Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Pieta and a Lizard in Rome

All do-it-yourselfers should read The Agony and the Ecstasy, a book about Michelangelo and his art (his painting, sculpture and architecture), sure, but also a book about craft, stubbornness and pride.

It's been years since I read the book, but I vividly remember the section on the Pieta, which now sits in the St. Peters in Rome and which I finally got to see last week. Jesus is down from the cross, held by his mother who appears to be a very large person and very young (and cute) looking for someone with a 33-year-old son. But this is for deliberate effect, a subject matter for art historians and sensitive people. No, what I remember from the book was Michelangelo's chisel work.

Long after the statue was in its final form, he worked hours and hours and hours doing the fine detail work, days and weeks and months of tap, tap, tap with his hammer, sharpening chisels (that he made at a forge), sharper and finer until the Madonna's forehead was as smooth as glass. Michelangelo was 23 years old at the time, a real do-it-yourselfer.

Of course, the Sistine Chapel ceiling is also described in the book, and I was no less excited to see it. We took a long walk through the Vatican museums to reach the chapel, with tourists pushing in all on sides, and we were surprised to find the big chapel crowded with people, sardine-packed with people, many of whom had frightened looks (which will remain as my memory of the place, instead of the ceiling) as a big policeman screamed "Silenzio!" every few seconds from his perch on a table, like we were in some bizarre Italian horror movie in which a large lizard eats all the tourists.

Even with my glasses, the ceiling was too far away; the "Creation" was little more than a postage stamp. And Cheryl has an aversion to crowds, so we pushed our way through and out the door before the lizard got us.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Not in Florence

Willow slipped a note under my door this morning. "Hope you had a nice trip," it started, which is what your boss says when she really means to say, "Your trip is over now, so get your head out from your posterior."

That's OK, nothing can bother me for a while. The note continued, "...but we are in a real bind with the schedule, so I've prepared a priority list for you."

1. Fix the cabinets.
2. Fix the kitchen floor.
3. Finish the bathroom.

No, we're not in Florence anymore...

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Night Sky

Last night, on the very top deck of the ship, with cold winds whipping at our backs, Cheryl and I listened to an officer talk about celestial navigation and the stars. We had just pulled away from Croatia in the Adriatic Sea, moving through the same waters travelled for centuries by Greeks and Romans and others, back when the Mediterranean was the middle of the known world and the night sky was thought to be spherical, like an upside down bowl painted with twinkling stars and planets that chased each other in a circle, back when people were aware of the night sky and had enough imagination to create stories about the constellations and hand the stories down to the next generation, at least until next generation lost interest.

The GPS system on the ship can track its position within a few feet at all times, but all the navigation officers are still trained to use a sextant (a really cool instrument with gears and lenses) and to refer to the stars should technology fail on the ship, though the sextant can only show position within a mile or two and it depends on steadiness of hand and about an hour’s worth of math.

I’m shopping around for a sextant…

Monday, June 13, 2011

Beauty and Imperfection

Cheryl and I are on a ship today, headed for Montenegro, then on to Venice and then Croatia. We’ve seen the Sistine Chapel, the pieta in St. Peters, the Vatican museum and countless frescos, murals, tapestries, paintings, sculptures, mosaics. Endless beauty.
Yesterday we saw Mount Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii, which (I was surprised to learn) had been a very large city when it was buried in 79 AD. Much of Pompeii is still buried under the volcanic ash. We then visited some beautiful cliff-hugging towns along the Italian coast, including Positano, known for its lemons and, of course, good Italian food and coffee.
I’ve also found some find encouragement from the imperfect attempts of others. (Leaning tower of Pisa)
More later...