In Tuscany

I had moments of complete delight on holiday. Some was with art, with Botticelli’s Primavera or the doors of Pisa’s cathedral. Some was with the countryside: in the Boboli gardens, looking over the town to the surrounding hills, I was enraptured by the beauty.

The colours of the town, even in winter sun! There was the porcelain exhibition, beautiful things I was not inclined to study but enjoyed glancing at.

Getting to places was a bit of a pain. We were a long time getting going in the morning, and at Pisa station wanting to go to Florence we went the wrong way, taking an extra hour: I did not recognise the name of the place, but was sure the time indicated the correct train. The lift at the station was undergoing repairs, so we struggled down the stairs together. I was always concerned about my pennilessness, and while there were plenty of places for tourists to sit, inside and out, they all involved buying at least a coffee. I saw one public bench, sat on the steps of a statue, and considered sitting on the concrete anti-terrorist blocks, painted white and red to be clearly visible and make the townscape ugly.

Alright, two public benches, one not even close to anywhere I wanted to sit.

Getting to places: we walked slowly because of disabilities, and ended up walking separately: I heard the tap, tap of his walking stick behind me. The joy of his company was overwhelmed by the stress of getting around, seeing what we wanted to see. And once we were sitting in the cathedral in Florence, having been queueing in the cold outside, only to be corralled in the nave, bored, waiting for the others. I was not finding it hugely inspiring. The cordon was west of the picture of Dante, so I could recognise him but not consider him. It would be better to go in the other door, reserved for prayers. The ideal tourist state is linked to a spiritual state, open and receptive. Not being able to photograph things would release me from the compulsion merely to imagine things as images within a frame. I could just glimpse the dome, where someone was captured in his endless fall into Hell.

People of colour, I presume African migrants, perhaps illegal, sold selfie sticks and Philip bought one. How are you going to use that, asked Richard, when your phone has no jack-plug for it? Philip had intended to use the timer, not realising they had a button on the handle to take the picture. I told the man he should give Philip his money back. He gave back a €20 note, and waited for Philip to return the change he had been given, then he and another spent some time plugging various sticks into the phone to see if they could work, but none could. I told them I would not have confronted in that way, when I was younger. I was keen not to show up Richard for not confronting.

I was glad to meet H. I liked her a lot. I would not have read her as Aspie, perhaps because I am less used to the indications in a woman, but it is not a compliment to say that she “passes”. Her gift is a disability because of the way society is organised, and she shared her shame and resentment around that. I noticed how the near sides of her shoes were broken down, how she walked off the sole, and how otherwise she presented and carried herself proudly. It is frustrating not to have opportunities to fulfil our capacity.

There were wonderful moments linked to a particular place: an art work, some cacti, the quality of sunlight which led people to block it out of their homes, rather than seek it: I type now staring hungrily at my picture-window, thinking of that sun on my skin.

Looking at paintings

In my friend’s secondary modern school, in the corridor by the head teacher’s office, there was a small reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. At a dark time in his life, with little aesthetic pleasure, it was a vision of beauty, and he decided he must see the original. Nearly half a century later, he did last week, and I went with him.

I was unenthusiastic. It is a famous painting, and will be surrounded by crowds, with little chance to appreciate it. Familiarity with the image made me uninterested. I have seen it so many times already, or so I thought. Of course I have not.

There were people having their picture taken with it, and I did so too:

I now see that with your head in front of the shell, at her feet, is a better picture.

I loved it. The real thing is so much more than the arrangement of characters. I was even more enchanted with Primavera, in the next gallery.

This gave me moments of bliss, considering details like the flowers of the forest floor:

or this pattern on the lady’s dress:

Of course I know her face, it is a common selected detail, but I am less familiar with her floral ruff; and was enchanted by the beauty of the creation of her foot, the subtle movements of colour and line showing it on a flat plane without brush strokes I could differentiate.

The moral is that however delightful images on a computer are, they have little of the impact of the work itself. Fortunately you do not have to go to the Uffizi to get a similar experience. It is available in any city art gallery, and possibly the galleries of large towns.

Portraits on holiday

Something prickly: and a cactus.

The cactus was in the Botanical Gardens in Pisa. In that hothouse I was enraptured by the beauty and strangeness of the cacti. Some straight ones looked like dildos, one long enough to murder Edward II. The bamboo was there as well, growing outdoors. We went to a small museum there, with cheap portraits- a black background, as scenery is extra, and one unfortunate man could not afford to have his clothes depicted- but showing personalities beautifully.

The same day we took in the Baptistery, which of course is only of use as background. These pictures are not selfies, as I got others to take them- though according to my precise direction, sometimes after I took a picture of my victim to show them exactly how I wanted it to look.

This is in Florence, in the Boboli gardens, just behind the Pitti Palace, where I had another moment of bliss, enjoying the colours of the city and the mountains in the sunshine, even in January.

I had more than one dress with me, honest, I just wore that one two days.

Up the Leaning Tower. The passer-by said the cathedral dome was washed out, but I like the colour of it. Framed by the stone, read from left to right, there is dome, bell, me.

I took one with the timer. I love the bright blue background.

Up the tower, I asked a Sydney-sider what she thought of it, and she enthused. She has relatives in Somerset and Yorkshire, though has been in Australia for generations. She is an academic, teaching nursing, and finds leading people to critical thinking challenging. She wondered what the mountains were. I thought the Chianti hills- how decadent, to name hills after a wine- she thought Switzerland, and her daughter with Google thought the Apennines.

I looked, speculatively, at that barrier. Properly determined, and jumping from the stone steps, you could get over it, though I hope others seeing your purpose would hold you back. It would be a peculiarly vile way of committing suicide, with all the tourists about to be shocked, even traumatised, by a death. And- it ran in my mind. I would not like a chest high rail as protection up there, it would not be sufficient. People are strange.

One final view of the tower.

The Adoration of the Bronze Snake

Human life: anger, terror, misery, perplexity, delusion. Here’s The Adoration of the Bronze Snake, by Bronzino, a fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

Bronzino, the adoration of the bronze snake

Look at the twisting bodies, and at the faces- horror and confusion everywhere:

Bronzino, the adoration of the bronze snake, detail 6

relieved by death (perhaps it is merely stupor)

Bronzino, the adoration of the bronze snake, detail 2

Sometimes not even by that. Continue reading

Welcome to Heaven

I ain’t gonna grieve my Lord no more:

Oh you’ll never go to Heaven
but don’t you fear
just look around
cos Heaven’s here

Look at the domes in Florence cathedral. On the roof of the dome of the Baptistery, there is a Last Judgment scene as clearly demarked as in John Martin’s Last Judgment.

detail

But in the Duomo it is less clear. There is Jesus, clearly in Judgment, and people who have, perhaps, come out of graves: and they are wandering, perhaps a little up hill, perhaps a little down hill, and Jesus allows it.

Kris K is probably not still here, listening, and that is OK because I am not reading his blog regularly either, but he challenged me, “I know where I’m going when I die, Clare, do you?” My answer is no. Separate from my doubts about the existence of a soul and an afterlife for this individual outside the memories of those whom I touch in this life, I also do not know what my continual spiritual growth may bring me to- it will be beautiful, but I cannot yet comprehend that beauty or I would be there now- and I also do not know whether I may face further trauma, too great for me to heal. And I have hope in the beauty and wonder of Life and the love of God and would like the delight of having life never to end for me: but, what will happen after I die is a less important question than, “What should I do, now?” simply because I am not dead yet.

I Corinthians 5: 1-5:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

So, yes. The church can expel people, in the circumstances of the Church in Corinth, surrounded by pagan sects, as decided by the most exceptional church-builder, the Apostle Paul.

But in less exceptional circumstances, less exceptional people should take more to heart the words of Jesus: “first take the beam out of your own eye”.

I love Kris K’s care for the Church, that I not delude potential followers of Christ, and indeed care for me, that I not be deluded and so damned. And I love his clarity of expression of his clear belief. And I disagree with him, and think Heaven bigger than he imagines. So I think my Quaker meeting is a better Church, welcoming all, allowing us to rub up against each other and disagree and be in conflict, and still seek God’s loving purposes in this moment, together.

I suppose it is possible that Kris K is right, that it is indeed as simple as he says and I am so caught up in the wiles of Satan that I am one perpetually, wilfully blind- as in John 12:40,

The Lord has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts–so that their eyes cannot see, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and have me heal them.

But that is not what it feels like. It feels like growth in spirituality, maturity, and understanding. And if God really would give a devilish enemy that much power over me, perhaps I am better off in the lake of fire than with such a horrid God.

This is my hundredth post published.