Day 18

Posted by Whit Barringer , Thursday, June 14, 2007 2:33 PM


CT 2:47
IT 9:47

Back and Barely Kicking.

Today was my first full day back “home” from Rome. It was interesting how quickly I latched on to Florence after coming back. I feel like a little girl who’s gone to the big city from her country home only to find it unwelcoming. Though I would hardly call myself a little girl, or coming from a country home in Florence, the situation was most certainly comparable. The sights, smells, and feeling of Florence was welcoming to me, and I felt like I’d come to a place where I could at least rest.

We met at the school at 10:00 this morning. Apparently Rome was kind enough to give us some type of plague, as we acquired somewhat of an “attrition rate” with sick people. One couldn’t even show up, and five or six more were sick but able to come. I was relatively fine, though I was a bit upset that I was in my very last set of clean clothes. As far as the condition of the group went, I was in tip-top shape. We stopped at the American Express so Dr. Bane and Paulette could buy our train tickets to Venezia (Venice). While we were waiting, I asked Natalie about the Cat Sanctuary in Rome, because she happened to stumble across it after I’d been looking for it for an hour. She said that the sanctuary is actually part of the ruins, and for 7 of the 14 years they have been in them, the police have tried to kick them out for technically being illegal. Cats that wander into the ruins are spayed and neutered and given free surgery if they need it. If someone calls them, they can go get the cat, spay and neuter them, let them heal, and release them back into the neighborhood. If they’re in the ruins, they can keep them. They said they get a lot of eye infections, so they have quite a few blind cats that can’t go back out. But after they have their own cage for two months, they are put in a room together for two months. If that works out, then they are released back into the ruins. During surgery, the sanctuary will clip the tip of the cat’s ear as an identifier. Turns out most of the cats they take care of stay in the ruins of Torre Argentina. Natalie said she applauded their work, as it was all volunteers, and that they have done a lot to help the cat population in Rome. Apparently, Italy doesn’t support spaying and neutering because they believe it will put vets out of business. (Side note: Natalie also said that after WWII, Italians vowed to never eat cats again even if times were as desperate as they had been.)

Our first stop was the Church of Santa Maria Novella. For those of you who have read or heard of (or done neither) Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron”, the characters in the frame story are actually in this same church, hiding from the plague. Though the story is just that, Dr. Bane said they do believe people came to the church to hide from the plague. The church was absolutely gorgeous. It felt as big as the Duomo without the dome. There were famous pieces in there by all different artists. The stained glass windows were beautiful. Some of them were positioned just right to allow the sunlight to carry the colors. There were no pictures allowed, or I would have taken a million photos. Instead I bought an 8 Euro book with full color photos to commemorate the experience and to help the church restore the paintings (ticket and gift shop proceeds go to restoring the pieces in the church). It has the first and only nude crucifix I’ve seen in all of Italy (by Brunelleschi) and huge floor to ceiling frescos that were absolutely breathtaking. (This is also where we saw a fresco with something like a hundred saints in it with one of them holding a Gremlin-like creature.)

Next we went to the Medici Chapel. This was probably the highlight of the day, simply because of its ostentatious ugliness. When we entered we were ushered into the reliquary room. Bones of saints were in impossibly elaborate vials, cases, and chests. There was even a jaw bone. I remember reading about St. Peter’s Basilica and how it was formed in a time when a church’s worth was judged by the gravity of its relics, which is why St. Peter’s became the most well known church in the world. I think the Medicis had the same thought, though the relics held in the chapel were in the philosophy of “quantity, not quality.” Thus saints I had never heard of had bones I had never thought of inside glass cases for the purpose of power. How ironic to live such a life of pious devotion, only to be used for someone else’s means in death.

We went up into the actual chapel part of the church and were absolutely stunned at what we saw. Everything was made from different types of marble. Marble sarcophagi as big as a bedroom, decorated with the crest with six circles, housed the most important men of the Medici family. I thought the marble was absolutely hideous, with its greens, maroons, and purples, but others thought it was gorgeous. So goes taste, I guess.

The next part of the chapel we entered was the “famous” (though none of us had ever heard of it) tomb of Lorenzo il Magnifico (the Magnificent). The tomb was decorated with sculptures by Michelangelo. The men were pretty, but two of them had unfinished faces. However, the women were so grossly incorrect that we all had to stare and point out exactly what was wrong with them for ten minutes. “They” were off to the sides and muscular. Like the master had started them like a man’s and then tried to mound them off. We then discussed the possibilities of him being gay as well as what a cadaver’s breasts would look like (since Michelangelo dissected them illegally to understand anatomy). Then we carried on to the exhibits and the Basilica of San Lorenzo.

We went ahead and did the exhibits first, which included the Laurentian Library - a room of desks connected to a library (all designed by Michelangelo), and an exhibit of animali fantastici – imaginary animals. It was extremely interesting to look at illuminated manuscripts and see what people thought existed. Sirens (sirene), satyrs (satire), dragons (draghi), phoenixes (fenice), centaurs (which I don’t remember the Italian for) etc. They even had 14th or 15th century editions of The Aeneid (Eneide) and Divine Comedy. Dr. Bane was very pleased.
San Lorenzo is just as beautiful as Santa Maria Novella. It was consecrated in 393 and then reconsecrated in 1059 after being “considerably enlarged,” reads the brochure. However, I will say Santa Maria is not only prettier but better for this reason: San Lorenzo was the Medici’s private church. Symbols are everywhere of their power and influence. The church is huge, but it hasn’t got as much heart as others – at least, that’s what I’ve gathered.

Anyway, after this we were free to go. I decided to buy a gelato just for kicks since I saw limone (lemon) for the very first time. I got it and fragola (strawberry) in what I thought was a small cup. It ended up being a 6 Euro cup, but it was as big as three little ones (or at least I fooled myself into thinking of it this way). Either way, it’s more than I ever meant to pay. I went back to the room to find Rachel, who had disappeared during the last part of our outing (she said she had thought we were done). I gathered up Dante for a good read, but found I was too tired for his words and fell asleep without a hitch. Turns out Rachel did too, so we both got up about 3:20 and got ready for class at 4.

Dr. Bane zoomed through the rest of the Divine Comedy without any hitches until we reached the end of Purgatorio. He asked if we caught what was going on during one of the chapters. Purgatory is shaped like a mountain. In Canto XX or so, Dante asks Virgil what’s going on when the mountain shakes. Virgil tells him that the mountain shakes when souls have walked through the fire and have been thrown up into the heavens, singing and shouting, “In Excelsis Deo!” Dr. Bane asked us again, after reading it, if we got it. I got it when he said it, but the rest of the class just stared at him.

“The mountain shakes… * crazy hand motions * People say, ‘Oh God!’ * hands up in the air * and are shot out, purified.” Most of the class doesn’t get it, while I crack up at him trying to mime what’s going on. Finally, after two or three more tries and writing the word “phallic” on the board and discussing what a phallic symbol is, people finally began to get it. Then we started talking about if that was overanalyzing it, and somehow we got to discussing the origins of art (Michelangelo’s Pieta was put on powerpoint to talk about how he researched cadavers to get the anatomy correct – do we really want to know the origins of art?). Then we talked about the commercialization of religion and how “Piss Christ” (a cheap crucifix in a jar of urine with light shining on it) is less offensive than Buddy Christ and Jesus is my Homeboy t-shirts (I argued it wasn’t because “Jesus is my Homeboy” is doctrine for many people, as opposed to the symbolism behind “Piss Christ”). Then we got into the role of women, and I talked about a friend who had taken Gender and Sexuality, and how they had to watch a video about women in Judaism. The woman, a lesbian, had gone to the Rabbi, asking what she was to do about her feelings. The Rabbi told her a) get married and have as many children as possible, because that is a woman’s role after the Holocaust, and b) if you can’t manage your feelings, have someone “on the side.” My argument in this being that culture has changed to allow for traditional roles and personal desires to coexist. Then we got into the reasons why people have children, including the new conservative movement that says it’s every man’s duty to have as many children as they can so they can breed out the liberal population. Finally, class was over.

We all went to a nearby market, where I didn’t see anything in particular, and decided to go on back to the apartment. I really wanted to eat out, so I stopped at a Mesopotamian restaurant and got a “doner kebab con formaggio.” It had veal, lettuce, cabbage, creamy sauce, tomatoes, and delicious cheese – all wrapped in a pita. It was absolutely divine. It was 5 Euro and pretty filling, so I’ll only go there in a pinch. I went back up to the room, played a bit of Command & Conquer: Red Alert, finished a journal entry, worked on this one, drank a 1.5 Liter bottle (bottiglia) of water (acqua) in one sitting, and washed a load of clothes. I’ve been fairly productive while people went out and saw Ocean’s 13 (I hadn’t seen the first two).

And now I’m so tired and still have to read. Sugarfoot.

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