Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What Would Papa Think? (A Very Long Italian Story, Part Five)

With no prior experience as a European traveler, most of my notions of Europe, for better or worse, come from Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls—these were my blueprints for Europe. So, in some way, I imagine Firenze, prior to my arrival, as a place firmly stuck in an era of history that was, at least, eighty years ago. I also imagined myself strolling through it, a suave, hardened man of experience, ordering caffe and grappa from a corner bar, and reading the local leftist paper while I smoked away the morning. Other expatriated Americans would come and go, including Monkey, of course, as we whiled away the day until a late supper found us all gathered around a red-checked table in a tiny eatery, loudly debating local, national, and international politics, surrounded by bottles of wine and more grappa, tearing loaves of bread with our hands to sop up the greasy gravy of a local stew. And of course, the days would be brightly lit by a merciless sun, the evenings would seem eternally crepuscular, and the nights would be candlelit.

And, I guess, some of that came to pass. But first, we had a major museum to tour.

Let me pause here to apologize for the dearth of pictures that this entry will contain. Taking pictures in museums and churches, where we spent most of our time in Firenze, is generally frowned upon. Where it is not strictly vietato, use of a flash is clearly not acceptable. Thus, even were we able to take pictures, which we tried to do where we could, the increased exposure times made taking decent pictures difficult for two folks with limited camera skills (i.e., the Monkeys). So, until we get outside (tomorrow, really), the photojournalism is limited at best. Now, back to the show.

The Accademia is not a very big space. I believe it is part of an art institute in Firenze. It has two floors, the second of which is relatively tiny, and contains some really impressive fourteenth century triptychs and polyptichs and other devotional art in all its gilded two-dimensional glory. The first floor, while also not large, does have the irresistibly attractive centerpiece known as David.

Before one reaches David, however, a long hallway is home to other works of Michelangelo, namely, The Slaves, four unfinished pieces intended for the tomb of a megalomaniacal pope. The power of these pieces is undeniable, but, we found it interesting, in overhearing a tour guide discuss the emotional weight of these figures struggling to break out of the unfinished marble, that the interpretation of the pieces hinges on an accident. As far as Monkey and I can discern, the artist had every intention of finishing these figures. If that’s the case, can their unfinished nature be included as part of one’s interpretation of the pieces? It’s an interesting question to ponder, I think, and one that gets to the heart of meaning making and the role of the artist and the observer in that transaction. But enough about these little unfinished blocks of stone: look down the corridor there, and what do you see, looming three times larger than life itself? The anatomical perfection of David, contemplating his task and clearly certain of his victory.

Everyone has seen pictures of this immense (in size and significance) figure, but seeing it in person, as it fills the atrium of this small gallery, being able to circle it and look at it from many angles and in changing light, is an experience that really can not be described. You just have to see it, really. It’s a beautiful thing.

The remainder of the museum’s first floor is exciting enough, with some wonderfully large Renaissance canvases, but after the centerpiece, the rest is nearly just decoration.

After several hours in the Accademia, the pattern from yesterday was repeated, as we rested up for about an hour at the B&B, and then headed to a little place called Ichee ch’e ch’e (or something along those lines, spelling wise), which translates to “whatever is, is,” for dinner. Without reservations, we were seated in the center of the restaurant at a long “family style” table. Let me tell you something: in general, I hate eating “family style” (unless I am, indeed, with my own family, and, even then, I don’t always enjoy it so much, you know?). We were seated next to a couple, who were seated next to a single hippy. It turns out that the couple next to us were on their honeymoon from New York, and the hippy was a freshly minted high school grad from Cali. As we ate, another couple came in and sat next to us. We recognized them from breakfast. They were staying at the same B&B as we were. They were from Minnesota (via Omaha, believe it or not).

So, in true, Hemingwayesque fashion, we passed the eternal twilight around a red-checked table, a small tribe of very temporarily “expatriated” Americans, drinking wine, sopping up gravy and ragu, and debating, if not the future of the recently installed Italian government, at least the merits of nearby gellaterias.


comoprozac said...

Nice haircut.

ATR said...

Thanks, brother. I did it myself!

AMVB said...

It's great that a hippie made his way into your Hemingway-esque family-style dinner.

Have you had any grappa yet? I'm assuming not, since we haven't heard about it (yet?) in the first five installments.

Your hair is super short! Did you decide to go low maintenance for your trip? It's so hard to get product over there.

Maybe the idea of getting product would ruin your romantic notions of traveling Europe.

Complete non sequitur: This afternoon I discovered this place, which is right underneath my stylists' salon. Proximity to product palace a plus post periodontal procedure! = good.


ATR said...

How funny. I'm all about bringing fun back to yogurt, too. This world has just not been the same since yogurt lost its fun.


AMVB said...

It *was* fun - and tasty. Now I want a t-shirt. That Mr. Yogato is just too cute.


Jami Wade said...

Dude....did you lose a student v. staff basketball showdown?