In the 18th century, men of means (and sometimes women, with proper chaperones) would embark on a great journey when they came of age. They would travel the great historic sites of western Europe and visit the great empires of the past, taking in great sites of England and France, then move southwards, towards Rome, Herculaneum, Pompeii. They consumed art and culture, picking up languages and commissioned work, spending fabulous amounts of money and lavishing in the perks of well-funded civilization hopping. It was considered a great educational rite of passage to prepare these young aristocrats for an ever-appealing well-rounded life.
I'm doing something like that myself. This summer, I am visiting all the old building block places in my life, and tacking on some new ones, too. And it fits together in the coolest ways.
It means a lot to me that the important places from my history (actual and intellectual) are places I'm going alone. I'm getting married to my favorite human being on the planet in 236 days, according to my WeddingWire app, but before that I get to figure out how big the inside of my brain is, and go on my own Grand Tour.
June 2017: Savannah, GA
July 2017: Italy
August 2017: Charlottesville, VA
I went to college in Savannah, and this spectacularly unusual city holds a huge place in my heart. I learned so much about architecture and academic love, and I did a lot of growing up here.
Recently my friend C, who lives in New York, surprised and delighted me by deciding she wanted to do her bachelorette weekend in Savannah. (Yes please!!) It had been about 4 years since I visited, and there has been a lot of life in my life since then. So we headed down the first weekend of June.
The whole city unfolded in front of me, in exactly the way I remembered, but with a completely different me observing it. I'm not the first person to experience such weirdness, so I won't try to unpack it, but it was amazing, and humbling, and so, so good for my heart.
This is where I fell in love with architecture. This is where I started to learn the things we build are relics of ourselves as much as they are brick and mortar. It's awesome.
The city is gorgeous, a tribute to antebellum beauty with surprising midcentury gems sprinkled in. Savannah also has lanes (called "alleys" in less wonderful places), built right into the city plan. These utilitarian arteries were hidden from the more formal street views, the functional and slave-inhabited streets shielded from the views of the more affluent, delicate members of society.
I have started doing research for my month at Monticello. My comic book / graphic novel (more explanation later) is going to follow the paths of an enslaved person across the plantation of Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th century. These lanes would have been roughly 50 years later than my story, but there was something really poignant for me, pulling at this thread.
At the end of June, beginning of July, my school is doing an amazing ten-day trip to Italy. (This probably lines up the best with our more traditional idea of the Grand Tour!). We are going from Milan - Venice - Florence - Rome - Pompeii - the Amalfi Coast. I am finally going to see in person the buildings that occupied most of my scholarly imagination while I was in school. I had two minors in grad school - ancient and Renaissance architecture, so this is perfect in every imaginable way!
I am going to try to cap my visit in Pompeii with a hello to a friend from UVA who is working on a dig there. Amazing. I took a seminar on Pompeii with her, and I can't wait to see it in person. I have lived in so many pages in my mind, the idea of actually getting to SEE these buildings and historic places? I can't get over it. I want to know what the air tastes like in the Blue Grotto. I want to know what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.
I should be thinking profound, scholarly thoughts (I think), but the first thing that comes to mind is that scene from How I Met Your Mother when Barney wants to do "life without a seatbelt." I probably shouldn't lick the Vatican, right?
Jefferson's Rotunda: Everything is the Pantheon.
I have been awarded an amazing fellowship at the International Center for Jefferson Studies, and in August, I am going to be living at Monticello. This is going to be a truly special part of my year, and probably my life, if I'm being honest.
I loved learning at the University of Virginia. I had phenomenal teachers, I got to completely dive into academics, and tease out new and absurd ways for my brain to work. I wish I could stay in school forever. But the end of my masters degree was truly difficult for me. My hip was falling apart, I was using a walker most days, and I was not in a great mental place to tackle the challenges ahead of me. I did it, but it was not pretty.
Returning is exciting in an intellectual way, but it also feels a lot like another shot at the questions I didn't get answered yet.
I think it's awesome that I get to go see the Pantheon and THEN Monticello (I think TJ would have particularly appreciated that timeline). I get to see and feel the sights Enlightenment scholars were also so thrilled by, and then delve into their century. It just follows so nicely.
I am going to throw myself back in to research and learning, and then try to make my own sense of it in a creative (and crazy) project. I could not be more excited about it. More, more, more about this later. Stay tuned.
Next stop: Italy! I leave in four days.