What Italy Taught Us

The cobblestone road that let millions  walk on its uneven, hand-laid stones for centuries also allowed us to tread on them. The feeling was surreal.  Michelangelo, Casanova, Bernini, the Popes, prisoners, lovers, criminals and sages had left invisible footprints on them.

Inhaling deeply and feeling the charisma of old world charm around us, we walked in a narrow alley close to the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Out of nowhere came an SUV, speeding towards us. Our first thought was that someone had made a mistake and was driving where driving wasn’t allowed. We quickly aligned ourselves with the stone walls to avoid being hit, but to our dismay a Vespa came from the opposite direction and both the vehicles crossed each other simultaneously and managed to not even touch us. We were relieved and fascinated. Struck by the smallness of the alley, the carefree attitude of the drivers and our own acceptance of the whole scenario, we walked on. We were loving the MAYHEM.

Amid the fumes of the vehicles, the chatter of the tourists and the insistent calls of the vendors, we sat down for our first meal in Italy, on tables that spilled into the narrow alleys. We were surprised as to how little space do we actually need and how we are used to spreading out in the US. When our meal came, we noticed the difference in portion sizes. Are we served like we are giants back home? The portions were small but when we were done, we felt they were just enough for us. Not a morsel wasted or stuffed. Food was flavorful and did not come with any sides. Adequate seemed to be the norm. Another norm was bottled water. “Still or sparkling,” we were asked everywhere. Tap water wasn’t a choice.

Also noticeable was the presence of fear of the boss. The man at the reception in the Venice hotel was scared to death to call the hotel manager when we asked to change our rooms. Our dissatisfaction and his reluctance reached a point where we asked to call the police. Back here, the hotels (as expensive as the Venice one), would want to take care of their guests and the

reputation of the hotel. Over there, we were told to —-off! Yes! That exact phrase. We had paid in full months ago so we could not go elsewhere. Besides it was ten in the night and we were hungry and the manager, who finally came cursing, blamed us for making her miss a dinner with her friends. Customer service wasn’t exactly what we are used to.

There is not much fear of getting sued I think, as a result, not a cone in the bathroom of the Vatican Museum where the cleaner poured mugs and mugs of water from a bucket on the floor to clean while we were waiting in line. We used one stall while she cleaned the other one.

The best was being used to people bumping into us and us into them. But Hey! There are throngs of people visiting the city at any given time and this is bound to happen. It is okay and in fact we were relieved to know that people didn’t mind it as much as they do here.  After all, it is not easy to peel one’s eyes away from such astounding architecture.

The most memorable things about the city – the architecture, the paintings, the murals and the frescos, were not necessarily kept under closed windows. We noticed open windows in museums and palaces to let in fresh air. Very few historical buildings were air conditioned.  Sound pollution, dust and normal wear and tear due to weather related conditions probably are not given so much attention as we do here. Of course, the authorities know best but we couldn’t help wondering.

It was quite refreshing to visit a place where not everything is governed by extraneous laws, unnecessary polish and a helluva lot of unneeded space. What did come as a blow was the rudeness of a few. But a few things can’t ruin the everlasting beauty and grandeur of the place.

Women in the poetry of painters like Rossetti and Michealangelo

Critics usually divide the painting and poetry of painter-poets  into  two different forms of art but sometimes  artists make their art  so fluid that it transcends seamlessly into both  poetry and art.  Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)   and Michelangelo (1475 – 1564)  both were painter-poets and both depicted women in different light but their portrayal of women remained consistent in both forms of art.

Rossetti, a nineteenth century painter depicted women in various moods  with throne –like throats, his depictions filling the entire canvas with bright colors . He acutely detailed the fabrics, backgrounds and colors. His portrayal of women was seductive, voluptuous and erotic but soft, not muscular.  Rossetti’s painting and poetry both came from his excessive inclination toward flesh and sensuality which almost always bordered on erotic. Poems like, ‘Love Lily’ and ‘Jenny’ are examples of this.  blessed damozel He was a sensual painter and his paintings depicted his obsession with female flesh, showing more of

it in his paintings.  Although his paintings were even called pornographic by some, his famous poem, ‘The Blessed Damozel’  (painting with the same name)  spoke of love that transcends the boundary between Earth and Heaven.

She gazed and listened and then said, Less sad of speech than mild, — ‘All this is when he comes.’ She ceased.

The light thrilled towards her, fill’d With angels in strong level flight. Her eyes prayed, and she smil’d. (I saw her smile.)

But soon their path Was vague in distant spheres: And then she cast her arms along The golden barriers, And laid her face between her hands, And wept. (I heard her tears.)

Michelangelo depicted his women having muscles just like men. He was more interested in the depiction of the male body mostly, so even when he sculpted or painted women, he made them fleshier and stronger. His poems, though some of them are delicate and beautiful, many reflect his strong sculpting hands transcending into brash and visceral poetry. Some say he sculpted his females as males with breasts. Many of his poems talk about stones and hammers and sinewy bodies just like his sculptures.

Every Conception That A Man Can Find

 Every conception that a man can find

is in the stone itself, already there

concealed in excess, but will still require

a hand to free it that obeys the mind.

And you, like marble, lady without peer,

hold possibilities of every kind;


Michelangelo and Rossetti are from different periods but the women in their art are reflective of their image of the fair species, one showing androgynous female forms and showing physical strength and one showing expansive  flesh and elaborate eroticism.