Friday, May 04, 2007

At the feet of a giant

My blogging friend Allysha wrote a beautiful post this week about seeing Michelangelo’s Moses statue in person. Reading it sparked a memory of my own that I wanted to record.

When I was 9, my family lived in Spain for a year while my father directed a college study abroad program. That summer, we spent a month traveling around Europe during which time I’m positive I whined frequently about the profuse amounts of walking and the dark, damp cathedrals and the galleries filled with endless paintings of kings on horseback because I was but a silly child and had no idea I would someday be willing to sell any of my several appendages to tour Europe again. Naturally, one of our stops was Florence, Italy, where we visited the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David.

I wish I could say I clearly remember seeing the David for the first time, but the truth is that I cannot separate my view of the Real Thing from the many many MANY times I have seen it since in reproductions. I doubt there is a more ubiquitous image in all of Western art. I do remember thinking that David was very tall – I had to crane my neck to see his face – something it’s hard to appreciate when you see the head-on photos in books. Although I didn’t realize this at the time, as an adult I find it richly ironic that the plucky young shepherd who fought against a terrifying Goliath has now become an 18-foot tall monument to muscular beauty and strength. Who’s the giant now?

There is one thing I do remember clearly from the experience: a museum guard noticed that one of the students in our group was blind. He asked Kathy if she’d like to “see” the sculpture and he led her past the ropes to touch it. Because David stands on a 4 foot base, Kathy could only reach one of his feet, but she felt it with her hands. She said later that she could feel the veins along the top of the foot – it was just like flesh only colder. In my mind, I’ve romanticized the moment to the point that I see Kathy crying as she caresses the polished marble and then I look around me and see that everyone else is crying too. I’m not sure how much of this is fact and how much I’ve imagined over time. (Memories, unlike statues, are not carved in stone. They’re more like quicksand.) But I do associate with the moment a flood of different emotions: jealousy (how I would love to touch the marble carved by Michelangelo!), sympathy (can you imagine standing BLIND in front of the David?), and gratitude (I will never take my sight for granted again). The last feeling stuck with me for the remainder of our European tour. Every stained glass window, every painting, every crumbling ruin became more vivid to me. I can trace my life-long love of art back to that summer.

I wish I could reach back through time and thank the museum guard for his kindness. I suspect he had no idea how much his bending of the rules would mean to Kathy and to the rest of us there that day. When people say they have been “touched” by art it’s usually only a trite metaphor. This time I think the phrase fits beautifully.

16 comments:

Klutzmom said...

You brought back a very tender memory. I have never forgotten the sight of Kathy caressing the marble and the feeling of awe and appreciation it gave us all and how it enriched our experience. You expressed it very well and caused the tears to surface again.
Thanks,
Mom

Millie said...

That is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing that memory. I can just picture it and I've never been there. How sweet.

Klutzmom said...

Julie,
Please read my post, Power in Prayer.

Kimberly said...

Beautifully expressed, as always. I feel teary myself. And not the kind that comes with watching a corny tv commercial, but really, the deeply touched kind. You constantly amaze me with your ability to convey emotional experiences in mere words.

Dedee said...

I love it, not only when those experiences happen, but when I get to look back and see where the turning points in my life were. There was a time recently, when a friends mother died, that I realized how one little incident that she probably didn't know about and that her son probably forget, changed me forever.

Thanks to Kathy and the gaurd for sharing that experience with you and thanks to you for sharing with us.

Dedee said...

I just blogged about the moment I mentioned in my last comment, if you want to come check it out.

Tangent Woman said...

It's so funny - the minute I started reading about the David in your blog - I thought about that experience with Kathy - and feeling so jealous that she got to touch it and so grateful that the guards were compassionate human beings that day rather than just guards. Then you write about that moment - I guess it really affected everyone.

allysha said...

That sounds like a remarkable experience.

Were you with college students or kids your age?

scribbit said...

Every time I see it I see his hands. Those hands are amazing--

Shalee said...

Beautifully told, Julie. Not only does it make me appreciate the life I have (and abilities), it reminds me to do a little something extra for those who don't have the same blessings as me, like the museum guard did for Kathy. Those instances of kindness affect not only those who receive them, but also it makes a mark on those who witness them.

Luisa Perkins said...

What a stunning image, Julie. Lovely, as always.

Ann Kroeker said...

Oh, wow. To *touch* David...but never to *see* him. That's a touching story about touching art.

Reminds me of my own story about touching art. Not so touching.

I was at the Chicago Art Institute standing in front of a painting of Van Gogh's bedroom, admiring the lumpy texture. My kids were flopped on the floor drawing with colored pencils their own variations on it. I had been lecturing them about not getting too close to anything in the museum, not to touch the artwork, oil on our fingers gets on the paint and ruins it over time and so on, blahblahblah.

Along came a mom talking with her daughter about the painting. When the mom glanced down at a book she had with her, the girl reached up and touched it! She touched The Bedroom! She ran her fingers right over it, and nobody said a thing. I was looking all around for a whistle-blowing guard to throw her out. I was aghast. Why doesn't the mom admonish that kid! The mom glanced up and I swear she saw her daughter swipe her hand across it, but she didn't say a word. They just strolled along as if they touch every painting that catches their eyes. The girl wasn't blind, either. Just bold.

Boy was I jealous. As my kids continued sketching and coloring, I looked up at The Bedroom and sighed. I wanted sooooo badly to reach up there and feel it myself.

Will that girl remember? Will she realize how amazing it was that she actually felt the surface of a Van Gogh?

Judd Corizan said...

Congratulations! Your post “At the Feet of a Giant” has been selected as our Post of the Day on “The Rising Blogger”. It is a brand new site that awards posts, not blogs. We have emailed your winning badge and all our info. To reach “The Rising Blogger” site:

http://therisingblogger.blogspot.com

Have a great week!
Judd

This Eclectic Life said...

"Memories...[are]... more like quicksand."

What a lovely memory, and what exquisite wording. Thank you for sharing!

Catherine said...

When I lived in Suisse I visited Italy as often as possible, and I do remember visiting the David. It truly is impressive, and I remember thinking so. What a moving memory you have....

Cordia Amant said...

I've only seen a replica in the Victoria and Albert museum, but I was still impressed by its size. The post reminds me of my own experience touching art, or history in my case. While visiting Stonehenge, they let us inside the ropes to walk inside among the gigantic pillars and touch them, something they don't let people do anymore. That's a memory that will be with me the rest of my life. Thanks for sharing.