Monday, June 14, 2010

Week 27: Florence

The featured picture this week is a portion of the ceiling of the 11th century Battistero Di San Giovanni, where Dante, among others, was baptized. Near the famous Duomo (4th largest Church in the world), we attended mass in the Battistero, as well as in the Cathedral of San Marco (within a short two block walk of where we rented a room in what had once been a convent)!

Florence is described by some as the art capital of the world. My wife has always more knowledge of (and better taste in) art than I. Had we not been on this trip together, I never would have bothered to visit this city!

That would have been my loss.

With her insistence, we have spent hours in the Museum of St. Marco (Mark), the Galleria Academia, and the Galeria Di Uffizi (the last word of which I still cannot pronounce properly). We have seen rooms upon rooms filled with amazing (mostly religious) paintings of the middle ages and renaissance, including many masters I had never heard of before (Giotto, Lippi, Titian, Botticelli) and one whose name I recognized (Leonardo da Vinci): You know -- like Leonardo of Teenage Mutant Ninja fame? More than the paintings, I was truly (no fool`n) impressed with the sculptures, with the David by Michelangelo being the most famous. Aside from the pure beauty of the human body revealed in these works, the nudity serves to make us less self-conscious of our own imperfections -- as many of the images portrayed were of fairly common figures unlikely to make it into any of today`s fashion magazines.

A thought came to me while reflecting upon the David sculpture: It`s size was at least 15 feet tall (excluding the base which added another 5-6 feet). Oddly, that is about the size of Goliath (the Philistine David killed with his sling shot, alleged to have been 8 cubits tall). Was the pensive expression on David`s face (almost melancholy/pensive) a small acknowledgement that in killing Goliath, David had become like Goliath? No doubt this thought reflects the bias of my pacifist values/commitment to nonviolence, but the history of David (as military conqueror and later King) after the slaying of Goliath may well have made him (like Goliath) more feared than loved. Even Machiavelli (another Florentine who seems not to have inspired much art about him) would recognize in his Discourses (which I studied as part of my Political Philosophy curriculum) that his own suggestion in The Prince (that it is better to be feared than loved) is not accurate. Rulers whose power rests upon fear (combining the lion and the fox) are often isolated by the fear around them -- to the point that they lose any sense of reality. Such rulers are generally doomed to failure (by revolts or assassinations) within their lifetimes, and (if not) in their legacy thereafter.

These thoughts may be relevant to current controversies relating to Israel and its occupied territories. With the 4th largest air force in the world (supplied by the U.S.), and a military willing to use lethal force against a flotilla of unarmed relief ships last week), is the land of David any more secure having ``won`` all its wars since 1948? Most every morning, while in Florence, I have been busy learning about the area of Palestine -- and trying to book suitable (and less expensive) accommodations for Kris and I after we arrive there on June 22nd So far we have places to stay in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem. Nazareth, Galilee, Jericho, and Gaza City still remain possible venues for our travel – with Gaza City the least likely to be allowed by Israeli authorities.

Before leaving Florence behind in this report, some additional memories of may deserve some mention. These include the panoramic view from the Piaza di Michelangelo, traversing the many bridges crossing the river Arno, shopping in the main city market, and a wonderful buffet dinner that included an expensive glass of wine (that Kris really enjoyed)! More mundane was an adventure doing laundry (three loads, total cost $25) where a machine broke down to successfully prolong the joy to 3 hours. Watching the US tie England in World Cup soccer play was clearly more fun for me than for Kris. Blue skies with temperatures in the 90s had many people complaining, with Kris and I largely unaffected, thanks to India.

Next stop: Venice.

PS from Kris: Lately I have been reflecting on dichotomy and while so much church art
contains nudity there are invariably prohibitions about shorts and sleeveless tops. (In one church they even provided short, side open, paper hospital gowns for the offenders. As you might guess, anyone could clearly see what the offenders were wearing.) Also, unrelated but interesting, after years of rejecting images of St. Michael because of the military imagery, Mike finally bought a statue of his namesake-armor, sword in hand, and the devil under foot. Michael- I am on your side!

PSS from Michael: I am reminded that Jesus has been quoted as saying that he did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword. It has occurred to me that Archangel Michael`s sword might be similar – not a literal sword, but a sword of commitment to justice that will divide people who do not share that commitment. Justice is the only solid foundation for anything worthy of being called Peace. I take the devilish side within me to be my primary opponent. Hopefully I can better combat that side in the person and policies of others if, like Gandhi, I can wage a more successful campaign of nonviolence against my own hypocrisies.

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