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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Week Four: Taiko Drummers at the Duomo, Look Up, Uffizi Museum, Lovers, Nude Statues on Pedastals

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

The days and weeks blend together until the stories of the places and the people stand alone, and specific dates no longer play a leading role. Some stories have no accompanying photos, some museums don’t let you take photos, and some photos are added because they beg to be included …like the Taiko Drummers on the steps of the Duomo.  

Look Up

“Look up” are the first words spoken by tour guides in Florence. Each guide carries a personalized divining stick to lead their group. Some have an expandable yardstick with a colorful flower on the tip, some carry official branded signs from a cruise line or tour company, and others, like Marta from Santa Reparata International School of Art use a huge scarf that doubles as a shoulder wrap. Her scarf bears the neon colored icon of a contrade in Sienna.
No matter the origin of the tour group, if they stop and the leader raises the colors, everyone gets quiet and looks up. I find myself looking up with them. I find myself listening to the guide for several minutes before realizing I don’t understand the language. My six Italian classes and five months of listening to Italian lessons in the car did give me a slight advantage. I have translated the aperitivo (happy hour) discussion between a shoe sales person and her girlfriend about where to go for cocktails, and shortly after that a cab driver’s discussion with his wife about ingredients, quantities and preparation of a pasta dish.

I was unsuccessful with our next cab ride. When we opened the cab door, with water bottles and cookies in hand, the driver turned to us and announced in a stern voice, “No eating, this is not a restaurant, it’s a taxi cab,” and then he returned to his phone conversation which continued for the entire 12 minutes of our trip. He spoke so fast, loud and repetitively that I only caught “ascolto,” several times which means listen/hear, and then a bunch of numbers. Maybe he was a bookie placing bets on the upcoming Il Palio (horse race in SIenna on August 16th). When we reached our destination, he paused his conversation to take our money. Once outside his domain Barbra sniped, “No eating, this is not a restaurant, it’s a phone booth,” and we laughed knowing that Ciao Marcello and this is not a restaurant it’s a phone booth would become imbedded in our future conversations.  

Visiting the Uffizi
I visited the Uffizi Museum and bellied up to a group of Japanese tourists with a female Japanese guide speaking Italian. By now I had determined that if I listened intently to conversations in Italian, French or Spanish (none of which I spoke) and watched the accompanying body language of the tour guide and group, I could glean information from the discussion. I also found myself reading painting or statue descriptions written in Italian assuming that if I continued to read, the words would ultimately speak to me, and sometimes they did.

I have been in museums in different countries before, but only in this museum did I feel as if I were walking through the halls of time and uncovering reasons for my own existence. I had used the same tri-colored pen for five weeks and did not lose it. I wore the same clothes, I ate the same food, and I absorbed art like a sponge. I was always satisfied, stimulated, and enriched – never bored, lonely, or longing. I left wondering if my life at home would be more satisfying if it were simplified. I might like my new profession to be getting up in the morning and wandering with a camera and notepad in hand – simply recording whatever interested me as I have done in Florence.

Lovers in Italy

Lovers kiss and hold each other in Italy – on the street, on bridges, in restaurants, by the sea, in art galleries – and it’s not just a peck. Their desire is wicked enough to cause spectators to move aside for fear the lovers will explode – or to watch and hope they too will catch fire. 

When life size statues are displayed on 4’pedestals, that positions their reproductive organs about 8’ off the ground. On both sides of the worn walls of the main hallway in the Uffizi, every 10’ there are two life size busts (heads) on pedestals followed by a male or female nude, then two more busts and another nude as far as the eye can see.

One by one, you can watch the heads of the old and young men, women and children, bob up and down as their eyes meet the genitals. They first look away, as if surprised, even though they have already passed several other naked statues, and then, after they pass by, they look again as if to make sure they hadn’t missed anything good. I overheard an art history teacher explain to the students that the artists’ male models were not circumcised and therefore the penises on the statues were not circumcised. The muscle tone on the statues was so taut and defined that I almost expected the penis discussion to spark the question of why none were portrayed erect. I listened, but that discussion never happened. Of the female anatomy, the breast, nipples, and stomach areas provided the focus of the sexual tension.

I wondered if all of this divine nudity may be what prompts preliminary acts of love in the museum. Look through the crowd of travel worn tourists and you’ll see sexy confident European men in tight pants and open hanging shirts with stylish women dressed in high fashion boasting a similar air of self-assurance. Look again and you see lovers embracing on a bench, or twisted-as-one in the middle of a busy hallway. As I didn’t notice potential partners, I went back to thinking about these active lovers and how long it might take them to find the exit.

Finding a new friend in a museum
All but one of my museum visits was with a group led by Dr. Carey Rote, an art history professor; her verbal art lesson was a bonus. The professor discussed the highlights of the work as well as adding side notes. Her passion for the pieces enriched the content of the discussion and my experience. I had a schedule conflict with her Uffizi visit so went by myself and stayed the entire afternoon, wandering from room to room in search of the next great surprise. I could almost drink the wine from the glass in Caravaggio’s Bacchus, the tons of brushed gold leaf made me squint, and I felt the bonded love in every depiction of Madonna and child.

Being amid the crowds of people and life size statues made me desire human interaction. I discovered that if you’re alone and you want to talk to someone at a museum, you either go to the viewing point where people are allowed to take skyline photos, or sit with a notepad at the end of a bench and start writing. At the patio outside the museum cafĂ©, aka the viewing point, it didn’t take long for a couple from Belgium to ask me to snap their photo and they snapped mine in turn.  

In the long hall lined with the naked statues, I sat at the end of a bench leaving space for someone to sit next to me and started writing intensely in a journal. There seems to be nothing more alluring than interrupting someone who is focused on writing. In about 45 minutes, at least eight different people sat down and started talking to me.

“Youa speaka English,” my first new friend said. He was about my age and I assumed that since he sounded like Marcello, our upstairs neighbor, he must be Italian. I was half right. He was Italian, but born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA and he had a military buddy who lived in Pittsburg, CA. "Youa know Vaina?, " he asked.
I replied with an expression which implied I did not understand the question. I didn’t. I didn’t know if Viana was an artist he was trying to locate in the museum, a dessert, a movie star, a sports car, or a politician.

“It’sa the town wherea my family came from,” he said. “I broughta my American family toa see it.”
“Youa know Capodiamonte?” he asked mentioning the name of a town he said was near Naples. 

“No sorry, I don’t know the Italian map very well,” I said.
“Well, youa know,” and he mentioned another town.

I replied yes to knowing the location of Rome, which caused him to ask if I knew the location of other obscure towns along with providing their coordinates.

“No sorry,” I said again, “I don’t know the Italian map very well.”
A man and boy came out of a gallery room and started walking toward my new companion. “He looks like you,” I said nodding toward his balding middle age son with the large hook nose, rugged skin, and small close-set dark eyes.

My new friend beamed and with pride said, “Thank you.”
I guessed they would meet up with his wife and daughter-in-law in the gift shop. He rose from his temporary seat by me and took the hand of his willing preteen grandchild. Their heads bobbed up and down, back and forth, as they did the stop-and-go spectator dance down the hall flanked with the naked uncircumcised men and women with rounded marble breasts. 

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