WickedEye's Quotient

8/28/2007 at 16:12

A beautiful thing never gives so much pain as does failing to hear and see it. - Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

I’ve always had a crush on Michelangelo. Well, since I was 8.

I read his biography at that age (the well-written-if-not-entirely-comprehensive The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone). The fact that he was homosexual never interfered overmuch either (my crushes on dead geniuses tend to have more to do with talent and less to do with any sort of physical consideration).

But I didn’t understand how deep my feelings ran- how preeminent he is in the ranks of my most cherished human virtuosos- until I spent time in Florence.

I’m a museum junkie. There is absolutely no amount of museum-hopping that I would consider ‘too much’; by my calculation I spent 12 of 18 waking hours out of every day in Firenze in one museum or church or another. And I didn’t grasp until Firenze that there are some works of art, at least, that can never be fully comprehended until you see them in person.

I know this because, as I stood in the same room with Michelangelo Buonarroti’s work for the first time in the Cappelle Medicee- surrounded… dominated… diminished… awed… by the figures of Night and Day, Dusk and Dawn, which adorn the tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’Medici- I realized that I had adored Michelangelo for more than two decades without ever understanding what it was that made him great.

I stood, staring at Night, looking at the cock of her knee and the tilt of her breasts, the ropes of muscle through shoulder and arm and hip and thigh that tell of hard, heavy toil, and wondered: Is this what Tuscan peasants looked like?

Because, face merely sketched, nowhere as finished as her curved and reclining body- which shows every fold of skin, every jut of tendon- I knew, I knew, that I was looking at a real woman. She had curled like this, twisted like that, turned her face to some Tuscan horizon just so, as the Master pulled her powerful, perfect peasant’s body from its immersion in the creamy stone.

Day, the man, is more potent still, his sinewed body that of a man in middle age, his hands thickening around the knuckles as laborers’ hands are wont to do- as were the mighty hands of the workman who looked back over his shoulder as the sculptor moved his breath and pulse into the stone before him- and turns away. Only his glance over his shoulder shows his face, his unfocused gaze and the heavy, rippling shoulders telling of a fierce and fearful brilliance, a might which must be diffused for any to survive beneath its touch.

And the power- the unbelievable force of the figures- all of them- the towering, overwhelming vitality emanating from these larger-than-life-sized embodiments of the coming of Light and Dark…

They are awesome in the true, unmitigated sense: they cause awe. They cow, they overcome, they overwhelm. Marble, immobile, immortal, they dominate the vaulted space which their creator designed for them until the air you share with them slows and thickens in your lungs.

Michelangelo’s contemporaries- that is to say, his fellow Renaissance geniuses- were so overpowered by his sculptures that they actually invented a new word to describe them, a word still used only in reference his work. To this day in Firenze, if you use the word terribilita- dreadfulness- it is understood that you’re discussing Michelangelo Buonarroti.

And his most well-known sculpture? I’ve looked at it a hundred times, admired it each and every time it has crossed my vision or thoughts.

But I was not prepared for it. Had no capacity to understand its perfection, the amazement and fear that would grip me as I gazed at his David.

I come to just below David’s hip- if he were standing on the floor. He is not. Standing 17 feet high, he is on an 8-foot plinth which dominates the skylighted rotunda of L’Accademia, the building built solely to contain him.

He is, in sculptural terms, a colossus, the first to be made since the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And he is, because he was sculpted by Michelangelo Buonarroti, entirely and completely different from the Davids which came before him. Verrochio, Donatello- their youthful heroes stand in composed triumph, coolly contemplating the head of their enemy already before them.

Michelangelo, handed the commission when he was 26 years old along with a block of marble that was considered to have been ruined by another sculptor, chose to show his epitome of male perfection as he prepared to hurl the stone that would bring him a kingdom.

David is perfect. Perfect. I walked around him for an hour (much to the consternation of the guards), first nearer, then further. No tendon, no curve, not even a fingernail, is lacking in lifelike detail. Even the corrosion of his shoulders, caused by acid rain when he stood in the Piazza della Signoria, serves only to emphasize the rippling faultlessness of his turning form.

But his face- it was his face that made me understand, all over again, that I had never really seen him before now.

Oh yes, David’s face is as perfect as the rest of him. As beautiful. He is young, features still retaining the planed but rounded softness that young beauties have before their features harden with age.

And he is scared.

You will never really see this in a picture. Oh, you may see those flawless lips compress at the corners, see that matchless brow wrinkle.

But until you have stood first close to him- seen the loosening of the fingers of his right hand as he prepares to swing the stone aloft, the tightening of his left hand on the long, simple strap of his sling as he gazes upon his enemy…

Until you have moved away, in the direction of his gaze- seen the tension in the turn of his body, the piercing gaze of fear and resolution canting up and away over your head, looking at something so much bigger than he is and so fixed in its focus that you begin, after a few moments, to look over your shoulder nervously at a blank wall…

Until you have stood in his presence, felt his anxiety, his courage, his strength- you will not truly comprehend that this perfect, beautiful boy was a warrior.

And in his gaze- his dread-filled, undaunted, determined gaze- you will see the ardent and formidable king he will become.

Who does this?

What kind of artist sculpts the first colossus since antiquity and portrays him not in triumph, but in the mingling of his fear and courage just before battle?

Who would make the symbol of the Republic for which he is sculpting it perfect, but scared and smaller and tense and- human?

Michelangelo Buonarroti, perfector of humanity.

Il Divino, the sorcerer who prisoned Courage and Fear and Beauty and Mourning and Dark and Light in immaculate stone.

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8/26/2007 at 23:16

This is RIDICULOUS. Or I am.

All right. This is it. The watershed which determines whether or not I tell pretty much the entire human race to piss off if they have a problem, or undertake to change a basic aspect of my character.

Because either I have a cardinal and massive character flaw, or almost every person I know has a very specific area of complete imbecility.

I have had problems- many, many, many, many problems, especially of late- with people who try to read hidden meanings in what I say. This, despite peremptory, early, and repeated warnings that this approach does not work with me. Has never worked with me.

I almost never do subtext- I say, literally, exactly what I mean. I even have problems understanding things other people say, because I take them at their word- at the literal meaning of their word.

I say What. I. Mean.

Word. For. Word.

And I tend to expect others to do the same, especially since most people say that they do.

{personal anecdote}
The conversation that brought my Uncle Justin to the decision, when I was 15, that he actually liked me as a person- and to beginning a friendship with me rather than just treating me as a niece (for an Indian man of his generation, that last word might as well read 'beloved pet')- went like this:

"So sweetheart, are you still seeing that Michael guy?"

"No- good grief. Mom told you he dumped me, didn't she?"

"Oh. [Pause, pause, pause.] Yes. She did. Are you all right? Breakups can be..."

"You mean being dumped."

"Yes. That. It can be hard."

"Yeah. He's a jerk. I'd love to conk him on the head. But I'll get over it. [Pause.] So what're you having for dinner? -Or are you skipping again?"

He started laughing. He laughed for a long time.

And told my mother later, "That girl doesn't mince words about anything, does she? I hope she stays like that." We've been friends ever since.
{/personal anecdote}

Incidentally, the 'almost' in 'almost never' is always a negative subtext. It's possible for those close to me to read in to what I don't say, though it's rare- very rare. But if I refuse to discuss a topic- and usually my refusal will be explicitly stated- there will be a reason behind the fact that I don't wish to discuss it with that person or at that time.

But what I do say? Precisely what I mean.

And I've had multifarious and complex and longstanding problems with people 'reading in' to what I say. It's broken up relationships of all kinds, both friendly and romantic. And I've been discussing this with two of my good friends for some time now, and was hanging out with one of them this weekend when I got a phone call from my mother. And picked it up.

"Hey, Mom."

"Hey, Sum. I just wanted to tell you that I know that we're going to Rome."

"Cool. So Uncle J told you."

"Yes. And he said you knew!" [This in an outraged, accusatory tone.]

"Mom. Of course I knew. I told you, quote- 'Yeah, I know where you guys're going. And I'm not gonna tell you.'"

"Yes- but- I didn't think that actually meant you knew!"


"About Rome!"

"But, Mom, I-"

"And you didn't tell me!"

"But I told you that I knew and wouldn't tell you! Of course that meant I knew and wouldn't tell you! If I hadn't meant that I knew and wouldn't tell you, I'd've said something else! After all this time you should've known that I meant exactly what I said!"

My friend was, of course, roaring with laughter by this time. I congratulated my mother once more, told her I'd call her later, and got off the phone. And got- "I told you! I TOLD you! People don't expect literal statements! If even your own mother can't always get that about you, how d'you expect other people who don't know you anywhere near as well to?"

And the answer is, of course, that I can't.

So I either treat people like they aren't equals worthy of honesty from me- in other words, like morons- and talk around them rather than to them, or resign myself to being nearly constantly misunderstood.

Sweet bloody monkey. Perpetually misunderstood because I say exactly what I mean. My name should've been Κασσάνδρα

This is an absurdist's dream of nirvana. Kafka, Camus, and Beckett are wriggling in their graves in sheer delight.

Sometimes I really wish I weren't a human.

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8/22/2007 at 23:59

What is intelligible is also beautiful.

{We defy augury.

There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.

Since no man knows aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes?

Let be.1}

There’s one type of death {To stand in the sun and melt in the wind2}- one very special kind- that has enabled better observation and cataloguing of the universe we live in than any other kind of radiation, electronics, or stellar/dark matter phenomenon we yet know.

It is the quietus of a star, of course. Hydrogen, helium {Even in your world, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of3}, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon…

Normally the list would end there. But a white dwarf {On silver necklaces they strung/ the flowering stars- on crowns they hung/ the dragon-fire4}, slowly accreting matter from a partner swimming too close to its undead sibling, eventually reaches Chandrasekhar’s Limit, a mass at which degenerate pressure cannot keep the star expanded.

It collapses, the heat of its foundering {The foundering, foundering, beast-instructed mansion/ of love called into being by this same death/ hangs everywhere its light5} igniting fusion at its core, beginning again the elemental march towards iron as the star implodes and within a few seconds the core shrieks past blue-violet to invisibility at billions of degrees Kelvin, the temperature enough to unbind the star, unmake it utterly, its shockwave pressing the building nuclear deflagration to detonation.

And the star {Mica, mica, parva stella6} explodes.

And the galaxies surrounding it {The whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty7} are dimmed in its brilliance.

The same way. The same mass. The same {If the radiance of a thousand suns/ were to burst at once into the sky8} luminosity.

Every. Single. {The fire in which we burn9} Time.

We know what their absolute magnitude is. Therefore their apparent {We are each other’s magnitude and bond10} magnitude tells us how far away they are. How many megaparsecs away the galaxies containing them are. They are the most spectacular of the “standard candles”, objects used by astronomers to measure stellar distances.

Dying, destroyed, undone, the light they shed gives us more than physical {Life cannot be rightly seen in the sole light, cannot be perfectly lived in the sole power of its externalities11} illumination.

What the human mind, at its deepest and most profound, perceives as beautiful finds its realization in external nature… What is intelligible is also beautiful.
-Subramanian Chandrasekhar


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8/08/2007 at 17:20

The Boxer

I am just a poor boy
Though my story's seldom told

One of the unlooked-for highlights of my visit to Florence was, oddly enough, a virtuoso performance of Simon and Garfunkel hits by an Italian duo; I heard them twice, both in the Piazza della Signoria.

I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles
Such are promises

The second time I listened, I saw something which shifted and deepened my understanding of the pain which rings through a song that I have heard since my childhood.

All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

As a child I had listened to the song, sung and strummed by a brilliant, handsome, talented, alcoholic uncle who grieved so deeply over what he saw around him that the only way he knew how to cope was to numb himself. When he sang "The Boxer" with me as I got older, the only way I could keep my voice steady as we sang was to pinch myself.

When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy

When the descending ripple of chords which begins "The Boxer" sounded that second night, I was once again in the front row, and once again just behind a man who clearly lived very near the spot he occupied in the Piazza.

In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station
Running scared

Until the opening chords, he had been loud and raucous, demanding songs, mumbling a loud commentary. Now he quieted.

Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know

His hair was grey, though so filthy and matted it looked brown; the color of his clothes equally indistinguishable. He was clutching a bottle of clear liquid, nearly half full.

Asking only workman's wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue

I listened to the sweetness of the twining voices, remembering my uncle, and saw that the man in front of me had drawn his legs to his chest. His arms were crossed over them, the hands gripping his smutted sleeves seamed and grained with dirt until every line and crack on them stood clear against the tanned skin.

I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there

He moved to grip the neck of his bottle and took a long swig, and I saw that the bottle was now less than a third full. He set it down again on the flat slabs of slate, but the sound was lost in the amplified echo of the singers' voices.

Then I'm laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone- going home
Where the New York City winters aren't bleeding me
Leading me, going home

His head was drooping towards his knees, his lips barely moving as he mouthed the words of the song, and I thought for a moment he might pass out. But he didn't. He only put his head down on his knees, one arm wrapped around them, one hand still on the bottle.

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade

He began rocking back and forth, gently, slowly, with the rhythm of the song, still curled into himself. Still clutching his bottle.

And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame

The song was almost ended. He uncurled himself. I thought he might get up. Might leave. I thought I saw tears in his eyes, though they were so glassy with alcohol it was hard to tell.

"I am leaving, I am leaving"

He sat silently, stilly, wide-eyed and staring, as the song ended and the singers faded on the last chorus.

But the fighter still remains

And as the applause began, it was I who had to turn away.

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8/02/2007 at 09:31

Dame más gasolina!***

I came to Austria. I've learned a lot here. A little German. More Spanish.

And much more salsa.

So yeah, I might have a different take on European travel. What of it?

My friend Beatriz, fellow law student, fellow traveler, una puertorriqueña y una bailarina de salsa brutal, has taught me salsa. And with my traditional (or maybe, possibly, distinctly nontraditional) enthusiasm, I've picked the most sexual, most controversial form of salsa to get attached to: reggaetón.

Bea was highly amused: reggaetón, in its current form, along with perreo, the (in the words of Wikipedia) "highly controversial" dance that goes with it, is from Puerto Rico. (In fact, her mother taught third grade to two of the current chart-toppers in the genre.)

The music is actually a mix of reggae and salsa, but it started in Panama, with their importation of Jamaican men to work on the Canal. However, the finished reggaetón "sound", as well as all the top artists, hail from Puerto Rico: it was they who took Jamaican artist Shabba Ranks' "Dem Bow" and moved the beat into fast salsa married to hip-hop to produce the distinctive sound.

And it IS distinctive: at the first measure of a reggaetón song following the more traditional salsa or (ergh) bachata, a roar goes up and the floor is suddenly bare of those who are there for romantic, old-fashioned canoodling, and full of dancers who want to get serious with their hips.

But then, I haven't really answered the basic question: What is it that makes me love it so?

Remember my blog post "Put Another Dime In the Jukebox, Baby"? Take that and multiply it.

Because even though the music is far more basic and less- well, less layered- the neurochemical and adrenal response to it, in anyone who knows how to dance, is 10 times as strong.

Strong enough, in a 90-degree club, to thud through the soles of your feet to the muscles in your hips and thighs, up through your abdomen and into your shoulders.

Strong enough to move your body in ways that normally require about the same ambient temperature but far, far less clothing.

That's where perreo comes in.

Perreo is- well, it's a dance that outrages people who do the lambada. Get the picture?

And the name? Perreo means "to act like a dog"... figure it out.

Here's the thing, though: I love reggaetón (and damn if I'm not actually getting good at it for a gringa, even by Latin standards), it's just... I don't like people touching me when I dance.

Unless it's a person with whom I'm romantically involved... and even then I don't like bumping and grinding. ICK.

But I think if I got to hang around Bea- and Mario, and Gensil, and Pablo- long enough, they might have overcome my prejudices on even that.

Luckily for my dearly cherished hangups, we leave here in a day and a half: she to Paris and Barcelona, me to Florence and Vienna.

But we'll see each other again at Christmas.

And Nashville had better look out.

***Chorus of an utterly addictive song by Daddy Yankee, who is himself more than a little drugging. A ella la gusta las gasolina (dame más gasolina!)...

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