30 June 2008

(F) art

Have got a little behind as internet access on Kefalonia is a bit of a luxury.

24 June, Tuesday.

Calf muscles very fucking tight. A painful reminder that there are no inclines are very few steps in the streets of Amsterdam.

Vatican Museum. Only 40 minutes in the queue! Talked to a couple of gay guys from Washington, older one a doctor and quite funny. Acting reluctant to partake in all this religious stuff. When working out the length of the queue, said to his boyfriend, like all couples around the world, 'so, tell me again, what exactly are we going to see in here?'
Younger guy was a classical Greek scholar.

First, took a spin around the Pinacoteca, one of several godsy picture galleries. Saw a big flashy number of Christ's ascension (Raphael I think), and another Caravaggio to add to the list. (tick)
Dog-collared American priest giving a tour, with a very casual yankee way of telling bible stories, but also giving art commentary. Have discovered a way of sneakily learning more without paying, but sort of pinball-bouncing from tour group to tour group, looking like I'm just appreciating that particular work, and eavesdropping on part of the description. I think I sidled up to four or five different groups today, so I got a rather disjointed appreciated of the galleries and of course the Sistine chapel. For example, Raphael apparently mastered the art of drawing the eye to all and every feature of his crowd scenes, rather than picking out one single focal point with light and shade. Why this is? no idea, I thought it was an appropriate time to sidle off after that.

The art? Well looks to me like those masters packed in every exciting feature to these 'sacred' scenes as they could. Bulging anatomically correct calves on the men, gory piercings with a staff for J.C., ecstatic women, there was a lion jammed into the bottom corner of one indoor scene - what the hey? Nice juicy tabloid-style renditions, but at the same time recreations of venerated and religious stories. Neat huh.

There is a missionary museum in the Vatican with cool pieces from lots of countries in Asia, but accompanied by jarring text on how missionary efforts have gone in past years and the present day in these far flung indigenous populations. A very pointed piece on entry about how missionary work was one of respect, learning, and done in a spirit "brotherly love". Bollocks.

Sistine Chapel. Details and crazy mad shit happening everywhere. Above me is a last supper with a super realistic dog and cat fighting in the foreground. At the altar end, one of the figures on a cloud is holding a man's skin, empty of its body (or soul?) In the famous one with god reaching out to touch fingers with (who?) Adam? I didn't realise god is flanked by a holy host of some sort. Dozens of cherubic types packed in behind him in his floating cloud/ shell thing. Nudity all over the place. To me, all these showy religious works don't seem a jot more holy than any other for all the talent and mastery on display. I don't get a feeling that this chapel might be a more worthy place to worship than any other, just because of technicolour drama playing out on the walls and ceiling. And I get the feeling they didn't really think that at the time either

One room before reaching the chapel (Raphael again) features a piece called something like "triumph of the church". Deliberately featuring representatives of the "militant church" in their marble thrones. This stuff was all about power, magnificence and status. Wrapped up in a cloak of religious stories. And its not pretending particularly hard to be anything else either.

26 June 2008

Quo vadis

I don't actually know what Quo vadis really means, but it is the name of a church that my tour bus hurtled past today, and I think its become famous through some movie or another. Note to self - one to look up some time. If anyone knows, feel free to put in comments.

Along with other notes to self.: 1. Why wasn't Rome bombed to shit in WW2? The whole place is just one massive urban museum, with ancient columns and unlikely looking structures all over the place. So much of Europe lost buildings even from the middle ages, what trick did Mussolini pull here? 2. What is it with all the hott cops in this city? It there some minimal standard for looks for Italian police? Like height requirements in the States? With all respect to Biz, I don't normally look at a man in uniform, but this is getting quite bizarre.

Anyway, back to the travelogue. - June 22, Monday afternoon -

The nice thing about visiting churches to see art is that they are more or less free. Popping a 50 cent devotional in the box easily rids one of the guilt factor for marching around someone's place of worship, guidebook in hand, and wearing a distinctly uncool outfit, in bad shoes to boot. Or, if you're not plagued by concerns for social morés, then a pragmatic reason is that the 50 cents goes towards lighting, cleaning, polish for all those walnut pews, and other random maintenance that allows other people to see the artworks for (nearly) free. Sometimes you seem to need to put a coin in the box to make those crazy spotlights go up on the piece you've come to see. There was a very pronounced slow reveal for Madonna of the Pilgrims that I just saw. Push the button, and a whirring noise started up and then an inoxerable pause while the painting brightens almost imperceptibly, then ta da! A grand master right there in the chapel. Where anyone can just walk in off the street to see it. Neat.

photo credit: ginieland

Actually this one was pretty good, the artistry in it kind of hits you over the head compared with the other sallow saints, pious bishops, angels and rib-poking christs. Apparently it caused a bit of a stir in its day, because the petitioners kneeling in front of Mary and Jesus looked too convincingly dirty and down and out. The man has particulaly realistic grubby feet. Perhaps the artist was having a dig at the social situation of the poor in Rome at the time... ? Anyway, I couldn't help notice that the Madonna was carrying an absolutely enormous christ child. I don't know how old he was supposed to be, but my word, that particlar life model was milk-fed baby for sure. She's also got one foot resting on the toes, just like an elegant Roman lady standing in an ancient doorway next to her vespa and talking on the mobile.

Santa Maria del concezione (immaculate conception)

Another bony church! Yep, as good as Kuta Hora in Czech Republic. Second chapel in the crypt complete with grisly little capuchin monks recreated with skulls and bony little hands. They are about 4 and a half feet tall. One looks a bit of a mummy even. Chapel number three is tricked out in a mass of pelvic bones. I think some of these re-constructed monks are wearing cardboard name tags around their wrists signifying actually who they are. An American student in the slow-moving line next to me says 'We had to do anatomy in college, but I think those ones, made up like that, freak me out more. I can handle the seperate bones, all separated out like that. Those even have vertebrae in there still!'

I'm thinking - are you kidding sister?! This is the coolest thing I've seen in ages. Well, since, the bone church in Czech Republic I guess. I wish I could beam in some of my friends from uni to turn around to and go - whoah man, like, 'bela lugosi's dead .. the bats have left the bell tower, the virgins have been bled bled bled bled'. Etc. Sorry there readers, got carried away on a little Bauhaus jag. I know, the Vampyre legends come about 600 years after all this stuff, my historical time line is all bunk.

At that point, my diary switches to sketches of the layout of these rooms, noting things like a cross motif made of two mummfied arms, a skeleton attached to the ceiling appearing to fly over head, two skeletons perched on a ledge, reaching up to the skull places between them, more wee monky creationg (they had brown robes and all) in repose in wall niches. And not to mention the stars and fleur-de-lys designs made of ribs, jaws, and the other pretty curvy bits too.

I reckon this is where things get down to the nuts and bolts of Christianity. Death. Its all about you dying, and what the hell happens then. These crypts, necropolises, catacombs, etc, are all about making a big focus on the whole spooky dying business. Not surprising really that a couple of monks here and there who were care takers of these ossaries - all the bits left in the 50 to 100 years after your miserable entombment - who took it to the logical conclusion and went bunta with the old bones. Lets jazz the place up a bit, they must have thought. We're not in the habit of paying for drapes or wall paper for the church, no wealthy families making ostentatious donations this year.... hang on.. look at this massive pile of skulls. Hey! Giovanni, I've got an idea..

25 June 2008

La dolce vida

Yeeh, owww, eee, oooh. Hear that? That's my calves and the bones in my feet screaming for mercy. I'm in Rome, and today I went to the Vatican museums, saw the Sistine Chapel and then went to the Colosseum in the afternoon. Something no sane tourist would attempt on a 35 degree + day. But then I'm clearly no sane tourist. But before you hear about that and get to see my feats of digital photography, I'll share some diary extracts with you all.

Sunday, 22 June. Rotterdam. 4pm
Smells of cities.

Paris is easy. It's garlic and exhaust laced with those whiffs of raw sewage you sense must be just centimetres from your sandal-clad feet. Barcelona for me will always be urine and smoked ham. Marid is dust and cigarette butts.

Amsterdam has this foreign/familiar smell. I notice it when I'm inside the trams, its got the cold trapped in it, plus perhaps jonge belgium cheese and some kind of ubiquitous cleaning product. In the streets, of course, it's the blasts of pot smoke coming from the coffee shops and groups of men walking past my front door.

Buenos Aires smelt like a 'lagrima' - a small coffee with a drop of milk (or was that a small cup of warm milk with a drop of coffee?). That, and sugary medialunas, dog poo and poverty at the fringes of things.

Biz said Cuba smelled like Africa, particularly in the local market, I think this is the smell of uncovered meat, flies and humidity. Plus the lime in a mojito.

London smells like stout. And pollution.

I think the smells of Australia are too well embedded in my amalgyda to easily pinpoint them like this. But, Adelaide brings to mind the stale air discharged from air con units, jacaranda and dead grass in summer. A whiff of woodsmoke in winter. Sydney is the unburnt diesel coming from the back of buses. Pide from Topkapi on Enmore road.

Sunday, 22 June. Rome. 8pm

So far, Rome smells like really terrible stinky feet, thanks to the gent who sat next to me on the 'Leonardo Express' - the train from the airport to Termini station.

Monday, June 23.

Rome also smells like my sweat. It's well over 30 today, walking is good but you can tell people who live here seek the shade, like Sydney, like home. Yesterday it struck me on the train how the classic cream brick look from suburban Adelaide that screams Italians built this house! just mirrored the hundreds of medium rise apartment blocks on the fringes of Rome. Even the roll-down blinds all seemed to be in a chromatic rainbow of dark brown to burnt umber. Now, in the centre, this pale orange, tan, cream, that must be the total palette of the renderer gives the whole place that mediteranean look. So, no wonder our immigrants said 'cream, that's the look for me!' when making their selection at the brick shop in 1952. Right now, I'm in the Piazza di Santa Lorenzo in Lucina. It's just a in a warren of streets between some churches with Caravaggios and a museum with Caravaggios. I'm having a Caravaggio morning. The church to my back is a Basilica from oh, I dunno, the 1200s. the guide book says it features a 'kitsch' Crist, but I couldn't pick him out of the various Christs to be honest. They all look kitsch to me.