UTC CREATIVE WRITING STUDENT TRIP EUROPE, MAY 2000
THE FIRST TWO WEEKS: SLOVENIA
Sat, April 29
We arrived at our house on the alpine lake in Bled, Slovenia, a 5 hour drive from the Munich airport. Our drive from Munich took us through the Austrian alps with spectacular castles jutting out from mountain sides, and past the town where the Christmas carol, Silent Night, was written. Lake Bled itself is a glacier lake carved out 14,000 years ago, and our house is a modest two story stucco with a nice balcony overlooking the lake that is 50 feet away. There are remnants of iron age settlements in the area, a castle on a cliff overlooking the lake dating from the 9th century (and used by the Haspsburgs as a summer retreat). The lake island can only be reached by rowboat and features the 8th century church of the Assumption that has been rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries: the church has a wishing bell that is supposed to ring true if you have the right heart. It also contains fragments of early frescoes commissioned by a friend of Charlemagne, and traces of pre-Slavic settlements (7th c). The surrounding mountains stayed snow covered the entire month. During the month we conducted a workshop class every 4 days with writing assignments and critiques. In the Fall the students will write a paper to receive credit.
We visited Begunje, a medieval castle that was later converted to a baroque manor and in WWII was a German prison and holding camp for larger Extermination Camps. There is a still a Pillbox gun emplacement, and there is a moving graveyard where many of the victims were college age students. The complex is now a state hospital but also houses the Museum of Hostages with ten small cells that held 30 each. For every German soldier killed the Germans would kill 10 hostages chosen almost at random. The walls still have the markings of the prisoners: dates, calenders, and most poignant, prayers, poems and pictures, now protected by plexiglass. In the last cell two British officers who flew in as advisors were held for a few months before they were killed, and there is writing here in English showing their full biographies and also from Dickens Christmas Carol--God bless us every one said Tiny Tim to me...
We also visited the ruins of Kamen castle up the road guarding a medieval trade route through a narrow pass: the castle was begun in the 11th Century and continued through the 16th.
We visited Vintga Gorge, cut through the mountains on the other side of the lake: it is 300 meters deep and visitors walk along a wooden ramp along the gorge walls and over its many rapids. Like the lake, it was carved during the last ice age.
We also visited Savica Slap, a waterfall that is about 230 feet high and streams out of the rocks from the side of a mountain that is 2,000 feet high. It is located down the road from Bled about 15 miles on another pristine mountain lake Bohinj.
We visited Predjamski Grad, a 16th century castle built over a 13th century castle and into a 600 foot high cliff. The castle was impregnable because it had an exit through a vast cave system in the mountain to one of the most verdant valleys about 10 miles away. One of its early Princes, Erasmus, taunted his attackers for a year by tossing fresh fruits and meats down at them, but he was defeated finally when one of his men betrayed him. There is evidence the site was inhabited since the neolithic age.
Wed 5/3 to Sat 5/6:
INTERNATIONAL P.E.N. CONFERENCE
Our students are the only ones who have ever been invited to this conference and their names appear on the program. The conference, held at Lake Bled itself, begins with a reception on the lake isle on Wednesday evening, debates and presentations on Thursday culminating in a reception by the President of Slovenia, Milan Kucan at a palace once used by Marshall Tito. Our students talked extensively and informally with him and presented published books on Slovenian literature that they had edited. The Conference then continued on Friday in Ljubljana, the capital, an hour away. Presentations and heated debates on the role of writers in politics that focused on Chechnya continued well over the appointed time; impassioned voices from all over the world were heard. In the evening there was an international reading by various writers. On Saturday we visited the house of the famous national poet, France Preseren at the nearby town of Vrba which also has a Romanesque Church (St. Mark's) with later 16th century frescoes that are quite stunning. We then took part in a conference ending picnic also near Bled.
During this time students met with writers from all over Europe, and many from other places. They interviewed some, discussed issues informally with others, shared their work with others. They were treated not as students but as young writers. We were joined at Bled by three UTC students who had been studying in Brno, Czech republic, this past year.
We drove 30 minutes to Skofia Loka, dating from 973. Attacked by the Turks in 1476, undergoing an earthquake in 1511, and major fires in 1660 and 1668, the town nevertheless remains pretty much as it originally was. There is in this small town a wonderful hilltop castle with an interesting museum, a Plague Monument from medieval times, and the town itself is the home of the Easter time Passion Play from the oldest dramatic work in Slovenia and featuring 280 players.
Near this town is the church of Crngrob in its original rural setting (13th c) with a stunning fresco on its outside wall of Holy Sunday (1460) which depicts in great detail what should and shouldn't be done on the Sabbath.
When we arrived home we were invited that evening to the gallery next door to our house where the painter Svetina houses his metaphysical paintings, strange, abstract surrealistic and philosophical accounts of what he sees as the great battle between good and evil in the cosmos. The museum also houses the stunning work of his father who was a poet and sculptor and whose whose sculptures are anti-war statements forged from pieces of war materials like cannons, rifles and shells.
We visited the walled coastal ton of Piran, original the site of a Roman Empire Lighthouse along Slovenia small coastline below Trieste. The town was founded in 452 by refugees from the Huns at nearby Aquileia, a Roman port. It is the home of the renaissance violinist and composer, Tartini. In the 13th century it came under Venetian rule. It's hilltop Church of St. Jurij with its 14th century gothic crucifix and beautiful but fragmented frescoes is one of the highlights in a town of tiny squares and great fish restaurants (the best stuffed calamari anywhere).
On the way to Piran we stopped a bit off the road at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Hrastovlje built in the 12-13th century. The hilltop church at the edge of town is surrounded by 16th century walls as a refuge from Turkish raids. It has the most stunning frsescoes in this tiny church by Janez of Kastav in 1490. Pictures of Biblical scenes, saints and everyday life are cimaxed by the incredible Dance of Death where figures in a line start at the cradle and march towards a grave and include all walks of life arm in arm with skeletons. To find such a rich treasure in such a remote place is almost overwhelming.
We visited a mountain pass, Vrsic, driving most of the nearly 5,000 feet up on a series of hairpin curves. The road up originates at Jasna Lake, man made from the miles of bright white skree that have worn down off the mountains. The limestone and copper has made the lake a beautiful clear blue.. At the top, we were able to get out, eat, and climb a few hundred meters up to the very top of the mountain. The mountains contain the great Prisnak Window, literally a hole near the top of one rock face mountain where you can see the sky, and a Russian Chapel built to memorialize the WWI soldiers who died in an avalanche constructing the road we traveled.
We visited the town of Kranj dating from the end of the stone age. Now the 4th largest city in Slovenia, it was a Roman transit post town, part of the 6th century Ostrogoth Kingdom, a 7th century Slav Kingdom and was the center of the reformation in Slovenia. Built on bluffs at a meeting of two rivers, the city boasts several good museums, cafes, and medieval buildings, and a church, St. Cantianus (14th c), containing interesting frescoes and ribbed vaults that soon became popular in the region. The first Slovene language schools were here.
We went into Ljubljana where we met with the class of Boris Novak (former visiting ANB/Suntrust Chair Prof at UTC) at the University of Ljubljana. Here we participated in a translation workshop and the UTC students had the day the talk with Slovene students. We also visited the Writers Union and toured some of the town, once called Emona when it was a stronghold of the Roman Empire.
We road bikes around Bled, and rowed boast-- a day off.
THE WEEK IN ITALY
We drove on the autostrada to Trequanda (6 hrs) in Tuscany, Italy. This is a small town dating from 1273 in the middle of the Crete Sinesi about 20 miles SSW of Siena. We rent a hilltop 17th Century farmhouse, Il Colle, that is part of a working vinyard and olive farm surrounded by hilltop castles and towns. This is the home of the famous sharp peccorino cheese. We use this house for our week long stay in Italy.
We visited Cortona, originally an Etruscan town and now a maze of medieval buildings. It is the birthplace of the famous renaissance painter Signorelli and contains several works by him in the City hall Museum and the Diocesano Museo (his famous 1434 Deposition) which also houses a chapel by Vasari with incredible frescoes of Old testament characters, Virtues, and other Biblical scenes. There is a marvelous crucifix by by Lorenzetti and numerous other works in this charming town.
We visited Siena, once an Etruscan city, and site of the famous seashell campo called by Henry James the most perfect piazza in Europe. The square is divided into 9 pie shape sections for the 9 contrada of the council and the traditional 9 folds of the madonna's protective cloak. Its wonderful duomo with inlaid marble floors showing classical and biblical scenes, a pulpit with carved Bible scenes by Pisano, and carvings, often unflattering, of many popes, is unique. The town museum/city hall houses the famous Allegory of Good Government and Allegory of bad Government by Lorenzettii. Another unique feature and oddity is the Franciscan church that displays the preserved head of St. Catherine! During the war with Florence Siena was the victim of one of the earlier efforts at germ warfare when diseased cattle were catapulted over its walls during a siege. Here also Dante heard the news that he had been exiled from Florence while he was on a political mission.
Later in the day we stopped briefly at Monterrgionni (c. 1203), a tiny hilltop town that is famous for its wine, and for the fact that its ancient towers were mentioned in Dante's Divine Comedy when he describes devils in the Inferno.
Finally we went to San Gimignano, one of the most beautiful walled towns in Tuscany or anywhere. Set on a hill and seen for miles it features very tall towers , superb frescoes by Taddeo di Bartolo (1396) of the last judgment, by Ghirlandaio of the creation and Old Testament, and by Barna di Siena of the Life of Christ. The medieval winding streets reveal a number of fine buildings. The Museo Civico (courtyard frescoes of Virgin and Child by Taddeo di Bartolo, a room where Dante presented important papers, and also housing other important paintings--a medieval wedding scene cycle and a hunting scene.
We went by train to Florence and here the group split up but most went to see the basics: Michelangelo's David, a pieta, and his Slaves, the Duomo and baptistery with its famous doors by Ghiberti and interior ceiling mosaics of the Bible stories and the last judgment with a picture of hell of enormous power, the Uffizzi gallery (perhaps the 2nd best next the the Louvre in the world with work by nearly every major painter who ever worked), Ponte Vecchio (old bridge with silver and gold shops), and Sante Croce Church with its incredible frescoes by Giotto (of the life of St. Francis) and Taddeo Gaddi, cross by Cimabue (13th c), and of course the many superb squares.
Some students also visited the Pitti Palace and famous gardens, the Bargello with its impressive sculptures by Donatello (the Baptist, 1430), Michelangelo (Bacchus, 1497), Robbia and others; the Orsanmichele church (once a market); the duomo museum; and saw numerous other works in the Church of San Lorenzo and Capelle Medicee with work by Michelangelo, Santa Maria Novella (the Trinity by Massaccio), the Branacci Chapel (Massaccio's famous Expulsion). We also visited Dante's house and the chapel where he supposedly first saw Beatrice.
This day we spent in Assisi, a stunning hilltop town dominated by the Franciscan monastery. It houses incredible frescoes by Giotto of the life of St. Francis in the upper church and scenes from the life of Christ in the lower church. There are also frescoes by Cimabue and Lorenzetti. The main town square has a church whose face is an ancient Roman temple. The frescoes are so extensive and complex that we spent most of the day in the church.
On our return we visited a famous battlefield at Lake Trasimeno (towns of Ossia [place of bones] and Sanguineto [place of blood]) where Hannibal slaughtered a Roman army of 16,000 in 217 BC.
We drove to Orvieto, an old Etruscan League center, high on cliffs above the road. For a few decades it was the retreat of popes in the renaissance. It's main feature is the ornate Romanesque Duomo whose exterior is alternating bands of white tavertine and blue-gray basalt on the sight of a miracle. Its front facade carved by Maitani (1320-30) has scenes from the Bible and especially hell and damnation where the figures metamorphose into devils. The main attraction here, besides the charm of the town itself, is the great Capella Nuova with its Last Judgment cycle (1499-1504) by Signorelli (see Cortona from 5/4): this is perhaps the most wild, most expressive, most imaginative and powerful cycle we saw on this trip. It is stunning and vivid and some critics hold that Michelangelo took his ideas for the expressive human from from Signorelli.
We also visited the extensive Etruscan necropolis under the city-- a maze of interlocking caves actually used for a variety of purposes during the centuries including a bomb shelter in WWII.
Some students too the day off at the farmhouse, reading and sunning, riding bikes and exploring. Several visited the nearby town of Pienza designed by Pope Pius II in the 15th century, called one of the most perfect towns, its old part being no larger than a football field.
We then went on to SAnna in Camprena which was the site of several scenes in the movie The English Patient and is now a quiet monastery used as a hostel and Pensione. We were able to see the small chapel with its stunning frescoes by Sodoma. We also passed through several other small towns in a 4 hour loop.
On our return drive to Slovenia we stopped in ArquaPetrarca, the site of Petrarch's last house and his tomb. We visited the house which features frescoes from the scenes in his poems, his chair, bookcase, -- and his embalmed cat! The house is set in the hills that were also the early home of Virgil.
Then we proceeded to Padua mainly to see the Scrovegni Chapel where Giotto painted his famous fresco cycle of the life of Mary and Christ-- this is one of the most subtle and emotive series anywhere, and Giotto can be considered the father of Italian renaissance painting. During this trip we saw his major work in Florence, Assisi and here. For most of the students, this was the art high point of the entire trip.
Next to this chapel is the Church of the Eremitani with its great frescoes by Montegna that exist now only in fragments after the church was nearly completely destroyed by allied bombing in WWII.
BACK IN SLOVENIA (MOSTLY)
Mostly a day of rest. Our landlord in Slovenia took us up to Bled Castle and to dinner in a local cafe. later in the day we went to a movie, The Gladiator, down the road in Kranj.
We drove through the Kamnik Alps towards the old Roman town of Celje, and through miles of Hops fields (the area is famous for its beer), and through a number of tiny Slovene villages and mountain towns.
This was a long day trip to Venice: the group split up to see different things but everyone saw St. Mark's Square with its incredible church whose inside is covered with enormous mosaics from the Bible (12-13th centuries). This stupendous church is the size of a football field and the amount of stone and detail that went into the mosaics which cover every square inch of ceiling is unimaginable. We all also visited the Franciscan Friary with its Titian Assumption and perspective setting, Donatello's John the Baptist, and Bellini's Madonna Tryptych, and its tomb of Monteverdi; and the Scuola san Rocca which contains numerous works by Tintoretto culminating in his incredibly detailed and huge Crucifixion. Finally, the whole group also visited the Rialto, and Academia areas. A number of students went into the Academia Museum, a major art museum, the Guggenheim Museum and several smaller churches with various masterpieces of art (San Zaccaria, Santi Giovanni e Paolo). Some visited the various shops, some went to Torcello, a sleepy island with its 7th century church and Atilla the Hun's Throne, and the islands of Murano and Burano famous for lace and glass.
We went on a picnic in the mountains to the alpine fields at Pokljuka with incredible views of the alps. Then we went to Radovna where 24 innocent people were put in a house and burned by the Nazis. The place is in a beautiful valley surrounded by craggy mountains and has a moving but simple memorial.
We went to Kropa, a small town where nails were made for most of the renaissance churches and buildings in the region (including Venice and parts of Italy down through Florence), Mosta in Soca with its stone age ruins, Kobarid with its award winning WWI memorial museum (this is where Hemingway spent time in the Army and started his Farewell to Arms). The whole Soca valley area is stunning, surrounded by huge mountains of the Slovene Alps, and the battlefield memorials are poignant in their dealing with some of the most savage and ruthless fighting that has ever occurred in any war.
We went into Ljubljana where Dr. Jackson received the Order of Freedom award from the President of Slovenia at a 90 minute ceremony and reception attended by the US Ambassador and numerous other dignitaries. The students once again chatted at length with the President they had met at Bled during the first week. The award was for the work Jackson had done for Slovene Literature and his help during the war for independence and with Bosnian refugees. We spent the rest of the day exploring Ljubljana, its castle, squares, Roman ruins and the like. Interestingly, on the way into town to the ceremony the main Slovene Radio Station played Chattanooga Choo Choo and spoke in honor of Jackson and his award.
A day of rest and packing.
We drove to Salzburg, Austria (Mozart's birthplace) where we visited several churches, the hilltop castle, the famous gardens, Mozart's house and the like. Later we went on and stayed the night in a small hotel just across the German border.
We drove 2 hours to Munich and then boarded our plane to Atlanta.