Michelangelo’s David—and the World’s Worst Toilet

Some days one idea catapults into another, with the result that the sublime slams headlong into the ridiculous, producing a flaming nonsequitur of a blog post.  Today is one of those days.

I read that on September 13, 1501, Michelangelo began carving what is perhaps his pièce de résistance, the 17-foot marble sculpture of David, the Renaissance ideal of perfect humanity.   And I remembered the day we saw [well, ALMOST saw] The Statue, and the day I saw The Toilet.

We, eight of us, were on a loopy road trip through Europe, meandering through the Italian Alps, north toward Switzerland and Austria and Germany, then back south to Rome.  We spent one hot, crowded night in a hotel in Firenze (Florence), two adult bodies crowded into each twin bed in our cramped quarters—but we were grateful that we had found a room at all.  We were also grateful that in Italy, there seem to be no mosquitoes—for we were able to throw open our window onto the courtyard and let the night air gradually cool us.

We attended Mass in Italian and Latin at Firenze’s glorious Duomo, and my adventurous and energetic husband climbed to the top of the adjacent Baptistry…. but I digress.

First, The Statue.

Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he was awarded the commission to sculpt the Old Testament figure, and he worked on it for three years.  Some critics think the work depicts David in the moment between conscious choice and conscious action:  He has made the decision to fight Goliath, but the battle has not yet taken place.

The statue’s proportions are noteworthy:  The hands and head are unusually large—a feature which some critics believe was intended to emphasize man’s capacity for thought (hence the large brain) and work (hence the large hands).  The genitals are, by comparison, smaller—evidence that David was not allowing himself to be ruled by the passions.  He is uncircumcised, which would have been unacceptable in Judaic culture but was the norm in Renaissance art.  The right hand is larger than the left, perhaps implying that the “right hand of God” helped David to slay Goliath.

I say we “almost” saw the statue because we did at least give it the old college try.  In recent years, in an effort to protect the porous Miseglia marble from the elements, the statue has been enshrined at the Accademia Gallery in Firenze.  The problem was that when we arrived at the gallery on a rainy Italian morning, there was a long line and a two-hour wait for admission.  Two hours is just too much time to waste when you’re on a whirlwind two-week tour of Europe; so we settled and instead checked out the authentic replica which glares at tourists in the Palazzo della Signoria.

And now, The Toilet.

Near the entrance of the museum were the public restrooms.  I think the men’s was conveniently located on the main level; women, however, had to stand in a long line on a staircase to a lower level.  As we were heading off to explore the town, it seemed a good time to make a stop—so I waited in queue with a hundred other ladies, most waving their arms and speaking in animated Italian.

As we neared the lower level, one thing struck me:  At intervals of maybe two or three minutes, I’d hear a woman scream and break into uncontrolled laughter.  “What the…?” I wondered.

And then I reached the restroom, then the stall—and I heard myself scream, then break into uncontrolled laughter.

Let’s take a step back:  All of Europe is an adventure in bathroom innovation and ingenuity.  One sits or straddles or stoops.  One flushes by means of a floor pedal or a ceiling pull cord or a wall lever or a tank-top push button, or two push buttons (for #1 or #2).  Sometimes a self-cleaning toilet seat scrubs itself, or a seat motor pulls a fresh plastic sleeve around the seat, readying for the next customer.

But I was unprepared for THIS!

I hadn’t carried the camera into the stall, so I’ve gotta tell you about it:

    • Imagine a large white porcelain oval, about the size of your bathtub—maybe six feet in length.
    • Angle it so that one end of the oval is about eight inches from the floor, and the other is elevated perhaps 20 inches.
    • Cut a hole in the center, which drops deeply into a vertical pipe.
    • On either side of the hole, add two serrated, non-skid footprints.
    • Figure it out.

    The objective, ladies, is to remove all one’s cumbersome clothing like slacks or panties; then bravely step forward, climbing this contraption and assuming a confident squatting posture.  After successfully maneuvering and completing one’s morning constitutional, reverse the procedure—backing down, stepping off, getting dressed, and heading out to enjoy an espresso at an outdoor café.

Travel: It’s not for sissies.

WAIT, I WASN'T DONE! Orvieto Sights and Shops

Yesterday, I told you a little about Orvieto, the quaint Umbrian city that overlooks the Italian vineyards, like a diamond solitaire atop a precious ring.  But I wasn’t done being effusive!  Orvieto is, in a way, a caricature of central Italy, a Disney-esque impression of an Italian city that’s more… well, more Italian than the pope. 

Here are some of the things I neglected to share yesterday:  the city’s narrow, cobblestoned streets, the open air shopping.  The dank tunnels in the Orvieto Underground, where a turn to the right or left may reveal an entire stone apartment, abandoned by an Etruscan family.  Flowers.  Frescoes.  Fettucini.  And Faith– everywhere, Faith. 

ROME, WITH A SMILE. It's Different There.

First, a little laugh at my expense.

I used to do conference and event planning.  Our guests were accustomed to finer things, and so we set out to give them “the best”—whatever that was.  Perhaps it meant that we had a special treat delivered to their rooms each day, when they were at the conference events.  One day it might be a chocolate bar in the shape of the corporate logo.  Next day, a crystal picture frame.  Then, an autographed book….

So I talked, as I packed for my Rome trip, about whether I would need to take a larger suitcase for all the things I’d bring home from the Blogfest. 

  • A binder of important documents
  • A just-released encyclical
  • A precious reproduction from the Vatican Library?

Well, no.  Actually, my “souvenirs” from the Blogfest are right here:

A nametag in a plastic holder.  And a napkin which once held a cookie.

I will treasure them always.  I will also treasure the day, and the photos, and the new friends I made, and the great ideas that were whirling around. 

I have another precious reminder of my trip there:  a rosary which was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI at the Beatification of Pope John Paul II.  Here it is:

You’ll note that I arranged it neatly, so that you can see the major basilicas on the medals.  I also arranged it so that you can, if you want, print it, clip it out, and pray with a picture of a rosary that’s been blessed by the pope. 

One friend of mine posted a “gravel rosary” on his Facebook page, because he got to the prayer vigil and had forgotten to carry his rosary in his pocket.  My humble “Flat Stanley Rosary” is better than that, isn’t it?

There are so darned many good things to show you.  I’ll get to it—little by little.

Before I go, here’s my favorite photo of all time:  the “Backpack Nuns.”  These sisters, it turned out, were sleeping on the sidewalk just a few blocks from our villa.  People, especially young people, came from everywhere—happy to be present at the beatification of their beloved pope, even if there was no room at the inn.