One Book, One University

By Michelle Falkoff, CAS ’95

Last week, a group of Penn alumni who live in Chicago got together to talk about the Penn Reading Project book selection, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: a Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, by Anne Fadiman. The book is an exploration of the ways that miscommunication between doctors, patients, and their families can affect healing, and it raised fascinating questions about the ways that cultural perspectives of rank and authority can (but don’t have to) complicate the doctor/patient/family relationships. The book group was the Penn Club of Chicago’s first in a series of events themed around Penn’s Year of Health.

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Since many of the members of the group hadn’t met before the discussion, we started by introducing ourselves and giving some background into our relationships to Penn and Chicago. While this served as a lovely icebreaker, it also provided some initial context for how we all came to the book itself: some, like our discussion leader, Dave Pacifico CAS’03, had extensive knowledge of the subject matter through study of anthropology; others, like our host, Saul Rosenberg, C’61 and one of the Penn parents, Rose Hilmara (mother of a current Penn sophomore) had a lifetime of professional experience with medicine and pharmacology that gave some perspective on the medical issues the book raised. And many of us, myself included, brought just our personal experience with the medical profession and our opinions about the way American cultural norms affected our reading experience.

Our conversation was rich and varied, starting with our initial impressions of the events the book related and moving on to more complex exploration of the relationship between the body and the soul. We agreed up front that there were several basic communications that led to the medical tragedy on which the book focuses.

First, there was the basic issue of linguistic translation, which affected all aspects of patient care—in the absence of effective literal translation, doctors had trouble getting complicated concepts across to the patient’s parents, and the parents had difficulty explaining what they did and didn’t understand. Second, though no less important, was the issue of cultural translation. The patient’s parents didn’t trust the doctors because they didn’t perceive the doctors to be acting in the patient’s best interest, and the doctors weren’t (at least initially) interested in making the family understand why what they were asking was so important.

The issue of how best to medicate the patient implicated both types of miscommunication: the parents didn’t understand what the doctors asked of them in terms of things like dosage, but they also didn’t trust that the doctors were medicating the patient correctly, and so they’d adjust the dosages themselves if they perceived a particular drug to be working, or not working, which was a significant factor in the eventual tragedy on which the book focuses.

We found that, in our experience, these types of literal and cultural miscommunication aren’t limited to circumstances in which there are language and cultural barriers. Medical language has become so specialized that it’s often difficult for lay people to understand what doctors tell them without additional research; insurance has made negotiating the medical landscape byzantine and intimidating. Culturally, we tend to put medical professionals on pedestals, but the Internet has served a democratizing function in its provision of access to medical knowledge to lay people, even as it’s provided additional opportunities for confusion and hypochondria. This meant that, for us, the book proved helpful beyond its basic narrative; we weren’t surprised to learn that it had been required reading at Penn’s nursing school several years ago, and we agreed that it would make for useful reading for all medical professionals.

One of the most fascinating topics for us was the way the book described the benefit of integrating non-Western healing methods into the patient care experience. We talked about ongoing research into the effect of spiritual practices on healing and the ways in which the union of the two approaches has often proved successful in increasing rates of healing, no matter the perspective of the patient. While there was some spirited debate about this topic in particular, we agreed that the progress the doctors had made in the community the book described was very encouraging.

Overall, the discussion of the book itself was very enjoyable, and it was also exciting to feel like we were experiencing something similar to that of the first-year Penn students—it was a nice way to stay connected to our college experience, no matter how far away it was. With the help of our Regional Alumni Director Laura Foltman and the support of the University, Penn Club of Chicago President Michal Clements did a wonderful job organizing, so if other alumni groups are interested in doing this for next year’s book, they will be happy to serve as resources.

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(Editorial Note: Michelle Falkoff’s forthcoming book: Playlist for the Dead, is eagerly anticipated by the Penn Club of Chicago book group. This young adult book will be released Jan. 2015)

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Penn Alumni Broadway Show Event

Join Penn Alumni Education for a matinee performance of If/Then, a Broadway musical starring Idina Menzel, meet cast members, and talk with the show producers, Penn alumni David Stone and Marc Platt. Afterwards, we will go to The Penn Club of New York for a reception and short faculty talk on a topic related to the show’s plot.

Tickets are limited. Register Now!

Event Details:
October 25, 2014
2pm-8pm
Richard Rodgers Theatre & Penn Club of New York
Faculty Lecturer: Cary M. Mazer, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theatre Arts and English
Price: $135 includes show ticket, reception, and faculty lecture.

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This event is the first in Alumni Education’s new “Experience Penn” series. We invite you to join us for a variety of exclusive, off-campus educational opportunities. This exciting series brings alumni together with faculty to learn through shared, often behind-the-scenes, experiences. At each event, faculty members will participate with alumni, facilitate learning and reflection, and offer short talks on related topics as an academic complement to the activity. 

[Do you have behind-the-scenes access to an experience you think other Quakers would enjoy?  Email Alyssa D'Alconzo with details.]

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Live Faculty Lectures, Career Tools, & Travel Webinars

Join us for the following events this month! 

Our Live Faculty Lecture Series kicks off tomorrow, September 24, 2014 at Noon EDT with Michael Horowitz, Assistant Professor of Political Science. Please join us for his talk, “Who’s Afraid of Killer Robots? How Robotics, 3-D Printing and Other Innovations Will Affect the Future of War”. Registration and more information can be found at www.alumni.upenn.edu/facultylectureseries.

 

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The Career Tools webinar series begins next week. On Tuesday, September 30 at Noon EDT we’ll be hosting an Introduction to Career Services for Alumni. Registration and more information can be found at www.alumni.upenn.edu/careernetworking.

 

Alumni Travel

Join Penn Alumni Travel on October 1 at Noon EDT for The History and Culture of Tunisia! This live webinar, hosted by Jerry Sorkin, will be an informative and interactive discussion about the history, culture, and current conditions of the North African country Tunisia. Sorkin is a Middle East and North African specialist with degrees in Middle East studies and international business from Penn. Registration and more information can be found at http://www.alumni.upenn.edu/travel.

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Penn Alumni Travel: Portrait of Italy 2014

Author: Ann de Forest

Our Penn Alumni Travel tour through Italy began on the picturesque Amalfi Coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea and ended at the opposite end of the country in Venice, where the Adriatic flows to form its characteristic lagoon and canals. Led by Joe Farrell, Professor of Classical Studies, and our indispensable Italian tour director Enrica Angeli, our fourteen days of travel across the peninsula from south to north, with stops in Rome, Umbria, and Tuscany, were packed with delights. Information, insights, stimulating conversations, natural wonders, and of course, memorable food and wine were ours in abundance. Late spring was a perfect time of year to experience Italy at its most glorious. The weather was splendid: days, for the most part, were sunny and clear, ending in spectacular sunsets as the evening cooled.

This is a view of the costiera amalfitana, the Amalfi coast, where we began our tour.

This is a view of the costiera amalfitana, the Amalfi coast, where we began our tour.

There were twenty-two of us in all gathered at the luggage carousel in the Naples Airport on the last day of April. Joe, our faculty guide (and also my husband) had already whetted participants’ curiosity with a pre-tour webinar, and in his first lecture, he traced Italy’s history back much farther than the ancient Roman civilization that is the focus of his research, to deep geological time. Italy was formed by the collision of two tectonic plates that pressed together to form the Appenine Mountains, which run like a rocky backbone through the peninsula, dividing regions and creating, in human history, isolated pockets for peoples to develop cultures adapted to specific, local conditions. Earthquakes, volcanoes and other geological upheaval shaped not only Italy’s distinctive, picturesque landscape but also the particular character of individual towns and cities. Throughout our two weeks, we saw again and again how, in Italy, geology is destiny.

We experienced Italy’s topography at its most dramatic on the day of arrival. As we made our way to our hotel in in the seaside town of Maori, we wound our way along the precipitous cliffs of the Amalfi Coast (see below), marveling at the bravura and skill of our bus driver on those narrow, hair-raising ascents and descents, and at his finesse in squeezing by other buses coming in the opposite direction.

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Our first full day, May 1, is a holiday in Italy and the rest of Europe, where Labor Day marks the beginning rather than the end of summer.  So we set out early to beat the holiday crowds. Our first stop is a dazzling jewel of a town, tiny, pristine Ravello, perched high above the sea. The main attraction there was the Villa Rufolo, a medieval castle that fell into ruin and was restored in the early twentieth century by a Scottish industrialist. As we ambled in the formal Renaissance garden terrace (below) and admired the view of sparkling aquamarine water beyond it, a few in our group discussed the Allied invasion of this intricate, treacherous terrain during WW II. Enrica had supplied us with a hand-drawn map for reference. This conversation set the tone for discussions that would continue throughout the trip. Our very first day and stop gave us a quintessentially Italian experience, in which different moments of history overlap, and land, water, art and architecture no matter how tranquil or inspiring bristle with stories of war, conquest and disaster.

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Just as the town was filling up with larger buses of tourists and holiday travelers, our bus headed back down the hill to the city of Amalfi, a one-time maritime power, which we learn was one of three independent maritime republics on the peninsula, whose prowess as seafarers made that nation a rival of Venice and Pisa. The port city is tucked into a narrow canyon, which made a safe haven for Amalfi’s pirates to retreat from enemy marauders. The Duomo, with its steep marble staircase, beautifully accommodates the restrictions of the topography.

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Farther back in the canyon is a paper museum, which celebrates one of Amalfi’s oldest industries, and details the history of paper making (especially delighting one Penn alumna, a poet and book artist, who found the materials here for a new art work). Afterwards, we boarded a boat that skimmed along the coast back to Maiori, a quicker and more efficient means of transport than the roller-coaster roads.

Discussion of disaster dominated our next day’s tour, through the ruins of ancient Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. In a lecture the evening before, Joe had talked about the typical form of a Roman town, with streets laid out on a grid, a forum with public buildings, temples and civic structures at its center, and gymnasiums, amphitheaters, taverns, and baths as features of daily life. He also talked about the fascination with Vesuvius from before Roman times to the present, showing images and impressions of this still active volcano through the eyes of British Romantic painters and Victorian moralists, who saw in the destruction of Pompeii divine punishment of pagan decadence in the early days of Christianity.

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The group poses for a picture with the Penn Alumni banner.

Mt. Vesuvius was hidden by clouds on this drizzly day,

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or as Enrica liked to say “Vesuvio is shy.” The history of Pompeii and what the excavations reveal about Roman life in the first century were fascinating. Walking on intact Roman roads, poking through the House of Menander, with its painted wall decorations, or the bath complex where we admired the delicate stucco work in the changing rooms, was like traveling back in time. The poignancy of Pompeii comes from the sense of deserted places abandoned in a hurry as the volcano erupted and ash rained down around them.

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With Pompeii as our introduction to ancient Roman life and culture, we departed the next morning to Rome itself. On the way, we stopped at Monte Cassino, where the first Benedictine monastery was established in 529. After being destroyed in Allied bombings in 1944, the monastery was rebuilt immediately after the war to reproduce its original proportions and austere white splendor. Once again, the themes of geology and topography emerged. This hilltop with panoramic views in every direction, and a vista that stretches to the sea, made it the ideal spot for a protected sanctuary in the early Middle Ages. Some 800 years later, that same vantage point made it attractive to the German army as a well defended spot where they could track the Allies for miles from whatever direction they came, and this led to its destruction.

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Later that afternoon, we arrived in Rome, where we settled into our hotel in the Centro Storico (historic center), not far from famous classical and Christian sites, including the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian and the baroque church of Santa Maria della Victoria, home of sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s exquisite tableau, “St. Theresa in Ecstasy.” Arrival in Rome was the theme of Joe’s next lecture, which opened with a clip from Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita in which rooftop sunbathers in bikinis wave enthusiastically at a statue of Jesus flying over the city in a helicopter, bound for the Vatican.

Over the next three days our group had a chance to wander and explore this dynamic city, still the capital of modern Italy (a country younger than the U.S., as Joe reminded us). Rome may be a living museum, but it is the ongoing, often raucous dialogue between past and present, sublime and ridiculous, monumental and banal that more than anything makes the Eternal City so alive. On “May the Fourth (Be With You),” for instance, we encountered a Tie fighter and a parade of Storm Troopers, right outside the Colosseum.

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Joe and I have lived in Rome and know the city well, so were delighted to be able to recommend our favorite restaurants, to whisk our companions into tiny churches to glimpse hidden masterpieces of painting, sculpture and architecture, to show the outdoor market at Campo dei Fiori, the espresso bars, gelaterie, and other aspects of Roman daily life. These informal walks and unexpected discoveries provided counterpoint to the impressive monuments we visited on informed, guided tours over the next two days — an afternoon gelato is the perfect way to cap an intense morning of walking, thinking, listening and looking in the Colosseum, the Forum, the abundant collections of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Our faculty tour leader, Professor Joe Farrell, in St. Peter’s Square.

Our faculty tour leader, Professor Joe Farrell, in St. Peter’s Square.

After three days, we bade Rome farewell and headed north. On the bus, the dense, crowded periphery of the city quickly gave way to rolling countryside and green fields. (The pale green grass growing all along the Tiber Valley, Enrica tells us, is semolina, the grain used to make Italian pasta.) Our next destination, the Etruscan city of Orvieto sits on top of a volcanic plateau, commanding impressive views in every direction; and our hotel in the center of the medieval town offers vistas of roof tiles and stone and brick towers on one side, a green valley on the other. Swallows wheel in the cloud-streaked sky at sunset and church bells ring out every quarter hour.

Our education the first evening is very hands-on: We learn how to make pasta in Ristorante Zeppelin, where volunteers took turns following chef Lorenzo’s directions for rolling and cutting the strands and forming typical shapes like farfalle (bowties).

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The next day, we traveled to Assisi, a small city best know for its two saints, Francis and Clare, whose commitment to the poor, to simple lives dedicated to poverty and charity, revolutionized the church of the twelfth century. The lives and influence of these saints, and the basilicas built in their honor, have made Assisi a pilgrimage site for centuries. While we were drawn, like the pilgrims, to the history, the architecture, and the Giotto frescoes, local residents were preparing for their annual festival, a medieval pageant that pits one end of the town (Sotto, or lower Assisi) with the other (Sopra, upper). We found bleachers filling the main piazza and bright medieval banners lining the streets. For lunch, some of us joined the locals at long tables to eat porchetta sandwiches and drink fresh wine in plastic cups as part of the festivities.

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The land, the soil, the stone, the topography — these were what Joe had taught us to look for. The pearly pink cast of Assisi’s stone building, which give the town an almost ethereal air, derives from from the color of the local stone, while Orvieto is more golden in tone, most of the buildings formed from porous volcanic tufa. The earth also contributes to the local industries. On the way back from Assisi, we visit Deruta, a center for majolica since the early middle ages. We watched the quick, deft hands of a ceramics artist paint a small pitcher in colorful, delicate detail. She is continuing a generations-old tradition of craftsmanship in her family.

Enrica, our tour director, shows off some of the wares in Deruta.

Enrica, our tour director, shows off some of the wares in Deruta.

That night, back in Orvieto, we explore the narrow streets and charming angles and alleys. The magnificent medieval Duomo is startling for its scale and its grace.

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We saw the inside of the twelfth-century Duomo on a guided tour the next day, including chapels with frescoes by Fra Angelico and a troubling cycle of the Last Judgment by Luca Signorelli. The day of our city tour happened to be market day, so we enjoyed browsing among tables overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, including the first of the spring cherries, and trucks devoted to salumi,formaggi, and, pane (cured meats, cheeses, and bread). In the afternoon, we visit the underground caves that tunnel through the porous tufa stone under the city. The Etruscans used these to store wine and olive oil, and as wells. In the middle ages, these hollows were transformed into dovecotes, to lure and breed pigeons in times of famine. Pigeon remains a popular local dish, which some of us sampled that night in a traditional Umbrian restaurant. In more recent history, the caves functioned as bomb shelters during WWII.

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We traveled next to Tuscany and stopped for lunch in the university town of Perugia, perched high on a plateau, dominated by a central pedestrian boulevard lined with outdoor cafes. From one vista, we could look across at Assisi, which from that distance seems pressed precariously into the hillside.

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In the afternoon, we turned off the highway, and Enrica stopped the busdriver so we could look across a field to see from a distance the Villa Lecchi, the magnificent eighteenth-century estate, which was to be our home for the next three days. After a week in towns and cities, the Villa with its view of olive groves and vineyards, felt like a true retreat.

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We left our retreat early the next morning to go to Siena. A few days earlier, Joe had told us about the time he spent on an Etruscan dig not far from Siena, and how that summer when he was just out of college he discovered the pleasures of this medieval city, with its sloping, shell-shaped Campo, the main piazza, its pride in its long history as a republican government, and its traditions, including the famous Palio, a frenetic, no-holds-barred horse race around the Campo, which takes place twice each summer. While we were too early for the Palio, we did get to see a living Sienese tradition in action. That night the L’Oca (Goose) contrada, one of the 17 districts that acts as social and cultural centers, was holding its annual baptism festival. Every baby born in that contrada that year would be baptized in the local fountain. As our local guide led us down the steep streets of L’Oca, green and yellow banners waved from the lampposts. A band played in the distance, and suddenly our group was swept up in a parade, a marching band making its way up one of the narrow streets as the first part of the celebration.

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We left the local festivities to see the impressive main sights, including the magnificent Duomo, with its unique inlaid marble mosaic floors.

That night, back at our Villa Lecchi retreat, we dined out on the terrace, listening to the music from a wedding taking place in the main dining room of the villa, charmed and singing along with the American pop music sung with an Italian accent: “Can you feel the love tonight?” The sunset seemed like it was offered to us as our own personal show; and later, as the night grew dark, fireworks in some distant town across the valley flared up in the sky, a perfect ending to a glorious day and night.

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The next day, Sunday, Florence was packed with visitors. We began our own visit to the birthplace of the Renaissance on the other side of the Arno, where the city spread out before us, dominated by the Duomo, Florence’s cathedral, with its campanile designed by Giotto and topped by Brunelleschi’s impressive dome.

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That day we were especially grateful for our tour guide, who was able to skirt the lines waiting to see Michelangelo’s magnificent David, the epitome, she said, of Renaissance humanism. Later, Enrica took a group into the Uffizi to see other masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque art, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Caravaggio’s Bacchus. She also steered those who want to see something off the beaten (tourist) path to a small leather-working shop and museum just behind another Brunelleschi masterpiece, the basilica of Santa Croce.

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The next day took us to a much smaller city, the charming hilltown of San Gimignano, famous for its thirteen bell towers, which rise invitingly out of the Tuscan landscape. San Gimignano’s main church, La Collegiata, features arches painted black and white to mimic the marble stripes of the cathedrals of Siena and Florence. The walls of the church are adorned with an intricate and intriguing fresco cycle from the fourteenth century of scenes from the Old Testament, from the Creation to the story of Job.

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That afternoon, we were treated to an excellent seminar in Tuscan viniculture and wine tasting by a young Italian woman with a Scottish accent in a vineyard just outside of San Gimignano.

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All too soon, it was time to leave Tuscany for our final destination, Venice. After a long day’s drive over and through the Appenine mountains, stopping to experience the Italian version of truck stop dining, we entered a dramatically different landscape, the broad flat plain of the Po Valley. In the distance, the pre-Alps and Dolomites, still snow-capped, formed a dramatic backdrop.

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After crossing a long causeway, we boarded water taxis to reach our hotel near the famous Grand Canal. Then, on an evening walk, we learned how to navigate the twisting streets of Venice on foot, passing the Rialto Bridge and ending up in Piazza San Marco. Later the same evening, a small group went to hear the music of one of Venice’s most famous native sons, Antonio Vivaldi, performed in the Baroque church of  San Vidal. The familiar “Four Seasons” suite was played, on original instruments, more briskly and exuberantly than most of us had ever heard it. The evening’s magic was capped by a ride back to the hotel on a vaporetto, Venice’s public transport, under a full moon.

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In the morning we rode again in boats down to the Piazza San Marco for a walking tour of Venice’s characteristic neighborhoods, and then gathered that night for a farewell meal. To cap the evening, one of the participants read an entertaining and heartfelt homage to Enrica. We laughed– and were moved to tears.

Italy, as we had been told and could see from the beginning, is an assemblage of geographies, topographies, cultures and traditions; and our “Portrait of Italy” was more a collage or a mosaic than a smooth, idealized painting by Raphael or Titian. What we saw in fourteen days was the rich variety that Italy has to offer. We stayed in a seaside hotel, in the fast-beating heart of Rome, in a charming medieval hill town, in an eighteenth-century villa in the Tuscan countryside, and finally in a modern hotel on a Venetian canal. Along the way we saw some of Italy’s most significant sites and monuments: Pompeii, the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, the Uffizi in Florence and Venice’s incomparable San Marco Square. We admired sacred spaces, some of them very spare, like the church of Santa Chiara in Assisi, and some elaborate and immense, like Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We rode boats along the Amalfi Coast and in Venice, and we burrowed under the tufa grottos in Orvieto. We learned about the long continuity of cultural traditions, not just by listening to guides and looking at the sites, but by making pasta with our own hands, watching majolica being made, or holding up a wine goblet to note the straw color and clarity of a young vernaccia. What lasts in retrospect are the smaller moments, the unplanned surprises: teenagers hammering together props for their pageant floats in Assisi, a seafood dinner in Rome where the proprietor politely listened to our orders, and then basically ignored them, taking charge and offering us the specialties of the house, a hot air balloon floating over the Tuscan countryside. My last image comes from the very last night, as we walked back from our jovial farewell dinner across a small bridge to our hotel. In one direction the sun was setting behind the distant snow-capped mountains.

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In the other was the moon, poking through clouds in an indigo sky.

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[Inspired to journey to Italy with Penn Alumni Travel? We will return to the peninsula with a second Portrait of Italy tour next October 2015 with faculty host Professor Campbell Grey. Click here for more information. We will also explore Southern Italy and Sicily in May 2015 with Professor Thomas Max Safley. Click here for more information.]

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Penn Club of Chicago – Volunteer Member Profile

Name: Liane Jackson

Hometown: East Coast

Year: Class of 1993

School: School of Arts and Sciences

Degree(s):     B.A. in International Relations, University of Pennsylvania

J.D. , Tulane University Law School, New Orleans, LA

M.S in Journalism, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Penn Club of Chicago Member since 2013

 

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Liane claims the entire east coast as her hometown, as her family moved around on that side of the country. In the 1980s, she ended up in a suburb outside of Chicago and attended Rich Central High School. When the time for college came around, she was looking for a school that had a strong international presence, as she always had an interest in being in the Foreign Service. After graduating from Penn, Liane worked as an attorney, as a television news reporter/anchor, and as a press secretary. She’s now an entrepreneur. Liane and her husband live in Roscoe Village with their two daughters, Sienna, 5, and Brayden, 2.

 

What other schools did you apply to and why did you pick Penn? My top choices included Brown University, which I never visited, as well as Georgetown – because of my interest in diplomacy – and Penn. I didn’t visit Penn either, but it came across as a hip and diverse university with great programs – including their International Relations major. I’m so glad I made the decision to attend.

 

Name three favorite songs from your time at Penn. Back to Life (Soul to Soul), Pump up the Jam (Technotronic), and Rock Dis Funky Joint (Poor Righteous Teachers). I was also a DJ while at Penn so I have a lot of now ‘classic’ tunes running through my mind.

 

Favorite memories of Penn? I had a good time at Penn! I pledged Delta Sigma Theta my junior year, had a work/study job, did some theater and writing for the Daily Pennsylvanian, and I was a DJ for a while. Some of my favorite memories were being integrated into the city of Philadelphia and interacting with Penn students and local residents at the same time.

 

What course did you struggle with the most? What course was the easiest? Although I didn’t anticipate it, the course that proved most challenging was a Linguistics class I took instead of math……….probably the easiest was a Folklore class.

 

If you had to start college all over again, you would have……….I would choose Penn all over again, but I would try to take more advantage of the deep variety of course offerings.

 

What are you doing now? I own a coworking, meeting, and event space in the Wicker Park-Bucktown area of Chicago. We opened about nine months ago. The business offers entrepreneurs, freelancers and other independent workers a productive workspace, meeting space as well as learning opportunities. My website is http://www.freerangeoffice.com.

 

Advice for Incoming Freshman. Apply yourself! Don’t get lost in the social scene. Immerse yourself and you’ll feel great about your decision to select Penn. Go Quakers!!!

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New Beginnings

Hey guys! My name is Kaila Brown and I am the new Graduate Assistant for the Penn Alumni Office. Words cannot express how excited I am for this new opportunity!

Penn Alumni Grad Assistant

Kaila Brown, GEd’15

I made the great move from Atlanta to Philadelphia, roughly a week ago and ever since then every day has been filled with Philly adventures and new beginnings. Orientation for the Graduate School of Education began bright and early Monday morning. It was truly exciting and inspiring to sit in the ballroom surrounded by some of the brightest minds pursing their love for various aspects of education. There are, both, international and domestic students of all races and backgrounds, and it will be such a pleasure to have these diverse opinions and thought processes shape class discussions. On Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending my specific program’s orientation where I was able to meet my fellow cohort and some of the faculty. I will be earning my Masters in Higher Education. Even though I only spent a few hours with my cohort I already know this is going to be an insightful year learning from a range of students who all bring something different to the table. Every person I met matched my excitement about the quick year ahead! I begin classes tomorrow and can’t wait to learn from some of the leading lights in the field of Higher Ed.

While I know that it will be challenging, I am so thrilled for this next year and can’t wait to see all that it has to offer!

 

Graduate School of Education

Graduate School of Education

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Penn Alumni Travel: Adriatic Antiquities 2014

Author: Professor Ralph Rosen, Department of Classical Studies

We began our Adriatic Antiquities adventure (a Penn Alumni Travel trip) in Venice, where we boarded our ship, the Aegean Odyssey. The ship was relatively small, accommodating only some 350 passengers, and delightfully appointed with two restaurants, several bars and many decks offering spectacular views from all perspectives. We had a small group of 8 adventurous Penn alums plus my wife, Ellen, and about 60 others in our tour group from various other alumni organizations across the country. Other passengers on the ship included a huge group from Australia and Great Britain, which added to the continual liveliness and good cheer of the trip. Almost every day there was a lecture of one sort of another to attend, since the ship had two art historians of their own onboard, and there were two Classicists in our group—myself, and a specialist in ancient Greek politics and Athenian history from Northwestern University. I gave two lectures early in the trip on various aspects of Greek culture, the first on Greek concepts of beauty and ugliness, the second on traditions of early Greek scandalous poetry or satire. I had also sent everyone in our group a copy of Aristophanes’ Clouds in advance of the trip to provide some background to our visit to Athens, and we met one afternoon during cocktail hour in the ship’s lounge to discuss it. This fast-paced comedy addresses the ‘culture wars’ of Classical Athens, pitting traditionalists against a new generation of thinkers and educators, and inspired a lively and memorable discussion.

On our first day we took a vaporetto to mainland Venice to visit the Cathedral of St. Mark. We had a superb guide who walked us through the complex and fascinating history of this amazing structure. The Cathedral dates to the 9th century CE, though the current building can be traced to the 11th. The interior walls and ceilings are covered with gold mosaics of dazzling beauty, telling various stories from the Old and New Testaments, and about the saints important to the Cathedral, such as Sts. Mark and Clement. We learned that much of these were poorly ‘restored’ in the 19th century, and are thought to have suffered much as a result; but to the viewer from ground-level, these mosaics are simply breathtaking.

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That evening we were treated to a very special private visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. This museum, located in what was once Guggenheim’s private home along the Grand Canal, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, houses an extraordinary collection of modernist, surrealist and abstract expressionist artists. We rode back to the ship in small boats along the canal in the early evening as the golden Venetian sun made the Renaissance buildings on the land magically glow.

Venice2

From Venice we sailed directly across the Adriatic over night to our first destination in Croatia, Zadar, in the northern region of the Dalmatian coast. The early history of this entire area is one of continual tension between indigenous inhabitants and incursions from Greeks with an eye on colonization. When Rome became the dominant power in the Mediterranean in subsequent centuries, one finds archaeological traces of their settlements and Romanization as well. By the middle ages, the influence of Venice was ubiquitous among the cities along the Dalmatian coast, and we learned much about these many historical layers from our expert guides.

After Zadar, we made our way down the coast to the Croatian cities of Split, Dubrovnik and the gorgeous peninsula of Korcula. We sailed to Split during the night, and we awoke in the port as an intense thunderstorm was just beginning to break up, offering beautiful dark-grey cloudscapes interspersed with sunlight and blue skies.

Split

Our day in Split began with a visit to the palace of Diocletian, who built this massive complex as his retirement home in 305 CE. Diocletian was emperor of Rome from 284-305 CE, which was a particularly colorful and complicated political period. Diocletian had first appointed a co-emperor Maximian in 286, but for strategic reasons appointed two more co-regents in 293, Galerius and Constantius, dividing up the empire into four different sectors. This historical period became known as the ‘tetrarchy’ or ‘rule of the four emperors.’ Quite unusually, Diocletian actually abdicated his rule and then retired to the lavish palace complex which he had built for himself in Split. From the 7th century CE on, long after it had been abandoned by the Romans, locals moved into the structures, setting up homes and businesses. Domitian’s mausoleum, for example, was transformed into the Cathedral of St. Duje (Domnius) built over an ancient shrine. Built at the beginning of the 7th century, we were told that it’s the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world which hasn’t had to be completely rebuilt. The site reflects today all these many historical layers of use, re-use, re-purposing, occupation and now, tourism. Side trips in the afternoon brought us inland to two other Roman sites, Salona and Trogir. In Salona we visited a Roman burial site, where we saw some wonderfully preserved Roman sarcophagi, along with tombs and mausolea from later periods as well. Trogir was a modest little town, founded as a Greek colony in the 3rd century BCE, now rich in medieval and Byzantine architectural sites; we had time to visit the unusual and impressively well-preserved Romanesque-Gothic church dedicated to St. Lawrence (13th century.). I have to confess that simply sitting in the public square of this utterly charming town late in the afternoon with an espresso and biscotto was one of my favorite moments of the trip!

Trogir

Korcula was a magical place—we had to approach from the ship in small boats across shimmering blue-green water. At the coastline the water was crystal-clear and you could watch schools of fish from the docks going about their business. The Old Town was built in a fishbone pattern to maximize the flow of winds, thus creating a kind of urban air-conditioning—or so we were told by our genial guide. She also told us of the dispute about Marco Polo. Despite the fact that the handbooks all list his birthplace as Venice, Korcula claims him as one of their native sons. Whether or not this is true, every other street restaurant and guest-house in Korcula is named ‘Marco Polo’-something-or-other.

Korcula

Our next stop was Dubrovnik, said to be one of the best-preserved medieval walled cities in Europe. It had a touristic feel about it, but we still enjoyed its antiquities, particularly the Dominican monastery with its 15th-century cloister and the Cathedral of Our Lady, which has on display a painting of the Assumption by Titian.

We continued our journey down the Dalmatian coast heading for Greece, but along the way the ship’s captain made a detour to take us into the famous Bay of Kotor, a fjord-like inlet in SW Montenegro, situated between Croatia and Albania. The sea was calm and the sun shining brightly as we sailed around this breathtakingly beautiful part of the Adriatic.

Kotor Bay

 

The antiquities we visited along the Croatian coast were largely Roman remains and later, though most of the sites had been settled earlier by Greek colonists. The remaining sites on our trip were in Greece proper, and often reflected Mediterranean culture from even earlier historical periods. Most of our guides, however, were extremely knowledgeable about modern Greek history as well, and we learned much from them about the long and fraught occupation of Greece by the Ottomans, and eventual emancipation and independence in the 19th century.

Our first visit on Greek soil was the island of Corfu, also known by its Greek name Kerkyra, and to students of Thucydides, Corcyra (Thucydides famously documented the effects of factional strife there in the 5th century. BCE). We toured the Venetian fortifications, which afforded some amazing views along the coast, but more charming was the town itself—a bustling place inhabited by real people living real lives and not only for tourists. A few of us explored the old city in the afternoon, and even stumbled upon the Corfu Synagogue, where we met a caretaker who was happy to show us around. Their traditions (and building) go back at least 400 years, though the community is small, and reduced even more as a consequence of WWII.

Corfu Synagogue

 

Not too far from Corfu is a small port called Preveza, where we docked for the morning and took an inland excursion to the town of Arta.  The visit to Arta was spectacular. The famous ‘Bridge of Arta’ crossing the Arachthos River dates from the early 17th century,  but its foundations date to the Roman period.

Arta Bridge

According to local legend, a bird came to the original architect and declared that the bridge could only be completed if the architect would sacrifice his wife. While she was being buried alive, it is said, she put a curse on the bridge, but when told that her brother would be crossing the bridge she changed her curses to blessings. Near the bridge is the amazing cathedral Church of the Paregoretissa, built at the end of the 13th century. This is a beautifully preserved and well maintained example of grand Byzantine architecture, with spectacular mosaics decorating the interior. The central dome has a magnificent mosaic of Christ Pantokrator with angels and prophets, and interior walls are graced with grand religious frescoes from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Arta Church

 

From Preveza, we sailed down the western coast of the Peloponnese to Olympia, famed birthplace of the Olympic games. The Greeks have done a superb job with this site, creating a beautiful archaeological park with elegant landscaping, excellent signage and an inviting, informative museum of artifacts from their excavations. Olympia was internationally important from the 8th century BCE well into late antiquity, by which time it had fallen into Roman hands, but by the 6th century CE it was covered over by alluvial deposits, evidently the result of flooding from repeated tsunamis. It wasn’t re-discovered until 1766, and the first excavations only began in 1829. The site itself indicates an expansive array of buildings within a sanctuary, including temples to Zeus and Hera, and adjacent to this area are a hippodrome for horse and chariot racing and stadium for track events.

Olympia

Overnight we sailed from Olympia to the famous port city of Nafplio. This was a particularly busy day for our group, with two trips scheduled (the afternoon trip was optional, but we couldn’t get enough!). In the morning we made our way by bus to the famous site of Mycenae. What I found particularly interesting about this site was how remote and wild the area seemed to be today in light of the fact that during the heydey of Mycenaean culture, in the 14th century BCE, it was a major cultural center with a sizable population. The monumentality of this site was astonishing—huge ‘Cyclopean’ stone blocks, grand archways, brilliant gold masks and large intricately patterned pottery. This was clearly a rich and sophisticated society that left a huge mark on subsequent Greek culture.

Mycenae

After a restorative lunch in the town square of Nafplio, we set out again for Epidaurus, an area that rose to prominence in the Classical and Hellenistic periods of Greek history. Epidaurus has two main sites of interest, both iconic of ancient Greek culture. The first is the great temple of the healing god Asclepius. There were many healing shrines to Asclepius around the Mediterranean, but Epidaurus’ was one of the largest and most famous. People with a variety of afflictions would come from all around seeking a cure, and an entire micro-economy seems to have emerged around such sites. There was a whole industry of priests, shopkeepers selling terracotta votive offerings (usually representing whatever organ or body part needed healing), guest-houses, etc. The idea was for the sick person to spend the night sleeping inside the temple (for a fee, of course), so that the god Asclepius could appear in a dream and offer instructions on how to be healed. This process was called ‘incubation’, which literally means ‘sleeping in’. Many of the stories of these cures have come down to us on stone inscriptions publicly erected by grateful patients or publicity-minded temple administrators. These narratives often seem a little far-fetched to us today, but evidently there were many satisfied customers!

Epidaurus is also famous for its amazing theater, where Greek tragedies and comedies (and other dramatic forms) would have been performed. The remains of this theater date from the Hellenistic period; it’s one of the best preserved and most beautiful examples of theater construction. The theater could hold some 13,000 spectators in the classic Greek semi-circular form, with rows of seats rising steeply into a hill. The acoustics are uncannily live, as is continually being demonstrated by visitors who clap their hands or orate in the circular orchestra where the actors would have performed. In this theater there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house!

Epidaurus

 

Our last destination was, at long last, the glorious city of Athens itself. We pulled into the harbor at Piraeus in the morning, around 10 km from the city, and wasted no time in preparing ourselves for the trek to the Acropolis and its Parthenon—perhaps the single most iconic building in all of Western culture. It was hot and crowded with tourists, but we all made it to the top of the hill and stood in awe of the Parthenon and the spectacular panoramic views of the entire city. I think this was an emotional moment for all of us, and our expert guide added plenty of detail to complement our feelings of transcendence—its origins in fifth century BCE Athens as part of Pericles’ building program, its Hellenistic history, its fate under the Romans, its later re-purposing by Christians, and later still by Ottoman Muslims.

Parthenon

We left in a state of exhilaration, and relocated for our last two nights in a hotel in the center of the city. Our afternoon was unscheduled, so we all went in different directions. I made my way to the National Archaeological museum, where I met one of the other Penn alums, and we spent a wonderful afternoon exploring their incredible collection. There was room after room of all the choice artifacts from all periods of Greek history; I was quite overwhelmed, really, by the richness of this collection—rooms of archaic kouroi, huge Geometric-style vases, Cycladic art, and hundreds of black-figure and red-figure Athenian pottery, just to name a few of the highlights.

Our final morning was spent at the new Acropolis Museum, adjacent to the Acropolis itself, but at ground level looking up. The building only opened in 2009 after years of planning and false starts, but is now a marvel of architecture and city planning. Designed by renowned architect Bernard Tschumi, the museum houses all the artifacts found on the Acropolis, and itself sits on top of another archaeological site of Classical and Byzantine urban remains. Glass flooring at the entrance allows visual access to the excavations below and juxtaposes brilliantly the artifact and modern repository of artifacts. The top part of the museum is in parallel alignment to the Acropolis, affording the viewer both a window on, and a kind of mirror to, the object of its contemplation up the hill. This was an expansive, uncluttered and intelligently laid out museum, and a powerful testament to the aesthetic and political sophistication of Greek culture.

Our trip was unfortunately nearing its end, but we had time for one more excursion that afternoon, to the Benaki Museum, which was only a short walk from our hotel. The Benaki Museum might be considered Athens’ answer to Philadelphia’s Barnes Museum in that it houses the private collection of art and antiquities from a single collector with an idiosyncratic vision, that of Antonis Benakis. This elegant private mansion contains an extraordinary and eclectic collection of mostly Greek art, from antiquity to the 20th century. Since Benakis’ death in 1954 the museum has continued to add to its collection (unlike the Barnes), which now has more than 37,000 objects. After almost two weeks of continual exposure to ancient artifacts, I think most of us found it refreshing to see a deep collection of fine and decorative arts from the 18th through 20th centuries. They have an especially fine collection of cultural artifacts from the period of Greek independence (1821-1835). Among these is a marvelous portrait of the great English poet, Lord Byron, in traditional Greek dress, who was so committed to the cause of Greek independence that he even took command of a rebel army against the Turks in 1824. Unfortunately, he died of an infectious disease before the actual attack, but his inspirational passion for everything Greek made him something of a national hero after his death.

Benaki-Lord Byron

After a final gathering in the evening at the hotel to celebrate our rich and glorious trip together, and to say our sad goodbyes, we prepared ourselves for the return home. We packed an incredible amount of travel and learning into these two weeks, but I’m pretty sure everyone in our group was secretly wishing it would never end.

Professor Ralph Rosen with his group of Penn alumni and friends.

Professor Ralph Rosen with his group of Penn alumni and friends.

[Interested in joining a future Penn Alumni Travel trip hosted by a Penn faculty member? Click here to view our entire 2015 schedule. We will be returning to Greece and Italy on the following tours: Southern Italy and Sicily (April/May 2015), Ancient Greece and Turkey (Sept/October 2015), and Portrait of Italy (October 2015).]

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