Monday, September 12, 2005

Day of Cleansing

Saturday night: tremendous thunderstorm, special effects experts in the basement rattling huge sheets of metal all night long.

Sunday: Sept. 11. Laundry. Nap. Evening dinner with Judith. Expedition to gelateria.

On the way back across the Ponte Vecchio, an anti-terrorist demonstration, commemorating 9/11. Judith, who was here when 9/11 happened, said the Italians had signs in their shop windows sympathizing with America.

Last night, though the crowd was small, there were slogans and a kaleidoscopic manifesto against terrorism projected on the walls of the buildings to either side of the Arno. TV cameras awaited the panel discussion by spokespeople lined up on chairs in an open space where street musicians have played every other evening. We didn't stay for the program, but an official who seemed to be connected to anti-terrorism seemed somewhat put on the spot by a question about potential crises in Italy. One of his references was to the various crises governments must always rise to meet, including natural ones--e.g., the New Orleans catastrophe, or, what must always be on the minds of Florentines when heavy rains occur, the Arno flood of 1966, which left 30,000 homeless.

Mon. 9/12 Expedition to near Ponte Vecchio for gelato. Finish gelato, expedition across Ponte Vecchio for more gelato. Finish gelato. Go in search of . . .

But before gelato, concert by the Florence Chamber Orchestra at the Church of Orsanmichele, near Piazza della Signoria--works by Porro, Tchaikowsky, Boccherini, Mozart, cello soloist Umberto Clerini.

Now here's what Molloy has to say about this. The church is a 15th century structure, its art and sculpture, much of it by Lorenzo Ghiberti (he of the Ghiberti doors on the Baptistry next to the duomo) under ongoing restoration. Beautiful natural resonance for the small orchestra, almost as good as any orchestra one might hear anywhere.

As a concert venue, the church is particularly apt, lending its sacred authority to the already holy art of music. In fact music in such a venue is a continual reenactment of the event at the root of the church's history: a resurrection. With each wonderful, singing piece of music, a composer is brought back to life to share himself, as in a new communion, with people who have come to attend a spiritual togetherness. Although the Bible does not say so directly, it is clear that every musician is among the saved simply by virtue of his/her music. What else could be the case? David, the harpist and composer, had an execrable family life: when he couldn't get Bathsheba's husband to sleep with her (in order to cover her pregnancy by David)he arranged the husband's and married Bathsheba himself. The later history of David's family is a disaster--a son (Absalom) who tried to depose him, another son who raped his half-sister, provoking Absalom to murder him in revenge. And yet David is accounted a favorite of God. Some say it is because David remained faithful. I say it is because David was a musician. Even if he didn't write all the psalms (and he couldn't have, since some refer to events that took place centuries after he lived), to have written one earned him his eternal place in the heavenly band.

Musicians live a naturally ascetic life (never mind the many exceptions--I grant myself the liberty to overstate). Others must earn blessedness; musicians have it bestowed upon them for their continual resurrective (they bring other people's music, and therefore the people themselves, to life) act, and because they add to the spiritual wealth of mankind. Who can place a value on the addition of something new to the universe? Artists in general are automatically granted salvation regardless of their restless, hectic, chaotic, helter-skelter lives and personalities--these are symptoms of the unflagging quest.

In the Church of Orsanmichele, spirituality was present. Umberto Clerini sang through his cello, ethereally. Behind him, the holy family looked down. Jesus, a bit restless on his mother's lap, strained toward the music to satisfy his curiosity, as children will do. Mary held a book--she had been reading a bedtime story to him (the concert started about his bedtime), but she let him sidle down where he could hear better. Joseph was the picture of strained patience--why can't this kid settle down so I can go in and read the Hebrew News? He looked marmoreally underfed, pinched in his cheeks, trying to support a new family, perhaps still wondering about the paternity of this irrepressible kid. If the orchestra had taken an intermission, Jesus would have been off the pedestal, messing with the instruments, eluding the grasp of his good-hearted, gullible father, warming the heart of his mother, who must always be pleased at her child's precociousness. It was a terrible blow to the world of music and intellect when Jesus chose ministry rather than music and composition himself, which he could have done, dispute with the rabbis as he did. (This was always an amusing episode in the gospel--Jesus' parents leave Jerusalem without him. Didn't they notice he wasn't on the donkey? The scene in which they discover his absence is not narrated by the gospel writer, who probably couldn't make it plausible himself. But the parents hightail it back to the temple, apparently where they last remembered seeing him, and there he is instructing the rabbis in their craft, much to their consternation. Mary and Joseph put a bumper sticker on their wagon: "My child--Head of Class at the Second Temple" only it would have been in Hebrew, not English.) But the point is that Jesus could have played or composed, or both, wickedly--he missed an opportunity for greatness; his legacy could have involved many fewer disputes, and we would not have had to stretch our credulity to be in awe of him.

In the Chiesa Orsanmichele, the assembled literati and religerati on the wall affirmed the performance. The crusty expressions of the saints gradually softened during the concert, and their conventional benedictory gestures came to life with meaning--another case of opportunities missed. The church missed the boat--celebrated people who martyred themselves or foolishly sat on 40 foot stone pillars for 40 years instead of people who added to the cumulative spiritual richness of the race. But they realize their mistake--and so they, following God's own example--give unlimited approbation to those who carry on missions of Truth (performers, and through their performances, the listeners as well, whose spirits are lifted to resonate with the surrounding harmonies. It is not for nothing that King Lear's return to sanity is heralded by music, which orders the soul (all kinds of music, let's have no quibbles; distinctions only show bitterness and envy, attempts to colonize the world of music for one's own agendae).

The audience left, cleansed, and unlike the aftermath of the thunderstorms, they didn't have to dry their clothes or clean their glasses.


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