Brian OíCanada (pen name)
Stoke the impossible
Mom and I were taking this long Mediterranean cruise and she'd
asked me not to bring along any herbal skankage so we wouldn't have to replay Midnight
Express anywhere. Thank God she never mentioned anything about acid.
Mom and I were taking this long Mediterranean cruise and she'd asked me not to bring along any herbal skankage so we wouldn't have to replay Midnight Express anywhere. Thank God she never mentioned anything about acid.
As a practical precaution, I slipped a few tabs of safely odorless blotter in a cassette case just in case the situation ever arose... and Florence is certainly a rose. The passionately preserved romantic Renaissance hamlet is undisturbed by anything more modern than a cappuccino machine. There are no Hyatt's, high-rises or hamburger chains, only miles of dreamy cathedrals of art made of creamy pietra serena, the serene stones of Florence, lining the crooked cobblestone streets of one extremely High Renaissance.
This being Michelangelo's hometown, the first thing we did was join the receiving line for his number one most eminent son, David. Statues were never really my thing ‑‑ I'm much more your Van Gogh‑Monet‑Pollock take‑a‑trip‑without‑leaving‑the‑gallery type ‑‑ and marble never moved me until I saw David's marble move.
Carved between 1501 and 1504 from a single slab of gouged marble so narrow it was abandoned as unusable by other Florentine sculptors, it would become the historic masterpiece about which Michelangelo would say he merely "released the figure from the stone," chipping away all that wasn't David. He's fourteen feet from his Tuscan toe to hair, and rising atop a round man‑sized pedestal, he was nicknamed "The Giant" by the Florentines of the time ‑‑ which is ironic because this is the David of stoning Goliath fame, the underdog who took on The Big Guy and won.
Michelangelo originally envisioned his young savior reigning in the grand Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence, and that's exactly where he held the court for four centuries before city planners moved him inside the Galleria dell'Accademia in 1887 to protect the statue from the elements, replacing him with a replica where he first stood.
So there we were between the rock and a hard place with an immovable four‑block line between us and the art, when mom decided this was an ideal time to go do some exploratory shopping while I held our place. In the Good Excuses Dept., after about an hour passed and she hadn't come back, I convinced my quite pliable mind that she'd gone shopping for the day. Yeah, that's it. So as soon as I guesstimated the line to be less than an hour from the door I gobbled a couple hits of the good old white blotter.
I like to chew the paper to send the chemical juices directly into the saliva flow near the brain, and I could feel the oh‑boy‑here‑it‑comes again shimmer as soon as it went down. I can often tell good acid right away simply by the way it makes you shiver ‑‑ and this batch gave my whole body a bone‑shuddering shake. Then, sure as shit, the minute you swallow it, your mother comes walking along. Happens every time.
So mom and I made small talk discussing the trip ‑‑ no I mean the cruise ‑‑ until about forty minutes later I started feeling the first gentle waves begin to rock my boat, and I knew, "This is going to be wild." The cork was popped, and so was I, and a bobble or two later we whooshed through the doors.
I wisely slipped away for a quick bathroom inspection before exposing myself to the throngs of unsuspecting touri, and sure enough ‑‑ the porcelain, silver and mirrors were reflecting acid's bright light laser show all over the room and I knew the mindfields were ablaze. "Arts ahoy!"
As soon as you enter the Accademia's main hall ‑‑ Boom! ‑‑ there he is ‑‑ the glorious David! ‑‑ towering above everyone, luminous, naked, sizing up his enemy, eyes locked on target, slingshot over shoulder, rock in hand, focused on slaying his demon.
Wide halls stretched off either side, with the main room reaching way out in front so you could stand at any distance and feel his power. There were exactly two chairs in the entire freakin' museum, in fact only one with a cushion, and I somehow managed to get mom on it right in front of David, which is where she perched while I jammed. I had a feeling this might take a while.
I was never much into statues, as I say, but this was so startlingly lifelike that I was, like, startled. Some people were slowly circling David in awe, and others were simply standing in reverence and soaking him in. Tourists were flooding in, busloads really. Most would just skim past, titter at his tinkle, furtively appreciate his firm butt, get their picture taken to show the girls at the office, and leave. It was a constant flowing human river gushing down the main hall and splashing into the big stone, foaming up in David's whirlpool, then circling out the door again because they had so many other sights to see. Pretty soon it was easy to see above the rushing river, the babble became a song, and the longer you stared into him the further into the wilderness you went.
And that's when I first noticed he was breathing. Plastered against a wall half‑way between David and Goliath, staring into his torso, I saw his chest was heaving, his heart was beating, his stomach breathing, his eyes burning. This wasn't lifelike ‑‑ this was alive!
The longer I stared the more animated his abs became. "Just like Mary Shelley, just like Frankenstein," I hummed, wondering if she'd ever seen him. I thought of that great Florentine writer Collodi who penned Pinocchio ‑‑ the coming‑to‑life story hatched right here in Florence. Yeah! Now I understood why people traveled from all over the world for five hundred years to see this, why Leonardo sketched it, why it is what it is: alive.
And David ‑‑ the holy naked youth overthrowing the wholly armored Philistine straight out of The Bible ‑‑ it's what the Renaissance was all about ‑‑ standing up against impossible odds ‑‑ visionary artists taking on a commandment‑crazed church ‑‑ secret scientists experimenting beyond a textbook‑toting government ‑‑ the individual piercing conformity's weakness ‑‑ Michelangelo and his fellow revolutionaries stoking the fire of the human spirit to overcome enemies far greater than Goliath ‑‑ that's who David was ‑‑ the strength and the courage to overcome what others imagined insurmountable.
I pulled a quick reconnaissance of the other Renaissance art just to see if it was moving too, but uh‑uh. I've been stoned breathing before but I've never seen stone breathing before. Watching his heart beat I was in some kind of blissful heaven, feeling his presence, feeling his heart like no art before. The room was alive not only with David, but Michelangelo as well. I was whisked away to 1500, hanging alone with this guy as everything else just faded away. It was hazy with the streets blowing dust. There was wood and wool, candles and carts, and long‑haired Michelangelo in a flowing robe shadow‑dancing with David ‑‑ hovering protectively around his beautiful son ‑‑ petting, circling, admiring, brushing, smiling, proud.
I looked over at my Michelangelian mother still hovering with her creation, still on the road and dreaming in the immensity of it, and I went over to give her a kiss of gratitude. She looked into my face, then over at David, then turned slowly back to me and whispered with a hopeful smile, "Any chance we'll see anything else today?"
Weak‑kneed and tongue‑fried I could hardly mount a protest so we started for the door, but right at the gate I mustered my own Davidian courage and blurted, "No, I can't leave yet. I'm time‑traveling 500 years here," and I turned, magnetizing myself back to The Man.
The marble -- the torso -- the muscles -- the man -- the hope -- the truth -- the discipline, dream and desire -- the work, the life, the breathing, the Yes God it's breathing!
Whether scripting novels or shooting features, artists strive to recreate life. Here was Michelangelo pulling it off with a used slab of discarded stone. Seeing Shakespeare or savoring Salinger ‑‑ this was more alive ‑‑ more than Rembrandt, Renoir, Scorsese or O'Neill. Not lifelike ‑‑ alive. Divine. It was all art swirling together in a single master stroke.
I've seen the Louvre, the Met, the Grateful Dead, but this ‑‑ this was beyond ‑‑ this was the reason we all create, to maybe one day be able to do this. Every artist has tried, but here was the moment when every brushed stroke, every hammered chisel, every written word paid off, when all the pieces and gods came together in one confluence producing the work that made all the other suffering and mistakes and nearly‑had‑it's worthwhile because at least one of us did it once. All artists have struggled that David might live ‑‑ the etherial excursion by artist to heaven ‑‑ Adam's finger touching God ‑‑ beaming from earth and making clear‑eyed contact with the other sphere.
I'd been floating in this room for hours and still didn't want to leave, using every trick in the book to prolong mom's stay, but I finally had to accept the inevitable. There's only so far you can push your mother on a European vacation when every hour ranges from priceless to really expensive.
As we left we were funneled back into the lobby, and I cross‑country skied across the slippery floor to the souvenir counter, recalling the ship historian's advice to take advantage of the museum shops while in them. With extreme acidian difficulty I managed to purchase the biggest poster of David they had, making the pain of leaving just a little bit easier. "I've got David and I can go anywhere now," I thought, as we walked outside. Then I realized, "I just went to heaven and all I got was this lousy poster."
After lingering in that most‑beautiful place and staring into David's most-beautiful face, everything else had burned away and even with my eyes wide open all I could see was the light. As I began to acclimatize to life After David, the first thing I saw through my telescope was a crumbling brick wall across the narrow one‑lane street with posters or signs or graffiti or something. They definitely don't have brick walls in heaven, I know that now. And I saw the faces of humans for the first time in hours ‑‑ not the faces of angels and gods and heaven, but plain, pedestrian faces. I heard the droning voices of petty people ‑‑ "Should I buy this belt or that one?" "How about 20,000 lire?" "Let's go here." "No, I want to go there."
Toto, I don't think we're in heaven anymore.
I knew how far away I'd been when I saw how foreign this same street seemed. Even the melodious Italian language that I normally relished sounded like a grating metal garbage truck grinding noise. I'm pretty sure people don't speak in heaven ‑‑ it must all be telepathic because I hadn't been hearing human voices in ages. Everything had been flickering, positive particles, and now there were walls and stones and umbrellas and physical beings bumping into your shoulder.
It was insanely wrong to have left David and I knew it right away. I looked back at the line and thought of getting on it again, but we had to leave Florence in a few hours and I knew I might not even make it through the front doors by then. I looked longingly back at the exit. I was trapped outside with David and heaven on the other side. Beyond those doors lay infinite beauty and possibility ‑‑ and now I'd just received a life sentence in the Pedestrian Penitentiary of Earth.
All I was thinking was, "Gotta see David, gotta see David" ‑‑ and then it hit ‑‑ "Yeah! Go to where he first stood in the piazza!" And with a sudden sunbeam on, I started stumbling trance‑like down the ancient street toward the replica ‑‑ his image shimmering before me like a giant white cataract in my central field of vision. There were fuzzy moving objects all around me, but in front of me I saw only David. Fortunately, I'd pretty much memorized the map of Florence before arriving so I knew where to go. At the end of this little street I could see the dome of the Duomo, the huge cathedral dominating the city, and somewhere just beyond that stood David.
At some point there was an ice cream parlor or restaurant and my mom (remember her?) wanted to go in and eat or something, and I was thinking, "There's no way I'm going anywhere near people. I don't want to even hear people." So I said, "Look, Ma, I'm going to David. He's in the Piazza della Signoria right up ahead. That's where I'll be till we leave."
And my mom was like, "What!?" There was a bit of a tactical breakdown here, a split‑second communication catastrophe actually, but I was under such a powerful spell that it wasn't about to break for anything. We split up, causing all kinds of problems later that I won't even go into, but suffice it to say I thought I was being nice saying she could go do whatever she wanted for the rest of the afternoon and I'd be sitting in the piazza ‑‑ although it might have looked more to her like I was completely deranged and blitzed out of my gourd.
So I went staggering off into the sunset with my bedroll David poster sticking out of my sidebag, repeating over and over, "Holy fuck. Holy fuck. Ho ... ly fuck!" I never knew anything this alive existed before and I was still in shock. "Holy fuck. Holy fuck ... David ..."
It was so obvious: I'd just seen The Man ‑‑ now let's go see where he stood! I knew I wouldn't be seeing Him again, but I wanted to stand as close to the fire as I could once more, maybe like Deadheads going on the Furthur tour. I never turned back to look at my Michelangelian mother but I pictured her watching me sleep‑walking away on a mission from heaven. I kept thinking she'd see the light, David's or any other, and follow me. But she didn't. If you ever see anybody walking that way ‑‑ follow them 'cause they're headed for the gold at the end of the rainbow.
I was just plastered, and I don't mean the acid. David had rocked me to the core with an underground explosion thatís still rattling my ribs, and there was no way I was going to let anything else come near me but just let this sink in forever ‑‑ the image, the idea, the feeling of David being alive.
Bringing more to life every character I ever create began to take hold. There was so much farther to go than I'd ever gone before. It was as if I'd been living in a hollow my life and I was suddenly on a mountaintop and could see the sun rise. Actual breathing life was the goal.
I finally reached the open plaza where David first stood and immediately saw his replica across the square. I moved slowly and directly to him like a shuttle craft returning to dock at the mother ship. I wanted to see if it was him. Crowds parted, stars receded, then from about forty feet away it was obvious. "Uh‑uh. Not even close." This was an inanimate statue of the real man I just saw ‑‑ a green plastercine imitation ‑‑ proof that Michelangelo, not acid, brought David to life.
Sticking out into the square were a couple of outdoor cafes, so I floated around until the perfect corner table closest to David opened up and I grabbed it. The waiters seemed a little scared of me at first, being totally gazoobied and all. Under my rumpled Tilley safari hat I looked like some mad explorer who'd just stumbled out of years in the bush, sweating, carrying page‑flapping notebooks, waterbottles, bedroll Davids, and pens sticking out of every pocket and ear. Attempting to blend in, I ordered a sandwich, a bowl of olives, and fifteen cappuccinos.
I'd been orgasmic for hours and was still shaking. Behind a buttress of cinnamon‑singed coffee cups I kept writing, "Yes Yes Yes YES!" over and over in my notebook. Italians were singing Michelangelo's tongue all around me. Horses clip‑clopped over cobblestones. The sun was casting the same shadow across the open piazza as it did for Michelangelo when he first sat here imagining where his David would stand ‑‑ and now here we were sharing a coffee and a dream together.
"I'm trembling for all art," I wrote in trembling letters. "For all expression of ourselves ‑‑ for all the studies and sketches and false starts ever made that came together in that one piece ‑‑ birthing life from a stone, stoking the impossible, lighting the invisible, being the invincible spirit we are."