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Friday, November 21, 2008

Stealing Into Beauty

I have this curious, often unnoticed gift of mine. This gift being curious, in that it departs from the veneration of the mature. And unnoticed mainly because it is in this ability of mine which constitutes just that description.
My gift ---sneaking into places.

The truth is that I never really cared for this ability. I mean as a child. It’s the ability to blend into walls, bookshelves, crowds (usually anything bleached white because of my fair, ghostly features.) In short, to go unnoticed. I was sadly the middle child. And it's not so much that I did anything gilt-paged legendary. Not yet at least. I didn’t converse with dragons nor infiltrate an entire squadron of Soviet spies. But I have managed to slip by some pretty hairy places, and tended to outfox some very clever hounds. But connected to this gift, as are most gifts are graciously given, is linked a direct obsession. In so much, am I talented at not being noticed, I have an insatiable thirst to go precisely where I’m not supposed to be.

Trespassing, sneaking in, sneaking out, crossing forbidden barriers undetected and unbound all for the sake of crossing over the barriers themselves. Well, at least in most cases. There is something wholly consuming about cracking that impenetrable code, of getting into a place that is trying to keep you out. Fortunately, in my lifetime I’ve rarely experienced the inverse of this. That is, those places that are intent on keeping you in. Though with the former behavior I may one day be placed in such a situation.

But in both these cases, the idea is the same, crossing over limitations through stealth, acumen, physical agility, judicious timing, and unsinkable daring. That is why some of my favorite movies are all movies that involve jailbreaks. That is why I revere Steve McQueen. Many people think freedom is being on the outside of any particular wall. I may think it to be on the inside as well. For who knows how in our thinking there is that idea that something wonderful, unfathomable, and delightful is contained and barricaded by walls and fences. That there are certain spots more exciting than the very spot you occupy and all that is needed is a certain chink in the wall for you to enter. Perhaps, the biggest barrier that humanity faces is not anything keeping us from going outside, but keeping us from going inside. (Allow me even more poetic justice here)The largest barrier we face in our day to day business is a wall that is guarded by an angel with a flaming sword. Never living shall we pass by those gates and into that far off, faint garden again. Though we occasionally try to sneak back in. All art is in some regards an attempt at this. Whether painting, literature, music, the point is to knock a chink at the wall that separates us from that paradise and peer in, here and there stealing scenes, catching scents, breathing the air again. If art's purpose is not this than it is certainly the opposite to focus on how far we have fallen from these gates...though deep down know that we are meant for them. I bring this up, mainly because it was art that I went to see that day. It was a world-renown art museum that I ended up sneaking into.

I didn’t really set out to do the deed. I was just wanting to see some art. The Uffizi is this large, multi-roomed ancient building in Florence where many of the Renaissance's finest masterpieces are held and displayed. I walked into one room more than content to pay the fee for the entrance when I was told that because I didn't have a registration, I would need to go to the next room. I did so and was immediately hit by the fact that there was a whole lot going on inside, and that I could walk right by the ticket booth and get into the bookstore. Consumerism has it that blocking people off from the possibility of spending more money is a big no no. You never want to scare people off from purchasing anything. So this part of the museum was, believe it or not, very low security. Then entirely instinctual, without little meditation or thought process involved, I noticed that I was indeed devising a way to sneak in this well-reputed museum of high art and brilliant history. It was though something in my nature is always waiting for an opportunity such as this. And all of a sudden a certain whiff in the air, or a certain indescribable aura is caught, and I react. Yes, I walked briskly up to one of the desks of the bookshop. The clerk was immersed in some entirely entertaining conversation with another worker. Both were oblivious to the 3rd person present...me. I looked to my right, feeling, sensing, intuiting, that I was very near where most of the people came out of the museum. I could enter through the exit and see some of the world's most gorgeous masterpieces. It had hardly a thing to do with the money. The entrance fee was not that bad. It was just the fact of getting in. Of crossing a boundary, infiltrating a system, dodging the institution, vanishing from the world of money, and reappearing into a world of inspiration and beauty. -That was what it was all about.
Besides, like as mentioned before there was little thought about it. Before I could even reflect on any of this, I had moved the little barrier rope in a vacant unnoticed archway, and crossed over into the actual museum, and moved the rope marker back, silently, stealthily, like a cat entering a fish factory. Ah, but I was a human soul entering an art museum, all the more lovely.

Then I proceeded to walk up the museum, seeing all the exhibits backwards. Which is probably very refreshing because after one sees all the exhibits in the proper order, one is dog-tired, eye and foot weary of all the exhibits that have the misfortune of being placed in the back of the museum. I was just giving these unfortunate pieces and their artists a little bit of fairness. I saw Giotto, that regal artistry from the middle ages. And later Carravagio one of my favorites who seems to lock time itself into place with his many paintings, seeming to draw a scene to its climatic pitch.
But at once climbing the 3rd floor, and after noticing how the Uffizi overlooked quite gracefully the Arno river, I made it to the room where 2 main features were at and which made the whole visit worthwhile. The first was Fra Filippi Lippi, a monk turned artist from Prato, the same town that I was staying at near Florence. Rare events from his life are worth sharing. This fellow had fallen in love with his own model. A model of his St. Mary of all people who happened to be a nun. He eloped with her and some say kidnapped her and held her cloistered up in his room for 3 days. While monk and nun...artist and model...enjoyed the society of one another quite nicely. I'm not inferring anything, just putting it out there for our own society to judge. He was a nice, colorful little artist. I dare say, there's a definite softness to his painter's brush.

Then there was Botticelli. Oh, to think that I had stealed away inside some chink in security only to catch my eyes upon the Birth of Venus. How poetic and how adequate. Many of you would notice this piece. It is that painting where a naked blonde woman is standing on a clam seeming to ride it as a raft on an ocean. A little reminder perhaps is needed here about Venus, the classical goddess of beauty and love being born out of the ocean and onto land. Here, maybe, she represents something forthcoming about the age in which she is painted. An age when grace and raw beauty were more celebrated and esteemed...than the commercialism of today.
Spring is another one of Botticelli's major works. Here stand these major classic figures come waltzing in a forest all together. A true glimpse at that lost garden again.
One of my favorite paintings though was neither a notable Renaissance piece nor even by an Italian. It was a Degas. Just simply a woman wearing a large blue dress on a horse that was galloping its way across the mountains. It's a Romanticism piece and I've always like such works in all the fields of the arts from this period.

I also saw a good many of Raphael's works. Though very few of Michelangelo and Da Vinci, but also didn't venture into every single room. I'm probably right in thinking that I missed an entire floor. But this was okay. I figured with my knowledge of how to get in for absolutely free I would return time and time again. But I never did. Still, whenever in this lifetime that I may wind up in Florence again, years from now, maybe decades. Maybe I'll be some old codger. But I'll still retain the secret of how to steal into the galleries and displays of this hall of masterpieces, and will slip through, peak at some fine dandies of inspiration, and slip out once again into the mundane, broken world.


Blogger jrtowell said...

I can't help but think the allusions to flaming swords and paradise must be about Disney World... truly, the impenetrable fortress. Someday...

9:43 AM  

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