Italy, first and foremost, is a place of intense beauty.
The countryside, the ancient ruins, the better-preserved and painstakingly renewed ruins, the olive-tree lined fields of the Tuscan countryside outside of Rome, the touristy Catholic churches filled with opulent gold leaf, soaring vaulted ceilings, crying South American devotees on pilgrimages, unimpressed Italians, the masterpieces casually interspersed on the mosaicked walls of the Vatican; they all come together in an overwhelming sphere, an enveloping blanket of beauty.
It is the most disgusting place I’ve ever been to. Disgust, sans the revulsion that normally characterizes the reaction, captures the emotion and thoughts evoked by this place. The amalgam of sources of beauty is truly overwhelming, yes, but the richness of the place is what is so truly disgusting.
To understand this, take for example the gelato here. On our first day in Rome, my friend Avery and I visited a nearby gelato shop after exploring the blocks around our hotel. As everyone talks about gelato when talking about Italy (at least, all the people I know who traveled before us with OU President’s Leadership Class in Italy), we knew we had to get our hands on some. Being the rather unadventurous American eater that I am, a creature of habit, I ordered cioccolato.
“Prego?” she asked, knowingly.
I scanned the wide selection of flavors while feeling inept, rushed, and all too foreign. I replied, “Cioccolato?”
“Cioccolato,” was the reply I received.
Expecting something along the lines of chocolate frozen yogurt, I lapped at something that was far beyond what I imagined. The flavor, definitely chocolatey, was absolutely ‘deep’ tasting. It never occurred to me that depth could be tasted, but the richness of what I ate was undeniably deep. Unlike our ice cream, which seems so quintessentially American—sweet, foremost, rather unadventurous in flavor, smooth and creamy, yet almost superficial, even when coming from the nearby Braum’s cows of Tuttle, OK—the gelato of Italy is flavored with an intense richness.
The chocolate gelato is analogous to my experience with the visual richness of Italy. To my uninitiated eyes, used to seeing decades old buildings, the hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of history visible on the mere surfaces of the buildings and ruins here is incredible and literally awe inspiring. Sublime. The same applies for the works of art, the ancient olive trees, the vineyards that were probably initially planted last century. It all evokes a level of depth that my Oklahoman tastes are unaccustomed to. I can along think of my reaction when I first saw the ruins of a house from the turn of the century in a western Oklahoman field, and how its depth in history pales in comparison to that of the streets of Rome and Arezzo.
So, where does this feeling of disgust come to play? The country itself, at least what little slice of it I’ve seen, is nothing short of incredible, breathtaking, and very literally jaw-dropping and dumbfounding. Several times, I remarked that it should be illegal for a country, a single place, to be this beautiful. However, if one can segregate the idea of disgust from the revulsion that causes it, believing the former to be distinct from the latter, and instead being the state or reaction caused by revulsion, one can understand how I reacted to the culture shock of coming to this country.
Italy was too deep in its beauty, and too deep in its indulgent tastes for me at first. I was taken aback, shaken by something like the mixture of fear, awe, longing and inferiority that characterized the Romantics’ idea of the sublime; buildings aren’t supposed to be this beautiful, frozen dairy this overwhelmingly strong and rich, churches this magnificent, olive oil this intensely smooth and indescribably olivey. But it wasn’t the magnificence of the churches that did this to me, nor some fear of the incredibly grandiose frescoes and ceilings, nor a basal feeling of inferiority when walking the steps of the Coliseum. It wasn’t awe. It was the richness of the culture here. The country is characterized by a culture of depth. Deeply stimulating history, tastes, sights.
Garrett Eakers is a student who attends the University of Oklahoma. When he has the time to get away from studying, which is hardly ever, he really enjoys writing. His topics of interest include race, journaling, style/aesthetics, and travel.