Friday, January 29, 2016

I LOVE Florence

 If and when I return to Oregon and anybody asks me where I got my garland of magenta fabric flowers and my greenish earrings with arabesques inside them and little dangly purple stones, I will answer, “Florence, darling!” with all the lively European flair I can muster. “Where in Florence?” they might ask, thinking I must be talking about Florence, Oregon. “Oh, by the Ponte Vecchio,” I will say nonchalantly.
The Ponte Vecchio. 

Okay, okay, I am being a snob. I will try to come back down to earth when my Italian frenzy starts to wind down. But for now, the breathtaking beauty and the abundance of wine and prosciutto have gone to my head. Florence, Oregon is also very nice. In fact, I have some lovely jewelry from Florence, Oregon, too. The matching blue necklace and earrings marked the occasion of me turning sweet sixteen. For fifteen years I’ve regarded my sixteenth birthday present as being the most valuable thing I owned. It wasn’t until about a month ago when I carefully laid out my blue necklace that I realized it was just a piece of blue string with some plastic beads strung on it.

The unique value we assign to things is what makes it truly valuable, not its worth according to the rest of the world. In a jewelry store, most women I know are able to connect with a piece that really speaks to them. I usually know the size, colors, and shapes that complement my face and wardrobe. But when walking around a museum, I wonder how many people who are taking selfies with the Botticellis and Raphaels really connect with the paintings, or if they are just taking a selfie so they can have their face next to a famous painting, the same way we hold earrings up to our faces in front of a mirror in a jewelry store.

At the Vatican. 
Kill You. Kiss Me. 
Judith Slaying Holofernes 

Walking around the Uffizi Gallery, I came to Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting of Judith slaying Holofernes. I probably paused for the longest amount of time admiring this work. The audio tour’s description did not do this painting justice, or give any back story about Artemisia Gentileschi’s life. The way Gentileschi painted the blood like small strands of beads gave it a realistic appearance when stared at from a few steps back. In my opinion, her technique was superior to Caravaggio’s style of painting blood like lasers shooting out of Holofernes’ neck. Gentileschi’s trauma of being raped also gave her an advantage in depicting the struggle and the combined strength it would take for the women to get the job done. I look at Gentileschi’s painting with admiration and think, sisters are doing it for themselves.

At the Vatican yesterday, and the Uffizi and Accademia Gallery today, I saw works by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. All this was incredible, especially seeing David, but seeing the word “Pax,” painted on a wall as I walked up a staircase really threw my mind in a whirl. I suddenly remembered playing on a swing set in a playground when I was about seven years old and introducing myself to a boy the same age. He told me his name was Pax. I thought the little boy was beautiful, but I found his name especially beautiful. On the walk home, I told my mom about this boy and his wonderful name. “It’s Pax,” I said. “Like Max, but with a P.” My mom said, “Pax means ‘Peace’ in Latin.” The name’s deeper meaning made me love it even more and I thought if I had children when I was older, I might have a boy and name him Pax.

Florence is a more recent name I’ve identified as a possibility for my hypothetical offspring. I have always thought it would make a great name for a girl. Now if I ever have children or adopt, the name Florence will be a serious contender. This is a great city to be named after, full of artisans, history, friendly people, delicious food, and some of the most extraordinary paintings and sculptures I’ve ever laid eyes on. In the gift shop at the Uffizi, I bought a print of Bronzino’s painting of a little girl, “Bia de’ Medici,” and a print of “Boy Playing a Lute,” by Vittore Carpaccio. I thought these children could be siblings, although their class difference is apparent, like the prince and the pauper. Maybe their names could be Pax and Florence. In my imagination, it’s possible, just like it’s possible for a piece of string holding plastic beads to be a precious necklace, something like what a Medici princess might wear. 

Kelley and me drinking Chianti 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Censorship, Italian Style

I learned the reason the Capitoline Museum was closed yesterday was because the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was the guest of honor. The news that Italian diplomats ordered the nude statues and paintings covered to avoid offending or embarrassing their guest was outrageous. I visited the Capitoline Museum today and admired the depictions of the human body, painted and sculpted, robed and disrobed. I felt a tinge of disgust considering the poor judgment that went into the Italians censoring their own national treasures. Who made that decision anyway and where’s their Italian pride? I’m not even Italian and I feel insulted. I am fairly accustomed to being a guest in foreign countries and I have never expected any of my hosts to cover up their cultural heritage to meet my demands.

At the Vatican today I learned that Michelangelo was censored after his death. In The Last Judgment, Daniele da Volterra was hired to defile Michelangelo’s work by covering up genitals and bottoms with cloth and fig leaves. Some religious fanatics just have a hard time dealing with the fact that we all come into this world with no clothes on. In The Last Judgment, people are shown either going up to heaven or being damned to hell, so it’s a little bit too late for them to be modest, in my opinion. They don’t need clothes where they’re going, so why bother. The only nude figures I spotted in The Last Judgment were down at the bottom, in the throes of agony, perhaps to show just how sinful they were.

People in power should know, especially from Italy’s history of religious oppression that the Catholic Church is infamous for, and the censoring of some of their greatest artists, that covering up nudes to please someone with religious hang-ups about the human body is NOT a good idea.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016



Alexander the Great floor mosaic
The best kind of laughter is infectious and free. Winding our way around the Piazza del Campidoglio, the cab driver, my friends, and I laughed over the clogged cars trying to squeeze into tight gaps until there was a veritable tangle of motorbikes and smart cars. Our cab driver rolled down the window on my side to cheerily greet another cab driver who was close enough to flout my sense of comfortable boundaries. It was like a carousel ride accompanied by a ridiculous song on the radio.

The lyrics were a lifeless repetition of, “I’ve seen you around. I find you very attractive. Will you go to bed with me?”

I thought of the poem, “The Automotive Kiss,” by Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, which is an early form of the hot girl + cool car fantasy as we know it today in all its pin up calendar and centerfold glory. I didn’t want to kiss the driver in the next car, but we were close enough to make it happen. Our taxi inched ahead and I said goodbye to the other driver, issuing a “Ciao,” well-rehearsed after watching Italian films. I wish I had a pair of Prada sunglasses to reach the pinnacle of Italian panache when I say, “Ciao,” but I think the amusement in that moment was all the panache anyone could ask for.

For the next song, our cab driver rocked out to Pink’s “So What,” even though he adorably only knew the “Nanananananana” lyrics. I thought, “This guy has the right idea. Sing along even if you don’t know the lyrics.”

Kelley and I ended our day in a quintessential Italian restaurant. The evening was reminiscent of Lady and the Tramp sharing a spaghetti dinner. I ordered the black truffle gnocchi and she ordered some type of “American” pasta. American, we surmised, is code for “with bacon.” We raised our glasses and ate off each others’ plates and it was bella and deliziosa. 

Earlier today, we were walking around the ancient ruins of Pompeii. I wish I could say I’m an expert on all things Pompeii-related, but I still know very little, even after our guided tour. I know that the ancient Romans had a plumbing and drainage system, and that the people of Pompeii had just as many brothels as bakeries. Wealthier citizens could afford mosaic tile floors, marble steps, and colorful paint jobs, traces of which have survived to this day. After taking us to a brothel with some very sexually suggestive murals on the walls, our tour guide joked about the priority of our picture taking and apologized that the rest of our tour wasn’t erotic. I jokingly told him, “Maybe everything’s erotic and you’re just not looking hard enough.” Then he took us to the human remains of some people who died in the year 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted, and I saw his point. You’d have to be some kind of pervert to find human remains erotic. I try to take some things seriously, but it’s hard to visit Pompeii with no comic relief after watching The Trip to Italy with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. I love my travel companions but I have to wonder how great it would be to travel with those guys.

I am satisfyingly full of wine and ready for bed now. Until next time. Ciao.  

The Automotive Kiss (10th Letter to Rose of Belgrade) 

Believe me, the only kiss worthy of our futurist generation is the automotive kiss. Yes, kissing while speeding. You, defiant driver, with your left hand on the steering wheel, will lean out of the right side of the car. And I? . . . In another car sitting next to my young driver, who naturally will fall madly in love with you, I will lean out of the left side, looking for your lips. In flight! Piston of desire. The oil of fortune circulates in the gear of thought. The tension of our wills shapes the road whose touching or threatening undulations can, at any moment, merge into a crashing mortal kiss . . . To be avoided, of course! Especially since my driver will feel his own hands trembling from the vibrations of the steering wheel. Jealousy, his and mine. The road ferocious. With all the spice of danger, it is nonetheless necessary to accelerate the motor and to concentrate all our thousand souls in our tendered lips. Finally, finally, let the spark dart and dart again from the four pulpy folds charged with infinity. . .
A spark which has turned into fire, the unending fire of a terrifying kiss. Would you like it? With what sort of car? At what speed? I am at your disposal and I await orders.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Roman Holiday

Rome has captured my heart and, meanwhile, I’m trying to capture Rome with my feeble camera. I can’t even begin to convey all the enchantment and fresh mozzarella this city has to offer. 

At the Colosseum today, I saw many people sitting on the ancient steps with sketchpads, drawing the stone walls and arcades. I thought drawing would be a suitable way to honor my surroundings, but I don’t have time to see everything I want to see in Rome and sketch it too. I tossed a coin in the Trevi fountain today, which guarantees I will return to Rome. Hopefully, next time I will stay long enough to draw the sights in addition to snapping some touristy photos.

I did a little bit of research before coming here, mainly watching Mary Beard’s documentary, Meet the Romans, and tuning in to what Rick Steves had to say. However, a different, less scholarly, book set in Rome kept drifting through my mind today. That book is none other than Dodsworth in Rome. I kept thinking about it, worrying that I was like a character known simply as “the duck,” a character which causes all kinds of trouble on the journeys he makes with his mousy friend, Dodsworth. This self-deprecating comparison resulted from not being able to withdraw money Sunday and having to rely on my friends’ generosity for my gelato fix. I also have a poor sense of direction, which makes me feel very duck-like.

Fortunately, I was able to withdraw money today. I guess the ATM machines are refilled every Monday and sometimes will run out of cash before then. The apartment my friends and I are renting is right next to the Capitoline Museum, a neighborhood rich in ruins, but missing some very modern conveniences, like ATM machines, or at least as far as I can see.

Another modern fixture missing from every part of Rome I have seen so far is Starbucks. Not a one. Nowhere. I am very happy that this lovely espresso-rich city has not succumbed to Starbucks. Every latte I have sipped so far on this trip has been an event in and of itself. My taste buds are pleased, triggering dopamine and endorphins in my brain. The sunlight on my walk around the forum and the Colosseum gave my skin some much needed exposure to vitamin d, so all around, I’m very, very happy, especially since I have some euros in my wallet and don’t feel like the duck in the Wordsworth books.
The Capitoline Museum was unexpectedly closed when my friends and I showed up, a message delivered gently to us by a handsome blue-eyed monk in brown robes. Fortunately, the little bit of research I had done helped me think of a plan B. We took a cab to the Spanish Steps, which were gallingly closed for construction, but then went right next door to the Keats-Shelley Memorial House. The staff is knowledgeable and the collection of letters and artifacts is exquisite. We stood in the bedroom with a view of the Spanish Steps where Keats died at the age of 25 of tuberculosis. I read Oscar Wilde’s reflection in his journal of visiting Keats’ grave and another letter from Theodore Roosevelt, who was instrumental in getting the museum up and running. It’s amazing to think that a man whose tombstone reads, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water,” could be so wrong.

We ended our evening with fancy cocktails at the CaffĂ© Greco, the oldest cafe in Europe and the famous hangout of Keats, Byron, Hans Christian Andersen, Henrik Ibsen, Wagner, Liszt, Goethe, and Mendelssohn, just to name a few. The other guests looked cool, calm, and stylish, as if getting a cocktail after work and sitting in the same place as all the aforementioned people were a regular occurrence. They weren’t asking their friends to take photos of them holding up their cocktails. I was the only one doing that. Maybe when I return to Rome, going to the CaffĂ© Greco will be slightly less exciting and I can try to blend in with the other regulars.

The Trevi Fountain 
Me at the Keats-Shelley Memorial House
Keats' death mask

The Piazza Navona