Tuesday was Art Day. One makes appointments to go to museums here, because unlike in the US, the museums are actually used . MK had made a 10:00 appointment at the Accademia, which probably used to house some rich Italians or a pope, his family, friends, goats and farm implements. Now its most famous inhabitant is David.
That is what the naked man statue is called. A friend of ours told MK a few weeks ago, “Florence is all about David’s dick,” and it does seem as if she is right. We’ve seen postcards with a close up of his dick, postcards with a close up of his dick with sunglasses on it, making it a Marx brother dick. We’ve seen t shirts with pictures of his dick on it, and one has to wonder where exactly one might wear such a shirt. Do you go to dinner at your mom’s house with David’s dick hanging on your chest like some kind of fancy bling? Or go out for a quick bite to eat, your chest dick bouncing as you walk down the street?
Walking into the Accademia, though, it is not David’s dick that draws ones eye to it. It is David himself. I’ve seen pictures of him, of course, but the pictures don’t convey his size. He is gigantic. He measures 16 feet tall, and weighs two and a half tons. He is the length of two basketball players. Michaelangelo was 25 years old when he laid down his chisel from sculpting David; when I was 25, the only thing I was laying down was that month’s copy of Cosmopolitan.
There were a few guards around David, including a woman that was about 5 feet tall-- a third of David’s height--and had a permanent expression of suspicion. She looked at every visitor as if each of us were carrying a bomb, which, given that we had passed through five metal detectors, full body cavity searches and a wanding before we were allowed to so much as glance at David’s dick, seemed like a bit of a trick. Still, our little banty rooster of a guard knew that each of us was going to go berserk at any moment and cause trauma to David’s dick. She was ready and able to throw herself at David’s groin to defend him from the bombs, chisels, rocket launchers and rifles that we had hidden in our money belts, but more importantly, she defended David against the dangers of photographs.
Now, David was in a public square for the first 400 years of his life, enjoying the desert inferno known as the Tuscan sunshine, the Tuscan cold, rain, sleet and snow, and the Tuscan bird shit. But Banty Rooster woman was damned if he was going to have to endure even one flashbulb. Not on her watch. “No peek churs! No peek churs!” she yelled every thirty seconds, and when a flash at the back of the room went off, a look of rage passed over her face before she yelled again, “No Fo dos! No Fo dos!” and made her way to the offending tourist who, with a sheepish look, tucked his camera into his pocket. That wasn’t enough for Banty Rooster, though. She got close to the man, who was probably wishing he was back home in Oslo, imbibing some glog, and she yelled, inches from his face, “No peek churs! No peek churs!”
I kept half an eye on Banty Rooster, but really, the whole show was David. Certainly his size dominated the room, but probably a talented kindergartner could hack at a big piece of marble, call it sculpture, and leave a big memento of her day behind her. But David reflects craftsmanship that defies explanation. The marble is smooth, and white like snow, and the look on David’s face seems both calculating and sad at once. David is Italy’s Statue of Liberty--he represents the fight for freedom. When David killed Goliath, the Jews were set free from one of the first tyrannical regimes which was just the warmup for a few thousand years of playing Throw the Jew Down the Well. But David grabbed that slingshot and hefted the shotput of a rock and killed his people’s oppressor. The feeling of triumph, the knowledge that his people’s fate rested in his massive right hand and the strength of his slingshot are both reflected in David’s face. His brow is furrowed, all two feet of it, and his lips are one determined line, the lips of a man about to throw his fate literally to the winds. Michaelangelo put all of that into a statue when he was 25 years old.
I would like to point out, though, that up close and personal, David’s dick is not a piece of wonder. David would not have lied to say that his dick is six inches long, although one wonders how a sixteen foot man has a six inch long dick.
“He’s uncircumcised,” I whispered to MK.
“Maybe Michaelangelo was unfamiliar with Jewish penises.”
Since Michelangelo was probably gay, it seemed unlikely that he might not have seen a Jewish penis before, but I let it go. I was busy staring at the veins in his feet. The detail that Michaelangelo infused into his David amazed me.
Next to David was large computer screeen , which had a rotating David gyrating on its screen. MK and I were staring like yokels at the real David as several tours came and went. French. Italian. Russian. German. Then a man with accented English spoke to a group of gum chewing American adolescents. While fifteen year old girls snapped their gum, the poor Italian guide talked about Michaelangelo’s career, how he chose the marble for David, and then the computer screen next to him, which he said was the “Digital David, created by Stanford University in Cullyeeferneea.” Wow. A Digital Dave. I watched as the teenage girls giggled their way through flopping David onto his head, and ran the camera up his leg. I had a perverse desire to see Digital Dave’s Dick, but couldn’t bring myself to actually use the cursor to zero in on it. Instead, I watched as several other museumgoers perused the contents of Dave’s head, as if that would allow us to understand the way great art is created.
In one corner of a bench, a woman was holding her cell phone up, and pushing buttons on it. I thought she was texting, but Banty Rooster thought she was surreptitiously taking photos of David. She and another guard conferred quietly, whispering to each other and staring pointedly at the woman, who for all the world looked as oblivious to the rest of the world as she would if she was texting love messages to last night’s paramour. She certainly didn’t see Banty Rooster or Banty Rooster’s mounting concern. The other guard, clearly under Banty Rooster’s provenance, nodded vigorously in response to Banty Rooster’s more and more heated pointing and discussion.
Finally, the other guard left and just a few minutes later, an announcement came over the loudspeaker. It was as loud as an avalanche, probably making the very molecules in David’s dick shudder and tighten as it reverberated throughout the gallery. First in Italian, and then in English. “THERE IS NO PICTURE TAKING ALLLOWED IN THE ACCADEMIA.” The woman with her cell phone looked up---after all, it seemed as if God was talking--and then went back to her cell phone. But now she held her phone lower, closer to her lap, and as she punched and poked at the numbers, Banty Rooster smirked in triumph. She stalked around the circumference of the viewing area, shaking her tail and cocking her head back and forth. That woman goes home every night, perturbed at what tourists will do to precious statues in the name of a memento. Some people are quite well suited to their work.
A few minutes later, a father approached with two school age children. In a pronounced English accent, he told them, “Now, you see David has a slingshot. Do you know what a slingshot is?” The boy, about 8, nodded vigorously and with great interest. The girl, about 12, pursed her lips. She was clearly trying not to stare at David’s dick. Her eyes kept darting up toward David‘s groin, and then back down to the floor. “If you look up, you can see the rock in his hand, Basel and Penelope,” the father said. Now was his chance to teach a ltitle biblical history to his children. “That is the sling and the rock that David used to slay the lion.”
I thought only Americans made bonehead errors like that. I didn’t know that Jed Clampett came in a British version.
As we moved through the exhibit, we also saw unfinished statues called “The Prisoners” by Michaelangelo. Having never tried to sculpt a thing, I somehow imagined that it was like doing a ceramic bowl, that one smoothed the edges in some obscure manner, using one’s hands. I know this is ridiculous, but when I imagine a sculptor, I imagine him patting a piece of stone into life. The Prisoners disabused me of that notion--I could see large chisel marks, medium chisel marks and small chisel marks on the sculptures that were only half done. It made David all that more remarkable--how did Michaelangelo create smooth marble from the rough, crystal finish that his chisel found naturally?
When we wandered into another area near David, we saw several large paintings that had small placards on them, explaining their restoration, which was made possible by the Friends of Florence. One painting depicted what I have come to learn is called the Dispostion of Christ, in which Jesus is hauled down off his cross, dead. Or seemingly dead. But wait, I wanted to yell, there’s more!
It’s amazing what pieces of information Christians keep to themselves, as if we all knew them. The annunciation, the disposition of Christ, the pieta, several other apparently well known scenes that I didn’t know had names. Call me Jessica Simpson, but I thought that when Jesus was taken off the cross, it was called Jesus being taken off the cross. This brings new meaning to a legal form at my work that is called the Record of Death and Disposition, which we use to track the bodies of people who have died
I wonder whether someone just misheard it at the time and it’s all been taken the wrong way. I imagine Saint Peter or Saint Francis or Saint Mary or the city of Saint Louis passing it on that the Romans not only crucified Jesus but also made him undergo a deposition after his death. Joe Six Pack 1 A.D. misheard and wrote it down as a disposition of Jesus. That‘s how these kind of things start. (Side note and shameless self promotion: I write about the Record of Death and Dispostion, informally known as the RDD, in the essay that The Sun Magazine is publishing in February. Order your copies now. Thesunmagazine.org)
Next to The Dispostion of Christ, several other paintings bragged of their restoration, including one called Madonna Enthroned with Child. You guess which child. This painting was fortunate enough to have been restored not only by the Friends of Florence, but also with a major grant by Robyn and Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson.
The rest of the gallery is full of a lot of paintings from olden times. All the religious art is starting to blend together, and all the subjects seems so damn serious. Jesus. As the song goes, he was just a man. You’d think that people could just get over it and move along. It wouldn’t kill some of these folks to crack a smile every now and then.
Jesus apparently didn’t enjoy much of a childhood. He got birthed, toddled into his Demonic period, and then jumped right to adulthood. I don’t really think it was a coincidence that no one chose to depict his adolescent years. He was probably getting drunk on water that he secretly made into wine and then going far too fast in a chariot around Bethlehem, picking up a couple of hotties for the road.
In pictures, though, he spent his demonic toddler hood breastfeeding, sometimes with teeth, while his Jewish friend John looked on. Or at least that is what it looks like from the pictures. John is always waving around that damn cross, like some kind of weirdo. You’d think that Jesus would have gotten the clue somewhere along the way.
I do have to say that all of these pictures of Jesus as a man inspire a bit of compassion for me. You can see that it hurts like hell to get crucified, not to mention beaten, stabbed and generally abused. He had to drag that cross like the Crosswalker, through some streets, up to his hill of death. Hell, I have troruble dragging my cross of a big fat ass up a couple of flights of stairs. I kind of feel for the guy. But Peter got hung upside down. You know that had to smart, not to mention making him dizzy when he got to his annunciation or coronation or disposition or depostion or whatever the hell happened to him after he finally died.
We tried to find an open restaurant after the visit to The Accademia, but it was a holiday, so most places were closed. Yes, it was the Epiphany. I always thought that the epiphany was something that happened to characters in books, when they suddenly realize that they have spent their whole lives fooling themselves about who they really are and decide to fulfill their inner dreams and become modern dancers that wear all black, go to Turkey and tiny little countries that no one has heard of, and drink very, very strong coffee while smoking cigarettes. I had no idea that Jesus did that, but I am sure black looked good on him. It went with the whole death theme.
We wandered around a lot, circling on little cobblestoned streets, until we ended up at the main drag near The Uffizzi, which was our next Art Stop. I wanted to eat at a little osteria, which All Rick, All the Time says is a word that makes his mouth water. MK kept pointing out little stands that sell pizza made with yesterday’s newspaper and the juice of turnips, the equivalent of eating from a permanent roach coach, and I shook my head. I’m a bit of a foodie--ok, I am a foodie--and the idea of eating bad pizza that has been made for American tastes makes my tongue start weaving its way to my uvula in an attempt to make myeself retch. Finally, after the last osteria we tried showed us its darkened, shuttered windows, I agreed to try Revoire, which is a huge, tourist attraction on Signore Plaza, known for its hot chocolate.
The whole place was abustle, with interesting little snacks up on the bar, which MK pushed me away from. I longed to reach right over some furcoated lady’s head and snatch an olive that was just sitting there, but instead a waiter wearing a black, short jacket came up and ushered us to a seat by a window. The real dining room was a room over, but we look like we are from Sacramento, California, so he wanted to keep us under wraps. After much discussion, we ordered an antipasto plate of mixed meats, and a lasagna. The mixed meats were great, although mortadella was on the plate, and mortadella ventures just a bit too close to head cheese, which feeds my organ meat paranoia. The lasagna, on the other hand, was amazing--thick mounds of ricotta nestled between about 90 layers of pasta, a tomato sauce that was made in the last five hours, with little chunks of meat hiding in it. After that, we both ordered a hot chocolate. It wasn’t the best meal I’d had--Lucca is still fresh in my head--but it was good. The bill, on the other hand, was not. $60 Euro for some salami, two pieces of lasagna, and two hot chocolates.
It may have been worth 60 Euro, though, to see the dog. A dandy man in too tight checked pants and a short blue jacket brought in his dog on a leash. The dog, a large, fat bulldog, sported a blue coat just like its owner. He was panting from the exertion of walking from the door to the middle of the room, and his smashed in face took on an expression of exhaustion and resignation. His most outstanding feature, however, besides his uhappiness with the indignity of having to be seen with a man who dressed with too much flash, was the further indignity of having to wear a fur collar. A huge mink collar encircled his neck, over his collar, keeping him warm. Now even the live animals wear dead animals.
At the Uffizzi, which is Italian for “offices,” named because the building was once a set of offices for the Medici clan, Demonic Jesus was out in full force. It began to strike me that Jesus didn’t live in the middle east, at least according to these painters. He was born and lived under the beautiful sky of Florence, it seems. Terra cotta dominated the background of his life, and huge stone palaces were the setting for its drama. Boticelli painted himself and the Medicis into a Tuscan nativity scene. Da Vinci painted part of the Florence landscape in The Baptism of Christ. There were pictures of Italian women praying the rosary at Jesus’ crucifixion-- a neat trick, given that from my understanding, the rosary was something that was invented after Jesus’ death-- and knights praying throughout Italy during his life. It seems as if the Medicis got a little confused and commissioned paintings that modeled Jesus’ life on their own, instead of modeling their own lives on his. Jesus was an ill tempered little tyke, but he grew up to be a Medici.
In the middle of seeing the exhibit, we heard a great drumming. By great drumming, I mean that the marble in the Uffizzi walls shook, three stories above the street, and people began to bolt for the staircases, apparently fearing an earthquake or the Rapture. I went to a window-- a great and complex wooden affair with carved marble as its sill--and looked outside.
The Rennaisance Faire had come to Florence. People in blue velvet floppy hats, and men in knickers were banging on large drums suspended from their necks. Little girls in pink cotton dresses braved the cold and tapped wooly sheep on their back legs with crooks. Women with their breasts peeking dangerously out from red velvet bodices merrily scattered flowers, while men in blousy white shirts blew on horns. Below us passed two yoked oxen who had never been yoked before, pulling and pushing at each other like the newly wedded partners in an arranged marriage. Pigs and goats and llamas and donkeys trotted the street, leaving fresh piles of animal shit for the tourists to swear at. All we needed was a big turkey leg and a good game of hacky sack, and I could have been in California. All this in honor of the Epiphany. I wish a parade like that happened every time I made some profound realization.
After the Uffizzi, we were exhausted, and we walked across the Pointe Vecchio, which is just around the corner from the Uffizzi. The Pointe Vecchio is a bridge that gleams with all the jewelry shops that line it. Thousands and thousands of pieces of jewelry are in every storefront window, and the entire bridge looks like one big Yellow Brick Road. If Italy ever needs to bring back the lire, it can just back up the currency with the gold from one of the Pointe Vecchio shops and be the richest country in the world. As we walked back toward our hotel, I heard an American girl in her early 20s say, as she viewed the gold and silver and jewels of the bridge, “Wow, it’s like Bling Street.” Yes, it’s like Bling Street.
We accidentally ran into Il Fratanelli, a deli that is no wider than me, which is plenty wide enough, and which perches improbably in an alley, with lines of Italians snaking from its counter. I got a salami and truffle cream sandwich and MK got a salami and cheese one, and then she saw some melon gelato at the gelato store next to our hotel, and had a cup of it.
There seems to be a strange obsession with garbage and street cleaning in Florence; the garbage trucks run at least once an hour, offset by the street cleaners. They are small trucks, about the size of a VW Bug on a diet, so perhaps they need to come around more often just to get the job done. I actually think, though, that it is part of the Italian need for inefficiency and keeping everyone employed. At every museum, there are two guards for every room, even the rooms that house Ancient Tibetan depictions of Jesus as a Japanese Monk, or other obscure genres. The guards, unlike Banty Rooster, generally see their primary function as smoking with their arms and face hanging out some window that says, “Do Not Open,“ just underneath the sign that says that smoking is forbidden. If they aren’t smoking, they are playing games on their cell phones, or speaking in rapid Italian to each other, probably giving each other recipes for minestrone soup or figuring out ways to frustrate the French.
We both went to bed early, although the garbage trucks woke me up periodically throughout the night, collecting God knows what. I’m not sure how much garbage is generated on a street full of closed shops in the middle of the night, but I suppose one can’t be too careful about that sort of thing. At about five, I woke up to the sound of a particularly loud garbage truck outside, only to figure out a few moments later, even in my sleepy stupor, that it was not a garbage truck or a street cleaning truck that was making all that racket, but MK in the bathroom. The melon gelato had definitely not agreed with her.
PS: We are now in Venice, where internet access has gone from bad to worse. We fly to Paris on Sunday night, but until then, I am limited to getting email and posting blogs from an internet cafe which is fifteen canals and fifteen complex dark alleys away from our hotel. So expect posts once we get to Paris where MK swears internet access will be easier. Rowing the gondola this morning was more of a workout than I wanted, especially in below freezing weather.