are!

Ciao, Italia, for now!

The Vatican

The Vatican State, one of the smallest in the world, is unique in that it is the spiritual center of the Roman Catholic religion. It emerged as an autonomous State independent of Italy on Feb. 11, 1929. Its history, however, goes back to the Emperor Constantine, who wished the first great early Christian Basilica to be built on the spot where St. Peter met his death.

We toured the Sistine Chapel with the magnificent paintings of Michelangelo, Giotto, Bernini and Raphael. Michelangelo's La Pieta is at the right as you enter St. Peter's doors. His imprint is all over the Vatican State. He kept telling the Pope that he was a sculptor not a painter. But the Pope asked him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while Raphael and other great artists were working in adjourning rooms on their projects. The Chapel, which is celebrated for Michaelangelo's frescoes, includes panels with pictures by equally famous painters, including Botticelli, Rosselli and Pinturicchio. On the great wall of the altar is depicted the Last Judgment, painted between 1536 and 1545, after he had already painted the entire vault of the Chapel. Simply, magnificent!

Rome: The Eternal City

Rome is a phenomenal mix of history, legend and monuments. It is at the heart of the western world's two great historical powers--the Catholic Church and the Roman Empire. Centuries of sporadic growth transformed Rome from a fledgling city-state to the capital of the western world.

Though Rome no longer dictates western history, its claim upon the modes of culture remains firmly intact. Style, art, food and passion form Rome's new empire, tying the city to the living moment rather than leaving it to stagnant in a museum case.

In a city that has stood for nearly 3000 years, Rome's glory is not dimmed. Our visit to this beautiful city started at Piazza Venezia, the center of Rome. Here stands the magnificent monument to Victor Emmanuel II, who unified Rome in 1870. We spent the day at the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, including the Temple of Julius Caesar.

At the end, a coin was tossed into the Trevi Fountain, ensuring our return.

Florence: The Mosaic Man

We decided to take a different route to the university on our last day in Florence. We took a right by our apartment into Via de'Macci, near Piazza Santa Croce, and ran right into Bruno Lastrucci's workshop just one block away. We said "permesso" equivalent to may we? And after getting a nod of approval, we walked in to find an amazing, perhaps breathtaking, collection of mosaic art.

The front room is Lastrucci's workshop. It is where he joined his father when he was eight years old. Working alongside him is his son, Iacopo Lastrucci.

We knew a bit about Florentine mosaic works from an earlier visit to the Pitti Palace where one can view some of the most beautiful mosaic works in the world. The Medicis loved the stuff. And Lastrucci's gallery has one of the most beautiful pieces of furniture wrapped in mosaic that was owned by the Medici. "We really don't know how it showed up in the gallery," Lastrucci says. "After World War II, the large piece just appeared here and has been here every since."

Lastrucci produces hard stone mosaics in the same way it was done in the Renaissance period. Semi-precious stones are sliced and then cut into tiny pieces to create puzzle style artwork representing small flower or fruit designs to be embbeded in furniture or large pieces depicting landscapes to be placed on the wall. He showed us stones of all colors and from all over the world --malacchite, agate, jade, amrthist, lapis lazuli, even petrified wood from Arizona. Each piece is entirely done mannually and often takes one-and-a-half to two years to complete.

We felt so fortunate to run into Lastrucci's studio and had the chance to hear directly from the artisan's mouth how this ancient form of art is done and has survived for centuries in Florence. We can't wait to take next year's students to his workshop.

Cortona, Italy

Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun drew us to Cortona, Italy, ten years ago. We took a train from Florence to Arezzo then hopped a bus to discover what would be one of our favorite cities in Italy and two of our favorite Italians. There was only one other person on the bus. Andreina Giunchi of Arezzo began talking to us in Italian. She invited us to stop by her husband's art exhibit in Cortona. We followed her to what would flourish into one of the greatest friendships of our lives.

We were immediately impressed with the works of Emilio Giunchi. One of Italy's renowned artists, Emilio, who goes under the name Zenone, captures Tuscany as no other artist can. We loved his work and bought our first Zenone. Today our home has about 16 Zenone works.

Emilio knew that day that we yearned to get a glimpse of Mayes's now famous Bramasole. Emilio took us to a Cortona bar to get directions. A group of Italian women sipping their afternoon expresso yelled to the waiter, "Get the telephone book. We will call her so you can meet her." I said that was not what Americans would do. We are a private people. However, in Italy everyone is family. They paid no heed. As one of the women's fingers read the telephone book, another woman entered the bar. She quickly learned what tables of Cortona residences were doing. "Oh, I just took Frances Mayes to the airport. She has to return to the United States to attend a wedding." We finally got the directions to Bramasole and got our first glimpse of the home Mayes describes in her bestseller.

Some months later we did get to meet Mayes, a former San Francisco State English professor, at a Pasadena book signing. I told her about our Cortona adventure and our first look at her Italian home. She scribbled her email on a piece of paper and said to keep in touch. Unfortunately, that paper vanished, but we continue to travel to Cortona and we take morning walks where we pass Bramasole.

Since our first meeting, Andreina and Emilio have introduced us to the beauty of Italy. We have spent vacations together in Troppea, Ponza and Rimini as well as Rome, where Andreina arranged for us to be invited to special ceremonies with Pope John Paul II. And I have spent most of my birthdays the past few years at their home. We returned to Cortona this past summer on a weekend break from teaching to see another Zenone Cortona exhibit! We returned many times while working in Florence and, as usual, spent our last day at their home. Andreina, by the way, is the best cook in Italy.

They finally came to America two years ago, where Emilio had his first international showing at our home. The 15 paintings he brought sold out. We are hoping for a second international showing in Palm Desert soon.

It goes to show that you never know whom you will meet in a day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens

On July 16 students participated in a special lecture on the Palazzo Pitti. The lavish building was started in 1458 by a Florentine family called the Pitti. They wanted to construct something to rival the grand palaces of the Medicis. Ironically, the huge funds pumped into this palace were to be the ruin of the Pitti Family. They were forced to sell it to the Medicis (the very family they were trying to outdo), a century later in 1549. The palace remained in the hands of the rulers of Florence until 1919 when the Savoy family gave it over to the state.

The buildings underwent extensive changes. One of the most famous of these was the work of Giorgio Vasari, who constructed a corridor to link the Palazzo Vecchio (the old Medici residence) to the Palazzo Pitti (the new Medici residence) in the 16th century. The corridor passes through the Uffizi, over the top of the Ponte Vecchio, through a church and several other buildings, before arriving at the Palazzo Pitti. The idea was that the Medicis could go from one building to the other without having to mix with the commoners in the street. It was around this time that there was a big change to the Ponte Vecchio. Up until this point, it had been full of butcher shops and the Medici women found this part of the journey so smelly and, therefore, disagreeable that the butchers were forced off the bridge and instead the jewelers who still occupy all the shops on the bridge today were obliged to take their place.

The main museum is the Palatina. It houses a rich collection of 16th to 18th century paintings. At the end of the tour, students were taken to Appartamenti Reali--the living quarters of the Medici family members. They also viewed the Boboli Gardens where one can get a wonderful view of Florence.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chianti, Italy

One of Italy's most desirable properties is found in Chitanti, about 20 minutes from Florence. It is here where American stars come to find their getaway home. Here, on July 23 students got an education in wine and olive oil production. Our first stop was Castle di Trebbio built by the Pazzie Family, who were business competitors of the Medici Family. It was here that the Pazzies plotted to kill the Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Juliano, so they could rule Florence. The pope at the time was aiding the Pazzie Family. They were successful in killing Lorenzo but not Juliano. The death of Juliano could have changed the course of history because several of the popes were part of the Medici Family afterward. It was bought in 1960 by a private family who established the winery.

That night faculty and students dined at Florence's Open View, where they surprised Professor Fellow on his birthday with a Florence leather book containing pictures and letters from each of them. He was very touched and something that will be long remembered!

Molejon, Spain

Before leaving to teach in Italy, I ran into Professor of Modern Languages and Literature Reyes Fidalgo and explained to her my wife’s desire to explore her family roots in Spain. The family of my wife, Clara Potes-Fellow, heralds from Potes, Spain. When Spanish Queen Isabel the Catholic came to power and united the kingdoms of Aragon and Castille, Jews and Moors either joined the church or fled. Those that stayed behind changed their names to the Spanish town where they lived, as in the case of the Potes, or a fruit.

Reyes said she would take care of it. While groups of my students explored Berlin and Capri last weekend, we took a flight to Barcelona then to Oviedo followed by a taxi trip to Luarca, a delightful fishing town on the northern coast of Spain. There we met not only Reyes but Angel Mateos-Aparicio, who was with the Fulbright program at Cal State Fullerton in 2006.

He is now an American literature professor at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, a region about two hours south of Madrid and10 hours from Reyes’s Spanish casa. Matoes-Aparicio was our guide as we explored the ruins at Castro de Coana, which was inhabited by the Celts before the Romans arrived. There we learned how they used local slate-type rock to build their communities and curved homes. The Romans would teach them to build square houses from the rock that would be similar to what we would see in Molejon, the city where Fidaglo purchased her farm home 12 years ago.

It is a piece of work that many CSUF professors have visited. As a matter of fact, Chiara Gratton-Lavoie, CSUF lecturer in business and economics who also had been teaching in Italy, called while we were having dinner and said she would be coming to the farm house three days later.

Fidalgo is known at CSUF for her outstanding dinner parties. At Casa de Molejon, it is no different except we have dinner at midnight because the days are so long—and everywhere else in the country so hot. And there is never a shortage of Spanish fare.

It was fun to explore the 200-year-old two-story house with its huge, really huge, cellar. The gigantic beams of our very spacious upstairs bedroom were made from the trunks of nearby trees. The scene from almost every window in the house is breathtaking as farm lands dotted with cows roll out to trees signaling a forest in the distance.

Saturday morning we took an hour’s walk around the neighborhood where we were greeted by more cows than people. There are no stores or restaurants in the neighborhood. Two cars passed us on the road. Only bright yellow and white butterflies accompanied us as did Johnny, the German shepherd of Reyes’s neighbor. Along the way, Fidalgo pointed out a three-story farmhouse that was on the market. She suggested we buy it and all of us open a gourmet restaurant. It’s an inviting offer.

Unlike the weather in the rest of Spain, Molejon offers a cool climate, and we could not have been happier since temperatures in Florence reached triple digits with a heat that seems to scorch one’s bones. There’s also a calmness about Spain. It’s organized. The airports are among the most beautiful in the world.

One of Italy’s charms, if you can call it that, is that it operates in a sea of chaos--whether it is her government, transportation systems or banking. Take our flight to Barcelona from Pisa. While waiting in line for our 4 p.m. flight, Italian airport officials notified those in a line to nowhere, that weather and air traffic conditions would delay flights for three hours. They would soon add that technical problems on the runway also were to blame. It was not what anyone, especially those in the most chaotic of lines, wanted to hear.

Yes, we were happy to be in Molejon with Fidalgo. It was a pleasant respite from Florence’s heat and crowds of tourists, though down 30 percent this year. However, we also were looking forward to returning to Florence, our summer home the past six years, where we were expecting to connect with Reyes’s acting dean, Angela Della Volpe, and husband, CSUF sociology professor Ronald Hughes. It really is a small world!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Final Experience

The final paper on an Italian director is due August 5.

The final exam is due on August 8. Answer two of the following questions:

1) Define the realist tradition in the arts and explain why it is so strong in the Italian visual arts.

2) Explain the political and economic transformation in Italy from 1870 to the end of the 19th century and the impact it had on the country's cultural identity.

3) Discuss the development of neorealism and its impact on early Itlaian film.

4) Compare and onctrast Italian cinema from the 1960s to today.

Email papers and exam to

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lerici, Italy

We took a bus from La Spezia to the beach city of Lerici on Sunday. The private beaches were closed so we did what the residents do. We found a giant rock next to the gulf where we planted ourselves for most of the day, soaking up the Italian sun and swimming in the warm water. We even saw the Italian championship game in water soccer. It was our first time to Lerici, a city we hope to return in the future. However, the bus ride up and back was an experience. The bus, designed for 50 people, was jammed with about 100 or more. It was worth the trip!

Palmaria and Portovenere

While students traveled to the French Riviera and Venice this weekend, we headed to La Spezia, Italy's important port city in Liguria. On Saturday we took a boat ride to Portovenere, but the boat could not dock so we were taken to the island of Palmaria. We spent a few hours exploring the beautiful island before realizing we had to find a water taxi to get across the gulf to Portovenere, a beautiful city on the water. It is said Lord Byron spent a lot of time here. A memorial marks the spot where he started his swim from Portovenere to Cinqueterra, many miles up the coast.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

San Gimignano

San Gimignano was our second stop on the July 10 field trip. San Gimignano rises above the Elsa Valley. It was once a small Etruscan village in the Hellenistic Period. To many people it represents exactly what rural Tuscany should look like. It was founded by the Etruscans and developed its famed skyline of twoers through the 12th and 13th centuries due to the rivalries of noble families. Each family would try to outdo the other families by building bigger and taller towers as a show of their wealth. Only 15 of the original 72 towers still decorate the skyline.

It was controlled by two main families--the Ardinghelli and the Savucci--and feuding was common between the two. A combination of feuding and the Black Death of the 14th century finaly caused the town to lose its power and it was taken under the wing of Florence. Today the small village relies on tourism and on the production of its own white wine, Vernaccia, to get by.

Students found that the medieval town not only boasts of medieval architecture but has the best pizza and gelato "in the world."


Our first outing was July 10 when we traveled to Siena and San Gimignano. Siena is home to the world's most famous horserace, the Palio, which is run in July and August. It is a walled city which is home to Italy's largest department of communications and some of the country's richest bankers. It was the banking industry that made Siena important and rich. It also is the home of the Basilica of St. Catherine, the city's patron saint, who died at 33 years old. Her head is on display in the basilica. She was the second person in history to be struck with the stigmata of Christ.

According to legend, Siena was founded by the two sons of Remus, as in Romulus and Remus fame--who were called Senius and Ascius. One rode on a black horse and the other on a white one, and this is the tstory behine the Sienese blak and white shield which has been such a strong symbol over the years.

However, it is likely the town had inhabitants before this mystical pair. On a more historical note, it is likely siena was founded by the Etruscans and then became a Roman colony. It flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries and was considered one of the major towns of Europe. Its position on the route from France to Rome meant that the large number of French pilgrims passing through left their mark in the way of the Romanesque architecture, atypical of most Italian or Tuscan towns. Later, however, through continual battles with neighboring Florence and the onset of the Black Death in 1348, Siena lost its hold as one of Italy's greast cities and became a minor provincial town.

Every summer the floors of the Duomo cathedral are uncovered for a short time ony to display a fantastic inlaid marble floor.

Facing Windows

What are some of the story characteristics in Ferzan Ozpetek's Facing Windows that illustrate modern Italian filmmaking?

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Florence Classroom

Just think, you are walking on the same streets as Dante, Michelangelo and Galileo, our students were told on their first walking tour of Florence, Italy. Perhaps their footprints will be as famous one day.

For the time being, however, we just wanted to see their footprints safely back in Los Angeles after an educational experience of a lifetime. As the Summer International Media Institute in Florence, Italy enters its fourth year, we’ve nursed students through strep throat, bronchitis, stolen wallets and homesickness. We’ve also seen their eyes light up at the great treasures in the Uffizi and Accademia, the beauty of the Pitti Palace, the Vatican and Roman Forum and their first taste of Italian gelato. And we can’t forget how impressed last year’s students were when they were invited to the Roman villa of Gaddi Vasquez, then U. S. ambassador to the United Nations. More than one student commented how he inspired them to reach the heights of a Dante or Michelangelo in their chosen field.

The other part of the “we” is Robin Larsen, professor of communications at Cal State San Bernardino. Our sister campus joined the program a year after its inaugural trip. We’ve seen the program grow from nine students to Cal State Fullerton’s largest summer study abroad program. Even more important has been the strong friendship forged between the two of us and our knowledge of Italy which students have come to appreciate. It is truly a team effort.

And we learn just as much as the students. For example, today’s lecture at the Uffizi centered around the changing images of the Madonna by the great Italian masters. In the famed walled city of Siena, the home of the world’s most famous horserace, the Palio, we, along with the students, last Friday learned a new dimension to the city and its treasures.

On weekends, Europe becomes a playground for students. Last weekend one group headed for Venice while another decided to explore Cinqueterra and the Italian beaches to escape the brutal Florence sun. (It has hit three digits here.) We headed inland. One of us escaped the sun by heading to the mountain city of Cortona, made famous by Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun and took a hike to her treasured Bramasole again. (By the way, Mayes, one-time creative writing professor at San Francisco State, is nothing like the person portrayed by Diane Ladd.) The other headed toward Bologna.

When professors and students return at the start of the week, Florence becomes a giant laboratory for their six hours a day of class and out-of-class assignments in feature/travel writing and Italian cinema and history. Some can’t get Florence out of their system and return, such as last summer’s study abroad student Gina Baxter, a CSUF Communications major. She’ll spend the fall semester at the College of the Medici in Florence. The Summer International Media Institute in Florence is an experience of a lifetime for our students.

Tony Fellow,CSUF chair and professor, Department of Communications, and Robin Larsen, professor of Communications, CSUSB, launched the joint Florence program with the help of CSUF Professor Fred Zandpour four years ago.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Life Is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful, though critically acclaimed, generated much controversy. Do you think that controversy was justified. Do you see any similarities between the neorealism of this film and that of Open City?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Son's Room

What do think is Nanni Moretti's message in The Son's Room? Do you see any connection with The Son's Room and the rest of the movie?

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Bicycle Thief

In Roberto Rossellini's Open City, it was easy to spot the hero--those that stood up to the Nazis, such as the priest. However, In Vittorio De Sica's work, if is a bit more difficult to separate the villians and heros. In a paragraph discuss who the villian is in The Bicycle Thief OR talk about portrayal of the church.

Friday, June 19, 2009