Questions for Michelangelo, Tuesday 7/19

Michelangelo I have two questions for you.  First question: Did you ever sleep?  Second question: When you were carving the southerly region of the statue of David did you forget that he was Jewish?

Today we made our way to the Vatican Museum.  We are learning a lot about Michelangelo.  He was a prankster.  As a teen-age apprentice he was given an original work and was asked to copy it.  He carefully aged his parchment with smoke and did such a precise job of reproducing it that he returned his copy, rather than the original and his teacher did not notice difference. Only Michelangelo was able to discern which work was the original. Painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel was an amazing physical feat.  Michelangelo had to crane his neck, working with his arms overhead.  That kind of posture is very hard to maintain. He did it for four years, pretty much dawn to dusk.  He had an adversarial relationship with the Pope.  He used to drop stuff on top of him when he came in to inspect his work.  Michelangelo painted “The Last Judgment” which depicts the return of Christ and the subsequent separation of the saved and the dammed. He painted the image of the Pope on the dammed side of the fresco.  Some say the frescos of Sistine chapel is are the greatest works of art work ever created.  It is hard to argue with that. It is just stunning to see it in person.

St. Peter’s Basilica is Michelangelo’s most significant achievement as an architect. We climbed all the way to the tip-top of the dome.  The stairs follow the contour of the dome. We had to lean sideways and suck in our gut in a few places.  The view from the top of the dome, overlooking Rome was awesome. Within the Basilica is the  “Pieta”,  a statue of Mary holding the body of Jesus after he was crucified.  The story goes that he did the work in secret and then snuck it in to the church.  The next day everyone was raving about what a wonderful work of Christoforo Solari,  “He out did himself!”   The next day he carved the following inscription on the sash running across Mary’s breast: MICHEL ANGELUS BONAROTUS FLORENT FACIBAT  (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this). This is the only work that Michelangelo ever signed. Michelangelo later regretted his passionate outburst of pride and determined to never again sign a work of his hands. Everywhere you look in Rome there’s a finger print of Michelangelo. From architecture, to sculptures, to paintings, it is all very interesting.

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Follow the tassel, Monday 7/18

A lot of the places we have been to have organized tours.  On these tours the guide usually holds a stick with a tassel on top.  Sometimes this can be pretty annoying when you are there by yourself, and this big group comes barging in.  Today we were on the other end of that.  We decided to splurge and take advantage of a tour guide for the Roman Coliseum and the Roman Forum, with two different tour guides.  We are really glad we did.  The tour guide for the Coliseum was actually really good, but the guide for the Roman Forum was outstanding!  Definitely worth the price of admission.  He gave us the story of  the origin of Rome, both the mythological, and the actual.  Gave us a lot of  background on Roman culture, especially back in the peak of the Roman empire.  For example he talked about how the Emperor would host meals, and they would average 7 hours in length.  Everyone would eat while lying on mattresses. The mattresses would form a semicircle with the Emperor in the center.  There was a mountain of exotic food, many times more than was necessary, all to show how important the host was. They would basically gorge themselves, then walk over to the side, and tickle the back of their throat with feather to regurgitate all that they had eaten.  Then they would go back and eat some more, and do this over, and over again.  Today we would call that an eating disorder. As he said, and I agree with, it is a very good example of consumerism.  He also talked about the politics, and the culture of Rome today. Everybody seems to hate the prime minister of Italy right now, and I’m not sure exactly why.  I’m not tuned into Italian politics, but they are very angry with this man for some reason. 

700 year old “melon”, Sunday 7/17

This is a continuation of our visit in Siena.  There aren’t a lot of museums and so forth here.  We did go to the Duomo.  One of the most interesting things we did is we went to Saint Catherine’s Cathedral.  We happened to be staying in what was probably a convent for that place.  We were right next door to it.  Saint Catherine is the patron saint of Siena.  One of her greatest contributions is that she convinced the Pope to move from France back to Rome.  So she is highly revered here.  There is Saint Catherine stuff all over the place.  When we went to the Cathedral we visited her particular little chapel.  In that chapel they have her right thumb and her head encased in glass behind the altar.  It is pretty creepy!  So just a note to self don’t be canonized in Siena.

Benjamin’s “funny” contribution

This story keeps amusing me as I remember it.  After Anna’s wreck, Sarah, Benjamin and I continued pedalling.  I didn’t reconfigure the tandem again.  Initally it had Benjamin in the front, but I switched it up so Ella could ride in the back.  I didn’t have the parts anymore to rearrange it so I left it the way it was.  So now Benjamin sits behind me.

The background on this “funny” is; before we left we downloaded on an I-touch the movie “Cool Runnings”.  Which is Disney’s rendition of the story of the Jamaican bob sled team.  While Ella was in the hospital, Ben and Anna would watch that movie in our tent over and over again.  To the point where they practically had it memorized.  In the beginning there is a scene with two ladies in a market, and they are standing there talking as one of the bob sled team members runs past them.  One lady says to the other, in a good Jamaican accent, “I could watch that backside all day”.  So when Ben climbs on the back of my tandem for the first time he pipes up (in his best Jamaican accent) “I could watch that backside all day”.

A tradition in Siena, Italy, Sunday 7/17

How many english speaking conversations we over hear is a good indicator of how touristy an area is.  Either english, or an oriental language.  Another indicator is the number of street vendors.  These are the guys that sell those little Eiffel towers, and other trinkets of that sort.  The more vendors, and english speaking conversations we hear, the more touristy the area.  Let’s call this the “EC factor”, english conversation factor.  We went to Siena, Italy today.  The “EC factor” went from very, very high in Florence to pretty low in Siena.  This is a good thing. 

We took a bus from Florence to Siena.  As soon as we got off the bus we were able to take advantage of a nice overlook of the city.  Andrea asked the question, “How do you think Siena got its name?”  She knew the answer, but she quizzed us.  Immediately my mind flashed back to high school art class where the foundation of the paintings we would work on would always be burnt sienna.  That is exactly what the town looks like.  Almost monochromatic, but in a beautiful way.  Hardly any green which you would think would be unsightly, but it really isn’t.  It’s really very beautiful!  The terrain that you see around the city looks very much like what you would see on the cover of an “Olive Garden” menu.  A gorgeous Place!  We have a nice view from our room.View from our room in Siena

Probably the highlight of the city is the square.  It is called the Piazza del Campo.  The central square is where they have a bi-annual horse race.  There are 17 neighborhoods in this city, and 10 of those neighborhoods enter a horse in this race.  Not sure how they determine which ones get to enter a horse, but there are 10 horses and they race around this square.  There are mattresses on the walls to reduce the casualties I guess.  It’s bareback, and the winning horse doesn’t necessarily have to have a rider on it’s back to win.  No holds barred, dirty fighting all the way.  This is the biggest deal in Siena, and all the locals seem to think and dream about.  The reward for the neighborhood that wins this race is simply bragging rights until the next one comes around.  I have a strong suspicion that we are living in the neighborhood that won last time.  These guys are partying all night long!  They have drums beating, and this is a block away from us.  Keeps us up at night, with loud raucous behavior, but not much we can do about it.  Out of curiosity I went down one night to take a peek at what was going on.  There was a whole block of long tables set up, covered with those plastic table coverings that come on a roll.  These stretched all the way down.  When I got there they happened to be finishing up their dinner.  It was about 11:30 and they were ready to start a parade.  So they removed all of those table coverings, and sliced a slot in the coverings about every 3 feet or so.  Just big enough to stick their heads through.  So they all put these table coverings over their heads, and started marching through town with a big bass drum beating in the front, and shouting, and screaming.  It reminded me of those dragons in China town, only it was a crude version of that.  They were three sheets to the wind.  Quite a sight to see.

Florence, Italy

Florence is lovely. The people are friendly; the food is great; the sights are interesting; the history is fascinating; the bargaining is chaotic, and the weather is hot. I could hardly ask for more out of this part of the world. This is a European city at its best, from what I’ve witnessed.

July 12: After a beautiful ride through Switzerland,we arrived in Italy. Today we had another mass transportation faux pas. At the Arth-Goldau train station connecting to a train to Milano, we carefully checked the train board to see which end of the platform to stand. Because of our Eurail passes, we have first class seating, which is nearly always at the front or the back of the train. In this case, our ticket was for coach 1 at platform D. We stood at the far end of the station, waiting for the train to approach. The train arrived. We looked in horror. The arrangement was backwards. Coach 1 was at platform A, the far other end of the station. We, along with a hoard of first class Japanese tourists bolted down the platform toward the opposite end, bags in tow. To add to the confusion, people at platform A were sprinting toward platform D! Half way down the platform, an Asian man dropped his oversized suitcase directly in front of Dad. My eyes bugged out of my head as Popsy, carting a large duffel bag in his left hand, hurtled the suitcase successfully and continued running. Talk about ninja skills. Amazingly, we made it onto the coach before the train left.

Upon arriving in Florence, we walked through just a bit of the city to get from the train station to the apartment, but I could already tell that this is a great country. The magnificent Duomo Cathedral standing in the middle of town is completely impressive. What really convinced me of the loveliness of Italy, though, was that night’s dinner. Wow. Delicious. Italian pasta is the bomb diggety.

July 13: Renaissance walk —To be completed at a later date—

Piazza della Repubblica (bellybutton)

Piazza della Signoria (David replica)

Palazzo Vecchio (Medici home)

Ponte Vecchio (bridge over Arno River)

Uffizi Gallery (Italian Renaissance art collection)

Accademia Gallery (Michelangelo’s Prisoners and David)

July 14: Dad, Mom, and I woke up early to visit the local cafe for frothy cappuccinos and fruit pastries in the morning. The shop buzzes in the morning with the lively workers and the cheery regulars. The owners whipped up shots of espresso and doled out plates of pastries like nobody’s business, laughing and joking the whole time. After breakfast the whole family went to the Medici Chapel to view Michelangelo’s impressive work. The shabby exterior falsely informs passersby of the marvelous interior. This building honors the Medici family and their royal history with its domed room containing eloquently painted and sculpted decorations.

For lunch, the family strolled through the food marked and picked out Italian pasta dishes. Afterward, we, girls, conquered the street market. The dealers are pros at bargaining, and so are we. This was sale shopping to the max. We each bought a couple items, and acquired even more memories.

Front of the Cathedral of Florence known as Duomo

In the evening, we entered the Duomo Cathedral. We came just before it closed, so the line was short and the inside was nearly empty. This created a great opportunity to appreciate the cathedral in its natural state, without many tourists. We listened to a great tour guide with a high energy level. She clearly loved the art and history of the cathedral. She was great.

Duomo interior

Side view of the Duomo

15: After another morning run to the cafe for cappuccinos and pastries, we took a bus to Siena. I’m excited to see more of this beautiful country.