The European adventure – VI

This vacation draws to a close. On the way from Florence to Pisa to take a flight back to Paris, I feel free. This is the first time I’m taking a vacation alone. It’s taken me 31 years and over 10 years of work life to gather the courage to go somewhere alone, just to take a vacation. When Pratibha said she couldn’t make it, I had serious second thoughts. I’m glad I took the plunge.

There is something liberating about not planning every minute, not being required to be at a certain place at a certain time. That dictated my decision not to take guided tours. And I’m happy about my decision. It’s been the best vacation I’ve taken so far.

Italy lends itself beautifully to the idea of a solo vacation. Lovely place with the most amazing sights and sounds. The people are cordial and willing to help. You might have some trouble if you don’t speak Italian but their cordiality more than makes up for it.

The police and officials at the tourist information desk seem to be trained to help non Italian speaking foreigners and are almost always willing to go the extra mile, at least in the major tourist attractions such as Rome and Florence. It might be different in the smaller towns.

On the whole, if you’re planning to take a few days off, Italy must be at the top of your list. Yes, even higher up than Paris.

The European adventure – V

Special exhibition happening in the Galleria dell’Accademia on “Acknowledging Michelangelo”. Starts today and open until May 18. I’m just plain lucky!

No photos allowed inside the gallery…am so disappointed.

David simply adds itself to my list of not-to-miss works of art. Capturing a fluidity and grace that’s hard to explain David captivates even the casual observer. Not that I am an artist, but it’s breathtakingly beautiful to behold. It’s sheer perfection, from the tip of the toe to the top of the head. It’s very easy to see why this statue is called the symbol of 7000 years of human art. My words do no justice to David’s perfection. It’s perhaps for the first time today that I’ve been struck dumb by what the human intellect is capable of.

This is well and truly Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Every muscle on the leg, the rippling abs, the exposed male genitalia that symbolise virility and fertility in ancient Greek and Roman art and every curve of the body is perfect. Perhaps the most difficult thing to do in art is to capture human anatomy with any degree of accuracy. That’s precisely why artists must master the nude in order to be recognised as good artists.

David is a masterpiece precisely because that aspect of art is perfectly done. It’s hard to compete with perfection.

Over time, David has become symbolic of civic liberties and freedom. And,for good reason. It’s easy to see why the Florentines are so proud of their heritage. If only we Indians cherished what we have as much.

Plaster model of Machiavelli in the gallery. Aptly cunning expression on the face.

The theme of Mary Magdalene’s sainthood recurs through the centuries in various art forms: painting, sculpture, murals…

Also, the Virgin appears frequently in Catholic art, something that completely disappeared in the Protestant sect.

Some lovely sketches in the Galleria degli Uffizi.

In ancient Greek sculpture, elaborate hairstyles signified power. That’s interesting! Loose hair meant a woman of loose morals…seems familiar in the refrain “thalaiya virichi podathey”

It’s amazing to see how Europe preserves its past. We must learn the art of conservation. We have many thousands of years of history that has been list due to negligence.

Birth of Venus by Botticelli is impressive. A large painting approximately 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall, it deserves it’s fame. There’s quite a lot of detail in the painting.

Interesting to note that in every variation of Pieta, there is Mary Magdalene along with the Virgin. Da Vinci’s painting is so realistic…even the tears seem real.

Stormy landscape by Jacob Isaaksz van Ruisdael is captivating in its use of colour.

Since when did I begin to analyse painting???

The judgement of Paris. A captivating theme about the triumph of love (Aphrodite) over power (Athena) and wealth (Hera). Greek mythology is so fascinating…

I wish I could sketch…there is so much to record. Too bad my creativity is limited to the verbal and does not extend to the visual…

Two striking paintings, The Burning of Troy and Hell, both belonging to Don Lorenzo di Medici. A burning Troy bears a very close and striking resemblance to Hell as described in Dante’s Inferno.

Random thought: women with bare bosoms and loose hair always have copper or red hair.

The European adventure – IV

It’s confirmed now. The Italians are different from their other European counterparts. They don’t understand the meaning of the term “queue”.

The train is quite nice. Comfortable with on-board WiFi for a cent!

Found the hotel quite easily. The lady at the tourist information desk was nice enough to hand me an English version of the guidebook and give me directions to get to the hotel.

In a lovely little trattoria. They have lots of vegetarian food!!! But, Piccadilly Square is a very inappropriate name for a restaurant that’s exclusively Italian…

The European adventure – III

In the Colosseum. Awe-inspiring edifice. Brought up a Hollywood pop culture, I couldn’t help picturing a very sexy Russel Crowe in the arena. ????

But, what’s a Christian cross doing in a pre-Christian Roman monument?

Interesting to see men dressed in ancient Roman costumes.

Palatino Museum: Sculpture dating back to Roman antiquity. Main distinction between these and the sculptures present in the Vatican museum is that those in the Vatican aren’t in the nude. The genital area is covered with a fig leaf. Must find out when Christian mores started influencing Roman art.

When I see these sculptures, I somehow can’t get two statues: Pieta and the Winged Victory of Samothrace out of my mind. Something about those two that touches the deepest recesses of the heart. Now waiting to see David in Florence.

The Imperial Fora and the Colosseum took most of the day to see…plenty of walking with music for company. Lovely day. It was bright and sunny, with temperatures going upto 19 degrees. What more do I need?

Rome needs better connectivity…the metros aren’t enough.

The European Adventure – II

The Vatican really must discourage guided tours…they get annoying beyond a point…

St. Peter’s Square is actually a very large circle and a beautifully maintained one. Can’t imagine the chaos when this place is filled to the brim with thousands of people during the papal elections.

Successfully climbed the cupola. Partly because I paid for it and partly because once I started climbing, there was no way to stop.

The climb is difficult but worth the effort. The view from the top is marvellous.

If you’re planning on visiting Rome, don’t miss climbing the Cupola. The climb starts as a five foot wide ramp, narrows into winding stairs of 3.5 feet. The stairs get progressively narrower as you climb until it’s just about 15 inches. At this point, I thought I was going to suffocate! Then it gets worse because the climb is not only steep, but the ground is inclined at roughly 10 degrees. But the view from the top compensates for all the trouble!

Peak hour traffic in Rome metros resembles Chennai trains in peak hour. No space to stand.

Really not enough trains for the demand.

Neck pain because of the camera. Didn’t realise it was this heavy.

The European Adventure – I

Now, this is what I call blogging on the go. However, for lack of internet connection or even phone connection all day long, I will post my impressions gathered through the day at the end of the day when I get back to the hotel!

  • First impressions: Rome is like Chennai. Taxis refusing to ply, cars parked on pavements, traffic lights that everyone ignores. Yay for Italy!
  • Trying to find the hotel: Lost in Rome, when I requested help, a very nice couple took the trouble of directing me to the hotel, after having looked it up on their GPS. Sweet! Don’t think people in Paris would ever do that!
  • Getting used to the idea of being alone with my thoughts and moods. Must bring a book and a pen along tomorrow. Makes it easier to write.
  • There is something liberating about being able to go into a restaurant alone and order something to eat. Equally a relief is when people don’t wonder why someone would be vegetarian.
  • Lunch! Just finished a decent meal after nibbling inedible morceaus in Paris. Cheers to the Italians who are so helpful. The guy actually made something for me that didn’t contain meat or fish.
  • I am the only idiot waiting for a green signal to cross a road. Everyone else just walks.
  • Just saw the most beautiful set of rosary beads. Pity I am not Christian and don’t know any religious ones. Would have bought one otherwise…
  • I can buy condoms from a vending machine outside a pharmacy but not lip balm or BandAid. Strange place.
  • People look happy. I actually see them smiling at others. So unlike Paris.
  • There is something so beautifully peaceful about the St. Paul’s Basilica, that I couldn’t help praying at the chapel.
  • These are men of God. Their devotion and faith touches the heart, however misguided the brain may claim it is.
  • First pizza in Italy not impressive. Too salty and soggy. Damn my taste buds. They never seem satisfied.WP_20140214_005

And finally, I spent Valentine’s Day attending a special prayer (which was beautiful by the way) at the St. Paul’s Basilica and having dinner by myself in a pizzeria decked in red and while balloons! Can there be anything more…unusual?

I leave you with one picture to end the day!