Artist Dates 91 and 92: Schooled

How do we know this is David?

I never thought about it. But here I am in front of him at Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence – Artist Date 91.

David is a boy and this is a man. David is a Jew and this man has a foreskin.  And what is he holding anyway?  And why do we have to walk around him to find out?

Paul, the tour guide from Walks of Italy, lobs the questions rapid fire until I feel like my brain might explode, but instead, cracks wide open.

I purchased my first walking tour – my first tour ever – last fall, in Dublin. It was my friend Steven’s idea.  And, much to my surprise, I enjoyed it.  Even looking like a tourist.  Which I was.

Which I am.

Paul takes me and 11 others to the Galleria dell’Accademia . To the Duomo.  To Piazza San Marco.  Ultimately dropping us at Ponte Vecchio.  Stringing us along with juicy bits of history.  Linking them together, telling a linear story.  Ultimately letting us know why we should care about these tourist attractions.

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

It is like Jeopardy – Italian style. Where everything comes in the form of a question.  Or at the very least, begins that way.

And it works. It is sticky in my grey matter.  Days later.  Weeks later, when I write this.

I learn that in religious art, the one wearing fur is always John the Baptist.

That Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor and was pissed off when asked to paint or to build.

That he never had sex, slept in his clothes – to save time – and thought art was for the people – and sculptures, the newspapers of the day. But that as a reporter with a chisel he was never neutral — a Michael Moore of Renaissance Art.

Outside the Duomo I learn why Renaissance Art was born here. A simple Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  The temporary capital of Italy, Florence was flush.  Issues of survival were no longer issues here, so the people of Florence could turn their attention to things of intellect and beauty.  They could build the largest church known at that time, its dome an architectural quandary.

And it is at this basilica that christening changed from a dunk to a sprinkle.  Seems while no one was dying of the plague, newborns were dying in record numbers following baptism, and someone figured out that while the water might by holy, it wasn’t particularly sanitary.

duomo1700
The Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence

I learn that families claimed turf by marking corners of buildings with the family crest. An early form of tagging.  And a series of balls is the sign of the Medici family.

That Ponte Vecchio survived World War II, while all the other bridges in Florence were bombed by Nazis upon their crossing, because of a Medici. That in 1565 Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici had a private passageway built into the bridge for the occasions when communication with his estranged wife, living across the Arno River at Palazzo Pitti, was necessary.  He filled it with Renaissance Art – art that remained there.  Art that Hitler commanded be “saved,” along with Ponte Vecchio.

A few days later in Rome, Cecilia (also from Walks of Italy) similarly schools me on the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Sistine Chapel, as well as Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and a killer gelateria. Artist Date 92.

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Getting schooled at the Colosseum.

 

Suddenly I am a history nerd, walking at her hip, never losing sight of her umbrella – the raised symbol moving us forward as a group. I think about how much I missed in high school.  In college.  Because I was hung over, hanging out or just plain disinterested.

About how much I surely missed in Madrid and Barcelona, Amsterdam and Brussels, Paris and London. Because I didn’t believe I needed someone to school me in their city.

I receive my final lesson leaving Vatican City when I ask Cecilia the way back to Trastevere – the neighborhood where I am staying – either via foot or cab. She offers me another option, inviting me to take the bus with her instead.

On our ride, Cecilia tells me I am brave. That she noticed me traveling alone.  Heard me talk about volunteering in Umbria.  That for all of her education and seeming worldliness – she is terrified to travel alone.

I hear her.  I believe her – that I am brave. I own it.  And share the greatest lesson I have learned.  That I am terrified too.  Of getting lost.  Of looking stupid.   Of…insert fear du jour here.

That I am terrified…but do it anyway.

Why Yes, I Am A Tourist

First gelato in Rome...
First gelato in Rome…

I used to have this thing about being a tourist.

I never wanted to ask for directions. Carry a map.  I didn’t even want to do anything “touristy” – including going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  (Thank goodness it was rainy and cold and there was no line, so I submitted.  And, of course, it was fabulous!)

Instead I got lost in the neighborhoods of Puerta Vallarta – where a kind stranger took pity on my ex and me, intuitively knowing we couldn’t possibly be in the right place and asked us where we were trying to go.

Somehow I associated it all with white Reeboks. A fanny pack and speaking very loudly.

The last time I traveled alone – and by alone I mean not meeting a friend or traveling together as a group, which means Dublin and Rwanda don’t count – I went to France.

I was participating in a volunteer project, but I started off with a few days on my own in Paris. Intent on playing the part of the Parisian.

That night I wandered the streets of the City of Lights, slightly drunk – alone. I was scolded for smoking in the non-smoking section of an outdoor café. (Who knew there was one?  In Paris!)  And I called my then-husband sobbing.  I had wanted to travel alone.  And suddenly I felt very alone.  I didn’t like it.

The days that followed weren’t much better. That is, until the day I left for Avignon to join my volunteer team, when I was able to remember a single word of French and use it, thus communicating with an old woman at the train station.  “Plutar.”  She lit up.  “Plutar!  Plutar!”  Yes, yes, I was going to Avignon too – later.

So I was a little bit nervous about coming to Italy alone. Even though I chose it.

I know traveling alone can be lonely. And scary.  There is no one to get lost with.  And it has been my experience that getting lost together is far less scary than getting lost alone.  And yet, at the end of my first day in Rome, I haven’t gotten lost.  And I don’t feel lonely.  Or alone.

Perhaps because I’ve asked a lot of questions. Of the teenage boys on the train from the airport.  “Why did so many kids get on all at once at this stop?  Is there school on Sunday?”  (Nope.  Game and comic festival.)  Of the man behind the counter at the newsstand.  “Can I buy a ticket for Tram 8 here?”  (Yes.)

And of a woman on the platform in the middle of the street. “Is this the right stop for Tram 8 going towards the city center?”  (Yes.  And she even reminded me when we got to the third stop, my stop.   I had mentioned it to her.)

I asked my host where I might eat and he suggested the very same place as a friend of mine in the United States had. And then I asked him to show me on a map how to get there.

I ambled. I rambled.  I looked for street names on buildings and found them on about one-third.  I held out my map and “stood in it” like Joey did in London on Friends.

I got lost. I got found.  Or maybe I just got turned around.  But I didn’t panic.  And along the way I heard music in Piazza Santa Maria Trastevere and enjoyed my first gelato of the trip – yogurt, pistachio-hazelnut-chocolate and single-sourced cocoa.  And just before handing me the cup, the server lopped on an extra spatula full…just because.

I took things slowly. I found my way to the river, crossed over and made my way to Piazza Campo De Fiore.  Yes, given the time I can read a map.  I also found the famed Grom gelato – there’s an outpost shop in Manhattan – but decided to save it for another day.  However that didn’t keep me from checking out the flavors at another shop and tasting the ginseng and one with candied fruit when invited to.

I finished with dinner at Ai Spaghettari – where my host and my friend had suggested and I had the carbonara, also suggested, along with melon and prosciutto and a macchiato.

All around me were Italians glued to the soccer match on television, and a fair number of Americans plotting their next move.   And I was one of them.