Notes From Italy, Vol. 4: Naked In Church

Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_AdamVol. 4 in my Notes From Italy series.

If I had to list the most ubiquitous things in Italy, that list would certainly include two items I’ve mentioned in previous Notes From Italy posts, Tiny Vehicles & Food.

Also competing for a top slot on that list:

All Things Catholicism

Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, with Italy being the birthplace of the Catholic Church, but however much I knew what I was getting into, I was still amazed and occasionally overwhelmed by the dominant place the religion holds in the country.

Harboring my share of criticisms of the Church, but nonetheless able to admire the expressions of devotion manifest in the empirically beautiful art and architecture that abound in Italy, my family and I visited quite a few churches, chapels, cathedrals, basilicas, etc., and having done so encountered, up close and personal, a rather interesting cognitive dissonance:

Despite the fact that the Catholic Church is a bastion of conservatism, and Italy the center of the Catholic universe …

… there are a LOT of naked people, basically everywhere!

No experience brought this seeming contradiction to mind more than our visit to the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

Let’s suppose there was a person who knew nothing about Catholicism or Christianity, and had no idea what a chapel is, but at the same time was someone who has had some exposure to even the mildest form of pornography. Well, I truly believe that if this supposed person walked into the Sistine Chapel, at first glance, they might just get the wrong idea.

In other words, there is a LOT of skin, and buttocks, and breasts, and nipples, and the occasional penis … in just about every direction you look!

last judgment

At the same time, every few minutes or so, the guards yell out to the crowd to stop talking and stop taking photos, because, they say, it is a very holy place.

Go figure!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 5: Miscellaneous One Liners

Notes From Italy, Vol. 1: Italians & Leisure As Art

Leisure Italia
My lovely wife and I, attempting to emulate Italian leisure.

On our very first day in Florence, the first destination of our 2-week visit to Italy, the very first thing that dramatically stood out to me was:

Italians make hanging out, leisurely, look so utterly, authentically, natural, in a way that Americans only wish we could.

Put another way, it makes perfect sense that the same people who, for hundreds and hundreds of years, produced legendary artistic achievements — seen and heard around just about every corner, in the legendary art and architecture, in the very way, for instance, that Florence was sited on the banks of the Arno River, with it’s lovely string of bridges leading from the city center across the river to the Oltrarno District, where one can naturally start heading uphill to enjoy the perfect sunset view of the birthplace of the Renaissance from Piazzale Michelangelo — have made leisure an art form.

As you stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets, it seems that every other doorway is a café, bar, or restaurant with outdoor seating, even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishments have a handful of stools in the doorway or out on the narrow sidewalk, and Italians sit there with their espresso or glasses of wine in their hands, seemingly not a care in the world, fully relaxed, entertained by just being there.

Back home in the U.S., most people seem to always be thinking about and concerned with where they aren’t or where they need to be next, constantly interacting with their mobile phones, even in the company of others, while in Florence there was hardly a phone in sight, and even then a brief glance and back into a pocket or purse it goes.

Of course, this does not in any way mean that Italians don’t work hard. They very much do, more times than not in less than desirable jobs, thanks to a weak economy.

It’s just that when they aren’t working, they REALLY know how to NOT work.

There was one glaring exception to this characterization of Italians as Zen-like artists of leisure, but you’ll have to wait for Vol. 2 of Notes From Italy for that!

Ciao!

Admiring vs. Inhabiting Modern Minimalism

I credit Apple, Inc., for turning me on to minimalist design, an aesthetic that I became enamored of and nearly obsessed with …

… that is, until I inhabited it.

But, let’s start from the beginning, with the iMac G4, a mindblowing — to me anyway — reinvention of the personal computer:

imac-g4

Yes, previous Apple products had been rather minimalist, but this is the one that got me.

Now, let’s be clear, Apple did not, in any way, invent Minimalism, which, as a modern art form, dates all the way back to the early 1900s, AND has ancient roots in the Japanese Zen aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi.

But my eyes were opened, and eventually I would find myself attracted to minimalist art, architecture, and interior design.

I found the images and objects soothing in their simplicity. They seemed a welcome, refreshing contrast to the chaos, clutter, and decay in the world, and in some ways it all felt therapeutic to me, like meditation.

Then, about four years ago, my wife, son, and I moved out of the 100-year old Craftsman home we’d been living in for 20 years, and moved into a brand new, VERY modern house, which we decked out with modern furniture and decor, surrounded with minimalist landscaping, and then, slowly but surely …

… we found that inhabiting minimalism changed EVERYTHING.

What had been soothing and tidy from a distance became sterile and cold when it surrounded us day in, day out.

Rather than serving as a peaceful contrast to the disorder of the outside world, our house came to symbolize, to me, humanity’s ancient, foolhardy pursuit of permanence in an impermanent world.

Nature is, by nature, very messy, and yet we erect meticulously clean structures and adorn them with manicured lawns and landscaping that require near constant weeding and mowing and edging and pruning. Given the massive financial investment a house represents, some maintenance is, of course, necessary and wise, but bending nature to our will, to make it look the way we want it to, to allow it to exist only where we want it to exist, seems rather like hubris.

Additionally, modern minimalist homes and furniture do not age gracefully, as opposed to old Craftsman or farmhouse style homes, on which wear and tear adds a charming patina.

Starting with the very first scratch on our dark bamboo laminate flooring, one ding or scratch after another proved unavoidable, standing out like open wounds, and even a healthy scar left by a decent repair made things that had originally been designed to be pristine appear shabby.

Of course, this is all very subjective. I’m sure that many modern home dwellers are quite content, and I regret if anything said above comes across as judgment. For some, I suppose, the efforts to keep a clean, minimalist home clean and minimalist could be a meditative experience, and maintaining beauty and order a spiritual practice.

There clearly is no right or wrong here.

For us, the search is now on for our next home. It’ll be back to an older-style structure with older materials, where we can be our naturally cluttered and worn selves, where we’ll be made comforted and cozy by nature in all it’s messy glory.

nature-reclaiming-abandoned-places-5

What’s In A Name? Julian Brave NoiseCat Is All That!

julian_noisecatHe shares the same name as my one and only son.

And, his middle name, well, it couldn’t be more appropriate.

His name is Julian Brave NoiseCat, he’s a member of the Canim Lake Band of Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation of central British Columbia, Canada, and his personal account, posted at Salon, of his efforts to earn a Rhodes Scholarship is just about the most inspiring and moving thing I’ve read lately.

Short Version

The Rhodes scholarship wasn’t designed or intended for me or my people, and that’s why I wanted it so badly.

Longer Version

I spent months pouring my heart and soul into becoming a Rhodes scholar.

As the grandson of multiple generations of genocide survivors (who endured everything from the Cariboo Gold Rush to the scandal of Native American residential schools), and the only begotten child of a broken interracial marriage between a spunky Irish-Jew and an alcoholic artist who stumbled off the reserve and into a New York bar, I recognize the irony here.

The Rhodes is funded by the estate of Cecil Rhodes, a decidedly terrible man who profited unequivocally from the colonization and exploitation of African peoples and territories. A proud imperialist, Rhodes believed that the burden of both history and progress belonged to the Anglo-Saxon who must strive to triumph over the savagery of the “ape, bushman and pigmy.” Although Rhodes’ explicit endorsement of global white supremacy is noted only in hushed tones and seldom in polite company, the spirit of his vision — to find and enable the most elite talent among the young and educated so that they can lead a righteous crusade forward for humanity — remains. Every year, a short list of scholars from around the world shoulder what was formerly known as the “White Man’s Burden.” Fortunately, these days, it is a bit browner and more feminine than Rhodes originally envisioned.

…Long ago, men like Rhodes — who amassed fortunes from actions that included the theft of the lands where our gods reside, our ancestors are buried and our people still struggle to live a decent life — decided that humans were players in a zero-sum game and that the resources and opportunities would not be ours but theirs. I imagined that when I won the Rhodes and raided his colonial estate, those men would turn in their graves while my ancestors danced in the revelry of vengeful success. I was going to take it all back — for Canim Lake (my home reserve), Oakland (where I grew up) and all of Indian Country. Maybe it was justice. Maybe it was delusion.

I highly recommend reading the entire piece, but if you do so, you may question why I used the term “inspiring” to describe it.

After all, (spoiler alert) while having been selected as one of 15 finalists in his region, only two were offered the scholarship, and Julian was not one of those two. What’s worse, he had to endure a horrendously out of touch, insensitive, and subtly racist inquisition by a member of the selection committee.

So, how can something so heartbreaking be inspiring?

Because Julian decided to pursue the scholarship despite its namesake’s past.

Because, though the Rhodes has been awarded to women and people of color in the past, even an Aboriginal Australian, no member of the Canadian First Nations or U.S. Native American tribes has, and Julian decided he could be the first.

Because Julian’s efforts offer inspiration to indigenous students all over the world.

Because Julian shared something his late grandfather used say — Shake the hand that shakes the world — and he proceeds to describe how he did just that, and he concludes his story with his own undaunted spin on it:

When you shake the hand that shakes the world, look that power in the face and do not tremble.

Brave, indeed.

Eyecatchers: The World Trade Center

GreatBuildings.com
Quite naturally, different people deal with the memory of 9/11 in different ways.

Some wish to revisit the rage they felt that day, rage being just one way of managing the underlying feelings of deep loss and sadness, and so they post photos on the socialwebs of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, accompanied by urgent pleas, shouted out to whomever might be paying attention, pleas that we “NEVER FORGET!”.

As I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed this morning, I found that I couldn’t linger on any of the photos of this nature.

But, when I came upon this image, a photo taken by a friend of a friend, I knew that this is how I’d prefer to mark 9/11, to remember the towers whole and majestic, as they once were:

Josh Hankes

I haven’t been back to New York since the towers came down, and I still can’t get my head around the idea that they aren’t there.

They were an indelible icon as I grew up in New Jersey, a 40-minute train ride away from the city, or, better yet, a ride away on the Staten Island Ferry, so that, as the boat came closer and closer to the terminal in Lower Manhattan, that unlikely forest of skyscrapers sprouting out of that tiny island grew larger and larger before my awe-filled eyes, with the twin towers dominating the foreground, standing guard over that amazing city, a city both powerful and precarious.

Anyway, I’ve browsed around and have collected here some particularly good photos of the World Trade Center, to help me keep those positive images alive.

silive.com
markwalston.wordpress.com
GreatBuildings.com
Joel Cohen
QT Luong
Wikimedia.org
Flickr user ~It’s_me!
skycrapercity.com