Being Different: good or bad?

i write poetry from time to time, as things come to me. I don’t sit around all day trying to come up with clever ways to express thoughts, but sometimes as my mind wanders and formulates linear thoughts it starts to get creative. Here is a poem from several months ago, that I thought many people could relate to. Enjoy!


Is being different a good thing
or a bad thing?
In my case, there was never a question,
just a period at the end of a force-fed sentence.
I was different,
I studied the mannerism, etiquette, and fashion of my own American culture,
trying to blend in as anything other than myself.
I had a lot to catch up on, you see, I was a bubble girl,
living in a bubble world
of mid-century religiosity.
Parented by former wild-children who were
scared straight and now praise Jesus,
I was along for the whole repentant ride,
in it for the long haul,
or at least until I was 18.
I remember the day I wore my first pair of girl-pants, my mother laughed at my innocent mistake.
“What are you wearing!?”
I looked at her,
proud of my new hand-me-down-from-my-cousin first pair of pants.
I had said it with such a bright beaming smile,
so she indulged me for one day,
one shining day of wearing pants.
No matter how hard I looked, I never saw those pants again.
I remember participating in a dance competition at my cousin’s ninth birthday party,
feeling guilty,
and afraid my mother would find out I had won.
I grew tired of trying to explain to all my friends why I could not go with them to the movies,
because I didn’t really get it either.
Eventually, even the Christian kids stopped inviting me to hang out,
as their patience for obligatory formalities ran out.
So I ran out,
out my bedroom window,
out of my invisible fencing,
and I was on my way to normal-land!
Only to discover
that all the normal ones were trying just as hard to be different
as I was to be normal.
Turns out, normal is everywhere that you are not,
and different follows you everywhere,
it clings to you for life like a birthmark that you think is huge and obvious,
and everyone talks about it when you’re not around,
the same one that no one notices until you share it with them.
Turns out, my difference defines me,
like one word out of a million in the dictionary, I have my own unique description.
I am a verb and a noun,
an adverb and an adjective,
and when you really get me going I compose.
I keep my definition written in pencil.
Every once in a while it needs a revision,
a revisitation,
a new compilation of words to describe me.
Because I change and grow,
I ebb and I flow to the beat of my own pencil tap-tapping on the table-top.
The definition of my own difference becomes different,
yet is equally proportional
to the change in the definition of normal.
So I ask you,
is being different a good thing or a bad thing?

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Hugs and Betrayals: “that is NOT what I look like….is it?”

My body has changed.

It has betrayed me underhandedly.

My mind is in on it too.

Together they conspire to turn this vessel into a larger mass, probably to satisfy their own competitive nature of survival of the fattest…oops, I mean fittest. But really, isn’t the fattest the fittest if you are truly in a survival situation…I mean, fattest within reason. It’s like my body is preparing for some hibernation that my mind has not yet commenced. But seriously, how much fat does one need to hibernate…and who has time for that anyway! I have plans! I have life goals to achieve!

My mind is a tricky little thing, convincing me that I need to eat macaroni and cheese every day to return to a happy state after a stressful day. My mind convinces me that eating poison is the best kind of reward and the best kind of comforting friend. I only HAVE one mind, so then how do I use my mind to convince my mind of something other than what it has already convinced ITSELF of?! How does THAT happen…

It’s times like these that perhaps a Siamese twin would come in handy, like a little angel on my shoulder telling me to put down the donut when I really just need a hug. Every time I eat or drink something that has a comforting effect, I say that it is “like a hug in my mouth.” But what if the thing I REALLY need is A HUG! Seriously, mac and cheese is not food, it’s just goo that takes up space in your body. What if I feel like I need a hug because I eat too much mac and cheese! I think my head just exploded. This is like some sick circle of life where I eat crap to make me feel comforted, but I need comfort because I feel like crap from eating crap! WTF am I doing! Reevaluate. Things that have roots attached to them are food. Things that used to have roots attached to them and are no longer recognizable as the way they look when they are harvested…not food. BOOM. *drops mic* …well at least I am dropping SOMETHING, never too early to start!

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Talking Trash and Taking Trains

One of the first things that impressed me about Italy was the waste system. It is not just trash; it is not just trash and recycling. In Italy, they separate paper, plastic/glass, compost, and then whatever doesn’t fit in those classifications goes in the actual trash. Every day there is a pick-up of one of these classifications, which keeps the accumulation of filled bags to a bare minimum. I was so glad to see that compostable items were separated and collected.

RIFIUTI: IN VDA CRESCE RACCOLTA DIFFERENZIATA QUALITA' I am not sure what is done with it after pick-up, but this is a very useful resource that we in America are not taking advantage of. It is left to the individual American citizen to purchase a compost receptacle, which starts at around $125, a significant investment for trash. In my experience, there are only two kinds of Americans who would purchase a composter, extreme environmentalists or extreme gardeners. It seems to me that it is just a lot of effort and cost to put in for something that doesn’t have a quick return; plus it attracts rodents and bugs. However, if we could include compost collection into the recycling infrastructure that already exists, it would significantly cut actual landfill contribution while turning it into something useful. Heck, the city could later use the compost for fertilizer or sell it to turn a profit.

While living in the palazzo, we were forced to think about what we were throwing away, and it has stuck with me even today. At home, I already fill my recycling twice as fast as I fill my trash bin. I am the crazy host who takes recyclables out of my trash after guests leave, yes I’m that woman. But after I discovered Italy’s waste system, I was both impressed and ashamed. We as Americans are groomed to believe that we have the best of everything. Well, the more I learn, the less that is true. I came to Italy expecting to find a land of rich history and many old stories to tell. I never expected to find they were doing some things much better than we do at home. This realization made me take a second look at America as a whole. I am becoming more and more aware of the nationalism that seems to be at the core of our entire culture. Is this yet another symptom of our misplaced priorities of being more concerned with our status in the world rather than being concerned about the actual state of our “more perfect Union”?

Another system that impressed me was the transportation system. No one really takes an airplane to get around Italy. I suppose it is not as big as America, so it is not necessary. However, I loved the idea of taking a train to other cities. I rode several busses to reach many trains. The busses were not fun on the windy roads, but I was still impressed by their impeccable condition and the professionalism of the bus drivers. Italian busy drivers look like they just got out of an office and seem to conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism, dignity, seemingly proud of their position. There are even ticket checkers, who are like the police of the bus system, making sure everyone has a ticket. He is similar to a train conductor, but much more stern and scary. He walks around with a pad of forms, ready to write a fine at any moment for those who try to scam the system. The Italian bus system is technically run on an honor code. You are supposed to purchase a ticket and stamp it when you get on. But there is only one ticket checker for all the buses in the area. Many people take their chances and get on the bus without a ticket, hoping that the ticket checker does not get on at the next stop. The checker gets on a bus at one bus stop, checking passengers until the next bus stop where he gets off and waits for the next bus to do it all over again. The downside to the honor system and the purchasing of tickets for every ride is that, from what I could tell, you have to purchase a single ticket for every bus ride, one way. There is no system available for those who use the bus every day to be able to make large purchases for multiple bus rides, aside from purchasing multiple one-way tickets. But if you are purchasing multiple one-way tickets, you have to know where you are going with those tickets. It is a different price for every destination. Otherwise, it takes a bit more planning to make time for purchasing tickets before you get on the bus. Whew! That’s a lot of work to ride a bus, but it is “old-school” and, to me, charming.

The train system is a bit more advanced than the bus system. There are different kinds of passes you can purchase to count for multiple rides. I purchased a Euro Rail Pass, which gave me ten days to ride a train as much as I wanted within a two month period. However, this, again, was on a type of honor system. There was never a conductor to check my ticket when I rode the regional trains, but I saw many people get on and off. I wondered if they had passes or not. It seemed quite easy to ride a regional train without a ticket or pass. I also wondered if they had a pass that covered unlimited passes for a month. In my Euro Pass, I had to hand-write in the date I was using my pass. I never saw anyone else writing dates on passes. The faster trains that went 100+mph always had conductors coming through stamping tickets. These trains were a bit more expensive, and were trains ridden by more travelers than commuters. Even those trains were ridden by people who would get on one stop and get off on the next stop without having a ticket checked. I began to compare this to American metro cities that had trains and subways. We don’t allow anyone to even step on the subway without verification of purchase. Is this because Americans are more apt to play the system? Or is a reflection of how our government treats its citizens?

Is the honor system in Italy a reflection of a lazy government, a coddling government, an apathetic government? It seems to me that some of it lies in the difference in cultures. America seems to be run more like a Northern European country, with rigid systems and expected behaviors of order for citizens. However, in Italy, the systems are not rigid. They ebb and flow or remain non-existent. For example, cars on the road in America stay in their lanes. Cars in Italy don’t pay attention to lanes, if there are any lanes painted. Another example, in America, if there is a wait for service, there is a distinct line which follows a chronological order of arrival. Not so in Italy. There is no line; there is no order. There is one rule: elderly people go first, otherwise you are left to out-maneuver your neighbor to get as close to the front as possible. This is much like the system of a music show at a local bar in America. You have the stage and the floor. The mob is left to find their own place, and everyone is trying to sneak to the front.

Living in Italy was truly an adventure. Learning to navigate the transportation systems was like a fun puzzle to solve, or perhaps more like a mathematical story problem…Here’s my story, here’s my problem. Figure it out…go! Picture the Amazing Race, meets summer school, meets vacation. You can have an amazing two days anywhere you want to go in Italy, all you have to do is find out how to get there and finish your homework (cue the mission impossible theme song). Riding on the Italian transportation system for me was just as thrilling as walking through the old stone town of Anghiari. I felt like I was in a movie. It felt like I was in every Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn movie, or even like I was in “The Darjeeling Limited.” Exhilarating is the word for it. Just exhilarating.

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Travel Break #2: Venice, a.k.a Venezia (“veh-NEH-zyah”)

This second travel break immediately followed the first travel break to Florence, with only three days of separation. It was the farthest away of all three of my travel breaks, riding on all possible methods of transportation sans an airplane: bus, train (x2), boat, and by foot. My travel partner and I spent an hour on a bus, took a 1½ hour train ride to Bologna, then hopped on another train for 2 hours to Venice. After that, we took a waterbus down the Grand Canal to a dock that was close to the hotel, then we walked through what seemed a labyrinth of “streets” to get to our hotel. Unlike Florence from the week before, filled with cars, mopeds, and bicycles, the only modes of transportation in Venice are by boat or by foot. That is because the streets are narrower than the smallest of cars, and each block ends with a stepped bridge over a canal. Here is a Venetian Taxi:IMG_1230

Our hotel, technically a hostel, was a narrow building with several stories of rooms all connected by a never-ending winding staircase. The floors were marble, adding a touch of elegance to the stigmatized concept of a hostel. We had our own room with two twin beds, a wardrobe, and our own bathroom, also a step up from the typical hostel. Here is the best view of the front, including the sign. I would have to walk on water to get a front-on view of the door. I’m still working on that…ImageThe most charming part of the hotel was a pigeon who apparently lived on our window sill. When my travel partner first opened the shutters to let in the sunlight, it startled the pigeon who flapped its wings haphazardly, and in the process scared my roommate half to death (she is afraid of all birds). The pigeon flew away for a second or two, but came right back to perch on the window sill. Charmed, I opened the glass window allowing fresh air in and to see how the pigeon would react. He stuck his head over the invisible barrier between our room and the window sill, looked around at us and all of our stuff we were unpacking, and then took a step back to just sit. Another pigeon saw what was happening, flew onto the window sill, and proceeded to walk into the room. The first pigeon shooed the second pigeon away, protecting his apparent territory and claiming his turf. I left the window open the entire three night and four day stay at that hotel, and that silly pigeon stayed right on that window sill. He never came in to my room, and I never tried to sit on his window sill.Image

My travel partner planned to only stay one night with me, and then went on to her own adventures in Rome (I would later visit Rome for 3 days). For her one night in Venice, we went to a nice restaurant on an inner canal. Our waiter was an older gentleman who treated us like he was our grandmother, catering to our every need, and patting us on the head as he walked by as if he had known us our entire lives. This is what it looked like from the outside:


The next day, I walked my partner to the waterbus dock to see her off. After that I was alone and free to make all of my nerdy art historian visitation plans to as many cathedrals and museums as possible without compromises or distractions. I was on a mission. I made a plan to start at one end and move my way to the other end, zigzagging my way to each cathedral and museum that featured architecture or artwork that I had studied. However, my first stop was the farthest away, and after seeing my travel partner off at the dock, then stopping for souvenir shopping on the way, by the time I reached my first destination, the Frari Chapel, it was closing. Ugh. Well, that allowed me time to find a non-touristic piazza and check out the locals in full Venetian action. In the Campo Santa Margherita piazza there were Venetians of all types: mothers brought their children there to play, grandparents came to watch their grandchildren play, college students came to have a smoke and hang out with friends, older women and men came to walk their small dogs, old men came to have espresso with their lifetime friends (complete with full kissing both cheeks greetings), boys came to hang out with their girlfriends, other boys came to impress girls and find a girlfriend, and I came to watch it all unfold.


After getting my fill of people-watching, I made my way to the coast to find a suggested restaurant. I found it, but it was closed. So I decided to have a seat at the nearest café on the water which was serving gelato sundaes and fancy drinks. As soon as I sat down, I noticed that half the sky was dark and moving my way. I had heard that the rain in Venice can be nasty so I decided to make a run for my hotel to wait it out, change out of my day clothes and into dinner attire. The only problem was that I could not simply run to my hotel, I was on the other side of the Grand Canal! I had to go to the dock, keeping fingers crossed that the rain did not start until I was at least on the other side of the Canal. The entire process of going from the café to my hotel, although not very far apart geographically, took 45 minutes. I had to sit and wait for the waterbus to arrive, then while on the waterbus wait through several stops along the way to my own stop, then dash through the now familiar maze of streets, bridges, and alleyways to my hotel. I made it just in time to miss the downpour, and found myself wondering if all those other people who were still at the café were now caught in the rain. But then again, they probably weren’t a silly tourist on the wrong side (non-touristy side) of the Canal. I spent the rest of my evening reworking my plan and working out how to navigate the maze of Venice.

IMG_1101     IMG_1015

The next day I covered a lot of ground, visiting the Saint Mark’s Basilica, with a level of ornate that blew my mind. Everything was covered in texture, pattern, color, and sparkle. This is a cathedral that is a mix of Byzantine and Christian, otherwise known as Italo-Byzantine, covered in detailed mosaics of Christ and saints on the ceiling, strung with ornate lamps and lanterns over all of the many altars, and floors covered in sections of non-repeating tile patterns. I was overwhelmed. Tears filled my eyes but never fell. Feeling the need to have at least something other than memory to take with me (they would not allow pictures to be taken), I stood in front of a side chapel and sketched the altar and a few pendant lanterns. It’s not my best sketch, but it’s all I have other than my waning memory. This moment was perhaps the greatest advantage to being alone because taking the time to sketch didn’t mean others had to wait for me. I could take my time, be spontaneous, and be fully in-the-moment. I would strongly encourage any traveler to do it alone, or at least take full days apart from your group in order to follow your own instincts.

san marco sketch

Then I made my way over to the Frari Chapel, making sure to get there early enough this time. The Frari Chapel features Titian’s famous Pesaro Madonna, his Ascension of the Virgin from 1518, and his own tomb, complete with a relief of his own Ascension painting. Also there was Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child with Saints. But the piece that I am perhaps most excited about was a Pieta by an artist unknown to me, Pietro Guiseppe Tito.


This is by far the best Pieta ever made in my humble yet enthusiastic opinion. It embodies such raw emotion that cannot be ignored. The raw emotion of the scene is embodied in the raw treatment of the material, similar to the way Titian painted emotionally raw subject matter in his late years. The sculpture is rough on all sides with sharp edges, seemingly made by a series of scratches rather than smooth and refined. When I think of Michelangelo’s famous Pieta, I imagine that Tito’s Pieta is a representation of what Michelangelo’s mother Mary is feeling on the inside, yet not showing on the outside. Tito shows the human emotion; Michelangelo shows the divinity.

I also went to San Giorgio Maggiore, designed by Palladio, and featuring some impressive works by Tintoretto, including his Last Supper. There is also an Academia in Venice which is comparatively small, but features some impressive works nonetheless. I saw the San Giobbe Altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini (the same artist who painted the previously mentioned Madonna and Child with Saints), as well as his own Procession in San Marco piazza. This was quite a joy to view and compare the painting to the modern version of San Marco piazza which I walked through twice a day in average. I saw a very impressive La Pieta by Giambattista Cima de Conegliano, more paintings by Tintoretto including his glorious Deposition, the very large and fantastic Dinner in the House of Levi by Veronese among other impressive other that were new to me. I also was witness to Titian’s Pieta, his later version, as well as his Presentation of the Virgin to the Temple.

Although I was not in Venice to see modern art, it is my favorite kind of art, and I allowed myself the guilty pleasure of perusing the halls of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum which was right on the water, complete with a beautiful garden and courtyard with outdoor sculptures. After walking through Peggy’s collection, she and I are on a first name basis now; we became fast friends even though she is now deceased. Peggy and I are kindred spirits. The specific pieces of art that I love and are my favorites were collected by her long ago and put in this building for me to discover and fall in love, both with her and the art. Peggy, I love you. Please come back and be my friend for life (and let me live in your Venice museum). Besides all the Pablo Picassos, Jackson Pollocks, Max Earnsts, and Henry Moores, I was blessed with the presence of Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, by that blessed artist Umberto Boccioni.

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His sculpture before my eyes took my breath away in the same manner as when I saw the Florence Cathedral for the first time. I gasped for air, stifling my elation, snapping a million pictures as my only socially acceptable form of expression for a combination of pure childhood joy and humble reverence. I had to keep reminding myself to breathe. This sculpture embodies power, strength, grace, and fluidity of movement. He looks like a futuristic warrior, yet I can never quite decide if he looks on fire or made of water. I am in love with the abstraction which is certainly inspired by cubism. The body parts are exaggerated slightly, yet morphed into machine-like armatures. Plus, who doesn’t like a nice butt? He is some kind of samurai transformer from the future, and I could look at this for hours making myself dizzy from circling around it. As I was walking away from this Unique Form, I was filled up to tears (yes again) with gratitude. Thank you to everyone who donated funds, who encouraged me, and who supported me for giving me this moment. I will always remember the rollercoaster of emotions from simply seeing this sculpture, and will always be grateful for those who helped me to get here. This was a special exhibition that was not part of the permanent collection, and it was apparently meant to be for me to be at this place in this time.

And then I went to the Doge’s Palace, which had a special exhibition of Manet pieces. (Guilty pleasure modern art tour #2). Every single Manet piece that I had studied, and then some: Luncheon on the Grass, Olympia, The Fifer (although not specifically studied in class, this seemed to be a popular piece). The most charming paintings in the Manet exhibition were his portraits of his colleagues Clemenceau as well as his portrait of Berthe Morisot. I was charmed at the idea of one artist painting a portrait of his fellow painter friends. I think I would like to do this someday.

One interesting thing that I noticed while seeing both Titian and Manet paintings within days of each other was that Titian’s whites are of a very cool tone while Manet’s whiles are of a very warm tone. Nothing deeply philosophical to offer regarding that, I just thought that it was a bit interesting and made a note to self that I thought I would share.

Upon reflection, the most notable thing I drew from Venice is something that I had been witnessing all along in my time in Italy, but never really noticed until this time. All of those people in the local piazza were not there to do anything but visit and socialize with others. In America, when we get together with others, it always surrounds an activity of some sort. We eat dinner, or go to the movies, or go shopping, or grab a drink, or anything as long as we are DOing something. Italians don’t need to be engaged in a mutual activity to enjoy the company of others. They are just present. They show up, and sit down…and talk, nothing more. The talking IS the mutual activity. I must say I like this concept. I often find myself unable to have a meaningful conversation with a friend because we are both distracted with the activity we are doing together. I rather enjoy the idea of sitting and talking, and doing nothing else. Many of the college aged people were sitting and talking in the piazza; the mothers were gathered and talking while their children ran around and played; the old men were not playing chess, they were looking at each other and talking to each other. So why do we Americans multitask our relationships? Perhaps it is at the core of our drive for success, otherwise known as the search for the American Dream. We are a culture that places a high value on staying busy, to the point where people think there is something wrong with their lives if they do not have every day booked up with activities. What is wrong with doing nothing? It doesn’t seem productive, but, in fact it is. Doing nothing allows one to contemplate, to know one’s self, and to simply think. It is okay to do nothing while you contemplate things with a friend, to know them better, and think on things together without a plate of food or a movie screen or a rack of clothes for sale between the two of you. I rather embrace the idea of doing without the multitasking in order to give full presence to everything that I do. Now the real test is to see if my friends will get it…I rather think they will. I like to think that I tend to pick the good ones.

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Travel Break #1: Firenze, a.k.a. Florence

The first travel break was a half-day travelling, two days in Florence, and a half-day travelling home. I had a long list of places to see in Florence, both churches and museums. Ali, my travel partner, and I knew we had to get a Firenze Pass to do this the right way. A Firenze Pass is a flat fee access card to most of the sites in Florence which allow you to bypass long ticket lines and reservation groups. Essentially, it is a VIP pass to Florence’s art world. We had a bit of trouble finding the entrance to the Uffizi, where we had planned to buy our Firenze pass right after we arrived in town, but it had already closed by 5:00. So after bumbling around to find other places that might be open in the vicinity, we ran into the Palazzo Vecchio of a former king to purchase our all-access-passes.


The next morning, we hit the Uffizzi first at 8:30 am. What a saturated collection of infamous works! Botecelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus along with some others that I did not know of, but were equally as impressive….AND HUGE! If there is one thing I was not prepared for when seeing these artworks, it was the larger-than-life size of every single piece! Leonardo’s Annunciation, Parmaginino’s Madonna with the Long Neck, Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, Fra Angelico’s Madonna and Child with the Infance St. John, Veronese’s Esther and Ahasuerus, Vecchio’s Adam & Eve, Perrugino’s Portrait of Francesco delle Opere, Durer’s Adoration of the Magi, Mantegna’s Circumcision, a replica of the Laocoone, Raphael’s Portrait of Pope Leo X, Madonna and Child with St. John, and Portrait of Julius II… The experience of personally witnessing such history and works of masters was overwhelming and exhilarating at the same time. I found myself holding back my immediate instinct to yell, scream, and jump up and down like a school-girl. I don’t remember the last time I was that giddy. After only the top floor of the Uffizi, we were exhausted and hungry, so we left to grab a cheap lunch somewhere, with the intention of returning another day (this, however, would never happen). We strolled a side-street looking at menus in windows, looking for good, cheap, and gluten free to accommodate one in our group. An old man was lingering in the doorway of a small restaurant, apron on, cigarette in mouth, electric blue eyes, red-leathered skin, white hair, and a warm smile. Pretty much everything on their menu was 5 euros; we were sold immediately….except….oh right! “Do you have gluten free?” “Si, gluten free pasta!” Done. We shuffled in the small restaurant, Café de Gusto, with random decorations tucked in every crevice, books on every shelf, and a random stack of plastic cups here and there mixed in with the, well, eclectic décor. Image We ordered water for the table, the man came back with two 16 oz bottles of water, and pointed to the stack, “…and your cups are over there.” There was no menu to hand to us, only the question, “what would you like? I make it for you.” We asked for ideas, he rolled off a verbal list of vegetables, meats, and sauces. We all told him what we wanted: pasta with * sauce and * meat or vegetables. After he wrote it down, he walked four feet to the open kitchen of which we had a full view. This man appeared to be the owner, waiter, and chef. We were instantly charmed, so much that we came back the next night for dinner. After lunch it was off to Santa Croce, and what a surprise it was! We recognized the name, but did not realize the tombs of so many intellectuals were placed in this single structure! I’m talking the actual bodies of Michelangelo, Dante, Donatello, and others are in this church, in addition to the amazing architecture and frescoes. After that, the others went to the Archeological museum while I settled into a park bench in a piazza to people-watch for my summer research project.  


The next day began with an 8:30 Duomo climb, followed by a walk inside the Florence Cathedral. Image

Next we made our way over to the Bargello, where I was repeatedly stunned by the confrontation of what had always been a studied artwork of the past, suddenly present for my contemporary viewing. Sculptures by Michelangelo, including Bacchus and the Pitti Tondo, Donatello sculptures including the original St. George from Orsanmichele, Donatello’s 3 Davids, and Attis, Verocchio’s David, Ghiberti’s Battle Between Romans and Barbarians, and his Crucifixion. The highlight of the Bargello was definitely seeing Donatello’s David, the one with the hat and feather. The last stop was the Accademia, but unfortunately, we only had time to see Michelangelo’s David, then we had to quickly leave to take care of travelling errands. The next morning, the others left early to go to Assisi while I slept in, then made a direct line for San Lorenzo, complete with viewing of the Sacristy, and the additional tondos by Donatello. In the basilica I spotted several frescos by Ghirlandaio, including The Ascension of Mary, and Saint Antonio with Saints Lorenzo and Giuliano. I took some time to write down the mathematical ratios that I saw, which were the ones I learned about in Art History classes. Next I went to the Baptistry, had some difficulty figuring out the ticket system, but eventually made my way in. Quite the Italo-Byzantine epitome it is! The entire ceiling is tessellated with tiny mosaics, using an overabundance of gold tiles, and featuring a Pontokrator. On my way to the train station, I stopped by Santa Maria Novella, which is directly across the street from it. The courtyard features what seems like an above-ground crypt, the inside features beautiful architecture, but perhaps most notable was the Trinita, by Masaccio.


                Perhaps the most surprising thing during my trip to Florence was the enormous scale of every piece I saw. The Baptistry was about 10 times larger than I had imagined it to be. And the Florence cathedral, oh that cathedral was a small planet! I expect modern-day buildings to be that tall, but this, this was centuries old, not only taller than I had ever imagined possible, but wider, longer, grander, more ornate than any picture can portray. I felt like I was looking at the massive pyramids, or at least something of the same size. Never in my mind had the concept of a church and such a massive structure coexisted in my imagination. When looking at pictures, it appears to be about two or three stories high, and, well, it is. But each story is on a larger scale than anything I have every witnessed in my life! I found myself in a state of spiritual awe at the vision and drive of the architect who bore this structure into being. Never did I think that six hundred years ago people were building something like THIS, on this scale, of this magnitude! But what about Michelangelo’s David?! I have always compared it to Donatello’s David, which is smaller than life-size, but has a certain charm and sensuality that I admired over the stoic version by Michelangelo. But there is no denying the magnitude of “the giant,” as it is so rightly named. The pictures I had seen of Michelangelo’s David did not give me any context for scale and size. I never knew it was this big. When I saw it in person, it dwarfed everything and everyone. It was disconcerting to have just come from witnessing Donatello’s version, and being disappointed in its size. I wanted it to be bigger, big enough to fit into my inflated version of what I imagined it to be. After being let down by the small scale of my personal favorite David, I was smacked in the face by Michelangelo. His David blew Donatello’s out of the water by sheer monumentality of size…and I was left torn between being impressed by Michelangelo’s piece, and feeling a little hurt that it was so much more impressive than what was my favorite David, by Donatello. After the numbness of the contrast between Davids, I wanted to know why everything was so big. Or perhaps the question is why does it seem too big to ME? Have I just not been out in the world enough? Or was this a trend for the high-times in Florence? The frescos are huge, the paintings are huge, the sculptures are, well Michelangelo’s are huge. So then why were other sculptures not enormous, such as those by Donatello? From what I have learned, Donatello seemed to be more interested in illusions of depth, using light and shadow to further create depth in his sculptures. Perhaps Michelangelo vs. Donatello is really “bigger is better” vs. “the devil is in the details.” Admittedly, Donatello’s proportions seem to be more accurate than Michelangelo’s proportions. Michelangelo, like Rodin, idealizes and makes his hands bigger than they should be. Donatello’s David has realistic prepubescent boyish body parts, slimmed arms and legs, slight pot belly, and poor posture. This is a stark contrast to the almost canonical David by Michelangelo, which seems to recall antiquity. The body is muscular like a gladiator, with a strong stance, and a restrained demeanor. Only the eyes give away any sense of emotion. Perhaps Michelangelo understood the monumentality of his project, as it represented the city of Florence, and wanted to rise to the occasion. But then what about all the other huge pieces I saw in Florence? What about the pieces by Botticelli, and the huge altarpieces? Perhaps these were only made to fit the enormous spaces in which they would be displayed, palaces and cathedrals. So that brings me to wonder why were the churches so massive? Why have we not continued this tradition? I would be willing to be that there is no Catholic church in America of the same scale as the Florence Cathedral. What happened between then and now? Was it the industrial revolution? Was it the fact that we were so far removed from the Vatican that funds were hard to come by for such a project? Was it that the Vatican was turning into more of a corporation with a board of trustees, rather than being run by a single Pope who commissioned new structures with the intention of leaving behind a legacy, much like the Pharaohs of Egypt? I think the answer lies somewhere between a research paper and a thesis. Regardless, I am still working on obtaining the right word to describe what I felt in the presence of such magnitude on such a recurring basis for 3 days straight.

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In preparation for my first (and most-likely only) study abroad trip, and to document my findings and subsequent thoughts, I am beginning this blog. The title, “LibBelieves,” is wordplay on three key concepts. First, this blog will contain things that I believe, which just might make a few of you gasp, but it is my firm belief that one must be honest above all else. Second, if you pronounce LibBelieves, it sounds like “Libby Leaves.” This also is intentional as these future writings are like leaves, beginning with seeds of thought, and growing into leaves to shine in the sunlight of my own epiphanies, but eventually falling to the ground amid so many other blogs, self-important and overlooked. The third is also a play on the idea of “Libby Leaves,” but this is interpreting “Leaves” as an action. I leave my thoughts recorded here, but also I in just a few short frantic weeks, am literally leaving the country for five weeks to study in Sansapolcro, Italy. I suppose our very lives are a series of leavings, from one place to the next, physically and emotionally. Even a return to something is also the leaving of something else.

And so it begins, my record of life’s adventures. First stop: Getting ready to leave the country while preparing for college finals. Now THAT, my friend, is an adventure!


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