Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Italy

Everyone has asked me what our favorite part of the trip was and it’s hard to pick out one thing because there were so many iconic moments. After thinking a bit I think my favorite country is Italy.

We started out in Venice which really, really does not have streets. Only sidewalks, water and bridges over the main canals. I learned that the population of Venice is declining and that it is currently a mere shadow of its former self.  There are no young people here.  Nobody wants to schlep a stroller up and down the stairs of a bridge.  Nobody wants to get around without a car.  Nobody wants their first floor to flood on a regular basis if they can choose not to.



The coolest thing we did in Venice was go to a Vivaldi concert. It turns out Venice was his home town. And the building where the concert was performed was the same age and size as where  Four Seasons was originally performed. I felt very 17th Century.

Then we went to Florence. Florence is probably my favorite city in the world. Yeah. When you combine the ease of getting around the town, the food and the art,  it’s my ideal city. It’s not big enough to need a subway so you just walk everywhere and it’s compact enough that you don’t have to wear yourself out.

It doesn’t hurt that my favorite work of art in the entire world is in Florence at the Academia. I could just stand and stare at Michelangelo’s sculpture of David all day long. I’ve been to see him three or four times now and I never get tired of it.

I’ve seen a lot of art museums in Europe. And here is why I know David is so special: At the Louvre everyone is all a-bustle over seeing Mona Lisa. They elbow and jostle themselves to get into position. Then they bark at their travel companions to take their picture standing there by Mona Lisa so they can prove they were there. They give the old gal a glance then scurry off to see Venus de Milo and have their picture taken with her. But I have seen these same people when they come to see David. They turn a corner and he comes in view and they invariably gasp.

A word here about photos in art museums: there is no rhyme or reason to when you can use your camera in a museum. Museums will profess a jumble of reasons from the theory that flashes hurts the art to people who think it’s all about boosting the gift shop sales. Whatever the reasons, every building has a different set of rules. You can take all the pictures you want in St Peter’s Basilica and they love to tell you that’s because they don’t have any paintings in St Peter’s. It’s all mosaic. (Which is a kind of cool bit of trivia and makes you look at things more closely.) Then the Louvre will let you take pictures if you don’t use a flash. Of course, people forget/ignore this rule so there’s a constant clapping and barking from the guards. However, the museum where David lives doesn’t allow any photography. None.

Ever the one to stand up to a challenge, I figured out a way to take pictures. This disturbs Elizabeth. When she was a child growing up I kind of liked that she always followed the rules. But when you’re trying to take a decent picture in a museum and she’s over there hissing at you that you’re not supposed to be doing it, well, it can get tiresome.




Getting back to my point: People just want to prove they’ve seen the Mona Lisa but they don’t really look at her. But David is another story. They lose themselves in the beauty of the sculpture. He captivates in a way no other work of art does. They will stand in front of this majestic sculpture and just stare. After a few minutes, during which they may have forgotten to swallow and drool gathers at the edge of their mouth, they will swallow and move over to the side to look at him from a different angle. Then a few minutes later they walk back the other way. Then walk up closer and get as close as they can. Then walk back to the opposite end of the long hall where they first saw him. Then usually back to the closer view. They can’t take their eyes off him. It’s simply the most magnificent sculpture in the world and I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing it.

My other favorite thing to do in Florence is go to the market and get a sandwich then walk up the hill overlooking the city and have a cup of cappuccino. The market is in a huge two-story building.  It's not in a lot of the tourist books and I can’t even remember how we discovered it. The first floor is mostly meats and the second floor is fruits and vegetables. A couple of butchers will make you a great sandwich any way you want it if you're brave enough to try your Italian.. I like a crusty roll split in half with pesto, mozzarella, salami, and sun dried tomatoes. Then I go upstairs and get an orange and a drink.

We go about a mile or so across the Arno River and up the hill. There are some benches where Beaven and I like to stop and eat our sandwiches. Then we continue up the hill and have coffee and dessert at a little outdoor café overlooking Florence. This is my idea of a perfect day.

This is an old picture but one of my favorites.

In Rome my favorite visit is St Peter’s Basilica. It’s an experience similar to seeing David. You walk inside and it just blows you away. The church is just So. Damned . Big. Then you see those 7 foot-high gold letters over the altar that say in Latin, “Tu es Petra” and recall that Jesus told Peter that he was the rock upon which Christ would build His church. And you realize you’re standing inside the main building of that church. And the altar of the church is supposedly built over the bones of Peter. And by this time you have a feel for just how old this town is and realize, yeah--it could be Peter's bones.

Oh, and then off to the side, like something forgotten at a garage sale is Michelangelo’s OTHER magnificent sculpture, the Pieta. And you can take all the pictures you want which really kind of takes the fun out of it. They also have the embalmed body of Pope John XXIII or John Paul II. I can’t remember which one it is. All dead Popes look alike to me. I always thought the way the British bury people underneath the floor of their buildings was bad but this is just a little spooky. His skin is very pale and smooth so I pretend it’s a sculpture and that helps.

I did see a pretty cool modern sculpture of Pope John Paul II. It’s another one I could stare at all day. It turns out the Vatican has a fantastic modern art museum. They’re very adventuresome (Marc Chagall? In the Vatican?) and have one of my newest favorite sculptures. Very contemporary: “Crossing the Threshold” by Giuliano Vangi. Look it up.

I have to go back to Rome someday because I missed seeing the third Michelangelo sculpture, the one that would give me my lifetime Michelangelo Trifecta: Moses. It’s at another church in Rome and we simply ran out of time and energy. Another visit, for sure.

PS: the other cool thing about Rome is how OLD the town is. Every time they try to dig a subway line they run into some ancient Roman artifact and have to stop digging. The manhole covers say: “SPQR” which stands for "Senatus Populus Que Romani" or "Senate and People of Rome."

Another visit, for sure.

Next week:  Travel Tips like "the Roman Stare"

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