Monday, May 10, 2010

A Little Pretty, A Little Ugly

Christine and I went to Florence this weekend.  Well, really just on Saturday.  Got up early, caught a train, and got to Florence at about 10:30 in the morning.  The number one thing we were there to see was Michelangelo's David.  Everything else was just a bonus.

We caught a cab to the Gallerie dell'Accademia, where David is displayed.  I suppose we probably stood in line outside for about an hour, during which it started to rain.  But I had come prepared with an umbrella, so we were good to go.  We got inside, paid the admission price, and headed into the first room.

You'll remember that when we went to see the Sistine Chapel, we had to walk for a mile before we even got to the big attraction.  I fully expected this to be the case for David as well.  So imagine my surprise when I walked into a room and started looking at one of Michelangelo's practice pieces, and Christine said, "there he is," and I turned to my right and looked down the hall and there was the man himself.

I should note here that I'm not what you'd call a huge fan of a lot of the art in Italy.  I might be crazy, but while I find it impressive that people could create that sort of thing in that era, I'm also of the opinion that one can only see so many paintings of Jesus and the saints and Mary without thinking they all pretty much look the same.  It's been a bit of sensory overload, and I'm sure that the "religious art" section of my brain is filled to the brim.

Now, while I realize that Michelangelo's David is technically religious, in that it's found in the bible, I'm not going to remember it as religious art.  I'm going to remember it as awesome.  But not in the way the word "awesome" is overused these days (especially by me).  No, David is awesome in the original meaning of the word.  The thing truly inspires awe.

We walked around and looked it from every angle.  We got up close, then went further down the hall to see it from a distance, which I think is the best view.  It looks bigger that way somehow. It's all alone underneath a domed skylight.  It's about seventeen feet high, and sits on a pedestal that must be about six feet tall. So it's an imposing figure in the room.  But it's not just about the size.  It's just how completely perfect it is.  This was once a giant chunk of marble and Michelangelo made something that looks like it could come alive at any moment.  David's muscles ripple the way they would in life, the veins in his arms pop, and his face tells you everything you need to know about what he's thinking in that moment.

I'm sure I'm not doing a decent enough job explaining this.  I guess you can't really "explain" art anyway.  One just has to see to believe.  I was not expecting to think much of David.  Hell, I had always assumed (when I thought of him at all) that he was a life-size sculpture.  He's definitely not.  He is larger than life in every sense of that term, and it's something all of you should see if you haven't already.

Christine took an illegal picture while we were in there.  They don't want you snapping photos because they want to make sure you'll buy postcards and posters in the gift shop afterward.  We did both.

And now for the "ugly" portion of the trip.

We left the room with the David, bought a few things in the gift shop, then went looking for bathrooms.  We were about to head down the stairs when I noticed that you could still see David by looking through the crack in the door.  We both had another look, then went into the bathroom.

I will spare you the details, for the most part.  Let's just say that I've learned over the last month that Italy is not exactly known for its clean public restrooms.  This is the case even when one has to pay to get into the bathroom in the first place.  I've been told this is the way it is all over Europe, and I'm sure I'll (unfortunately) have to do some research when I'm in Germany and France.

The point is, the bathroom was gross.  There were maybe six or seven stalls, and there was a long line.  Christine got into her stall first, and I got into mine maybe a minute later.  I held my breath, did what I needed to do, and got the hell out of there. But not before giving a look to the person who went in after me. Hopefully that look said, "I didn't do what you're about to see in there."

I came out and headed for the sinks, and saw an old lady standing in line.  She did not look well.  I didn't see Christine anywhere around, so I went to a sink closer to the door. Christine stepped in briefly to tell me that the second one was the one that worked, then she went back to waiting in the hall (it was an open door, though, so she could see in to the sink area). I glanced up at the mirror as I was washing my hands, and that's when I saw something no one should ever have to see.

I turned around to head for the hand dryer, and caught Christine's eye.  I made a face and she said, "I know."  I dried my hands quickly and we walked up the stairs.  I was about to look through the crack in the door to see David again, but Christine stopped me.

Christine:  Let's each tell our stories of how gross the bathroom was, and then we'll forget about it by looking at David.  You go first.
Me:  Okay. [here's where I told her what was in my bathroom, but I won't tell you]
Christine:   [here's where she told me what was in her bathroom, but, again, I'll spare you]

Christine took a deep breath.

Christine:  Okay.  Let's look at David.
Me:  Wait!  But then there was that woman vomiting in the sink.
Christine:  What?!??! 

That's right.  The old lady I had seen standing in line, looking a little green, had been unable to wait any longer before releasing the contents of her stomach.  So when I was washing my hands, I happened to look up to witness that very moment.  And since Christine was standing right outside the door, looking in, and she had nodded and told me she knew, I assumed she had seen all that.  But she had missed the entire thing.  She thought I was giving her the look with regard to the general state of the bathroom.  I was, sort of, but my real look was the kind that can only come after seeing an old lady vomit.

I pray you never know what that facial expression looks like.  I think the whole thing can best be summed up by the picture I took while inside my stall.  Believe me, I did not want to take anything out of my bag, but I had to do it.  Whoever did this must have just known what I would see that day.

Yeah, thanks Michelangelo.


Finally, one more thing that falls somewhere between pretty and ugly.  After David, Christine and I found our way to a restaurant she had found online, Il Latini.  It had a nice feel, with lots of people inside, eating lunch and talking loudly.  The waiter came to our table and started to talk, half in Italian and half in English, offering us some sort of appetizer that was a mix of some of their specialties.  I heard virtually nothing he said, but Christine wasn't really making any grossed-out faces, so I thought it wouldn't be such a bad thing to try what this guy was offering. So I said we could try it.  Christine didn't express nearly as much shock as she should have, given what was about to happen, and she agreed to what this guy was selling.

Then the food came.  We had thought that since it was a mixed plate of appetizers, it would come out as one plate with a few samples on it.  You know, like when you go to an American chain restaurant and get potato skins, chicken wings and mozzarella sticks on the same plate.  This did not happen in Florence.

First, we each got a plate of prosciutto placed in front of us. Then came a little salad with barley, cucumber and I don't know what else.  These two were by far the least objectionable dishes presented to us for this course.  The salad was actually good, in fact. Then the guy put down a hunk of salami that took up its own plate, then two crostini with chicken liver pate on top, then a plate with five sardines soaked in oil.

I nearly cried.  I am a picky eater.  But I am generally willing to try new things.  This was outside my abilities.  The chicken liver pate looked exactly like (and I swear to god I'm not exaggerating) what my dog pukes up when she vomits right after she eats.  The sardines just looked icky, and the salami was at least a quarter-inch thick and not the right consistency.  It certainly didn't look like any salami I'd ever seen.

This was not the kind of place where you tell them you hate everything they've just put in front of you.  The language barrier makes it difficult, for one thing.  But then there's also the idea of offending the sensibilities of these people who actually like the food they're serving.  So we weren't entirely sure what we should do.  Christine doesn't hate prosciutto, so she got to work on her plate.  I couldn't do it.  I tried half a piece and knew that was all I could handle.  I realize that's a pretty innocuous dish, but it is just not my bag, baby.

One of the waiters came by and saw that my prosciutto was untouched.  He took it away and said it was no problem, that we would only pay for one.  But I knew we couldn't do that for everything on the table.  And then I remembered that when we were in the art gallery, we had gotten a clear plastic bag for our wet umbrella.

I took the umbrella out, then basically lined Christine's purse with the plastic bag.  Christine couldn't believe I was even going to attempt what I was about to do, but she served as the "lookout" anyway.  When I was sure no one was really looking, I picked up one of the chicken liver crostini and dumped it into the purse.  I waited an appropriate amount of time, then dropped the other one in there, too.  I made sure to leave a few dollops on the plate so it looked like someone had actually been eating it.  Now we were getting somewhere.

Christine thought she might be able to try the salami, but changed her mind the instant she tried to cut into it.  She just dropped the knife and fork and said, "forget it."  But she cut it up and put a little piece on her plate and a little piece of mine, just so it would look normal.  She handed the salami plate back to me, and in one motion I picked up the slab with my bare hand and dumped it in the bag.

There was still the matter of the sardines, which Christine did not want in her purse.  Instead, she shuffled them around on the plate and then just decided to bite the bullet and eat one.  So in case you were wondering what love looks like, I think it's something like a girl eating an oily fish so you don't have to.  Not that she was happy about it.

I tied up the bag, and we had our actual meal (steak for her, ravioli for me), which was very good.  We paid our tab and left the restaurant to go to another museum.  And of course we had to get rid of the bag of offensive food.  But not before a picture.


Mr. Customer said...

I think I've come nearly full-circle on religious art, particularly from the renaissance. I'm not a religious guy, by any stretch of the imagination, but I've come to believe that subject matter isn't always the point of these works. That all these works were commissioned by the church to depict a particular subject doesn't mean that the artist intended that it represent anything other than beauty or bravery or love or sorrow, which are much more meaningful to us as a literate society that is capable of coming to it's own conclusions.

Bruce Paine said...

The David isn't really religious art. If it was religious, then he would be a Jew. The David is not a Jew, clear evidence can be found in the fact that his penis is uncircumcised. Does a master the calibre of the one that cut this work from solid rock seem to be prone to making simple mistakes?

This is actually a political work. The Medici family had been in and out of control of Florence for some time. At the point this piece was constructed they had been ousted and FLorence was being run by a democratic regime that was remarkably corruption free for the time. David was carved out of defiance. The Medici's were banking giants, and they influenced politics all over Europe. They were bullies and thugs and murderers. Politicians for lack of a better word. David was carved to be a larger reminder that Florentine freedom was not easily subverted and that, thought small, they had conviction.

I see it and I want to fight. Of course, I see potato salad and I want to fight.

Ironically, the word verification for this comment is UNDAUNTED

The Brousseau Family said...

I felt the same way when I saw took the words from my mouth.