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.

Pictures from Pisa

I love this; but not all shots along the river from the bridge are the same. I love the balance of light and shade, and the reflections in the water, but a boat or a bird would improve it; and not all my shots from the bridge were as good.

How do you show the angle of the tower? It is so familiar, and so deeply weird:

I loved the fallen angel, a recent sculpture, with its broken head and arm, which I took from up the tower:

I did not at first notice the screaming face in its wing:

Pigeons feasted on a display of bread at a street cafe. The man who chased them off was peeved.

A flower, from the tropical hothouse:

Pisa pictures

Men with sub-machineguns prowled around the cathedral and tower, and ordinary city police had holstered pistols. I am perturbed, but the other tourists do not seem bothered. How to photograph them? I took these from behind, as when Philip pictured them he got into a contretemps. Then, emerging from the tower, I thought to take that carabinieri from a distance:

but did not think it through, just snapped and walked on, so did not even notice that my lens was at too wide an angle or that a man had just walked in front of him anyway. Police here do not like being photographed, though they are happy to intimidate ordinary people demonstrating, by taking detailed video. The policeman on the left was paying attention, and thereby showed his face for the picture beautifully, so my terrorist cell- if I had one- could identify him.

On the West of the South transept I spent some time admiring the door. Such craftsmanship:

It’s yet another Annunciation. It looks childlike, compared to the West door, where some people just dashed by, instead of admiring:

That chap has no wings. Is it Christ, giving Lucifer a push? Some of the figures on the door stood out from it, away from the plane. Wonderful technique.

The fresco of the last judgment in the walled burial ground was cruel. Half was Hell; but Christ is a quarter of the way along the picture, and there are people in the half I first thought was Heaven who are on his Left. That is not a good place to be.

Note that he is looking to his left. At the moment captured, he is not greeting the Blessed, but condemning the Damned, who are being repelled by sword-wielding angels. I am not familiar enough with Italian Judgment scenes to be sure, but it seems unusual to me to have the Queen of Heaven seated in apparent equality.

I am also unused to sights like the chap among the blessed, who should not be there, being hauled off by an angel. There is arguable Biblical authority for that, but the picture is designed to inspire fear rather than Love. Even the Blessed look pretty scared.

A thin layer of plaster containing the pigment was taken away, preserved, and brought back to be hung on metal supports, away from the brick wall.

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 Leaning Tower of Pisa

People go to Pisa to create anew the iconic shot of holding up the Leaning Tower. Here at least five people are attempting it: I love the fun they are having.

People embrace it:

fist-bump it:

even push it with their feet.

It is more difficult than it looks. Climb that bollard!

Don’t have the hands too far back:

or have the palms showing.

Pernickety photographers may need to adjust their victim’s subject’s hands:

This is my best attempt:

This is the least blurred of my friend’s. If only he had deigned to crouch, I might have looked less peeved:

Pisa

I am in Pisa. 

Even the roads near the station, where the tourists would not go, are beautiful and distinctive, their colours and shutters. It is mild enough for grockling, in January. 

Local beggars sit by the side of the shopping street, with a laminated sign with a message. Trafficked people hawk wooden ornamental trains, made to spell names or words. One sold selfie sticks which I thought were Nordic Walking poles. A man who proclaimed himself a former drug addict engaged us in conversation and asked for a contribution to their hostel,  costing €40 a night per resident. 

I am with Aspie friends. I love the way we are all careful of each others’ comfort and happiness. Two declared themselves a couple only last month. We sat in the cathedral and wandered along the streets. I cannot afford a holiday but want to enjoy it now I am here. 

The flat is lovely with varied art reproductions on the walls, and showers with a choice of three jets,  including one aimed at the crotch. As always you can see me here by what I find worthy of remark. 

Things that cannot be said

There are words that I cannot say, or have great difficulty saying. I know them unconsciously, but part of me cannot admit them. Then I can think them, but not utter them to another. Then I take courage, and utter them; and then it becomes easier. Telling you makes it easier, but is not the same as saying these things out loud to another person.

I find it hard to admit that anything I do or think of doing is difficult.

I want to turn my life around– and that is more like a super-tanker than the knob on a cooker.

In shame, I hid away, and tried to conform.
-Conform with what?
-With an idea of what is normal, which is not necessarily shared by anyone else- it is influenced by others but is my own. That is why I had my balls cut off, why that pleased me so much at the time, and now I am kicking myself because my ideal was not real, and I should have realised that.

I am highly intelligent, unreconciled to a lifetime of Not Getting It. I am unwilling to admit that to myself. A jingle:

This is living
never knowing
what I need to know
Only knowing I was wrong
a year or ten ago.

If I can’t realise I am wrong, then I can’t realise I am right. If I change my mind I must have been wrong before, always wrong, and it is more complex. I have different understandings. I have been badly screwed up, and my work of disentangling myself is bringing these things to consciousness. A counselling session is a good place to do that, and I type notes at the time because I want to remember it exactly and not vaguely.

I don’t know what I meant by the note “Life now”.

I voice-recorded this session. I heard my long pauses, sometimes of several minutes, my failures to remember words, my joking and my struggle to find the truth. My hurt.

I will go on holiday.
-Let’s talk about something else.
-Well, we were talking of my whole way of being over fifty years, and now about specific interactions with other people for a week.

Four people aware of our otherness, wishing not to be noticed particularly. We will be quiet and decorous. We will face the problems of what is worth doing and how to do it with comfort and pleasure together. They can empathise by working out what they might feel in a similar situation rather than by mirroring. He will also have things which he finds difficult to think about, talk about, all those things one cannot acknowledge even to onesself.

Why go on holiday anyway? It is possible to find interesting and pleasant things to do, but requires effort. I am in conventional ideas of what is good or desirable. We went to Mafra where there was this painted plaster sculpture of men in armour beheading monks. There was one with his head detached, one kneeling to be beheaded, and two others waiting to be beheaded. WTF is that about? It is repugnant but interesting, a vile man who said I’m King and I can do what I like.

-I hear your awareness of them as different sorts of people, and I’m curious: how aware are they of you, and how do they hold your difference. I hope you might not be totally conventional with them.

I can relax with them. I got drunk in that wee restaurant, and then we walked home through the village, of large houses in commuting distance of Lisbon. They all have guard dogs so we walked home with this continuous chorus of dogs.

That was- different. Interesting. I don’t know that every moment will be delightful, but what is interesting is delightful.

I typed that, and immediately began questioning it in my mind. The next thing I typed was, Life is terrifying.

And I want to say to her what I want and I can’t. At least I can admit that to Tina.

Explaining ourselves

We got to the villa, large and well-appointed, which we got cheaply because of being slightly before the season. The owner welcomed us, and showed us round. He introduced us to the three big dogs- as we walked through the town later to the café, there was a dogs’ chorus. Be friends with your burglar alarm: he wanted them to get to know our smell. “If you have any questions, please do ask,” he says, but we have no questions for him. Really, we want him to leave.  His parents in law are the next house, overlooking the garden. His English seems excellent, with little foreign accent.

We are shy. We do not want to explain ourselves. “They are shy of you, because they have Asperger’s Syndrome,” I could have said. I am shy, because I am Trans. We can pass as normal if we interact as little as possible. Why on Earth would we want to pass? Because explaining does not necessarily make others friendly- they might be put off by our odd manner, but might be mocking or hostile if they knew what we really are. Or even exploit us! And- I am worthwhile to know, but not trusting. I want you to spot that, imagine I might have good reason for it, and work to gain my trust!

Self-hatred is very useful for being able to pass. I have no right to be as I am, and the hostility of others is only to be expected. Or, you despise them, you put on an act for others. The main cause is fear. We pass because we fear you.

One of us ate something which disagreed with him, and as soon as we got home he was copiously sick in the gutter. There is a hose in the car port, and I hosed it down the drain. Later, the father in law came over. “We wondered if you are all alright? We saw he was sick in the gutter.” This could be friendly concern, and I experienced it as checking up on us. What are they doing wrong? Make them stop. Even, punish us in some way. We just want him to go away. No, no, we’re absolutely fine, there is no problem at all, and we say this not meeting his eyes, looking shifty. I fear, loathing the thought, that I come over as submissive.

I did think, later, of going over and asking for help, taking both at their word, getting to know them a bit, letting down my guard, approaching directly not circumspectly. Are there any tourist attractions for our friend, who has huge difficulty with stairs? I am a human being. Every human being has idiosyncrasies. I should not be judged for mine.

There is a large pile of wood, and a fireplace between the living room and my bedroom, with glass doors to each. I get a fire going easily- just call me the Pyromage! It has a strong draw, but we have more difficulty getting heat out of it rather than going up the chimney.

The kitchen is lovely. Twice we had sausage and mash, and twice we had pizzas. The trouble with passing, of living in fear of and at war with the world, is that you have less energy to explore how the world’s beauties and gifts may delight you, or to make it delight you, for you do not realise you deserve that.

National Palace of Mafra

What can we do to entertain our friend, when he can hardly walk half a mile? We drove him about a bit, but sitting in the back I was completely bored. He did not seem much better. We parked by the Atlantic, and he said, “You get out, I will stay in the car”. “We could go to Mafra,” said the other, doubtfully, and I said,

“Why would we go to Mafra? What is there possibly to see in Mafra?”

So we went back to the villa. Such is the problem of not having the proper references to hand. I thought it would be a town with a caff and a few shops, rather than the site of the Baroque palace of João V. We went there on the last day. Unfortunately, our friend could not climb the steps, so had to sit in a caff while we went round the palace. In the ticket office, I met a couple I knew from Nupton Quaker meeting. I don’t like João V. His great palace had a monastery attached, as if that made it alright. We saw a bare cell with a desk, almost a reasonable size of bedroom, which I thought might be bearable for a moderately ascetic academic, but realised that was for the abbot when we saw the dormitory. Monks had a recess, but not a closed cell. How strange, to be immured and institutionalised here while the King enjoyed his hunting! You would be part of the Christian framework which made his every excess acceptable before God, in the convenient fiction everyone went along with.

I don’t like it, still, with this bird tethered. You can have your photo taken with it for a fee. It spreads its wings periodically, either nervously or because it cannot balance.

mafra-1-tethered-falcon

A sign of the great piety is this bizarre sculpture. The bloody neck and fallen head shocked we Quakers.

mafra-2-martyrdom-sculpture

“Soft porn again,” I thought dismissively. Still, it’s all a matter of taste. I like the men grovelling before an enthroned woman, in my featured image, it’s far more my thing.

mafra-3-ceiling-art

mafra-4-ceiling-art

Men on the murals are being tortured.

mafra-5-ceiling-art

-What do you think this is?
-An instrument of torture.

Well, it’s clearly a game. I wonder how it works.

mafra-6-game

It’s a hunting lodge, and you might see this at Atholl Castle. I would hate those chairs. It delights in cruelty.

mafra-7-antler-chandelier

mafra-8-antler-and-hide-table-and-chairs

It delights in cruelty, and the appearance of learning.

mafra-9-library

The attached church has six separate organs, with six separate consoles, around the transept. They have recitals monthly.

mafra-10-three-out-of-six-organs

In the afternoon we went to Cascais, where I tripped off to the Paula Rego exhibition, tempted by “sexually vulnerable women and animals, and men dressed in women’s clothes or with the heads of fish”. I did not read the small print, that it is closed on Monday, so wandered round the park, where I found this folly.

cascais-folly

In the free Town Museum some of the English is translated picturesquely: they had an “Outbreak of tourists”.