The amazing thing about Avodah excursions is that they are part of the Providence student job description. I realized as we were driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, breathing in salt-water air and watching pelicans swoop down to meet swelling waves, that we were blessed to have the Avodah requirement; to take the day to enrich our classroom discussions about philosophy, history, biology and business by joining in a sensory excursion into a world of beauty and art. This time, our Avodah took us into the hills that line the coast of Malibu, to a separate world created specifically for the sake of beauty, art, and antiquity, and this beauty enriched our classroom knowledge.
Justin Bleeker, Director of Student Life, brought us to the Getty Villa, built by J. Paul Getty, who was a wealthy oil investor who believed that the purpose of life was not in material wealth but in beauty found in art. He said to his architect, “I want to recreate the Villa dei Papiri,” which was a large ancient country house near the Gulf of Naples on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius before it was buried when the volcano erupted in 79 AD. It was a home believed to have been owned by the Father-in-law of Julius Caesar, and after years of precise planning and careful work, here the Getty Villa is today, a recreation of an ancient world, tucked into the hills as it would have been in Naples. The Villa, opened for the first time in 1974, is not only a perfect context for his antiquities, but a way for people to enter into history not only through reading, but through seeing and stepping into it.
We spent our afternoon wandering through statues and paintings from years ago, led by a woman who taught us to see the thought processes, assumptions, and cultural norms behind the artwork and statues. We sat in the garden with the Professor of Art, Bernard Chadwick, who asked us about theories of art and compared ideas of today to those of ancient Greek and Roman art. And then, in our free time, we ambled our way through pathways carefully set in green gardens inlaid with murmuring fountains and pools. I searched for and found a place high enough to see the ocean between the hills, the haze of its breath, and light.
And this Avodah excursion was part of my education as a student at Providence. We are blessed more than we know.
Emily Van Dyke is a senior at Providence from Grand Rapids, Michigan.