Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Molloy discovers himself to be literalized.

Flash! Molloy finds that his fellow teacher on this trip has been blogging away mysteriously and has incorporated Molloy into her suspenseful narratives.

Molloy wishes to state, therefore, for the record, that he has been absorbed into someone else's mind and whatever acts of heroism or perfidy he might commit in those narratives in no way signify any ill or benevolent intentions or accomplishments of his own, unless they redound to his credit, in which case he declares ownership. It is hard enough for Molloy to roam in his own mind, somewhat dizzying to think that he wanders in two minds simultaneously, not to mention his origins in yet other minds and other narratives, where he wandered in search of his mother, or quoted a parrot. For an explanation of this phenomenon of multiple existences, cf. the observation on the labyrinthine omniscience of God in the preceding meditation. This is a further reflection on David, who exists in as many consciousnesses in as many ways as there are people who view him while wandering in search of the bathroom, or who fall asleep in contemplation of his marble being on the small benches near the corner pillars. David's "greatness" may also be a creation of art history scholars in need of tenure and the Florentine tourist industry, which brings in the money to maintain the work and the thick glass railing that surrounds it.

We learn from current political leaders that the measure of Truth is the ability of a statement to shed a benign light on the worst and most self-serving behaviors.
9/25 Molloy Contemplates a Navel, but it is David’s, Not His Own

By dint of a reservation, Molloy was precipitated ahead of swarming lines of tourists (yech! Molloy, a resident for 12 weeks in Florence, looks down his Davidian nose at them) into the Galleria Accademia, where stands Michelangelo’s famous David. Never mind that David’s clone dominates the Piazza della Signoria, along with the stern but handless Neptune, and another such clone rises on the Piazzale Michelangelo to look toward Brunelleschi’s dome.

David of the Galleria Accademia is the real David, moved there for protection after a drunk in the 1800s tried to climb him and broke off a marble middle finger. Biblical David heroically took on many comers, not the least of which was a giant whom he slew and decapitated. Michelangelo’s David, for all its power, is, alas, defenseless, surrounded by a thick, waist-high plastic barrier. How could this stone image ever have attacked something much taller, even, than it?

David stands alone in the Accademia beneath a cupola in his naked glory, and Molloy was moved to contemplation not unlike David’s own. Why is this work great, and what makes other creative works so impressive that they are designated, like this one, “great”?

This deep question occupies many reams of aesthetic philosophy, so Molloy will, characteristically, trample complexities into simplicities and make a few comments that at least will satisfy him, so he can move on to treat other topics with similar dispassion.

Among the possible and interesting answers:

a. this David is a breakthrough work and was recognized as such by its original audience. Several centuries of imitation and familiarity, however, have taken from our sensibilities the consciousness of how radically Michelangelo pushed the envelope.

b. Michelangelo’s David re-thinks the Davidic tradition; we are used to seeing Hebrew characters represented in robes and head coverings; nakedness in the Bible is a sign of vulnerability and associated with uncleanness; Michelangelo’s David is a classically-proportioned (except for the hands) muscular fellow, naked and rippling as though he has been exercising in the gymnasium; he would have represented, to the Jewish viewers of Jesus’ time, that very alliance with Greco-Roman rulers that the tough-minded rebels hated. To a hypothetical Renaissance viewer, David, noble and contemplative, represents an ideal alien, even antithetical, to the Biblical tradition known through the Middle Ages. Why would any of Michelangelo’s audiences (Jewish or Catholic) have put up with him?

c. Interestingly, David is David early in life, not late, when the Biblical David had seen his first champion and mentor, Saul, turn against him, try to hunt him down and murder him; had his sordid and shameful affair with Bathsheba and subsequently lost a son; when Absalom, another son, rebelled against him and tried to steal the throne; when Absalom had murdered a half-brother over the rape of a sister. Michelangelo’s David gives no hint of the problems to come—only an imminent triumph. David thus stands as a warning to all that one triumph is not predictive of endless and unqualified success. (The films of Woody Allen, in Molloy’s humble opinion, are a modern instance of the principle.) The later David is burdened by family disasters, grayed and tormented.

But probably this is a more modern reading, since Michelangelo’s Catholic sponsors would more likely have seen David as the forerunner of that messianic line that led to Jesus, and in that sense the beginning of eternal triumph. (What a terrifying possibility: according to Christian tradition and the imaginary lineages of the gospels, no David, no Jesus; no Jesus, no salvation. No salvation, no Divine Comedy, no Paradise Lost, no Olivier Messaien, no Joyce, no Beckett. Gosh--no Beckett, no Molloy. No blogs. Is there rejoicing in Heaven over directions not taken? This is intriguing--God's omniscience enables Him not only to know everything that will happen, but all the many possibilities of things that might have happened given any of the choices that might have been made.)

d. Michelangelo’s David is so huge, that he is to the viewer, paradoxically, what Goliath was to him: a giant. Michelangelo gets to have it both ways: David is the ideal of humble contemplation, but also stands for a type of Renaissance arrogance by which Michelangelo has turned the tables and played both ends against the middle. So to speak. But then, think how big Goliath must have been to outsize David.

We are told by various ancient commentators on the ancient world that humans were once much taller than today, and their gradual diminution in size and general depletion of energy has been due to the process set in motion by Eve's transgression. Other commentators say the opposite: archeological and anthropological evidence shows that humans live longer and grow larger than long ago. Suffice it to say that Michelangelo's David is evidence of the hugeness of humans in the Renaissance. Sculptors modeled from life; David, like other statues, is much larger than anyone living, unless a highly abnormal individual, such as some shown in the photographs of Diane Arbus.

e. The placards in the Accademia assert that the statue depicts David after his victory. But Molloy has seen other commentary in which David is said to be calmly “sizing up” his adversary before any weapons are thrown or slung. In fact, the statue David is holding a stone—as yet, there has been no battle. David is focussing, preparing for that single, definitive burst of motion that determines whether he will die or become the greatest of Israelite kings.

f. It is said that Florentines saw in David an image of themselves battling against enemies like the Milanese, so David was a figure of hope and eventual triumph. The work is great because generations have been able to see in it meanings relevant to their own concerns.

g. Perhaps this David is "great" because of its superb technical mastery—not just in the accurate idealization of the human figure and the polishing of rock (at least the second of these any person with enough stamina can accomplish); “technical mastery” must also include the ability to render the humanity of the character—Michelangelo must himself be the superb actor, dramatizing the indomitable through his marble self-extension.

Molloy has a preference for the last of these possible reasons for greatness. It wins him over because it involves direct perception of a work’s physical presence. Without that dramatic physical immediacy, whether in three-dimensions, on a flat plane, as words on a page, or as music, no amount of historical or biographical context will bring a work to life. The David is great because it has physical power; it communicates monumentally and impressively.

The Rite of Spring doesn’t continue to get attention because it was a breakthrough work (though it was). It is a powerful, rough, uncompromising composition, technically masterful and full of energy and tumult. Similarly with Shakespeare’s plays: in many ways they are not “breakthrough” works at all, but consummate perfections of traditions already in place. Yet, well interpreted and performed, they will wrench your heart right out onto the theater floor and stamp it into mush, or cause you to laugh yourself into helplessness. Sometimes both at the same time.

A side note: on the way to the David are several sculptures, seemingly half-carved, said to be works abandoned by Michelangelo. Figures seem to emerge from, or to be trying to emerge from, or to be imprisoned within, intractable chunks of rock. Here is evidence of Michelangelo’s own heroism: he takes the raw giant and hacks and chisels his way to triumph with every work, finished or not. Stravinsky triumphed over the chaos of random sound to forge The Rite of Spring; or Joyce triumphed over the raw material of language to produce both The Dubliners and Ulysses (Finnegan’s Wake is a triumph flirting with disaster on every page).

The triumph of these works is that they leave the viewer (listener, reader) in awe, reduces him or her to stupefied silence. In that circumstance, the works also create the deepest of religious experiences—silence before the act of creation. Far better than prophecy, the art of ecstatic hit-and-miss, inspired, perhaps, but often venemous and vengeful guessing.

Let us stand silent in honor of awe.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Blog Sept. 16

Molloy Takes a Hike

But first, that time of the week has come when Molloy opens his mail and carries on a cheerful tete-a-tete with his enthusiastic readers.

Here is a brief excerpt from the first letter: “Dear Mollohy [I am sympathetic to orthographic difficulties—the real sperling is above] I always enjoy your engaging and wide-ranging travel blogs. They tell me a great deal about the various countries you are visiting. But do you have to write so much????? I have, maybe, forty-five minutes at a time to check them out, and even that is not enough. I have applied for several different jobs with longer breaks, lunches, and weekends, but your iof your interminable ramblings have confounded my efforts. Sincerely, Dysphasia.”

Well, thank you D, for your frank and perceptive comment. It is true, the blogs might be longer than some I have researched in preparing this response. One blog writer was quite concise, most of his/her comments consisting of unrepeatable four-letter words that conveyed his/her meaning(s) quite succinctly. I might say he seemed to sling meaning in all directions. Another wrote in fragments, a clear strategy of curtailment.

But there is one obstinate fact. It rises before us like the defensive wall around Florence, against which one butts one’s head (Molloy speaks from experience). One finds one’s way through the Porta Romana, or sneaks through at the Porta San Miniato after excursions along these impenetrable lengths of stone and mortar. This obstacle is the English language itself, which we can consider in this philological way: It it is a stew, not a steak, a mixture of words derived from many other languages: Greek, Roman, Anglo-Saxon make up the hefty base, seasoned with Arabic, French, Spanish, and garnishings from other peoples and cultures. With such a dish on the table, it is virtually impossible not to eat more; the language itself forces it upon the writer. I am helpless before it.

But, you may ask, how do other writers manage to write short entries, readable over a sandwich, a cup of soup? They have the same number of words, but finish after a paragraph.

This troubles Molloy—their brevity, their lack of the adventurous spirit, their apparent unwillingness to be lost in labyrinths. Molloy does not like to walk into spider webs in the night, but Molloy finds the web of language a treat. It is the cat’s proverbial “nip.” Molloy drives the side streets. The added twists and turns reveal more houses, empty lots, privacy fences, and “Keep Out!” signs, which all take longer, and, indeed, Molloy may miss an appointment here, arrive late for an appointment there, and put more miles on his verbal tires. But, Molloy is exhausted at the end of the trip. He has eaten well, and earned his nap.

And that is Molloy’s succinct reply to the beautiful, and no doubt, concise, Dysphasia.

Coincidentally, as an objective, truth-bound, travel writer, who must sustain a high consciousness of the tools of his trade, Molloy has vowed to comb the dictionary for resources and incorporate all its words over the course of his journalistic effort. He regrets that he may have to repeat one here and there, but such lax journalistic effort will be kept to a minimum.

Now here is another letter, in a perfumed envelope—hm, a gracious hand, no lock of hair, but an aura of elegance, perhaps a reader entranced more than entangled in Molloy’s peregrinations of wit and word. “Dear Molloy [an auspicious beginning], You’re just weird. I knew weirdos in high school. They were the druggies. They never did any real work, just sat around with their glassy eyes. Or they were musicians. Or they spent their time sniffing acrylics and painting their faces odd colors. Do you have piercings? Tattoos? What’s with you? Yours truly. Love, Lulelia.”

Lulelia, Molloy thanks you, like Dysphasia, for your frankness, and hopes that his tardiness in making use of the phone number [not to be published here] you included with your comments has not discouraged you from further forthright commentary.

This issue is a serious one. Molloy joins the world in wanting to expunge weirdness. It is an unwelcome phenomenon to him, raised, as he was, in a home that exuded normalcy.

He will go so far as to describe, briefly, the conditions of his upbringing. Life revolved around rabbit stew, dumplings, and round steak cooked in a tomato sauce. In order to con him into cleaning his plate at every single meal, he was told regularly that children were starving in China, India, the Maldives, and remote areas of Bora-Bora. The locus of starvation depended on which of many National Geographics his grandmother had been reading surreptitiously in the bathroom on any given day. Conditions were alternatively terrible in Tibet, Russia, New Zealand, Quaker Pennsylvania—and they were always sucking on the dessicated skins of the locale animalia. Molloy wondered especially how the Quakers could continue their non-mechanical lifestyles if they were forced to eat their horses, since he had, surreptitiously, seen a television documentary on Quakers in which bumptious, irrepressible children rode in horse-drawn wagons. Molloy suspected, synthesizing what his grandmother regularly described, and what he saw on documentary television (he knew from an early age that broadcast documentary was always true), that his own family, and the people they knew, and the people on his block, and the next block, and the other kids at school, and the people they knew, were the ones who had starved in the past, eaten their horses, and resorted to automobiles because the horse population had been irreparably diminished. Indeed, it was rare for Molloy to see a horse. Only very wealthy people had them, proof positive that horses had been reduced to rarity and their value increased beyond the means of normal people. They had even the status of protected species.

But this hardly addresses the issue of “weird,” except insofar as to affirm Molloy’s intrinsic normalcy. Molloy recalls a phrase: “At play in the fields of the Lord." This is where Molloy writes his travel blogs. In those fields God Himself seeks fellowship. And Molloy is there to chat with him, an ecstatic babbling in tongues. Visionary and prophetic, Molloy sips wine, eats crackers, and writes his interminable blogs. The fields of the lord resound with hallelujas—if that spelling seems unusual, Molloy got it from the Source Himself, who, in His more congenial moods, enjoys proofreading. In his less congenial moods, He tells Molloy to get lost and reads the paper to bring His Omniscience up to date on the world news. Otherwise, Molloy is among the blessed.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Thurs. Sept. 15
Recounts a tour of Old Things and the Secret Plaster Rendez-Vous

Made a vow to rise at six, so rose at nine. Made a vow to get out of the Apartment of the Lilliputians quick, so about 11:00 we were on our way off to Fiesole, land of the Etruscans and Romans. And, of course, all the current people, who walked about the city in their ancient togas, or their military garb, helmets and all. Tradition lives.

First stop: the archeological site--Roman amphitheater and baths. A sign of the withering of the Empire by the sixth century AD was the presence of burial urns in the baths. When they were in their prime, though, they were as good as the old Sutro's Pools in San Francisco, with hot water, cold water, medium water. And the Romans had space for exercising. This was all on the same level, not 50 yards away from each other. Whatever the size of ancient Fiesole during Roman times (the city has archeological sites dating back at least the third or fourth century BCE), the Romans knew how to live. In the archeological museum were amphoras for wine, votive statuary, and urns with pictures of ancient Roman life.

Then lunch outdoors at a cafe called American Cafe, complete with mannequins sipping wine and beer at a nearby table. Molloy felt eerie at their presence, but he will include some pictures of them. The woman especially, a blue-eyed witch she was, staring at Molloy the whole time, as though trying to hint that he should sidle over and put one of his famous Molloyan moves on her. Molloy thought he saw her cross and uncross her legs several times. The lid came down slowly over the surface of that penetrating glass eye, unmistakable invitation. When her plaster companion went to the restroom (Molloy knew it would take him awhile, slow mover that he was), Molloy slipped into the chair next to her and used one of his most practiced lines: "What's a harrowing, shady, unblemished girl like yourself doing in a hilltop town filled with ancient soldiers and guys with togas?"
She hardly blinked--she was something else. But I saw the quiver in her fingers. She inched her arm in my direction. I could read her like a Ouija board. My stars were in the ascendant. Her soft voice was unmistakable: "I know my place; don't forget yours." Molloy felt the thrill of her charm, the softness behind her implacable, perfect cheeks and sharp-sculpted nose. Thousands of years in the future, archeologists will discover her, unchanged, the perfection of womanhood, and write books about the shapely women of 21st century Italy. My bones, wracked and tormented as those of the ancient Lombard whose 6th century tomb was restored though his flesh and savaqe human spirit could not be, will be stretched alongside, grasping her ankle, my forbidden Lady of the Pedestal.

Her male friend came creaking back. She winked again, another unmistakable message, ambiguous in its import, but clearly so. She nodded slightly toward the building under construction behind her. I was to rendez-vous there, with her; her male partner would hold the table until her return. I wondered briefly about the mechanics of their relationship--was he a brother/partner in incest? a lover/friend? a procurer? I thought the sixties and their "open" situations were past--but here they were again, rearing their morally complex heads, perfect teeth rattling. I rose to make my way into the construction zone, where stone cutters jig-sawed large blocks into place for a new pavement and machines dug mercilessly into the ground for a renovated piazza. Love on the piazza, I thought, and she could return without disarranging a single hair.

But the return bus pulled up, Leanne and I ran for it, made it, leaving Molloy looking back at the curious, motionless couple with their drinks the same level as before, clothes unruffled, in front of the American Bar of Fiesole.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tues. Sept 13.

Walked and walked, stunned by reality: not all banks accept my ATM card. Called the credit union (in California) to ask, and they said, who knows--not all banks accept your credit card. But that was what I had already said. It was like listening to an echo. After exchanging pleasantries, Molloy decided that if not all banks were going to accept the card, the best plan was to keep trying until he found one that did, then camp out there, or at least remember which ATM machine worked. This plan is currently in force. A large "X" on the sidewalk directly in front of Banca Toscana marks the spot.

In the evening, the search for a geo-cache led us up a remote street along a garden wall like that of the Finzi-Continis, with a secret door (locked, even--Molloy tried it), then on up the hill through a very upscale section of Florence, then farther up to the Church of San Miniano, where we saw a beautiful sun set over the whole city of Florence and its surroundings.

Here is the legend that justified that spectacular piece of real estate being comandeered by the church: the namesake, St. Miniano, was martyred, but at the moment of his death, before collapsing, he picked up his decapitated head, trudged purposefully across the Arno River (apparently past the amazed crowds who had witnessed the execution), and climbed the hill to where the Church now stands. On that exact spot, he dropped his head, a beatific smile replacing the shock and pain of its grizzly countenance, and laid calmly down to eternal rest. The record does not inform us whether, in this miraculous burst of energy, he visited the cosmeticians and beauticians of the area for his ultimate settling-up with the grim reaper, or the Cafe Rifrullo, at the bottom of the hill, for tapas and wine--after all, if he can lug his head along on that hike, he could at least get some nutrition for the exertion and beautify (as well as beatify) himself to meet his Creator. Presuming that that effort, by itself, regardless of the quality of his prior life, would qualify him for entrance into Heaven. He might also, in winding up his earthly affairs, have closed out any ATM cards by leaving them in the slot for confiscation.

The crosswalks are clearly laid out, pedestrian signs are conspicuous, and even Italian drivers of cars and scooters would have been polite enough to let a headless man with a determined look pass uphill in peace.

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.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Molloy Blinks and the World Vanishes

My God! I got to the computer to check my blog and found nothing for Sat. Sept 10. What happened? How did I miss the whole day? Where had the time gone? What did I do? Where did I go? Did I take any pictures, have any adventures, practice, eat, see a movie, hear a concert?

Then I remembered: I don't come to the blog to find out what happened, I myself write what happened. I create the day. This is a new form of responsibility I had only heard about in self-help books--take charge of your life! Live each day as though it's your last; today is the beginning of forever, at least the first day of the rest of your life; the future is in your mangy hands, don't cast it to the muckheap. I create the future in retrospect. Now we're getting somewhere. But that brings me back to the beginning, since somewhere has always sounded ambiguous.

But, to reorient myself: we're in Florence. We flew here on an airplane, quite a flight, in which nothing happened, so it was hard to create it, unless I made something up, which I've vowed must never happen in these documents.

But today, I will do things. We will walk (this has all already happened, so I'm cheating the future by recollecting the past and misstating it) up to the Piazza Michelangelo after slugging down two cappucini while sitting across from the Piazza Santa Croce. You know, I heard a band just now--you'll have to forgive my rudeness, but leaving is imperative. Drums are drumming . . .

And it's about three hours later, the drums have drummed--it was a miniscule parade down Via Giuseppi Verdi to advertise an outdoor concert in the Piazza Signorina by the Filharmonia Rossini. The parade wound through the streets to wind up there, but
had some fetching moments: especially when several six-year old drummers, dressed in Florentine costume, nearly drummed their way into a side street and had to be herded back into line by a rather mean-looking adult, warning them, no doubt, "You'll never drum in this town again."

Note in passing: in 1966, when the Arno had its terrible flood, during which curators were, over an endangered bridge, literally hurrying great works of art to safety in the Uffizzi Galleries across from the Pitti Palace, and on higher ground, the water rose in our apartment building some twenty feet to a marker on the second floor. The river normally runs about twenty feet below the streets on either side. This means it rose twenty, flooded the streets, then continued rising another thirty to forty feet, since our building is at least ten to fifteen feet above the level of the streets at the side of the river.

Another note, for future travelers: siting on the Duomo makes a great way to keep yourself oriented in the city.
a) if the Duomo is your destination
b) unless you lose sight of the Duomo
c) in an oddity of city planning, you always lose sight of the Duomo
the closer you get

But these are notes I had to get down before they eluded me forever and I got lost trying to site on the Duomo.

We followed in the wake of the parade to the concert. The youthful pied pipers achieved their goal.

Now, the Piazza Signorina is large. It is the entrance to the Pitti Palace. It is surrounded by outdoor cafes, great statues--one of the replicas of the David; some others. The Filharmonia Rossini played in front of the entrance to the Pitti Palace, and a rousing concert it was, free to all, enjoyed and cheered by all for its variety of fare, little of which was Italian.

Florence, fountain of the Renaissance, source of the arts, the humanities, the sciences, opera, instrumental music--Italy, home of the great Verdi, Vivaldi, Boccherini, Formaggierini: the Filharmonia began with a Sousa march, followed by a medley of themes from James Bond films.

I am pleased to announce that this was nothing like the piano concert of ultra-modern music described by Julio Cortazar, with deep and reverent feeling, as having taken place in Paris and witnessed by his protagonist, Hector, in a book you must all read: Hopscotch.

A lady announcer filled the interregna between each piece with brief concert notes, the most intriguing of which concerned a piece called (I think) "Oregon." This piece narrated a 19th century expedition across the continent Norteamericano, with sections reflecting savages (selvaggi), cowboys, locomotives, and, perhaps, Mexicans, though I was not always sure of the translation. This got great applause, from me as well as everyone else. The cowboys thundered across the plain, the selvaggi whooped, fired arrows, and danced for rain. The locomotives whistled their lonesome cries in the star-filled darkness. Great herds of buffalo diminished rapidly in number. And the Mexicans--or perhaps they were French-Canadians from Detroit, the music wasn't terribly explicit about this--either strummed their ranchero music, yipping and yiping before attacking the Alamo (if Mexican) or (if French) rhapsodized to the effect that this must be the best of all possible worlds, by which they must have meant the trapping, the trading, the canoeing and the occasional piecepipe parleys (aromatic with who knows what dried and smouldering greenery) with characters like Queequeg and Danielle Boone (the little-known bisexual hero)from Mark Twain's favorite James Fenimore Cooper novels. The piece ended with an apocalyptic thunderclap representing,I think, man's first small step for Middle Eastern oil with a misdirection ploy involving the moon.

Another short discourse concerned W. C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues," which, I believe, was described as a piece written during the second decade of the 20th century celebrating the liberation of the slaves. Now, this piece did not have quite the solidity of performance, though the musicians worked their way stolidly, labored at the swinging sections, and generally played the jazz like classically-trained Europeans. The trombones, especially, glissed their hearts out, adhering exactly to meter and tempo, while the trumpet player scorched out a few well-orchestrated licks. This also got great applause.

The finale was a piece composed especially for an ensemble in Brisbane, Australia. This was done very well.

Overall, a very congenial, amiable concert, put on by the City of Florence, with a special greeting in English at the end and a welcome to all English speakers that left many Italians as puzzled as we English speakers had been during the addresses in Italian.

Molloy must note that his appreciation of the music was not the less enhanced by the wafting aroma of a greenery for which Florence is not internationally known; he also apprehended a couple in the act of indulgence in that same greenery earlier in the day, near the Piazza Michelangelo, where he hiked, camera in hand, to survey the panoramas and perhaps record them for future blogs. You will no doubt have noticed that several pictures have been appended to the first in this series. More are to follow.

Molloy bids you good night.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Fri. Sept. 9
Molloy Braves the Elements, Or Forget the Money: Follow the Blog

On the schedule for today: a beautiful walk through the hills above Fiesole, 20 minutes by bus from St. Maria Novella bus station, the gentlest zephyrs trilling lightly, birds on the wing, tending their young (is this the right season for that, or is Molloy confused in his ornithological lore?). Nature beckoned, Molloy answered the call, ready to return to his pagan roots and worship the local spirits of hill and dale and see the marble and granite mined by the great sculptors.

But other powers had other plans. Jupiter, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, Shiva, Zeus, the Great Spirit--or whatever other playful spirit, male or female, has a hand on the controls--opened wide the faucets of the cosmos. First a warning drizzle during the night, then a bit of tantalyzing sun through a light cloud cover (just enough to get Molloy out of the apartment, into the cappucino bar, and off to the bus station). Then BLAM, downpour, CRASH, kettledrums and ten-pins, bolts of lightning hurled across the sky, which Molloy unfortunately was not exactly a party to, huddled under the umbrella as he was, thinking of King Lear on the heath, Rip Van Winkle in the mountains, and Max in the forest with the magic bullets.

Shakespeare, Irving, and Von Weber missed a trick, however, with their heroes, that Molloy's historian has not missed. Unlike the great protagonists of literature and opera, (Odysseus is an exception--the conscientious historian and travel guide must be precise), who have been in forests, heaths, caverns, or pubs, Molloy was lost. Guide to Florence in hand (the very same guide he had used to combat the bloodsucking emissaries of Dracula the previous day--only turned in the wrong direction, so that North was South, and East was West, and the Arno was oddly over his head), he had marched confidently off in the opposite direction from the bus station and lost himself in a labyrinth of piazzi not mentioned in any part of the map he was looking at, looking, as he was, at a part of the map which represented a part of the city which he was nowhere near. He was in a distant sector of the labyrinth, waving his umbrella valiantly above him, jousting with the cats, the dogs, and all the other animals of the zoo sluicing down around him, surrounding his feet, invading his shoes, and crawling dangerously up his legs and down his back, toying with his puny defense.

Divinity, in fact, laughs at umbrellas, even more when Molloy walks under buildings especially designed in genius strokes of Renaissance architectural jeux d'esprit, to pour their water directly upon him.

But he was not alone: there were the huddled masses deluged in front of (not to mention around the sides of) the Duomo--lines of convulsing, undulating umbrellas, the hoarse shouts of frustrated tour leaders waving their soggy flags, peering through steamed glasses, locals waiting it all out in shops, restauranteurs lamenting the effect of downpour on their drenched outdoor cafes.

But much depends on perspective, Molloy realized, in this city where Brunelleschi and Alberti invented perspective by painting the baptistry in a mirror looking backwards. The huddled masses, the exorbitant downpour, were not a torment wrought by some omnipotent cynic, but, for all practical purposes, a mass baptism, a cleansing of the unwashed in preparation for their entry into the great cathedral itself. Molloy can understand the exasperation of the Creator with all those eager but sullied--what more expeditious way to provide a kind of anticipatory aquatic purgatory on the steps, so to speak, of paradise, Brunneleschi's vast, sanctified inner void, the triumph over nature who hates a vacuum. Yes, yes! Molloy feels an ecstatic illuminatory trance coming on! What else is such a cathedral, any cathedral, but an imposition, on a grand scale, of human will in the service of God, over the chaos of nature? Molloy changes his mind: instead of a walk in the hills, where nature's meaningless chaos reigns supreme and nothing prevails but trees, breeze and sunlight (downpours today, of course), Molloy should honor the spirit of divinity and make the exhausting climb into the dome, built without supports (God, with only a miniscule fraction of his omnipotence, must be constantly engaged in sustaining that effort), where with painful legs and heaving chest he can spew forth, competing with the thunder, echoing antiphonies of rage at the martyrdoms suffered by aspirants to the realms of glory (at the top of the dome). The divine reward for completion of the rigors: on a nice day, a fine panorama, a few moments to catch one's breath, perhaps a few gulps of pure oxygen provided by a Holy Ghost awaiting with a tank at the summit, then a descent again into the realms of misery and suffering--the pizzeria, the pasticcheria, the cappucineria, a warm shower, a nap that resembles the eternal slumber of death, and then is born again, as they say, into full wakefulness and joie de vivre, that the dream of heaven was only a dream and the shops can be mined for material well being another day. It may be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven, but why would anyone want to put a camel through the eye of a needle, anyway? Let's confine ourselves to realities.

Oy, the breath of inspiration comes in many forms; as Paul opines, those who speak in tongues, what good are they without translators, one of many opinions Paul shares with Molloy, indeed, might even have derived from Molloy in one of his (Molloy's, not Paul's) earlier lives. Each person has his/her gift; Molloy's comes from the UPS man--bits and pieces of talent in a brown box, protected by styrofoam.

Speaking of which, Molloy must off to market to prepare for the evening meal, to be taken with Judith, she of Biblical stature, but not of Holofernic fame.

Perhaps the weather has lightened. Perhaps not. Lear is still bellowing, like Saul. Molloy's readers may have reason to curse the weather, which drove him in to blog.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Dedicated audience:

Only my sense of responsibility to a vast readership has drug me away from the sensuous pleasure of the Florentine ambience. One pleasure: flailing away at jet lag with the weapon of sleep. Another pleasure: gelati. Another pleasure: walking up one street and down another looking in shop windows.

Weather report: very mild, overcast, a bit of drizzle. I made it dry to class yesterday, but minutes after me, a couple of students came in soaked. I offered them the shirt off my back, but everyone else screamed in horror: "Ack!!! Put it on, put it on!!" Sensitive to the sensitivities of others, and hearing the lyrical sirens of the Polizei and Carabinieri, I took discretionary action and reinvested myself. Class went on per normale after that.

The city of Florence is truly glorious. Last night, on the way across the bridge back to our picollississimo apartamento, we saw thousands of Draculae (Latin--"bats" in the vernaculae). They chirpped away, pinging radaristically through the twilight looking for insects. I kidded around with them and chirpped too, and I was beset by bats, worse than the birds in a Hitchcock film. Can you believe it? They mistook me for an insect! Blodthirsty. And I was carrying a camera, even. At least, they could have figured out that I was a tourist. I fumbled for my cross, but lacking that (one of the very few times I can remember not having it conveniently on my person somewhere or other), I beat at them with my Quick Guide to Florence. (It occurs to me that since this is Italy, I should put everything in Italics. Which rules am I following here--when in Florence, do as the Florentines do--but what do they do? This is not covered in the handbooks. Argh. I suppose, at the risk of offending my widespread Italian readership, I should nonetheless return to non-Italics, and apologize for any faux pas. But is faux pas acceptable--it is a French phrase--is there a French version of Italics--Gaulics, certo--and where, prey tell, are they on the keyboard; have I offended any pianisti by referring to this as a keyboard? Maybe being in a foreign country is not for me . . . )

But, back to the bats of Florence. They come out, chirping, at night, keeping down the mosquito population, flitting across the lights of the Arno, the romantic atmosphere of the restaurants near the Ponte Vecchio, shattering the darkness with their infernal cheer as they consume their fill, blithering this way and that in their jagged flight patterns. Ping! Ping! Then there are the outcasts who alternate with them and go Pong! Pong! So, overall, you probably can hear it already in your mind's eye, they go Ping! Pong! Ping! Pong! And in Italian--but it's not translatable, so I have given the nearest English equivalent.

Travel writing is something of a new genre for me, and you are too kind to comment on the little glitches here and there that may betray my innocence.

I would think the objective is to render clearly the essence of the locale the writer is travelling in and to offer useful information to the future expeditionary.

So, ahem:

As we read in the best guidebooks (and the worst as well, so it might as well be mentioned here), Florence is the city of Dante. He has a statue somewhere nearby. There are probably several strewn about. Florence is also the city of David. I am not quite clear whether David fought Goliath in Florence, or whether that might have been elsewhere, but, most importantly, David's genitalia were covered, first by God (before the famous battle--that being a pre-technological era with no jockstraps) later by the Pope, whose appreciation for anatomy was either limited or excessive. The battle was fought, perhaps, in the square where the statue now stands. This would have been when Florence was a Philistine city, before all the art, which Philistines, apparently, could not fathom, living several years before the Renaissance, as they did, according to the best archeologists, and perhaps in another part of the world, maybe pre-Mayan. (I love to write about travel, but geography sometimes confuses me, especially if it's the geography of where I am at the time. History occasionally confuses me as well. As does science. But fortunately, I do not aspire to write about either history or science.)

My crypto-narrative beckons.

The Philistines did not like David either, since he decapitated their hero. One of the other statues in that square may be Goliath, who was, apparently, a handsome, bearded fellow, with a lot of muscles, but only one eye--or perhaps I confuse him with some other character in some other book. He might have been half goat, but then David would have taken unfair advantage, since David had all his human appurtenances intact and jocularly protected. The statue of David's formidable adversary is difficult for me to describe accurately, travel writer though I am and committed to a faithful record of both history and contemporary society in their many facets, diversions, and dimensions, because I forgot my glasses at home, and the statue is tall. I can't tell if it has one eye, or two, muscles or a tunic, a hat or some futuristic flying apparatus atop what is most likely (from my cumulative experience of the locations of various anatomical features) its head.

Be all that as it may, Florence is, indeed, the city of Dante, and we return to our consideration of that most famous of Beatrice's rejected suitors.

Dante's Inferno, which I have to teach next week, was written, I believe, just after David's genitalia were obliterated. But the Paradiso followed soon after, when, in the local shops, boxer shorts began to appear reinstating the genitalia to their proper place.

That's enough culture. And just in the nick of time, too.

If you really want to hear about mosquito control (and who doesn't?), there are the green fish in the green water of the Arno, snapping away at the mosquitos dropped by the bats from their heights.

The essence of the Arno, though, I can essentialize in a phrase, even in a word: green. I can add to that: mossy. The lights on the water at night are pretty, coming from the restaurants. Looking one way or the other--north or south, east or west, up or down, inward, outward, retrospectively or prospectively--the sight charms and soothes, instigating a tranquil and serene constipation of the emotions that brings tears to the little ducts at either side of the bridge of the nose. Sniffle.

Scooters and the people on them I can also essentialize in a phrase: guardate! Pedestrians rarely wait for the permission of the little green walking people in the stoplight. They go at will--rather like New York, or Bakersfield, or Cumquat, Missouri, where the automotive population is 4, counting the tractor and the motorized unicycle at the rental shop.

We became true Italians last night, though. As a Ralph's or Von's card makes the True American; so, the Standa card makes the True Italian. At least in Florence. Imagine our chagrin when we bought not souvenirs from and of the many shops of immaculately skilled Florentine artisans and craftspeople, but toilet paper. It was 3 Euro; then we found it at Standa for 2.98 Euro. I wanted to return the first purchase, but we learned a heavy lesson that night.

Note to Molloy: Toilet paper costs the same as gelato; I am checking in my many guidebooks for the connection, but I should probably be checking a textbook on internal medicine and the pictures of the alimentary canal.

I can assure you, this is not the least informative source for your next trip to Europe. You could be reading the Pasadena phone book. But Molloy may come in a close second. There are conflicting parameters, obligations, and decorums in operation here. See, in the index, blogosophy, blogology, blopgophilia, blogorrhea, blogectomy, blog 'o my heart (the purple flower with the thorns, related to the nettle).

As a final noteworthy record of our peregrinations (a bon mot I filched from Dr. Johnson), we walked by a church and heard decorous.

Ciao for naow.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Three days into the traveling, and I'm finally getting a chance to update. Long plane flights of sleeping, reading, watching a movie I can't even remember now. Then arrival in Florence and our apartment--whether it will turn out to be so for the entire next three months remains to be seen. The building itself is some 400-500 years old. The apartment is four, five or six flights up depending on where you start counting. That's 66 stairs though. Our luggage originally went up on a chair that was something like a mining wagon. It moved very slowly.

Inside was charming but small, even cramped--in fact, we're bumping our heads on beams. The toilet and the shower are together, the shower hanging above the toilet, so only one activity can be carried on at any one time. Unless one showers while on the toilet, or vice-versa, which would be unmentionable, except that as Molloy I can mention it.

I've finished my first day of classes--only miffed one student who felt my abbreviation of Christianity as "X'y" verged on the blasphemous since I had left out the most important part: "Christ." I allowed as how the "X" might be construed as a cross leaning sideways, which would reincorporate the most significant part of the Christian experience. In the music class, I unrolled my roll-up piano, installed the four batteries and held forth with various simple examples, moderately well played, if I can be permitted to give myself a moderate compliment. The classes are fun, and I'm not averse to having the next couple of days to get into museums ahead of the students and plot out a course of class action.

We nearly walked our feet off yesterday, getting lost on the way to dinner at my lead teacher's apartment, then nearly getting lost on the way back, except that we were saved by my wife's trusty GPS. I have to admit that I initially suspected the GPS of being wrong--never mind that it was sighting on the information from 12 satellites watching our every move from orbit. I was convinced my direction was right and the satellites were against us--after all, astrologers say the stars can be against us at one time or another, and, to judge from the number of readers of astrology pages, the astrologers can't be wrong! So, I concluded that the satellites were very likely hostile as well, determined to lure us into the mountains and lose us beyond help. But I gave way at the last minute (not to mention that the wielder of the GPS refused to walk one more step in a direction opposite to science). Sure enough, the GPS directed us to our apartment, where we bumped our heads on the beams and timed each other in the shower.

This demonstrates, I believe, that science should be regarded with some respect. I was wrong, as is anyone who relies on gut instinct, intuition, and faith for guidance in important matters. I have learned my lesson. No more Intelligent Design for me! I'll take the good news from the heavenly bodies any time. This makes me feel much better, of course, because now I can, in good faith, go back to the astrology page and read it with a new sense of confidence in its forecasts and predictions. If the satellites can get us home, the stars can direct us to wealth and happiness. Besides, I read all the horoscopes and choose the one that suits my mood best for that particular day. Perhaps this is the best solution--a compromise between reason and blind preference.

This evening, we may head for St. Croce and a ceremony involving children, which, I have been assured, is not a slaughter of the innocents.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Haven't even started traveling yet, so if you're interested in a travelogue, you'll have to bear with the preparatory stages or wait till another entry or so. This is going to be a longish trip, so a lot of things to get done before leaving. Clothes aren't any particular problem--what I forget, I can acquire there. I'm more worried about getting enough film, the right cameras (yes, I still use film, but also have a digital camera), the right pack to carry them all in; then books/cds/dvds for teaching; then trombone, drumsticks, vibes mallets. You never know when you're going to run into drums and vibes--gotta be prepared. Then there are the house things--paint a couple of windows that I've let deteriorate for over a year, fix air conditioning for the house-sitter, the list goes on and keeps growing. Finish one thing, add two more. The only way to stop it is to get on the plane and order the first small bottle of wine, then wake up in Florence fifteen hours later. We're going through Paris, but no time to stop and sample. That will have to be for some future weekend. And, if course, have to say here: bye to all the people I didn't get a chance to see on my last day at school. Keep the faith, whatever it is--it's just important to keep one; as I've recommended in other contexts, another couple of words of wisdom: get your bills online, keep some powder dry, don't let the bedbugs bite, and stay more or less out of trouble. I'll try to get in enough to cover everyone. Wynton Marsalis says life's got a board for every backside. I say innocence is renewable, but keep a pillow in your backside anyway. More advice: rage against the machine. I've never known what that meant, but it sounds okay. If you're pregnant and you know it, clap your hands.