Notes From Italy, Vol. 6: Botticelli’s Niece

Vol. 6 in my Notes From Italy series.

So, yeah, we were in Florence, visited the Uffizi Gallery, a massive and profound feast of art, and we had the great pleasure to stand right in front of this masterpiece, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

Birth_of_venus

… and the very first thought that popped into my mind was:

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you’re seein’ double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs
Got to hurry on back to my hotel room
Where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece
She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece

–Bob Dylan, When I Paint My Masterpiece, 1971

It didn’t matter that Dylan speaks of Rome and this Venus is in Florence, and it didn’t matter — if it wasn’t creepy enough to think of the artist painting nudes of his brother’s or sister’s daughter– that art historians have firmly ruled out that the image of Venus is that of his niece.

Given that Birth of Venus is such an iconic piece, it seems a very good possibility that Dylan was referring to the painting and having a little fun.

So, you might ask, what thoughts did I have about Birth of Venus once the Dylan wore off?

Well, it had nothing to do with how beautiful the painting is, or the mythological story it tells, or what a wonderful composition, with the winds blowing Venus to shore and her handmaiden waiting and ready to clothe her.

No, instead, I thought of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Terry Gilliam’s brilliant animation:

I know, I’m so highbrow!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 7: How To Fake Speaking Italian

Pokémon, Don’t Go: A Poem

PokeballPokémon, go.
but only that I might hop on my skis
or mountain bike
or kayak
and look for you.

When I find you,
let’s hang out
and play Xbox games,
and Snapchat with our friends,
who are across town,
also playing Xbox games,
because the serious things in this life
have become WAY too serious …
and scary.

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. 2: Italians & Their Tiny Vehicles

scooters-cars-composite

So, remember what I said in my last Notes From Italy installment?

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

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!

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

The one exception?

When Italians get on their lilliputian scooters or into their lilliputian cars — heck, even their trucks are lilliputian! —

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… they do so as if they are all facing a dire emergency; as if getting from Point A to Point B, even if Point A is home and Point B a grocery store, is a matter of life and death.

Tailgating and passing other vehicles whenever humanly and mechanically possible is of the utmost importance.

Traffic rules don’t seem to exist. I don’t think I saw a turn signal used the entire two weeks in the country, except for obvious fellow tourists in rental cars.

Italians drive like they speak, with great intensity of feeling. They are the Luciano Pavarottis of the road.

But then maybe these motoring tendencies are NOT actually an exception to the “artists of leisure” label I have applied to my Italian brothers and sisters.

Maybe, after all, Italians drive their tiny, tiny vehicles very, very fast because…

…it’s fun!

By that logic, then, driving, even for the most mundane of journeys, could be seen as a form of play, a form of leisure!

Molto bene!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 3: Food Highlight #1

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!

A Dream Deferred: Thoughts On Dallas In Two Quotes

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

Notes From Italy: An Introduction

ItalyAs mentioned in my last post, my wife, son and I recently returned from a 2-week trip in Italy, a trip that defibrillated and resuscitated my inner blogger.

The first product of this resurrection will be a recurring series of posts titled Notes From Italy.

A few notes about the Notes:

  • When I tried journaling on my very first day in the country, in a café in Florence, it wasn’t pretty. The experience of traveling there, of actually being there, certainly opened up the creative floodgates, but the flood was so overwhelming that I struggled to determine where to start or what specifically to write about.
  • This partially stemmed from the fact that I’d dreamed of going to Italy since I was a kid, eating at my local pizzeria, then as a teenager learning about Italian art and music, and beyond. My brain couldn’t really comprehend that, at last, I was finally there.
  • So, I took a few days off and didn’t write anything, while little bits and pieces started floating around in my head, observations and reactions to things I was experiencing.
  • Not wanting to lose these thoughts and reflections, I decided to take a different approach and started a simple list, some items no longer than a phrase or a sentence, others a short paragraph, just enough to capture the main ideas. This was incredibly liberating, and it eventually yielded over 30 items.
  • My approach to Notes From Italy will be similar: posts in this recurring series will only be as long or short as they need to be in order to preserve and convey the essence of my observations, some edited to flesh them out a bit, others left exactly as I jotted them down by hand.
  • Read in sequence, as they appear, or later by browsing through the archived series, I believe Notes From Italy will paint an accurate picture of our great big adventure, from the highest highs to the occasional low.
  • Yeah, there’s something powerful about a list!

I’ll leave you with this teaser/spoiler, jumping to where we spent the last three days of our trip: the Amalfi Coast:

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Positano: a pleasant day-trip from our base in quiet, nearby Praiano. Yes, it IS that beautiful!

Ci vediamo presto!