My Thoughts on the Three Davids Thursday, Jul 30 2009 

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Italy was seeing three sculptures of David: Bernini’s, Michelangelo’s, and Donatello’s. So, I thought I would write about my impressions of these three works, individually and collectively.

The first of the three Davids we saw was in Rome: Bernini’s David at the Borghese Gallery. I’ve already blogged about my general impressions of this museum and sculpture here, so I’ll just sum up my response to this statue briefly.

I love this statue. In fact, it’s one of my favorite statues among the countless number of statues we saw on this trip. I love the intensity of this David, the concentration and strain. This version of the Biblical hero emphasizes that giant killing is hard work.

I also like the way in which Bernini borrows from Classical sculpture in idealizing David’s musculature and bone structure. He’s not an everyman who happens along and kills a giant. He’s a specimen of masculine beauty and perfection who is able to kill Goliath because of his perfection (bodily and spiritual).

This David doesn’t seem to be a specific age, though he’s clearly a man, not a boy. His “manliness” is almost revealed to the onlooker, but his clothing just barely covers it. Again, this reminds me of the Classical statues that surround him in Rome while maintaining the modesty of the Catholic Renaissance.

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Marlowe’s Unfortunate Vacation Wednesday, Jul 29 2009 

While PJ and I were in Italy at the end of June, our two cats, Marlowe and Paisley, stayed home with their “uncle” Nate, an undergraduate who now sits for us when we’re out of town. During our second day in Venice, I got a facebook message from Nate, the kind you never want to get while you’re on vacation: Marlowe had been rushed to the vet’s office and was gravely ill.

Marlowe had stayed outside all day, and when he came in he seemed weak, lethargic, and wouldn’t eat. When Nate noticed that he also had diarrhea, he called the vet’s office and told them what was going on. They told him to bring Marlowe in immediately.

When Marlowe got to the vet, they determined that he was also cold and had lost weight since they saw him in February. They suspected that he might have consumed antifreeze, since tests showed that he had no kidney function. As we learned later, they hooked him up to an IV and started pumping him with fluids, hoping that any potential toxin would be flushed out of his system.

When we got Nate’s message, we called the vet’s office (from Venice), which we now know cost about $40 a pop. We tried to take comfort in the fact that the vet didn’t say Marlowe’s prognosis was hopeless, but that seemed like very little comfort. Needless to say, our last two days in Venice were fairly miserable. We flew through Philadelphia on the way home and arranged with the vet’s office to call them during out layover to see how the results of Marlowe’s second kidney test turned out. This test would indicate whether there was any hope or whether Marlowe wouldn’t make it.

This call is the single most difficult call I’ve had to make so far in my life. I was prepared for the vet to tell us that Marlowe had to be put down and that we wouldn’t see him again. Fortunately, this isn’t what the vet’s office had to say. Instead, they told us that Marlowe’s test had returned to normal but that he hadn’t returned to eating. In fact, he had lost 2 more pounds while he was in their office, making a total of 4 pounds of weight loss in 10 days. The good news was that he could come home for the fourth of July weekend, but we would have to take him back for a third test to see if his kidneys had actually started working again or if the second test was just the result of the IV.

Nate went and picked him up for us so that Marlowe would be home when we got here. Here’s what our poor boy looked like when we arrived:

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Reading Toni Morrison’s Sula Tuesday, Jul 28 2009 

I’ll be teaching Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel Sula in my fall tutorial introducing freshman English majors to the study of English as a discipline. It’s been several years since I last read this novel, so when I flew down to Texas to visit friends and family this past weekend, I took it with me to read.

I had forgotten how powerful this novel is. Especially as I got near the end of the book, I kept thinking that it is too real, too truthful. It’s a book that hurts to read even while you can’t help but see how great a masterpiece it is. I kept thinking, “This is my life. How did Morrison write this book about two black women in Ohio when I was still a toddler in Indiana and somehow manage to make it about me?”

I started wondering about the question of great literature’s universality, the idea that great works of art surpass the particulars of their subject matter, author, date of composition, etc. to speak to the “human condition.” As an English professor, I’ve largely been skeptical of this concept, especially the idea that there is a universal “human condition” that literature can speak to.

Yet, somehow it seems like my story, a summation of what I was thinking as I read it this time. Not that I think I’m an early to mid-twentieth-century African American woman. Nor do I mean that I think Morrison’s particular message about the experiences of African Americans in the twentieth century in this novel should be subsumed into some narcissistic impulse on my part.

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SotW: It’s Your Love by Melinda Doolittle Tuesday, Jul 28 2009 

My song of the week this week is the remix of Melinda Doolittle’s “It’s Your Love,” which was released as a single today: 

This video is of the Nevins Radio Mix. I actually like the Nevins Club mix the best, but this one is fun too.

This single reminds me how much I love remixes of R and B divas — Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, etc. Now maybe Melinda Doolittle can join their ranks!

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Visiting the Duomo Museum Wednesday, Jul 22 2009 

One of my favorite parts of our time in Florence last month was visit to the Duomo Museum, a museum created to house the Duomo‘s artwork, much of which was originally on the outside of the church and therefore exposed to the elements.

Here’s a picture of the outside of the Duomo:

Almost in the middle of the picture you can see four statues. Here’s a closer look:

The originals of these statues, along with some exterior doors and other objects from the Duomo, have been moved into the Duomo Museum, which is behind and across the street from the church.

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My Favorite Restaurants in Italy Sunday, Jul 19 2009 

During our recent trip to Italy, PJ and I ate really well. With only one or two exceptions, all of our lunches and dinners were delicious, but five of our dinners stand out as our favorites. Although I have friends who have encouraged me to take pictures at restaurants and then use them on my blog, I didn’t end up taking many pictures of our food. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have a lot of pictures to back up all of the praise I’m going to give these restaurants.  So, I’ve “borrowed” a couple of pics from the restaurants’ websites.  In those cases, you can click on the picture to go to the restaurant’s site.

We were surprised by the lack of diversity in the cuisine at the restaurants we saw. Almost everything is Italian. After 10 days or so, we started getting a little tired of pasta and pizza, but as I said we ate really well so we can’t really complain all that much. Generally, we each had a primi piatti, or first course, of pasta and a secondi piatti of fish or meat. We also usually had gelato for dessert as we walked around after dinner.

Before briefly discussing my favorite eateries in Rome, Florence, and Venice, I should explain how we chose where to eat each evening. The first night we were in Rome, we just walked around for a while and then picked a place that looked ok. It turned out to be our worst meal in Italy! A second strategy was to go to a main plaza or square and eat at one of the outdoor restaurants that mostly served tourists. This strategy worked pretty well for us when we were in Spain a few years ago, but most of our meals in these restaurants in Italy were only adequate to ok.

Mostly, we looked up restaurants in Rick Steve’s guidebooks. Usually we chose a restaurant that he recommends, but instead of making a reservation ahead of time we showed up just after they opened for the evening.  This meant eating a little early by Italian standards — usually around 7:30 or 8 pm — but it worked fine for us. We always got a good table, and we often had the satisfaction of seeing later arrivals turned away or told to come back later. With only one exception, this was a winning strategy. All five of our favorite restaurants from this trip were the results of this method.

My favorite restaurant from this trip was Ristorante il Gabriello, a great little restaurant in near the Spanish Steps in Rome. It’s down in a basement, but is quite charming. Here’s a picture of the restaurant from their website:

This was actually the first restaurant we chose based on Rick Steve’s recommendation and the one that convinced us to continue employing this strategy. It was also the place that convinced us to just order the house wine at each place we ate: it’s cheap and delicious.

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Visiting the Borghese Gallery Saturday, Jul 18 2009 

The Borghese Gallery was one of the best museums PJ and I visited while in Italy last month. We reserved a time on the last afternoon that we were in Rome, which turned out to be my birthday. Visiting this museum was a great way to spend the afternoon.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself in the past few years is that I really enjoy house museums. The Borghese Gallery is housed in a seventeenth-century villa owned by the Borgheses, one of Rome’s wealthiest and most powerful families at this time. The family moved to Rome in 1541 and came to the fore of Roman society when Camillo Borghese was elected pope in 1605. He took the name Pope Paul V. Construction of the villa began in 1612 and was completed in 1620. It’s an amazing house, and the collection is equally impressive.

The highlight of the collection for me was Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, which was completed in 1625. This was one of the most impressive sculptures I saw during our trip to Italy. It is an amazing piece of art, especially in its intricate details and complexity.

The myth that this piece depicts is the moment that Daphne prays to the gods to deliver her from the pursuit of Apollo. Apollo had offended Eros, so the god of love shot him with a golden arrow, causing him to fall in love with Daphne. But Eros shot Daphne with a lead arrow, causing her to hate her pursuer.

When Apollo was just about to catch the woman of his affections, she cried out to her father, a river god, to deliver her. In order to do so, he transformed her into a laurel tree, which Apollo took as his official tree from then on.

Bernini’s statue captures the moment in which Daphne is transformed. In his statue, she is part human and part tree. Her fingers are sprouting leaves and her feet are taking root into the ground.

Part of what stands out about this work is the delicacy of the leaves and roots, which contrast with Apollo’s movement. Her movement is one of transformation into statis, while his is still moving toward her. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

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Visiting the Vatican Tuesday, Jul 14 2009 

While we were in Rome, PJ and I visited the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. I’m not quite sure now what I expected. Gold plated everything, I’m sure. I knew that the Vatican has an unparalleled art collection, but it was hard to imagine how a religious institution is also a museum.

I’m not nor have I ever been a Catholic. I do love following papal successions, though the only one so far that I’ve actually followed live is Pope Benedict’s ascension to the papacy. During that process, I read as much as I could about popes and conclaves and the history of each. As a side note, I have to say that I expected a great quantity and a much greater quality of scholarship on these topics than I actually found. Maybe I just didn’t look hard enough, but what I found wasn’t very good. Are historians not going into papal history anymore?

We decided to visit the Vatican on Wednesday morning. We read that it’s easier to get into the museum during the Pope’s weekly audiences, which turned out to be true. We practically just walked right in.

One of the first things you see in the Vatican Museums is this lovely lady:

This is part of the Vatican’s collection of Egyptian artifacts, but it seems like a really bizarre way to start visitors through the collection. If I were in charge, I think I would arrange the art and artifacts in a more religiously thematic way. Otherwise, the Vatican Museum ends up seeming just like any other museum, which seems fine to me, but I would think that the Church would want to use it for more religious purposes. But I guess not!

The Vatican Museums have a lot of statuary. One of their most famous pieces is the Apollo Belvedere:

What sounds out to me about this statue is that is demonstrates that not all of the men have been covered with fig leaves (though this one’s lost his manhood over time!). Rick Steve’s Guide to Rome points out that all of the fig leaves could be removed at any time, since they’re just plastered on. He suggests that patrons suggest that the Vatican remove the remaining ones.

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SotW: Say It’s Possible by Jay Brannan Monday, Jul 13 2009 

This week’s song of the week is Jay Brannan’s cover of Terra Naomi’s “Say It’s Possible.” Brannan recently put out his new Cd, In Living Color. Although “Say It’s Possible” is not the first single off the album (“The Freshmen,” his cover of the Verve Pipe song is) this song is currently my favorite track on the album (though “The Freshmen” is amazingly good!).

I found this video on YouTube, which features Terra Naomi singing along with Brannan first in private and then at a concert:

I don’t know Naomi’s music, but I might check it out after seeing this video. I think she has a great voice. Brannan is coming to Columbus on Wednesday. PJ and I were going to go, but I don’t think we’ll be able to now.

I’ll admit that when I first heard Brannan’s music I thought it was little too coffeshop for me. Now I love it his quiet acoustic sound. He’s definitely more than just a pretty face or hot body. (He was pretty, hot, and a great actor in Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus). I’m enjoying the new album and can’t wait for his next video.

I’ll post the lyrics after the break.

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Visiting the Capitoline Museum Sunday, Jul 12 2009 

On our second day in Rome, we visited the Capitoline Museum. This museum is most famous for its statuary. It was founded in 1471, when the pope donated some of the statues to the museum.

This picture is of one of the museum’s buildings. The museum sits on Capitol Hill, the main square of which was used as a religious center in ancient Rome. Michelangelo, at the behest of the pope,  transformed the square into a Christian site during the Renaissance. The statue shown in this picture is a reproduction of one of Marcus Aurelius. During the Middle Ages, Christians mistakenly identified this statue as Constantine, which spared it from destruction. The original statue was placed in the square in 1538. More recently, it was moved inside the museum and this copy was placed in the square. Here’s a closer look at the copy:

Here’s my picture of the original work, which is featured prominently inside the museum:

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