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  • Writer's pictureJane Griffin

Let's Hope for More Green Gardens...

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

As an Art History major, and a person who was able to call Italy home for sixteen years, I had heard and seen the impacts of plagues over the centuries. But it always seemed like a remote concept, something that wouldn’t happen in the modern era. Yes, I was that naïve - until 2020 happened.

And today, here we are still battling the modern-day plague. The hardest part about this, is the fact that we could have it behind us, or at least have the end of the tunnel within touching distance.

This sad reality has made me re-contemplate some art history lessons, from a new perspective, as well as wonder why, one country I consider “home”, can accept concepts such as masks and green passes and my actual “home” country cannot.

Let’s start with considering art and history lessons from a new perspective. For those of you, who also studied or enjoy learning about art and history, you too may recall the common refrain “this was interrupted by the plague of…” when talking about the construction of buildings, the trajectory of a town, village, city or hamlet, the painting or sculpting of a piece of art, etc.

So, are you like me, now thinking upon those historic events with more empathy? With an understanding of what a complete halt to life as we know it, really means?

It definitely made me think about things differently when we were leading a small group in Italy this past June and visited the Santa Trinità church in Florence. We shared the story of how the church, as we see it today, was enlarged in the 13th century, by building onto the original church (you can see evidence of the two churches on the backside of the facade of the church). We explained how it took a couple of centuries because of the work was halted when a devastating plague hit Florence in 1248 and wiped out almost half of the city’s population.

As we all sat inside the church - each of us taking a few moments to rest, contemplate, pray, look around, I started to think about some of the other places we visit - all which have numerous examples of the scars or outcomes of a plague.

The amazing town of Paestum, which ultimately saw its demise due to malaria over 1,000 years ago.

Or the birth of an enchanted garden, that was built in the early 17th century, just after a plague had devastated Italy and all of Europe. A noble family from Venice, that wanted to escape the plague had left the city to live in their guesthouse that was located on the current site of the gardens. During their stay, the family made a vow to God, that if they lived through the plague they would build a garden to thank him. And, so Valsanzibio was born.

Sadly, now we all know what a devastating health crisis means - which brings me to the second part of today’s topic - why are we, in the United States, not doing everything in our power to stop the destruction of this virus? Why, instead are we fighting over masks as if wearing them is an infraction on our civil liberties? Really, are we more concerned about wearing a mask than possibly putting someone’s life in danger? Of course, there are plenty of people in Italy who are not happy with masks and with the green pass - but they are the minority. And, as such, the regulations continue and so far, the Delta variant is not exploding exponentially in Italy, as it is here in the U.S.

Is it cultural differences, that stem from the lack of tangible evidence of devastation from plagues over the centuries? Is it because our country is so bitterly divided that we cannot even find common ground in battling a miniscule, yet lethal virus? Is it just that we are too self-centered to put the common good ahead of everything else? Or is it a combination of all of the above, that leaves us with a reality that is even more devastating than SARS-CoV-2 and all of its variants: that we cannot find our humanity, our compassion, our love for one another to do the right thing for the common good.

Let’s hope that changes - and let’s hope we can fill our world with gardens of thanks, like Valsanzibio.

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