FLORENCE, Italy—The bus was late, of course, and the temperature was 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the meteorologist had forecasted. The Tuscan sun beat down incessantly upon the parking lot of Galileo Galilei International Airport as I shifted my stance from one foot to the other. Time passed, cigarettes and lighters cautiously snuck out of jacket pockets and complaints slipped out from the pursed lips of tourists accustomed to a higher level of efficiency.
But the tardiness, smoking and kvetching went unnoticed. I tried by best to protect my ears from the whining of my fellow travelers and my nose from the smoke of a dozen cigarettes and reminded myself where I was. Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance and pizza, among other things, was going to be an incredible weekend trip, no matter how much longer the bus took to arrive.
After a half-hour delay during which station employees offered no reassurance other than confirmation that the bus had not yet broken down, I was off to Florence. An ambitious agenda awaited me upon my arrival. My high school English teacher, now a temporary Florentine, had given me only one unqualified recommendation: see David. Sculpted by Michelangelo at the beginning of the 16th century, the work had bounced around the city for the next three centuries, gaining a number of duplicates in the process, before ending up in the Galleria dell’Accademia.
On busy days, the line of people waiting to see it could stretch around the block, so I had already booked a queue-hopping ticket from a website that had just enough typos to give me cause for concern. Too relieved to finally be in an air-conditioned space to worry, however, I quickly fell asleep onboard the bus—my face pressed against the glass that separated me from the high-voltage power lines of the Italian countryside and the depressed-looking towns that bordered the highway. The country might be rich in culture, but the impact of the great recession was still evident.
After arriving at Santa Maria Novella Train Station, I meandered through the streets like a lost American tourist towards the Accademia. Indistinguishable from the other buildings on Via Ricasoli, each apartment or office building older than the most revered American cathedrals, its only notable feature visible from the sidewalk was a sign notifying visitors that the official admission fee was 11 euros, approximately half the amount I had handed over to the sketchy website two days prior. I had been gypped before even landing in Italy.
Refusing to wallow in self-pity and allowing my inner economics major to lecture myself on sunk costs and maximizing utility, I instead patiently waited in the “express line.” In stark contrast to that of the bus station, it actually progressed quite rapidly, and I soon entered the first room of the museum.
Like any wise college student knows, pregaming any and all big events is essential, and seeing David was no exception. Thus, instead of going straight to the nude himself in all his majesty I started in the outer rooms. Renaissance paintings of Jesus Christ and his compatriots, funded by wealthy Florentines with more paired letters in their surnames than popes in their lineages, were the norm, but the occasional marble nude revealed itself as I walked the Accademia’s corridors. Intricately carved from single blocks of marble, these works towered over me. Though many were incomplete, not to mention less famous than the museum’s centerpiece, they provided a sense of perspective. If I, someone whose fine arts education ended halfway through the eighth grade, found these rough-cut drafts of sculptures worth a few minutes of my time, how much better would a final, perfect product be?
Finally, after an hour of wandering the museum halls, I saw it. Seventeen feet of white marble towered above me on a pedestal, sunlight streaming onto it like a scene from a low-budget romance movie. At its base, hordes of tourists meandered about, taking pictures and even video footage of the Renaissance’s pride and joy. For a moment I stood quietly, feet planted firmly on the brown tile floor, gazing up at something that surpassed even the Platonic ideal of a sculpture with wide eyes. Then, like any child of my generation equipped with a front-facing camera and deprived of a travel companion, I brought myself back into this world of constant skepticism and occasional flippancy.
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