Michaelangelo’s David

I’ve been asked what my favorite thing to see in Italy was. That’s a hard question because there was so much to see and a lot of it was really impressive. But one of the things that did impress me a lot was Michaelangelo’s David. We’ve all seen pictures and images and it’s become in many ways an icon of the Renaissance, but looking at it close up in real life is quite a different experience. There’s a difference in seeing something on a small book page and in seeing it in 14-foot white marble.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/63/Michelangelos_David.jpg

Since we couldn’t take pictures inside the Accademia (where the David is located) the above image from Wikipedia will have to do. As I was saying, there’s a lot you don’t see in a picture. You don’t see the exquisitely small details like the veins in the arms or the fact that even the finger and toenails are accurate. All this even when Michaelangelo knew that the statue would be on top of the Duomo and none of these details would be visible from afar. You also notice that his hands and feet are unusually large for the same reason.

Looking at the David, I saw a work of art but I also saw a glimpse of Michaelangelo’s passion, commitment and expertise. It’s easy to look at pieces like that the David and not really think about the artist behind it. But it’s worth remembering that these works that we venerate and love are the result of hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours of human labor. And you can’t fake dedication like that. I can imagine the love of his art that must have driven Michaelangelo to make something so exquisite.

Being an engineer, I can relate to Michaelangelo in some way. often when making a design I have a certain specification to follow but I often find myself going above and beyond what is needed to build something that doesn’t just work, but works well. Of course, I haven’t made anything remotely close to the David, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a sort of kinship with Michaelangelo and his contemporaries. In an age where so much emphasis is placed on speed and deadlines at the cost of everything else, it’s good to look on works like the David and be reminded that there is something to be said for quality and the pursuit of excellence.

Back in the US of A

I’m back. After 3 weeks touring across Italy looking at wonderful art and walking for hours and hours a day, it’s good to be back at Lafayette. After Florence we made our way to Assisi and then to Rome. Assisi looks like a place straight out of the Lord of the Rings and when you walk through Rome you walk through thousands of years of history. There is a lot to say about both these places (and a lot more to show) but that’ll have to wait until after I get settled back in and pull all 3GB of photos off my memory cards.

There is a lot that I’ve learned on this trip and a lot of new friends and experiences. In many ways, going to Italy was one of the best decisions of my life. The second last day we went to the Trevi Fountain in Rome and I threw a coin in. Apparently if you throw a coin in and make a wish, someday you’ll come back to Rome. But I can safely say that even if I didn’t throw in that coin, I would have been making my way back. Every place I’ve been to, including the small towns of Gubbio and Montefalco could easily take a lifetime to explore.

I never quite appreciated the importance of travel until this trip (even though I’ve been all over the place). But I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Pribic that travel is important. It opens the mind and teaches you a lot about new people, new places, new cultures and it teaches you so much about yourself. Personally, I knew that learning about Italy and art would be an interesting experience and was reading to learn a lot. What I wasn’t ready for was the change in myself that the trip would inspire. I feel braver and more open to trying new things. When you start college they tell you how much you’ll learn and change over the next four years. The last three weeks was the whole college experience accelerated many times.

Though I’m back on campus and getting ready to start my research work for the rest of summer, I still have a lot of thinking (and a lot of writing) to do about Italy and my experiences. The Italy trip will be staying with me for a while and that’s a good thing.

A Firenz

It’s been a while. I blame the crappy hotel wireless that I had to pay for. Anyways, Florence. It’s another amazing city. Not quite as unreal as Venice, but definitely not your run-of-the-mill metropolitan city. Every street has a piece of history on it and you can turn a completely unassuming street corner and find yourself face-to-face with a work of art. Whether it be the Piazza del Signorio (with the replica of David) or the breathtaking Basilica with its famous dome, this city has art built into it at a very deep level. It is really quite amazing and I could easily imagine myself spending a whole year just getting a basic idea of what amazing stuff is where.

The days and nights spent here have been amazing so far. The mornings are packed with looking at art and learning so much about them. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so fast about anything in my life. It would have been impossible without the two awesome professors who are here with us. They’ve spent significant amounts of time here before and have a really good feel for the city and what it has to offer. Whether it be where to find the best art, the best food, the cheapest shopping or the most flavors of gelato, the professors have been amazing.

Of all I’ve seen, gazing upon the David has been almost a spiritual experience. Seeing the thought and detail Michaelangelo put into this work is breathtaking. I could easily write a whole book on how it makes me feel and how it relates to my life. But that will have to wait.

But with the art-seeing in the morning and the shopping/exploring/partying in the afternoons and evenings, that leaves precious little time for journaling and sleeping. I’ve never slept so little for so long in my life, but I certainly do not regret it (though physically it does take a toll). I’ll certainly have more stories to tell, but they will have to wait. I’m sitting in the hotel lobby which is getting progressively louder and I have a paper to write for tomorrow. I have one more day in Florence and I plan to enjoy it.

So it’s not built on water after all

It turns out that Venice is not built on top of water after all. We met with this very nice tour guide today called Fiona who’s from Venice but spoke perfect British English (and German) and she told us about the history of Venice and then led us around the city. Venice is composed of  number of small islands and city is built by placing wood and stone on top of those islands to make them better suited for carrying buildings. Ironically enough, the part of Venice that was once the highest point in the city, the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) is now the lowest inhabited part of the city and regularly gets flooded.

After another full day of walking around Venice, I can safely say that it is one of the most amazing cities on the planet. Florence may be considered the birthplace of the Renaissance but Venice is truly amazing. It’s really wonderful when you find yourself walking through these narrow streets and suddenly you’re in an open courtyard (a campo) surrounded by beautiful buildings and architecture from different periods. And that is just the beginning of it.

Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance period Venice has been a center of both trade and military activity (especially naval conquests throughout the Mediterranean). The results of this are obvious everywhere, especially in the art and architecture. When visiting the largest Franciscan church in Italy, the Santa Maria dei Frari, it is possible to get a glimpse of the evolution of Venetian art and architecture gathered under a single roof, albeit a rather large roof constructed over 150 years. The church looks large, but very unassuming from the outside and gives absolutely no indication of the wealth of art and history that it holds within.

In many ways this is perhaps similar to Franciscan ethos of service without pomp and grandeur, reserving wealth and richness for the inside rather than external display. However, the wealth and splendor on display on the inside does make one question why an order of friars vowed to poverty would accept such immensely expensive additions to their church, even if technically they owned none of it. At the same time, it’s probably a testament to the fact that the world is so much complicated than simply right and wrong and that sometimes you simply have to accept the system and bend it to your purpose than fight against it.

I’m currently fighting against my camera and trying to figure out whether to keep a paper journal or just spend money and print out my blog posts later. Tomorrow is yet another jam packed day with a boat tour out to more Venetian islands and a Vivaldi concert in the evening. The day after we leave Venice for Florence and I don’t know what the Internet situation will be then. It might be a few days till my next post so till then I’ll keep journaling, reading, writing and paying attention to two awesome professor and a bunch of interesting fellow students.

They built a city, on water

I’ve been in Venice for a good  6 hours now. It’s been an interesting set of experiences so far, including stepping out of the airport and on to a boat to get to the hotel and walking about a city that is so completely different from any other major city I’ve ever been in (and I’ve been in a fair few).

Venice really is a city of canals, a city essentially built on water. But you quickly get used to it. After the initial shock/amazement of seeing buildings practically rising out of the water, it doesn’t take too long to get used to the sight of small boats winding their through canals or crossing a bridge every few dozen steps.  In some ways Venice reminds me of Calcutta where I’ve spent most of my life. There are lots of tiny little alleys and lanes with lots of old buildings with different architectural styles. However, unlike Calcutta there has been no large scale modernization and the more modern buildings and marketplaces fit in really well with the rest of the city. We haven’t really had a chance to see the churches or other culturally relevant parts of the city but we have a few more days to get on with that.

The outside of San Marco

I’ve already had a small glimpse of Italian cuisine. We had a light lunch of meat and cheese appetizers, spaghetti and risotto and it was all quite delicious. The recommended €15 bottle of red wine (a Merlot) went with the meal quite well. Now I am certainly not a connoisseur of wine by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d like to think that I’m developing a palette (and I’ll certainly have good teachers in Italy’s wine country). For dinner we’ve been promised an assorted seafood dish that is reportedly a Venetian specialty which I’m looking forward to. Coming from Calcutta, I’ve grown up with good sea food all my life and is something I almost never get in Easton, Pennsylvania.

My first wine in Italy

Merlot in Venice

It’s been a rather long and fun-filled day and a half with not much sleep. My roommate is currently fast asleep and I will have to wake him up before dinner. I’m tempted to do the same, expect I know that I wouldn’t be able to get up in time.  So tonight will likely be a quiet night with some reading and pen-and-paper journaling (plus some emailing home to let my parents know I’m alright). Tomorrow promises to be an even more interesting day as we really dive into our course material and take a proper tour of Venice and the various interesting places.

Packing and other necessities

I do not like packing. I don’t mind having things organized and neat, but I don’t like putting a bunch of stuff into a small space where I may not be able to get to things easily. Enough complaining. I’m packed and as always my suitcase is a bit heavier than I would like it to be. But I’ve managed to pack clothes, notebooks, pens, stationary, shoes and a number of other random things, enough to last my three weeks in Italy. I like to travel light, especially when I actually have to carry stuff myself. So my carry on luggage is as light as I can make it, containing only the bare essentials and everything else goes in the suitcase. Depending on how much I have to lug my suitcase I could move things into my backpack if need be.

I’ve also gone shopping a bit today for various things. I got a Moleskin notebook, my first. I’m not sure if I think it’s a good investment. I like the look and feel of it and it’s clearly well made. The paper is thicker than normal and the paper is stitched, not stapled, to the cover. The line spacing is narrow and I’m not sure if that’s going to make writing harder. I guess I’ll found out once I start writing. I got a pack of three for $16.95 and that’s pretty steep for 120 pages in each book. I also got a smaller pocket notebook for taking notes on the fly. Besides that I picked up a plug adapter (I’m not taking any electronics besides my netbook which has a power brick).

In conclusion I dislike packing, but I’m packed anyway. Now back to waiting for laundry to finish so that I can wrap up things up for the night.