Sunday, May 01, 2016

A walk down the Renaissance Italy

Next up, Florence. The birthplace of Renaissance. Now, I don't really understand art. But I thought the statues were 'marbelous' and I wouldn't take them for 'granite'. I did get an inferiority complex looking at some of the male statues and it was not a good inferiority complex. It was fun looking at paintings and making up descriptions. "Do you need a duck?" Or "are those pants tight?" Or "that horse stinks." As I
wandered around gazing at the magnificent Churches and art, the socialist in me wondered if the workers were happy. Did they have a just wage? Where did the money come from? Could the money have been used to alleviate poverty? After all Florence was a republic. Did the citizens want these things? But for now I'm grateful for the incredible beauty in the art that has survived to date. There were and are some really talented people who created masterpieces that will be appreciated for generations to come.

My travels took me further south to Assisi, the pilgrimage town. The birthplace of St Francis. It is a very photogenic old town with cobblestone streets and alleys set on a hill overlooking a verdant countryside. Walking around the town and the surrounding countryside really fills you with a sense of peace that St Francis always talked about. A narrow country road through green fields lined with some spring blooms was a perfect place for an evening stroll. Assisi may not be a top destination in Italy, but it definitely is on my 'will be back' list. I hear the rest of Umbria has a similar vibe, perfect for small town hopping.

And then onto Rome, the eternal city. I'd say the eternally crowded city. Trevi fountain looked like a 24x7 free concert venue. And the only music to be heard was the sound of running water and chatter in a hundred languages. It was quite the sight to see people trying out their throwing arms in an effort to toss a coin into the fountain from a hundred ft away. I'm sure that people up front got tonked a few times. I was tempted to do the same because when in Rome, do as the Romans. But then these morons were not Romans. Plus it would also mean throwing away money, which really is not my thing. Rome is definitely a must see for Roman history buffs. The Pantheon is quite a feat of engineering for a 2000 year old structure.
Though some of the Roman history artifacts like the Colosseum didn't make for happy imaginations. I concluded that I wouldn't very well in a bloodthirsty era and culture. How could two humans fighting to death be a form of entertainment? The Colosseum itself is quite an impressive structure and deserves a wander around for at least an hour.

The Vatican is a must visit for Catholic peeps. The Pope gives an audience to his fan base on Wednesdays. It is one giant rally. Pro tip, find a seat near the barricades as the Pope may drive through near there. It's quite the experience to be part of this massive and joyful audience. And then there is St Peter's Basilica which is truly magnificent. It's enormous and ornate, but not tacky. Michelangelo and the rest have delivered a masterpiece. You can truly feel the transcendent in the beauty around you, despite the mob scene. The geometry and symmetry, the paintings and sculptures deliver a complete all around experience. Finally, you can top it off with a visit to the Vatican museum. Make sure that you save some mental bandwidth for the Sistine Chapel that comes about three quarters of the way through. Michelangelo was truly a genius. The incredible imagination of theology and the final painting itself makes the Last Judgement worth all the hype. Prepare to have your expectations met and surpassed.

A few more observations on Italian chaos. At Sunday Mass during communion, there was none of the pew by pew business. It was a mad dash, first come first serve event. As though the priests might run out of communion.
And my airbnb host was this old Italian lady who didn't speak English. When I pointed out that the internet wasn't working, she got so animated, that I wanted to hug her and and tell her that everything would be alright. Every time she exclaimed 'mamma mia' I couldn't stop laughing. The more she had trouble communicating with me, the louder she got. I felt that if I got the accent right, spoke really loudly, threw in a few mamma mia's and gestured wildly with my hands, I'd be speaking Italian. What a wonderfully chaotic country. A look at the parking habits of Romans will leave you thinking that Rome is a giant puzzle for all ages. Even German Shepherd dogs look undisciplined here. How did the Germans and Italians get along during WWII?

Another stray thought. How do we treat hawkers? Do we ignore, do we tell them to leave us alone or do we smile and keep walking? I once dined at a cafe and when I was done decided to join one of the waiters in trying to get people to come in. I asked him if he gets depressed with the continuous rejection and how we should treat hawkers. He told me he doesn't take things to heart, but would like people to either ignore him or just smile. He hopes that people wouldn't give him a stink eye if they are not interested. So from here on, I'm gonna smile and keep walking. It'll cost me nothing.

A shout out to Fr Tony Sholander SJ for free accommodation with the Jesuits in Rome.

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