…so little time. On our site director’s recommendation I went to visit the Centrale Montemartini, a former power station converted into a museum that contains artifacts from several Roman sites. The idea is brilliant, and I had a blast, aided by the presence of dozens of high school art and design students who were working in groups analyzing the designs in front of them.
- I took no pictures, mostly because there were always hordes of those students around and I’m not interested in violating Italian privacy laws, so I am pulling a couple from the google.
- The contrast between the industrial machinery (and what was required to produce it) and the estates of wealthy Romans made me think about the ways that contemporary archaeological cycles are receding rapidly in the amount of time it takes for them to become ruins. This plant was commissioned in 1912 – to what I’m sure was a lot of hoopla – and yet it was worthless by 1963. The ruins that are planted in the space that come from republican and imperial Rome span hundreds of years, a time that saw very little change in technology. A sign of modernity and progress becomes just another relic, and the cycle from innovative technique to ruin happens increasingly quickly.
- And of course the fifty year cycle is no more, as the compelling archives at the Learning Games Initiative in Tucson demonstrate. Fifty years ago in computer history has us still using vacuum tubes and punch cards…
- The museum added Pope Pius IX’s funeral train in 2006, a beautiful contrast or update to the Roman funeral markers present.
- The train, much as the power plant itself, is a marker of a very specific time, one that starts shortly before WWI and encompasses the technological horrors of WWII (as well as the beginning of the Cold War). The oddity seemed particularly clear in some of the added showy touches, ones that feel in direct contrast to the Roman practicality of depicting hunts and showing piety to the gods.
- It also struck me how unconcerned the Romans seemed to be (which may be pure bravado) about the nearness of chaos. There are satyrs fighting sea dragons next to men and dogs hunting huge boards, and the two seemed juxtaposed with little concern for the differences in space and time.
- On the other hand, the power plant is full of ways to prevent chaos, at least in the form of an explosion. Dials and gauges are everywhere, and even the location is designed to mitigate damage as it was placed outside the walls, outside even Testacchio, which was (and still is, mostly) blue-collar.
- There is no searching for the origin point for the Romans – they live it. It’s only us relatively moderns who desperately try to find out where we came from.
I’ve got several posts in preparation (waiting for photos to download takes the bulk of the time, I think), but a brief shout-out to #MeToo. I trust that the movement is making an impact, and it’s an impact that needs to be made.
In the last 48 hours I have watched 1) a woman repeatedly knock a man’s hand off her leg as he was trying to fondle her, 2) another woman take serious abuse from an ugly-as-sin man who was telling her how beautiful she is and what he wanted to do to show his appreciation for her beauty (spoiler alert – my understanding of Italian isn’t good enough to know for sure what he was saying, but the accompanying non-verbals made it pretty clear) while she simply walked by, and 3) a wannabe mobster (dude, pro-tip, mobsters don’t take trains) deny a woman the seat that was clearly dedicated to his backpack. Mind you, I don’t know what was in the backpack, but it must have been important. The woman he denied didn’t take it lightly, but short of sitting on the backpack there wasn’t much she could do. When a Roman tried to intervene (and a couple of us stood around to back him up) the guy ran off screaming in a language I didn’t recognize.
I want to hope that the language he was screaming in – asshole male behavior – is one that is disappearing fast.
So the group all anted up and went to see the David, and I was impressed with how long they hung around. As usual I hung around and reflected upon the statue, and a couple of them asked me what I was writing. I asked them what their thoughts were first, and we had a couple of powerful discussions.
I didn’t exactly tell them what I was writing, but I will share it with ya’ll…
- My guess is that Michelangelo wouldn’t have been able to communicate as clearly his ideas on masculinity, war, strength, and wisdom if he had used young David now. Of course, the sling is definitely a bad ass weapon, and Michelangelo’s David not alone – sometimes I think Caravaggio’s is my favorite, but I’m such a fanboi of Caravaggio that it’s a bit disturbing and I’m not sure that I’m looking at his all that clearly.
- Michelangelo’s David, though, has clearly not done steroids (of course he probably also wasn’t 26), and he fought in a way now that wouldn’t necessarily elicit any cool slow motion footage in the film version. War from a distance is clearly something we struggle with culturally, as all of our superhero movies end with these beautifully choreographed fistfights with villains.
- In other words, David cheated.
- My guess is that the War on Terror invokes a far different kind of masculine ideal than what we see here, and maybe than in other US historical contexts. I think of Chris Kyle, and Bradley Cooper’s portrayal in Eastwood’s film – masculinity now invokes white, vaguely southern, rugged, killer when necessary, family in a nuclear sort of way, but someone who doesn’t want to take on the burden that David did, the burden of ruling,
- In fact, soldiers complain about their leaders now in Hollywood’s version of what warriors from the USA look like, and the audience is supposed to understand that real men just do what’s necessary and don’t get involved in politics. Politics is somehow connected to those terrorists…
- Of course, we can read multitudes into the David in a bunch of ways, just as Michelangelo did, and we can’t ask him. We have his work, and my desire to read the sculpture in certain ways, and the current cultural context.
- But I still want to read ideas of balance and harmony and combine them with the idea of having wise leaders, and valuing their wisdom, and valuing the collective Republic of which we are a part.
- The Romans didn’t do statues like this, and I think we feel more Roman right now than Florentine Renaissancean. This statue is not meant to intimidate the barbarians – the Roman statues seem to say we are far beyond what you barbarians can even imagine, so you might as well spit in the wind as confront us – but instead to evoke the type of calm, rational humility that looks into the future and sees progress.
We are here…a couple of quick pics and then a rumination…
There was a bit of gentle mockery about the shower, and it reminded me of some of the general lassitude of us as Americans. Europeans are much more conscious about their use of natural resources, which is not a mystery, and although this group didn’t do it I’ve heard other groups complain about short showers, with the if I can pay for it then I can do it mentality. Of course, we really can’t, but that’s hard for us to understand – we don’t carry water from a river or lake, we don’t worry about whether drinking it or consuming it will give us a nasty disease that kills us, and we don’t have to put in the work to make that water hot. Hell, we don’t even have to worry about the infrastructure to get the hot water to us.
These are easy observations to make, and I think I’ve been beaten to this particular epiphany (some guy named de Tocqueville had a word or two to say about this I think). But I wonder sometimes if I shouldn’t celebrate this lack of intentionality as a triumph of American marketing. Somehow we have become convinced that burning up as much of our planet’s resources as possible equates to freedom, and the marketers who started doing that for real in the Mad Men days has gone all in by convincing Americans that this sort of freedom works in politics as well.
Damn, that was well-played. Too bad those folks couldn’t have used their powers for good.
I haven’t written about trip yet to the Jewish quarter of Rome. It’s only been a couple of days, but it’s been hard to write about for a number of reasons, and with the suicide-by-cop of a white supremacist in Austin this morning I feel more than a bit guilty about not writing yet.
We are reading Calvino’s Invisible Cities while we are here, and I’m spending a lot of time thinking about how cities institutionalize memory, a topic near and dear to Calvino’s heart. A recent phenomenon in the city struck me pretty hard when we were there, and I saw another reminder of it today: these replacements for cobblestones…
They don’t say much, just date of birth, date of deportation, and date of assassination. The location of the place where these folks died, though, is what is most striking – Auschwitz. These markers are located in front of houses where Jews were taken away by the Nazis, over Mussolini’s protests I’m sure (not). They are an intentional act of memory by citizens of Rome, and while I’m not sure of the religious identity of all of them, I am guessing that most of the cobblestone-replacers are Jewish.
This feels like the place in this post to solemnly remind some audience, one that will gently shake its heads at its own righteousness, of the evil of Nazism. It is, of course. It’s also the place to remark upon the disconcerting tendency humans have to do very nasty things to each other. I hope, however, that what it also does is trigger hope, the sort of hope that we can figure out our differences and, in Rodney King’s words, just get along.
Fiume Tevere provides the evidence below…
Those stairs are usually made for walking, to badly paraphrase Nancy Sinatra…
Yep, that’s the obvious title, but the HUMAN+ exhibit left me a bit on edge, and White Zombie is the perfect music for that feeling. In combination with Altered Carbon, which I’m watching now, the future is definitely not bright.
- This a conversation I’m pretty firmly enmeshed in, but seeing this on display felt creepy. The way that the display is set up – walking us from the hey, how cool is this (prosthetics and their ability to help people lead ‘normal’ lives) to its finish in urban foragers trying to figure out ways to get calories from the various substances that will be left over after we have completely despoiled the planet was a little brutal.
- It moved very quickly from those feel-good stories to pictures of surgery on folks wanting to become even more cyborgian, and the bloody tissue was a pretty effective segue.
- The exhibit invoked the uncanny valley in a bunch of ways, from rows of robot eyes looking at us as we walked past to feet that did not conform to our expectations to a machine that was rigged to constantly run stress tests on itself. My guess is that few games have ever reached this place as successfully as this exhibit, which was not all that interactive.
- Again, the start was designed I think to lure people in (there were even freaking TED talks fer crissakes), but I’m not sure how well that strategy worked, as it felt as if there were a lot fewer folks at the museum’s end than had started it.
- Those urban foragers just might appear in a short story I’m trying to get published…