October 30, 2011

ANOTHER POWERFUL WOMAN (written from Seattle)

     I rose this morning and checked the weather before I decided what to wear. My computer said it was 61 degrees and would go up to 67. After dressing, I went out to get the paper. It seemed much colder than 61, but I was still sleepy and had not eaten breakfast, so perhaps my body was registering the temperature incorrectly. It was not until I went out to run errands later in the morning, shivering in my simple shirt, that I realized my computer was still set on Venice weather. It is a good metaphor for where I am: my head still back on the canal, my body adjusting to a new time zone.

Gary and Andrea at Dante's Tomb
     Our last weekend in Italy, we took the train to Ravenna. Several years ago Gary helped a young journalist there solve a mystery. Andrea Casadio had located a signature in a guest book at Dante’s tomb in Ravenna, Italy, from 1910, for a Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Beck in Ravenna Park, Washington. Intrigued by the shared city names, Andrea began to research this mystical place in America that he could not find on a map. He contacted Gary and, after some research on the Becks supplemented by pictures Gary took of the area of Seattle still called the Ravenna neighborhood, In-Magazine in Ravenna published Andrea’s article.

     Gary and Andrea have stayed in contact, so we journeyed there to meet face-to-face. Andrea gave us an amazing tour of this city that was a seat of power in the Roman Empire and is filled with Byzantine mosaics. Andrea is a self-made historian and is far more knowledgeable about the region than the usual tour guide.

     We visited the archive where the book signed by the Becks is stored. The archivist gave us a personal tour of the rooms of ancient books that had formerly belonged to the Benedictine monks until Napoleon seized them for the state. I was struck by how the rooms, organized by subject, parallel Elena Piscopia’s education. We are most grateful to Andrea for the in-depth view of Ravenna. We appreciate his strenuous efforts at conducting his tours in English so that we might understand more clearly.

     Andrea had read my blog and knew of my interest in strong women, so he insisted I learn about Galla Placidia. We visited her tomb and he bought me a short biography. She is a bit more vicious than most of my heroines but her hold on power in the early fifth century was exceptional, her machinations not unlike those of Cleopatra. I am not sure I wish to write about her, but I will certainly add her to my list of remarkable women when I lecture about women who were feminists even before we invented the word.

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