Piazza Navona, Roma (Sat, Aug. 8, 2015)
It’s cloudy and it was drizzling a bit here, but so nice and cool right now in the evening. Dusk is starting to fall and I’m people-watching in Piazza Navona where the famous fountains are. It feels slightly weird being here alone, but really though I love people watching. The tourists roaming about, the locals chatting loudly and smoking, the street performers and artists and vendors et al—what a lively crowd. I’m glad I decided to come here tonight instead of eating in, even after three hours on the train from Florence and another hour trying to find my flat from the station. I just read a post I wrote this time last year while I was smoking argileh solo at a coffee shop in Amman. I wrote how much I love people-watching, and I was wondering what I can do with that passion. Still haven’t found found the answer to that. But anyway, I honestly think I’d be just fine if I didn’t find something to do with it. It could just be a thing I use as a source of poetry or art and things.
I’m really glad I decided to do this solo portion of the trip. There’s something kind of refreshing about being alone with your thoughts, but also relying on the kindness and friendliness of strangers for help sometimes or even just some company. Also, being surrounded by so many historical things is pretty moving. You know countless of people have seen it before you, and yet you’re still able to feel intimate with the object or site or artwork or whatever—gasping as though you were the first to ever see its beauty or wonder at its marvelousness.
Outskirts of Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City (Mon, Aug. 10, 2015)
Holy fuck. The Sistine Chapel. Now I know why everyone’s really into the Museo Vaticani. And also holy shit, Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam is probably the single greatest use of negative space in all of art history. I had to buy two postcards just because I didn’t want to lose sight of it. I also took pictures discreetly (with low quality, no doubt) even though you’re not supposed to. The sheer scale of the artworks there and in Raphael’s Rooms is enough to make a grown person cry (thank God for that art history course at GRCC also).
This is my last day in Europe. Kind of bittersweet, but I’m also very happy to be coming home. It’s raining in Rome right now, and it’s actually kind of nice. I appreciate the light drizzle that makes the air cooler and reminds me of Seattle. Chuckling at all these tourists clutching their umbrellas for dear life though. Going to St. Peter’s Basilica after this. I’m sitting at the edge of my seat.
Portofino Cafe, Via Colo di Rienzo
Another holy fuck from me. St. Peter’s Basilica is fucking stunning. Again, I almost cried. And St. Peter’s Square with its welcoming vestibule and piazza design, I can see why millions flock to it. If I were Christian, I would want to take mass there all the time I think. For me, being inside these basilicas and churches and all, it’s fascinating because these are man-made things. Yet, the spirituality within the dedication with which they are created is kind of mind-boggling. I mean how do you get the determination to finish hundreds of square feet of paintings and frescoes and tapestries or large sculptures?
I’ve always had the belief that art-making is never solely the result of divine intervention or inspiration or whatever. It’s absolutely the result of hard work and skill. It’s blood, sweat, and tears. But still, seeing works of art at a scale that grand, you can’t help but think that maybe it does have something to do with the divine? Kurt Vonnegut once said that the only proof he needed for the existence of God was music. I would agree, but I might also add that the only proof I needed was the human brain. Because it’s through these that people built and carved and composed and created these absolutely stunning, touching, and telling works of art—like the walls of the Sistine Chapel, like the sculptures within St. Peter’s Basilica, like pretty much everything in the Louvre for God’s sake. Who needs organized religion when you’ve got art as a way to channel your spirituality? It’s tolerant, it’s healing, it brings people together, it’s divine. The greatest thing is, it explains the human condition so eloquently without having to use words. It’s a way of understanding why we are put on this Earth, which, to many, is kind of why they gravitated to organized religions to begin with.
But you know what the best part is? It doesn’t require you to convert anybody or compete for some otherworldly being’s validation. Yet, it still gives one that sense of purpose and the therapeutic effects that come with the good parts of religion.
There’s a part of a speech that we’re read (scroll down and just read the last three paragraphs, or all of them if you wish) before every major concert at the UW. It basically says that artists are sort of like a therapist for the human soul. We look at the insides and see if we can get things to line up again. A great work of art can lead people to be incredibly peaceful and well.
Here’s the thing though, I know a great many pious and devout people who are religious as much as they are spiritual (please note the difference here), and the existence of religion has brought an immense amount of joy and wellness and purpose to their lives. And they do this in private, between them and their God, without feeling the need to judge others or compare themselves and think, “I am holier than you.” If every religious person in the world are like that, how incredibly peaceful our world would be? I think the arts are an encapsulation and an idealistic portrayal of what religion could be (or maybe used to be? God knows at which point people just started going berserk and started killing each other in God’s name). Of course that’s not to say that the arts communities can’t be corrupt and money-driven and capitalistic—that just comes with being human in the 21st century. But they way the art community support system is created, in its purest form, weeds out that sort of thing. It has less of an established hierarchy and much, much less of a baggage compared to religion.