Monday, March 7, 2011

And the winner is . . .

Thursday, March 3
The top ten reasons I come to Italy, continued

Number 2: Amazing works of architecture and art. It is crazy how much time and energy Italians have spent on making beautiful buildings, mostly churches, but also castles, bridges, aqueducts and theaters. One would think the italophile that I am, I must be an art connoisseur, but it is not so. The city of Lucca once had ninety-some churches, and each one probably had its own artistic claim to fame. You can’t walk down a street in any city center for very long without finding something amazing. A work of art that gets little attention in a small city here would be a big deal if it were in the middle of Gig Harbor. Art and architecture are so commonplace that one gets accustomed to seeing them all the time, but if I stop for just a minute, I am still amazed.

It’s actually not the art that impresses me the most, and it is not even the architecture. Perhaps if I had any skills as an artist or architect, I would be more impressed by the subtle variations in techniques, the use of chiaroscuro and perspective, but what actually astounds me the most is the thought of how these buildings were made. While other people go inside a church to admire the frescos and mosaics, I often find myself standing outside looking at the stone work. Each slab of marble or other stone has been cut into a smooth rectangular shape by a craftsman who had no power saw with diamond tipped blades, no gas engines or electricity. I imagine myself using hand tools and trying to take a stone and form a perfect 12” x 12” x 24” stone, with each side perfectly flat and smooth, and all angles a perfect 90 degrees. It seems like that in itself would be a lifetime’s work, but then I try to imagine making thousands of identical stones. Some of them have to be rounded for archways, and the rounded portion must be perfectly symmetrical.

Then in my mind I become the builder, carrying these stones up five, six, seven stories high and aligning them perfectly. I am not standing on metal scaffolding, though. It must be made of wood, I suppose. There are numerous other details that continue to boggle my weak mind: the pillars and arches inside that are needed to hold up the walls and ceiling (and of course they have to be aesthetically pleasing as well as structurally sound), what materials to use from the ceiling and roof, how to form the windows and doors, and so on. Yes, I am more of a working man than an artist, but Italy has beauty to offer nearly every type of artisan.

Number 1: Scope for the imagination. I borrow this phrase from Anne of Green Gables. Anne said this more than once, but the time I remember the most is on her first trip to Green Gables with Matthew, when she was carrying on a long-winded and one-sided conversation. Below is an abbreviated excerpt:
This Island is the bloomiest place. I've always heard that Prince
Edward Island wa
s the prettiest place in the world, and I used to imagine I was living here, but I never really expected I would. It's delightful when your imaginations come true, isn't it? But those red roads are so funny.When we got into the train at Charlottetown and the red roads began to flash past I asked Mrs. Spencer what made them red and she said she didn't know and for pity's sakenot to ask her any more questions. She said I must have asked her a thousand already. I suppose I had, too, but how are you going to find out about things if you don't ask questions? And what DOES make the roads red?"
Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?

Whenever I drive through a city in the United States, I like to imagine what it would be like to live there, and what it would have been like 100 years ago. Especially when we travel through Idaho or Montana, I wonder what made people traveling along the Oregon Trail stop here instead of continuing to Oregon. I also enjoy imagining what it would have been like to be a Native American before the Europeans came. But that is the limit of my ponderings about America.

Here, I wonder what hardships a city must have experienced during the two world wars, when sons were sent away to bloody battles in icy Russia and German soldiers took over Italian cities and farms. Every city has a monument to the lives lost. What was it like to be in Italy during the late 1800s and early 1900s when millions of people were leaving for new countries? What hardships did my great grandfather Pietro Spadoni and his father face as contadini during the 1800s? This was during the time when Italy changed from being a conglomeration of city-states to a unified country. What did Pietro and his family think about this? What were the Spadonis and Seghieris doing during the Renaissance? What would it have been like to know Michelangelo or Leonardo or Cosimo de Medici? Imagine having Galileo as your professor.

I have only covered a short span of history with these imaginings. Italy has been invaded and/or occupied by Goths, Huns, Lombards, Byzantines, Francs, Arabs, Germans, Spanish, Austrians, French, Popes and more. Earlier, of course, were the Romans, and before that the Greeks, and then there were the mysterious Etruscans. Dreaming about what it would have been like during any of these times gives broad scope for the imagination, and there are plenty of historical sites and museums to visit that help the ponderings to be more vivid and accurate.

Above: The Etruscans were at their height of power from the 8th to the 5th centuries BC. Were they already in Italy before then, or did they come from elsewhere? There are many conflicting theories, each with its own batch of evidence. Their language still has not been deciphered.


  1. Beautifully written, Daddy. I wish I were mature and thoughtful enough when I was there to appreciate these things the way you do! I hope to go back and see these things again with eyes like yours.

  2. Your top 10 could be used in a travel brochure to convince people to visit Italy - fabulous descriptions


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