Friday, October 30, 2009

Part 7 Looking at the sun's reflection. Paris

I landed in Paris in the evening. It was getting dark when I got my bag, went through customs and found myself in front of a pay phone, seeking lodging. I found a place on boulevard Saint Michel, which as I found out is the student section of Paris as it borders the Sorbonne. I was very close to the river and from Nortre Dame, I was ½ a block from the Metro stop and across the street was a McDonalds. However I didn't find this out till I got there. I was on the Metro heading out of the airport going the way I'd been told where I met a guy studying at the Sorbonne from New Mexico. I asked if he could tell me how to find the hotel I was going to stay at, He said sure, he needed to go that way anyway. So when we popped up out of the Metro station, he showed me where it was, walked me in, spoke to the lady who ran the place and got me my room. He shook my hand and said “Welcome to the most wonderful city in the world.” and he wished me farewell. I checked in and the fact that I hadn't bathed in a few day and one could tell I hadn't washed my clothes in almost a week became very apparent, the lady manager pointed this out to me...I told her my first order of business was a bath and in the morning find a laundromat, She said She would be delighted to point me in that direction come morning. I was shown to my room, which was small but it looked out unto the street, there were musicians, people milling about, laughing talking; what one might expect to see in a commercial district that caters to college students. I checked in showered and put on the last clean clothes I had, I walked across the street and ordered the french equivalent of 3 Big Mac's, two orders of fries and a large Coke. I hadn't had McDonalds in 10 months, and I doubt that I ever enjoyed a meal more. I was beginning to feel like I was finally being reintroduced to the life I'd had before my time on Bougainville. I walked the streets, stopping occasionally for street performers and a group of street musicians playing New Orleans Jazz. I lingered in front of a a street vender making Belgian waffles, fascinated by watching his manipulation of 5 irons simultaneously, He looked at me, smiled, and without missing a beat grabbed me by the shoulder and dragged me to his side of his operation. He instructed me how to do his job and when I began to get the feel of it, allowed me to do it for him. He found out I was an American art student/tourist and began to relate how much he loved Americans. It was because of the war and he related his memories of the Nazi Occupation of Paris, while he enjoyed a cigarette or two. My payment for running his business for about half an hour was a free waffle-and advice 'art is beautiful, but a trade will feed you.' [he was right.] I began to think I was going to like Paris. It was almost 9:30 before I got back to my hotel, however the party on the street continued. The next morning I was woken up by a single gentle knock on my door. Outside of it was a tray with hot coffee, croissant, some fruit and a small wedge of cheese. I grabbed every article of cloth I had with me and headed out to the laundromat, grateful that I was washing the last of Italy off of me and sending it where it belonged. I returned with my clean clothes and winked and gave my landlady a thumbs up. I grabbed my sketchbook and walked to the train station. I was seeking the opera. My sister had informed me that if I were to go to the American Express Office at the opera, there would be mail waiting for me. There was, a letter from my mother, my grandmother, a cousin, and from my sister. I read the letter from my mother who filled me in all the gossip from the Island and I decided to finish reading my mail at the next meal I'd sit down to have. I took a very quick tour of the interior of the Paris Opera house (that place is incredible, talk about the idea of decorative art taken to the extreme.) But my goal was to get to the Grand Dame of Art Museums: The Louvre. I knew that I would be spending a couple of days here so I wasn't rushed. I walked past the winged Victory of Samothrace , and I began with the the Mesopotamia collection (they had two winged bulls from the temple gate from the Palace of Sargon II) , through the collection of the middle east up to about the 7th centry, the Egyptian, Greek and Roman collections (Including the Venus de Milo and the bust of Alexander the Great), the sculpture from Europe from the dark ages through the Romantic (Includingthe Italian room, with more Michelangelo slaves through the work of Canova) , the collections from Africa, Asia, Oceania (where I'd spent about 10 months) and finally America. , By this time It was getting late in the afternoon, I was getting tired, and I might add hungry. So I headed back to my hotel-stopping by the Mcdonalds on the way. Ya know they don't have ketchup for their Pomme Frittes? However I did have a vanilla shake so that made up for it. As I walked towards my hotel I passed by a bookstore. It was 3 stories tall and had one floor dedicated to nothing but Art Books. I bought about 7 including the “miranda” by Diakonoff and some books about the Jou D' Pomme and the Louvre. The Jou D' Pomme is the unofficial collection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist work that was willed to The Louvre...however at the time the stuff was considered trash so whoever it was that was running the Louvre at the time put forth an edict stating that this collection would never hang in the hallowed halls of the Louvre (and after what I saw I wouldn't know where they'd put it) so they made its own museum. It was a great book store, they even had a boxing and mailing service so I sent the books to me in care of my Aunt In Ohio, I'd pick them up when I got there. By this time it was getting dark. I strolled the streets and watched some street performers. Met a few people and listened to the musicians working the streets to pick up a few Francs. I suppose I should mention here that before the Euro's each country had their own currency, and I found the French Currency to be some of the most complex and beautiful money I'd ever seen. They used at least a dozen inks and the engraving work was untouchable. I returned to my hotel about 10 pm. I showered and slept until the gentle single knock the next morning told me my breakfast was there. My first stop was Nortre Dame, which was just down the street from where I was staying. I was extremely impressed with the place and decided I would attend high mass the following Sunday, My next stop was a church by name of Sainte Chapelle (Holy Chapel) which was just across the bridge, located on the on the Ile de la Cité in the center of Paris (the Ile de la cite was the original village that became Paris, on an island in the middle of the Sein) and is part of the complex that include the prison that held Marie Antionette Sainte Chapelle is a diminutive yet perfect example of the Rayonnant style of Gothic architecture. It was erected by Louis IX, king of France, to house the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross, (like most royal church's they sent men to fight the crusades and expected them to bring back relics.) Louis had purchased these in 1239 from the Byzantine emperor Baldwin II, for the exorbitant sum of 135,000 livres (the chapel "only" cost 40,000 livres to build). Two years later, more relics were brought from Byzantium. . The street level chapel appears like a very Romanesque chapel, small windows, thick walls tight quarters. But then one goes upstairs. The stained glass in the this place is absolutely incredible. The walls themselves are to made of glass. The place was describe do me as 'a stained glass flower' and it lived up to the reputation. I was in the heart of Paris... and I could almost hear the past. I spent the morning there and then headed back to Louvre. I went up the stairs this time past winged victory and decided to start with the Dutch school. I wanted to avoid the tourist rush on the Mona Lisa, knowing it would be like that pretty much all day, but not wanting to deal with it just then. I began with the paintings by Rubens of the life of Maria D' Medici. These 24 paintings are huge, and you can see where Rubens had a hand in the first ones but left the later paintings to his students...Maria D'Medici is portrayed as having been heaven sent, the earth being blessed by her presence being proven by the appearance of the ancient gods in most of her adventures..all pretty over the top if you ask me. I went next to the early dutch school early 16th century then the late 16th,. Mostly portraits of those who could afford it and some biblical scenes. Then on to The Rembrandt room, I saw the Bathsheba and as I recall they had about a half dozen of his self portraits from various stages of his life and a few of his landscapes. It was at about this point my brain had hit it's maximum storage capacity. I could look at things and then forget what it was I just saw. I recall I decided to attempt the Italian renaissance collection. The room was packed, all there to see the Mona Lisa. They paid no attention to the Madona of the Rocks, The St. John, The Virgin and child with St. Anne (with the buzzard), the Bacchus, and Le Belle Ferronniere. [As I sit here and contemplate the concept, I've seen the collections in the Vatican, The Uffizi, the Louvre, the National Gallery in London and the National Gallery in Washington DC, of the 15 known paintings that he did I've seen more then half. Amazing.] They were all gathered in front of the Mona Lisa so that they could tell their friends in Nebraska that they did indeed see it, I can recall thinking to myself “Philistines.” I got the full dose of the Madonna of the rocks and made a mental note to see the one in London which is just slightly different but is still one of the most amazing paintings that one man ever put to a board, but that he did it twice! (yeah that's right, Leonardo didn't paint on Canvas, he painted on panel) The man's brush work was just astonishing. So subtle, so controlled. I got a queasy feeling in my stomach wondering if it would me possible to get that good doing it as a part time occupation, (the concept that we have half his known paintings is being optimistic, considering that he was active for more then 40 years, that's less then one painting every three years. He was busy doing many other things.) I moved on. By this time I was getting hungry and my eyes were reeling considering all that I had taken in.
The next day I decided to take a break, I went to the Jeu De Paume, which was the Impressionist and post impressionist collection of the Louvre. While getting there had me walk past the Eiffel Tower, I didn't stop, I saw it from about a block away, that was enough. The museum was originally Napoleon's real Tennis court thus the name, the collection has since been moved to Musee D' Orsay. Its one of the more amazing collections of Impressionist and Post Impressionist artwork in the world, Here's just a small list of the artists represented in this museum: Gustave Coubet, Jean-Francois Millet, Jean Babtiste Corot, Cabanel, Camile Pissaro, Edouard Manet (both the Olympia and The Luncheon on the Grass), Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne (the still life with apples and oranges, some consider this and a few of his landscapes to be the beginnings of cubism) Claude Monet, Odilon Redon, Pierre-Auguste Renior, Vincent Van Gogh, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Bonnard, Andre Derain, and last but not least James McNeil Whistler-Some serious hitters here. I seem to recall a story that this was the private collection belonging to Alfed Sisley (English Impressionist spent most of his life in France) that was willed to The Louvre when he died, but I can't back that up with facts. Needless to say it was a bit refreshing to focus on one period of Art work. In fact I enjoyed it so much I decided to do the Pompidou the next day. The Pompidou is Frances contemporary Art collection. The place looks like a Factory turned inside out and the area around it is like a modern day Medieval Carnival. There are street performers, vendors and mimes around it. Even here the French aren't slouches, Represented here are Dali, Bonnard, Kandinsky, Klee, Francis Bacon, Miro, Alberto Giacometti, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Max Earnst, Leger, David Hockney, Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Dominique Perrault, Max Beckman, Nicolas De Stael, Samuel Beckett, and last but not least Alexander Calder. This is a short list. There was one incident that I found amusing. When I was there the place was all but done. There were a few little things that needed to be done as is usual in an Art Museum. In one of the main Galleries I watched a real electrician working on a floor plug, and he had the area roped off so that people wouldn't disturb his tools and what he was doing. Well, I watched him get a call on his Walkie-Talkie and he decided to take it in the stairwell that was about 20' away. After a few minutes at least a half dozen people that came into the Gallery while he was gone examined the tools and wires coming up through the floor that were on the floor behind the ropes, wondering where the card was to tell them who had created this masterpiece. I had to smile then as I do now, this is what Art has become. I had three days left in Paris, and I wanted to finish seeing the Louvre, I had promised my father I'd see Versailles, and If I had time I needed to see the Musee De Cluny, the medieval museum and of course there was the Rodin house.... So much to do, so little time. I spent the next day In the Louvre Seeing the work of the 17th , 18th century and 19th century, that included Hans Holbien the younger, Anthony Van Dyk, David, Delacroix, Gerricault (the infamous Raft of the Medusa is one of the most memorable Paintings I've ever seen) I can go on and on...The Louvre is considered the Grand Dame of Art Museums for a very good reason, cause it is. The next day was Sunday so I made good my promise to do Mass at Nortre Dame. Unreal. It was High Mass and done in Latin. There were two things that kept me from being convinced that I wasn't the dark ages 1. there was a single electric light bulb above the alter and 2. the idiot next to me was filming the whole thing. And the organ they've got will indeed rattle your bones. After Mass I decided a day in the country was in order so I went to Versailles. Nice house. The Historic significance wasn't wasted on me, However I also remembered why those people were dragged out of there and beheaded. Brutal, however they had lost touch with the concept that Royalty was the servant of the people-a lesson that Mike had related to me and which gave me an entire new perspective on life in Europe. The Palace was a bit much however the Grounds were just what I needed. It had been quite a while since the air around me wasn't laced with carbon monoxide, Thick with the smell of people or feel of man made structure around me. I walked the grounds for about 3-4 hours and decided it was a good time to head back. I decided to deviate from my normal meal from the McDonalds...after all, I was in Paris, I might as well have some French Cuisine. I had asked my landlady if she could point me at a decent place for some authentic French food. She had instructed me where to go and what I might want to try. I settled for the chicken. The next day I decided to see the Musee d' Cluny-which was interesting although nothing stood out as memorable. I had the afternoon left so I headed for the Rodin Museum, it's actually in his house. I wasn't a huge fan before, and even now I can take it or leave it, however it put the Impressionist movement in perspective for me, He would have done well in this time and place. I was fascinated by the "Gates of Hell" I could see it as a source piece, and I found fascinating that in the Studio proper he had drawers and drawers of Human body parts cast in plaster...He would use these as examples for sculpting the clay to be cast into bronze, he could assemble whatever he needed like a tinker toy-I made note of this and have used the concept extensively. On my way back to the hotel I stopped at the McDonalds and headed to find my friend the waffle maker. He and I had a short chat and I told him I was heading out the next day. He smiled and said “Now that you've visited us, I know you'll come back. All artists call Paris Home.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Part 6. Sunning myself In the cradle of the giants-Florence

I arrived in Florence non too quickly. It took about 2-3 hours. In that time the 'not too shy' couple's passion waxed and waned about 3 times. I got off the train and got the name of a decent hotel at the tourist aide station in the train station. I bought a map and found the address and then walked there. I can't explain it, and I can see after my last chapter my reader lifting his eyes towards heaven and sighing 'yeah right'. However... I knew exactly where the hotel was...It was like I had been in this town before. I knew where to turn without reading street signs, on what side of the street the address was, and as I passed by some of the 'not of historic significance' buildings, I recognized some as seeming familiar. I checked in and found out that the entire city of Florence was having their annual water shortage. That taking a daily bath would cost me almost as much as the room, and it was never made clear if I would be the only one to use that water that day. By this time I was numb to the amount of insanity that these folks could come up with. My room was exactly 2' wider then and 3 longer then the bed, I could just open the door and get into it.
I checked in and as it was still fairly early I made right for the Duomo. This is the site of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, This where Brunelleschi invented one point perspective- a “recipe”of drawing that solved the concept of placing people and things to a scale that mimicked nature perfectly, (we still use it to do accurate drawings of interiors). It is also the locale of the great dome built by the same Brunelleschi. The cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore (Saint Mary of the flower[the flower signified Florence]) was begun in 1296.and after a few starts and stops the church was sorta finished by 1418. The only part incomplete was the planned Octagonal Dome located above the churches Chancel. Although the church was being used, it looked up to heaven and allowed the weather to enter... In 1419 it was decided that in order to resolve this dilemma that they would have a contest. The two heavy hitters in this contest was Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghilberti. Now Brunelleschi had already lost one plumb commission to Ghilberti- the doors of the Baptistry of San Giovanni (also in the Duomo). [The Baptistry is one of the oldest buildings in Florence if not the oldest. It was thought during the middle ages to have been a Roman temple to Mars.] These doors are also known as the “gates of Paradise' and many mark the compositions found there as the official beginning of the Renaissance. The compositions of the biblical scenes in the doors have many of the medieval stylistic qualities, but there is a depth and naturalism to them that had never been seen before. There is a story that says That Brunelleschi decided that he wasn't going to lose to Ghilberti again. [I might also add that about every description of Brunelleschi suggests he was a bit of a screwball] when asked by the council running the contest how he would construct the dome Brunelleschi responded that he wouldn't tell them. [It is said he was afraid his idea's would be stolen...obviously still smarting over being bested by his rival the last time]; Instead he suggested a contest. The person who could stand an egg on its end should get the job. After much debate the ruling council decided to indulge Brunelleschi. All the the contenders tried and failed. The last guy up was Brunelleschi. Who took the egg on its bottom rounded end and slightly tapped the egg into place, thus breaking the shell over the air pocket. The egg stood erect. The ruling council suggested that it was too simple, a child could have done that. Brunelleschi exclaimed “Yes, and a child could build the dome if I told him how.” They awarded the commission to him-I've gotten some info that said that the Meddici's were sponsoring him...and what they wanted they usually got. It was decided that both he and Ghilberti worked on the dome together, Ghilberti finally stepped away, the official reason was that Ghilberti claimed he couldn't read Brunelleschi 's handwriting [I'm thinking he got tired of Brunelleschi's obsessive secretive methods-Ghilberti probably figured he'd give the guy all the room he needed to fail and then step in and fix it.] Bunelleschi used the Pantheon as his model, except the recipe for reinforced concrete had long since been lost, so he did it with herringbone patterned brick so that each brick was dependent on the those below and to each side-thus the concrete would have already begun to dry and hold the wet ones in place, and allowed Gravity to provide compression as he slowly closed the sphere. He realized that he needed to use a crane and block and tackle to hoist bricks, mortar and stone up to the top using the available “power source” IE Oxen, great going up but not coming back down - Oxen don't walk backwards. So he designed and built a hoist that had reversible gearing. It's believed that the drawing of just such a device in Leonardo's notebooks was copied from Brunelleschi's working model when The dome was being built. The copper for the lantern above the dome was soldered in the studio of Verochio, while Leonardo was an apprentice there Leonardo writes of one of his first jobs being running solder for this lantern.
It was here that on Easter Sunday in 1478 the Pazzi (contenders to the ruling D'Medicis, both families were the bankers to the popes), backed by the pope, killed Guiliano D' Medici and almost killed his brother Lorenzo “The Magnificant” D'Medici [during mass!] who escaped with serious wounds to the sacristy. The Meddici had been running Florence for two generations already...and reading about it sounds a lot like dealing with the Mafia. Before this all came dowm Lorenzo's Mistress was Simonetta Vespucci, and he planned to marry her to his brother (same brother that was killed). Simonetta Vespucci was sorta the Marilyn Monroe of her day, She's was the most popular amongst the available models to be painted (I read an anonymous report that the artists used to get into public fistfights to settle who'd she'd model for next) her untimely death from TB didn't stop this-there were portraits of her being made as long as 15 years after she died. For me this was like sitting in the middle of Yankee stadium for a baseball fan or Wright Brothers bicycle shop for fans of airplanes or Edison's Lab for people who like gizmo's [Or in my Mother's Father case, a huge fan of Westerns, when he made the trip to Tombstone AZ ] This place was the hub of the Italian Renaissance- it had all pretty much happened here. I walked to the bronze star embedded in the ground to show where one point perspective was invented. I walked over to the Baptistery and saw 'the Gates of Paradise' and then I walked into the church. Within were Frescoes by Andrea del Castagno, Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. Many partook in the cathedral project (other than the above mentioned Brunelleschi and Ghiberti) we can name Giotto, Andrea Pisano, Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello, Luca della Robbia, Michelozzo, as well as the formentioned Vasari and Zuccari. I looked down the dark church, under the vaulted ceiling and began to walk to the alter, under the dome. When I got to it I looked up. It was immense. I saw the bust of Giotto embedded in the wall- between him and Fra Angelica they marked the change in the wind from the medieval world of Dante, toward the 'new way' of naturalism and making man the measure of things rather then God.
I decided that I needed to get some chow, as I hadn't had any breakfast wanting to get out of Rome as quickly as I could. I sought a “Trattoria” and ordered the house special which was usually a large salad, a bit of beef or chicken, a big pate of spaghetti, a small bottle of wine and bread, all for about $6. I headed back to my room. I was exhausted. I fell on my bed with my book but I didn't even open it before I was asleep. I woke the next morning and got into my clothes in a flash. Today I was going to visit her. Anyone who knows me knows that I have this really strange unnatural obsession with the painting of “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, the model was the aforementioned Simontta Vesspuci. I first ran across this painting when I was about 10 years old. The reproduction was pretty bad but she was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. The pose of Botticelli's Venus is reminiscent of the “Venus D'Medici or Praxiteles' sculpture of Aphrodite, The former a marble sculpture that was a classic [that somehow escaped the grasp of Vatican either cause the Medici's were the Popes bankers or it was a bit too much for the Vatican] in the D'Medici collectionwhich Botticelli had plenty of opportunity to study it. Considering Botticelli's obsession with Simonetta [he's buried at her feet by his own request, so that she would be the first thing he saw at the Last Judgement] and his buddy-buddy relationship with Lorenzo “the magnificent” who also adored her, It sorta makes a great deal of sense how and why this painting got made. It's done with an amazing love and a great deal of care [I believe it took almost 10 years to do]. It also skirted the forbidden pagan beliefs. How this painting escaped the bonfire of the Vanities is a miracle. She is now housed in the Uffizi collection, and this was one of the two reasons I had come to Italy. I entered like a medieval pilgrim on the tour of the holy sites to see the relics of the saints. I sat and contemplated each painting from the Early Icons to the paintings such as Giotto's , through Leanardo's abandoned Nativity, and the painting of the baptism of St. John the baptist, attributed to his master Verochio however the angel in the corner was painted by Da Vinci and because of the excellence of it, Verochio knew he'd been bested and never touched color again...or so the story goes. Michelangelo's circular Holy Family, The plethora of Raphael's Madonna's. I spent the whole day there. Most of it sitting in front of her. I was somehow surprised at how small the painting was. However I indulged myself...I studied every curve, every color, each expression., I studied the delicate shadows on her hands, the almost comical feet, the appearance of the wind blowing her ashore, her attendants quickly bringing her a garment to cover herself, but not quickly enough. Her modesty is apparent and yet the knowing of her blue eyes as you watched her in her nakedness. The realization that you could never touch her but if you had to it quickly. Yeah I know, enough get the picture. She was the only woman Botticelli ever painted, in all the paintings done by him she was his only model. I wandered those hallowed halls until I had to leave and I mean had to, being escorted to the door as everyone had left half an hour before. I also returned the next day. on the third day I visited the Academy to see the David and the unfinished statues that Michelangelo had done. I was also almost run down by a guy on a motorcycle. The Italians are the worst drivers in Europe. While at the Academy I growled at the captive slaves remembering that they had been meant as being part of the tomb in the Church of St. Peter in Chains, and reliving that whole chapter. That evening found me on the street. [I don't want the reader to think that I went back to my room at dusk every night. I did often...I was walking on the average of about 10-15 miles a day and I was tired at the end of it, however I did go out and socialize] I had met these two girls from New Jersey. They were there also looking at the Art and both were attractive, so we had decided to go and get some Italian Ice cream. Italian Ice cream is like a highly addictive drug, its so rich you can only do a small amount at a time and it is to what we call ice cream what silk is to burlap. We were on the streets eating our ice cream and comparing notes, when I noticed that the locals were hurriedly getting off the streets. They were ducking into doorways and getting up on stairs. I had realized the week before what this country was full of and I had turned on some of the skills I'd learned in New Guinea...IE when you see the locals run, you run too. I grabbed these two girls and we stepped into a doorway. About 15 seconds later a herd of Italians came running down the street. There was about 200 of them, and they were fleeing the soccer stadium. It seems there was a soccer game that night that had ended in a riot (imagine that) and if we hadn't had gotten out of the road we'd have been trampled. When the locals felt safe enough to start coming out again, the girls asked if I'd walk them back to their hotel, It was probably going to be an interesting evening in Florence that night...and from the damage to store fronts, and the litter I saw on the streets the next day, it was.
The following day I decided to chase down something I'd read about. These 'objects' were the only work I've ever been able to uncover by an artist by the name of “Zumbo, the magnificent” Every time I have tried to do research on this artist I have come up empty, all I'm given is reproductions of these two bodies of work. He was reportedly the last of the Medici artists, and active in the late 17th early 18th century. His medium was wax. There were two things to see. First was a set of life size wax figures almost identical to the one before and the one after, It was a 3D anatomy text. The first was a wax statue of a cadaver, the next was the cadaver opened, the next was an identical stature as the one previous with one or two of the organs removed to reveal organs and tissue below. In each it was flayed a bit further to the last one which was the cadaver in the same exact pose as a skeleton, There must have been about 40 of these. Then there was the other work. It was a set of 6 diorama's about 12" by 12" by about 18" wide of the experience of the plague in Florence in the 14th century. The detail was amazing, even though the subject matter was a bit Macabre-these were in the Museum of health. I had to walk by the Hall of the innocents, an orphanage designed during the renaissance to mimic the proportions of the human form [considered a good example in art history texts of classic renaissance architecture] and decorated by the ceramic works of Dela Robbia. At the Florence museum of art, there was a Show about Chagall. I never cared for his work, and this show did little to change my opinion. I wandered to the Ponte Vechio, this was a hub for artists, there are shops that sell art and jewelry on the bridge itself. People hung out, drawing portraits, the river, or just reading. It was pretty laid back, sorta reminded me of a student lounge of sorts. I began working on a drawing of a little Italian girl who's mother was reading. She was adorable, about 2-3, just recently got her feet under her and had worked out how to use them. I was about 10-12' away and began drawing her as she wandered around under the watchful eye of her mother. The closest she got to me was about 9'. I guess her mother noticed that I was looking at her daughter and drawing her picture- I guess I could have asked if it was okay before I began to draw, however she came up to me blocking my view of her daughter and began screaming obscenities at me, I apologized and offered her the drawing, she tore it up and spat on me (this is obviously something that happens kinda regular in Italy, as it had happened to me twice in two weeks, and has never happened again since) I got up and left. I went towards Duomo, I wanted to see Museo dell'Opera, the museum of Santa Maria Del Fiore. Within are the actual panels from the gates of paradise, the ones on the door are reproductions, also is what is rumored to be the statue that Michelangelo had planned for his own grave, It's a Pieta that he pushed really hard, the figure of Christ seems almost too delicate, too thin. This piece is credited with the introduction of the style of Mannerism, in which the subjects physical qualities are stretched...El Greco is considered a Mannerist its the period of art which came after the renaissance and just before the Baroque. Also within is the sculpture of the Magdalene done out of wood by Donatello. I sat and contemplated my time in Italy, I would be leaving this place soon. I had waited for years to be here, and the experience had been frustrating, wonderful and disappointing at the same time. The next day I made my reservations to Paris. I had only sprung for 2 baths that week and me and my laundry smelled pretty bad. When I got back to Rome and then on to the Airport I passed a flight that was going to New York. I thought about cashing in my chips and going home. Rome had left me with the concept that the people that lived there were all screwy. Florence seemed a bit more what I expected but a similar distrust and disappointment lingered. I thought I understood why Da Vinci had decided to move the hell out of Italy and move to France to spend his declining years...My next stop Paris and once there I realized why Da Vinci preferred the French.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Part 5. The Sun over the Hills of the Giants. Athens and Rome.

[I apologize that this has taken me so long to put down, its' just that when I start reliving the time I spent in Italy I get angry, and I have to walk away. I think you'll see why]

I landed In Greece about the First week in June. It was blistering, and although I was used to heat and humidity in New Guinea it was always overcast there, I'm led to understand its because New Guinea is so close to the Equator- where the water comes to warm up to make its trip north (this is what causes wind-who'd of thought?). The sky was as clear and blue in Greece as to remind one of lapis lazuli and the sun was so bright you had to cover your eyes in the shade. I breezed my way through customs and made my way to my Hotel, it wasn't bad...Shall we say that in the shared bathroom down the hall there was no Bidet. I got myself some dinner and I walked around the city. It is just amazing to me how small Athens is considering where it is and the significance it has to Europe and the world. This is the crossroads of East and West. It has been for almost 2,000 years. It and Rome were the western most points for the prophets of the bible, It was where Democracy was born as well as logical thought, Where men began to question how the world worked and didn't just assume that it was (the) God(s) at work. Thus began Science for its own sake and the birth place of higher mathematics. And yet Athens was about the smallest capital city I visited, with the possible exception of Port Moresby. I awoke and had breakfast during which I met a lovely Australian woman who gave me a warning when she heard about my trip to Rome, She spoke of the problem the Italian Government had had about 5 years prior, seemed that the coins used in their currency was leaving the country with such expediency as souvenirs that they couldn't mint it fast enough. SO the Italian Government in its ultimate wisdom told the banks they could print their own currency up to about !,000 lire. I was headed to the Acropolis, she was heading to the beach. SO I asked her if she'd like to join me for dinner. She accepted under the condition that she might stay at the beach until later. I agreed to this condition and caught a bus headed for the Acropolis (made up of the words Akron -edge and Polis City), home of the Parthenon-the temple to Athena & The porch of the caryatids, Sanctuary of Artemis, the theater if Dionysus, amongst many other buildings. One cannot help but think of Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Euclid, Archimedes and all the other Giants to the modern world when one is walking on those stones. The present state of the Parthenon can be blamed on the Ottoman Turk army who used the building for storing their munitions, that and the pollution that Athens suffers from. I wandered down over to the porch of the caryatids where I was told that one of the caryatids was actually a duplicate. The Greek government was in the process of attempting restoration of the whole acropolis. There was talk of a huge plastic bubble that would cover it. I walked all over the acropolis that day and saw almost all there was to see. My new friend didn't make dinner so I ate alone and went to bed. The next day I headed for the Cultural museum. I had seen the Greek collections in a variety of museums however I was interested in what they had maintained for their own collection. I saw the early Kuros figures, grave marker statues that resembled the Egyptian in their poses, but with this really disturbing archaic smile on their faces....The figures began to take on more naturalism...IE the Greeks began with what the Egyptians had done and then began to look at the human figure and learn from it. Then the huge break through of dividing the figure into 1/4's and allowing the weight to placed on one leg and allowing the arms to move in another plane then the legs. I saw the statues that they kept form the Parthenon and promised myself that I would check out the Elgin Marbles when I got to England. I spent the rest of my week in that museum drawing and comparing what I had learned in Egypt to what I saw here. The pieces began to fit together.

At the end of the week I made the trip that I had looked forward to for as long as I had made the decision to go into art as a lifestyle and career. I was going to Rome and then Florence. I enjoyed the artwork and I'm glad I went... however if I never step on Italian soil again I'll be just as fine as frog's hair with that circumstance. I feel that I should make a few disclaimers here. First My mother was 100% Italian from Boston, making me half. I adored my mother and love quite a few members of my Italian Family. Second, my Grandparents were from Northern Italy, and I adored them also. I can't help feeling that they were amongst the smart ones who left the country to never move back. Finally, My favorite period in Art is the Italian Renaissance. However After having spent a grand total of about 16 days there I understand why God Put the Mediterranean Sea on three sides of it and the Alps on the 4th, He wanted to keep those people contained.

I landed in Rome and made a few phone calls to find myself a hotel. I found one that seemed reasonable and fairly cheap. I spent one night there and found the place just a bit strange (the lady that ran it kept looking at me like I had antlers.) SO the next day I explored and found another place to sleep, the entrance was around the corner from the Via Nazionale, a main drag through Rome. It was an old place, from the looks of it. That I believe had one other person staying there. The ancient Elevator that consisted of a wrought Iron cage that climbed and sank within an open framework dated from the early part of the century and was no longer working. The sign that said out of order was hand written in Italian, English, German and French. The sign looked to be older then I was. I was given a double room for the price of a single and it had it's own bathroom and was cheaper then the place I just left. The people running it were a married couple, both in their 50's. She was the room maid and he was the desk clerk. After I checked in I found out what bus I needed to get on and headed for the Vatican. I had about 3 hours before the whole of Rome was going to close for lunch. I made for the Sistine Chapel and was struck dumb by what I saw there. I am sure that any and all are familiar with Michelangelo's ceiling and possibly the mural on the west wall of the Last Judgment. This is only one part of it. There are murals of the life of Christ done by such as Perugino and Botticelli. However I approached the last judgment as one might walk against the wind during a hurricane. The power of that work was overwhelming, It hit me, again and again and again. The dynamo of the design drew me in and repelled me simultaneously. I saw the hand of Christ passing judgment as the saints rose as though weightless and the sinners were ferried off to Hell. After about 10 minutes I looked up. I saw the ceiling and its depiction of the ancestors of Christ. It seemed to be impossible. It seemed to be heroic, It pulled me up into it and my head began to spin...I saw God create the universe and then create man with a shy almost frightened Eve under his arm. I saw the fall of man, I saw Noah, I saw the sibyls and prophets and their helpers....I saw the walls with all the other murals of the life of Christ and then returned to the Last Judgment...It hammered me again with refreshed vengeance. At the end of about an hour I staggered out of there feeling as if I had been worked over by a platoon of marines. I came to the instant realization that whatever progress I had made in the year that I had studied before and in New Guinea counted as a drop of water next to the ocean of what I had just seen, the road ahead of me was a hard one and all uphill. I felt shame that I had even considered calling myself an “artist”. I felt as though I was unworthy to be spat on by the men who had created what was in that one room. I considered going back in, I had about an hour before they would close it up....I slowly re entered with the proper amount of humility. The beating was less violent. I sat and opened my sketchbook. I began to draw. I drew until they officially asked me to leave as they had emptied the room minutes before. I'm sure that if they hadn't thrown me out I'd have been there for days. I left begrudgingly and got myself some lunch. I met a Jewish girl who asked if she could join me. She saw my sketchbook and the fact that I was pretty shaken up. I told her of what had happened. She asked if I could go with her the next day to see St. Peters, as she knew little about Art and nothing about Christianity would I help her understand what it was she was looking at. I agreed. I returned I wandered aimlessly and eventually returned to my hotel. The evening was a restless one for me, for some reason every time I nodded off the glass in the windows of my room would begin to vibrate as though they weren't actually fixed in place, but Each examination proved that although the caulk was chipped and broken the windows were sound. I woke up and did my laundry in the sink. I jumped on the bus heading to the Vatican. Within a few minutes I felt a man brush up against me and then there was a bump in the road and as he fell away from me I found his hand my pocket. I dragged him to the front of the bus and told the driver that I had just caught this guy trying to pick my pocket. There was an exchange between the thief and the driver. The driver pulled to the side of the road and opened the door and motioned me off of the bus. I looked at him and said “I was the one being robbed!” he nodded and pointed out the door. I was thrown off because I had caught the guy. I walked the rest of the way to St. Peters Square, made my way past the huge columns that separate it from Rome and I met my new friend by the obelisk as we had planned. We entered St. Peters Basilica. The mother church of Catholicism. There has been a church on this spot since the 4th century. There are no words to suggest the scale of this place. The term cavernous might work, however doesn't. Mammoth or Grand just don't measure up either. Its big enough to be three Cathedrals, (it holds up to 60.000 people) and every corner, every square inch is covered in some form of decoration. Of course they've been working on the place for about 600 years. I did what I could to explain what it was we were looking at, when they closed for lunch I bid my new friend goodbye and I walked the grounds of Vatican city and stumbled upon what I believe was a Funeral Chapel. I've never seen any pictures of this place other then the ones that I took. The painting over the Alter was in the Style of Grunwald, although I've never it reproduced before and my picture of it came out pretty dark. The place was done in black stone probably granite polished to a mirror and white marble polished the same. The only other decoration in this Chapel was the 3 carved representations of a cloaked death figure holding a scythe over the stone sarcophagi of some un named individuals. One on each side of the Alter and the third on the side wall near the back. It was small in scale compared to Basilica. However the same size as one would expect a good size church to be. I took some photo's and left as I came in. Since it was about two and every place was closed for lunch (and would be until about 4-5 pm) I got on a bus that I assumed would take me to the Colosseum It eventually did. And Yes I can attest to the fact that there is indeed a place on the grounds of the Colosseum where they keep stray cats. And yes they do feed them day old spaghetti. The Colosseum loomed large against the sky and the even the ruin after centuries of neglect and being stripped of its marble to burn into quick lime was impressive. I stood close to a tour group and over heard about its separate uses, supposedly they even had naval battles in there, which is impressive. I decided to head back to my room about 4, drop off my drawing supplies and camera and get some dinner. When I came into my room it looked like someone had taken the whole place and turned it upside down. Only righting it moments before I came in. The drawers of the dresser were pulled out and dumped on the floor, the bed was stripped and the sheets flung over the lamp by the table, my suitcase had been dumped, my clothes scattered about the extra pads of paper were tossed to different parts of the room...It looked like somebody had been looking for something. The only other time I'd ever seen that sorta “looking for something” was when a friend's visiting brother lost a gram of cocaine at my friends house. He tore that place apart looking for it and it was only found an hour later after being accidentally thrown in the trash while the brother was asking after a crow bar to start pulling up the floor. I went to the desk clerk and asked him to come with me, I t hought I'd been robbed, however a quick accounting showed that nothing worth anything was missing. I took him to my room and asked him for an explanation. He looked and said nothing, bringing his wife who's job it was to clean the rooms and change the bedding. She looked into the room and turned as white as a sheet and crossed herself. They had an exchange quietly in Italian, and she scurried off to get some bedding. The desk clerk/ owner apologized and told me it was a big mistake. If I went out and got my dinner it would all be straightened up by time I returned. It was, however amongst my personal things that had been in my suit case and were now laid on the bed, the sketchbook that I had filled up in Cairo and Greece was no longer amongst my things. The managers wife swore to me that she had not taken it, and had put all my things she found about the room back on the bed. There was one addition to the room. They had left a Bible on the dresser. I had yet another troubled night in the room. It seemed that I would wake up to the sound of the glass in the windows vibrating and it would stop almost the exact instant my eyes would open. I woke up about 4-5 times that night to this. Finally at about 5 am I just got up and read till I was sure I could get some breakfast. I had decided to see something that I had read about that day. The catacombs or the church of the Capochene Monks. This is a small church and over the century's they had run out of room to bury their own dead, so they picked an anonymous monk to exhume the dead and “do something” with the remains, so this ingenious monk used the bones as decorative elements, such as constructing candelabra in each of the 4-5 bays of the catacombs, decorating the ceilings in decorative patterns using the bones as one would chips in a mosaic. He stacked the shoulder blades and hips to construct small insets into the wall to house particular remains, like a bas relief tomb. I had read about this place and found the concept fascinating. As I walked toward the church I stood next to a girl on a street corner waiting for a traffic light. She had a bad case of the hiccups. I mean every time she hiccuped she jumped a little in the air. I asked her if she understood English. She nodded she did. I told her to take 5 deep breaths and to get all the air out after each. I then demonstrated what I meant. Then I told her with the 5th deep breath to hold it in and to count to 10 before exhaling very slowly. I demonstrated this too. I told her that if she did this her hiccups would go away. I turned and crossed the street feeling like I'd done my good deed for the day. About a block and a half later I heard some guy behind me yelling curse words (I'd heard a few of these coming out of my Italian Grandfather's mouth when he'd hit himself on the thumb with a hammer so I recognized a couple of them) and running up the street. In his hands was what looked like a switchblade (it had that pointed blade that all switchblades seem to have) and not a little one either, and he was running straight for me. As I saw him coming and looking straight at me I decided to keep out of his way. I started waking faster and eventually ran. When I turned the corner I knew it was me he was after cause he turned the corner too. I out ran this guy (about the last time I'd do that in my life) and lost him after a few blocks...the only thing I can come up with was that the girl was his girlfriend and she either didn't understand English that well, or he saw me talking to her and got the wrong idea. It wouldn't be the last time that I was almost killed while in Italy. After the church of the Capochene monks I headed back to the Vatican to see the Vatican museums. The Church claimed first dibs on anything that was dug up in the world. The collection of both Greek and roman copies of Greek art is unsurpassed in the world. I studied the “lacoon and his sons” and many of the other sculptures, I sat and filled my sketchbook with as many things as would take my interest, and there were many. When Rome broke for lunch I decided I would too. I recalled seeing what looked like a Deli on my way in and decided that a sandwich was probably the best way to work it. I still wanted to check out some of the Roman Ruins that were in pockets around Rome. I entered and ordered a sandwich, some cheese and a small bottle of wine. I paid for my purchase and headed toward the closest collections of Ruins from there. I sat in the shade, leaning up a brick wall that had once been sheathed in marble, had been built about 2,000 years before and ate my lunch. There was something funny about the sandwich, which I assumed had to do with the spices. After lunch I made for the Pantheon. The Pantheon is the most complete of Ancient Rome's buildings. It was built in 126 AD with a typical columned front that one would expect from a Roman Temple but the Pantheon itself a large Dome. It being the largest in the world till 1436 when Florence's Cathedral was built (we'll get into that when we go to Florence) The thing is its' made completely of reinforced concrete. Yes, the Romans invented Reinforced Concrete. It was a temple to all gods (thus Pantheon) but was converted into a church In the late 6th or early 7th century. The only light source within is an occulous (a hole in the ceiling) in the exact center of the dome the occulous is surrounded by ever increasing in size coffers which lightened the weight of the concrete and gave an incredible visual effect and decorated with different kinds and colors of stone. It was also about 20 degrees cooler in there then outside. The place is breathtaking. As a matter of fact when Rome was being sacked by pagans (I'll try and remember which group it was) they broke in ready to sack the Pantheon, upon entering grew quiet, decided that this place must remain intact and closed the doors behind them as the left. I visited the grave of Raphael who's remains are kept there with other Italians who's accomplishments gave them the honor to be buried in the hall of all the Gods. I made my way out. By this time is was getting on dinner time but surprisingly I didn't feel hungry. I felt tired, sweaty and clammy- I attributed it to all the walking I was doing. I headed back to the hotel and crawled into the bed. I awoke at about 2-3 AM needing to throw up. I did it again about 10 minutes later, and again about 10 minutes after that. I crawled back into bed, it was only a few minutes after that the diarrhea began. I spent the rest of my night feeling like I was going to throw up, and sitting on the toilet. I felt like shit the next day so I stayed in bed until after noon. This had all the earmarks of food poisoning. Probably from the sandwich I'd eaten the day before. I spent the day in bed feeling miserable. The next day I struggled up and got dressed and headed out. I was heading to the basilica of St. Peter in chains. The church itself was built the middle of the 5th century and houses the Moses done by Michelangelo as part of a planned 40 statue tomb for Julius II (most of the statues of 'bound slaves' were meant for this tomb), ( and yeah this was the same guy who talked him into painting the ceiling.) and although the tomb was meant for St. Peters it ended up here. Along with Julius II this is the burial place of Antonio Polliauolo, a Renaissance artist who's work I had admired. I walked into the church and towards the Moses. He is sitting and is still huge, as I recall the stature is almost 8'-9' tall. Michelangelo felt that this was his greatest piece. A scar left by a hammer blow on the statue's knee attest to a story that Michelangelo hit his Moses in the knee with his hammer and said “SPEAK”. I've heard the same story associated with Donatello when working on his statue of the prophet Habakkuk, while he was shaping the statues mouth he Yelled “there now, speak damn you!” I studied the statue from all directions and finally did a drawing of one of the hands. When I was finished I went to the back of the church into the souvenir shop so I could by a postcard of the statue. The man behind the counter gave me my change in bank script. I had been warned about this in Greece, but I still wasn't feeling well so I asked him “I'll be able to spend this, Right?” and the guy assured me I could spend it anywhere. I spent the next 3 days getting rid of it, the last straw was when a woman begging crumbled it up threw it back at me and then spat on me. I got rid of it, but that will come later. Later that day I almost got run down by a car, I ended up damn near sitting on his hood while he swore at me in Italian. I was on my way to the Art Supply store to buy some black ink. I had learned what the word “black” was in Italian and went in to by some black ink. I ended up miming the whole thing using the word for black. They applauded, and sold me the ink. Except that as I found out when I went to use it, it was blue. When I returned to my hotel I was still feeling kinda queasy so I took a long hot shower. I felt the hot water cascade down my body and when I opened my eyes I saw through the translucent shower curtain something about the size of a person move across the room. I pulled the curtain aside and found myself alone in the bathroom. I assured myself that it was just the food poisoning that was playing tricks with my eyes. I had 2 days left in Rome and went to confirm my flight to Florence. I stood in line behind a 400lb unwashed and unshaven Transvestite until I stood in front of the ticket agent. I was informed that the Florence airport was closed. Why? No reason. At the top of the tourist season they just decided to close the airport. SO...I needed to buy a train ticket-this worked cause I was in need of some Lire and the best exchange rate was to be had at the train station. I took the bus to where the bus station and the train station are separated by a large paved square. I saw to my left that some communists were having a political Rally with banners and somebody yelling through a megaphone. I saw that on the right about 100 yards away from where the Communists were what I assumed were some Catholic Democrats or some other political party having an equally loud and 'colorful' Political Rally. I saw where I needed to go, set my brain on automatic and headed that way. I refocused my brain to my immediate surroundings when I saw the first tear gas grenade land about 10 yards in front of me. I looked around me and in my wake the two political groups had met and were involved in a battle. There was cursing, fists flying, screaming....and the Police, who were probably on hand for just such and outburst. Thank God I had my passport with me in my hand as I needed ID to cash the British Pound Travelers checks to turn into Lire. The biggest Cop I've ever seen (He looked like a gorilla in a uniform) was about to lay me out with a club. I saw him through my tearing eyes and I threw my hands up defensively and held my Passport in his face. I screamed “AMERICAN CITIZEN!!!!!” The Gorilla in the uniform stopped his swing and yelled “WHAT ARE YOU DO HERE?” I said “Going to the train station to exchange money!” He yelled “YOU GO NOW!” and I did, and as I did, I yelled back “ I can't get out of this goddamn asylum fast enough!” It took me about an hour to wash the stuff from my eyes while in the train station. I was getting mad. This Town was a zoo and I had one or two more things I needed to do before I got the hell out of there. The more I thought about it the angrier I got. I had come there in good faith and had about every kind of shit dumped on me. Oh, if only I had known. I told the guy selling tickets the date that I wanted to go and made sure he understood it was for two days from then. I left the train station and walked to the bus station, there was some trash, a couple of signs and a few puddles of blood to mark the scuffle I had almost been a statistic in and I climbed on the bus and thought to myself that this city was weirder then New York, probably cause they had had about 2,500 years longer to work on it. I got some dinner and I returned to my hotel. I had an especially long night as I was still pretty angry at what had happened during my stay and it seemed that every time I drifted off to sleep the glass would begin to vibrate in the windows, Until I opened my eyes and sat up and then all I heard was the sound of the city below. I also got this weird feeling that someone was in the room with me watching me sleep. The next day, I went to the Museo Galeria Borghello. This place was sorta like the Frick Museum in New York. It was somebodies house and on display was their art collection. They had Bernini's ( the architect of St. Peter's while they were working on the inside of the church. He was such and incredible sculptor there were rumor's he'd sold his soul to the devil. He was having an affair with a married woman, caught her in bed with his brother, chased his brother into St. Peters and damn near beat him to death with an iron rod. Then sent his servant to the woman's house with orders to slash her face and the servant did as he was told.) 'Apollo and Daphne', 'Pluto and Proserpina', and his 'David'. We're talking high Baroque here-these sculptures look like people locked in mid step. They had Raphael's 'The deposition' and his 'Girl with a Unicorn in her lap'. It was so much like Da Vinci's Mona Lisa there was talk of Plagiarism, so Raphael painted a sheep with a horn on it's head sitting on her lap just to end the talk. It is the closest one can come to seeing the actual color that Da Vinci' used in his Mona Lisa. They had Caravaggio's 'David with the head of Goliath', as well as a few others. The had a smattering of Canova's sculptures He was more idealized in his portrayal of the human figure. I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I hadn't eaten so I went to a local restaurant and then went to the Fountain of the 4 rivers By Bernini. I sat and drew until dusk. Then I went back to my hotel. On the way home I accidentally bumped into a 20 year old and he needed to make something of it, So I got into a yelling match with him. It takes a lot to make me angry however the anger that I had been boiling up in me that whole week began to come out and I swear I'd have killed the guy if he'd done anything but yell. I went into my room still angry, figuring I needed a nice hot shower, by then it was dark. As I came out of the bathroom I noticed the vibration of the windows that I had been hearing all week and I just snapped. I yelled “CUT IT OUT” and then I could swear I felt somebody behind me and when I turned I could swear that was another face in the mirror along with my own and this one was looking at me. Without thinking I yelled “I'm outa here in the morning so CUT IT OUT!” Then it stopped. I was alone in the room, I not only could see it, I could feel it. SO I went to bed and read until I nodded off, afterwords when I thought about it I can't respond to the question, “Why didn't you just get the hell out of there?' I don't know. I guess I was just so pissed off at all that had happened that I wasn't going to give this place the satisfaction. I can be pretty unreasonable when I get frustrated. I didn't sleep well, However when I woke up to pack and catch the train my missing sketchbook was laying in the middle of the floor. I had one stop I needed to make. I went back to the church of St. Peter in Chains. I walked directly into gift shop and grabbed a couple of postcards and put the piece of bank script that the asshole standing behind the counter had given me days before. He refused to take it. I said nothing as I reached across the counter and grabbed him by the lapels and dragged him across the counter., I held in the air as he began to swear at me in Italian, I said very distinctly “Oh yes, you are going to take this bill back and you will exchange it I don't care if its for postcards, Lire, stamps, wampum or blood, your choice!”. He gave it to me postcards. I swear as God is my witness, If he had refused, I'd have killed him. I made for the train station and was informed that despite my instructions that the ticket I bought was to be for the date I planned to leave, they had sold me one for the day previous. I bought another First class ticket and boarded the train to find that they had oversold the seats. The conductor and I sought me a seat with no luck, So, he began to knock on the private compartments and finally came to a private compartment with (I guessed) a newly married couple or soon to be married couple. There was discussion and finally the male half of the couple agreed to let me have a seat. Then they proceeded to conduct themselves as if they were still by themselves. It's one thing watching that sorta thing on film, Its quite another when your sitting about 2' away from it. I had my eyes glued to my book, however the sounds left little mystery as to what was going on. Next stop Florence.