Monthly Archives: August 2011

Florence: License to Create

Walking through Florence’s narrow streets from the Galleria dell’Accademia to the Duomo, I’ve noticed something: every twenty feet or so the ground is littered with rows of prints, twelve by eighteen-ish paper drawings.

I believe the vendors hawking these pictures are immigrants, the same that aggressively try to sell you sun umbrellas to stave off the Mediterranean heat…or not, because it’s a thousand degrees out and a little piece of fabric between you and the sun is not air-conditioning.  Each seller carries the same stock of pictures and I wonder if they work together and share profits or if they are each their own individual franchise. They hover practically on top of each other, and I don’t know how they could possibly be competitive.

They line their wares up in neat rows, easily scooped up by sliding one under another, like a a deck of cards.  And this card trick is often used: every time a police car rolls through the piazza. These street hustlers sweep up their stock and walk away nonchalantly, blending around the periphery of the tourists until the police disappear.  Coast clear, it’s all’s fair in love and art.

Apparently, this is the black art market of Florence, something of an aesthetic turf war.

This all seems very sexy to me.  These men are trying to bring art to the masses, art dealers staying one step ahead of the Man, who tries to suppress the joy and beauty and enlightenment that art engenders.

Well, it’s sexy in theory anyway.

But the art we’re talking about are cheap mass-produced drawings: various pastel views of Florence, renderings of the David.

And The Kiss by Klimt. Which happens to be in Vienna.

Oh, and  a portrait of Michael Jackson.

You know, art.

Like I said, vendor after vendor has the same handful of prints, none of which has any particular aesthetic value.  The landscapes of Florence are bland, and capture nothing of the soul of the city, let alone of the artist who created the drawing. As for the rest – why would you travel to Florence for a picture of Michael Jackson?

Furthermore, why would anyone buy one of these generic flimsy pieces of paper in a city that is home to a large quantity of the most astounding art ever created? Have you been to the Uffizi? Michelangelo, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Caravaggio…I get tingly just thinking about it.  Talk about sexy.

Storm the museums, find something that moves you, that rocks your socks off, that touches your soul, and buy a postcard.  At least when you look at it you’ll have the sense memory of how that painting or sculpture made you feel when you stood in front of it. But a colored-in line drawing of Florence? Really? That’s how you want to remember the city?

I don’t understand who buys this crap. Are tourists that lazy and thoughtless? I wonder how much they cost. Clearly there is a market for them, or more of those hustlers would be hawking the equally lame sun umbrellas.

I’m also curious about the authorities’ crackdown on these street transactions.  I like to think they’re protecting people from bad art. I hope they aren’t protecting the copyright of the pseudo-artists who created these cheap prints, which have less personality than a happy little dancing tree in a Bob Ross painting.

My other hope is that the police are funnelling people who want to buy street art toward the Uffizi, whose courtyard is crowded with artists painting right before your very eyes. These artists proudly display their credentials on their little stands, paperwork that gives them the right to create out in the streets. It hangs right next to their unique, lovingly-created, warm-with-the-touch-of-humanity ART.

Yes, that’s right. You need a license to create art in Florence. I’d like to see this take global effect.

I’ll be returning to Florence several more times in the next few weeks (she says none too smugly) and I’m going to do more research into this. I’d like to clarify why these street vendors scatter like drug dealers on a Baltimore corner when the cops approach. I want to know what the penalty is for selling crappy art on the street. I overheard someone say that tourists who buy “black market” art can be fined a thousand Euros, and so they should. People should be penalized for having bad taste.

They take art pretty seriously in Florence. I do too. Maybe that’s why I find this old-fashioned, sleepy little city super sexy.

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A (cough) drop of commiseration

Living on a cruise ship is like living on an airplane: you’re constantly breathing recycled air, shivering in the never-ending pump of air-conditioning. Work, food, and bed (and alcohol for that matter) are all connected by one set of elevators. I literally can go days without setting foot outside. Which means days without direct sunlight or fresh air.

Out here you’re cold, and you get colds. Or in my case, one perpetual cold that resurrects every few weeks, just when I think it’s finally gone for good.

I bought cough drops to try to suppress my Brontian-worthy romantical consumption. Each wrapper is inscribed with “A Pep Talk in Every Drop” and several upbeat, Rocky-inspired words of encouragement. Things like “Get back in there, champ” and “Let’s hear your battle cry.” “March forward” and “Inspire envy” and “Put a little strut in it.” “You can do it and you know it,” “Be resilient” and “Power through.”

One doesn’t generally take cough drops before entering the ring for a boxing championship, when making a presentation to land that major account, or while proposing marriage.  So what’s with the cheery can-do encouragement? You’re sick. There’s no victory in sick. Cough drops are not a reward. They are gross, and if I am succumbing to their sticky medicinal sweetness I must feel like shit. And the last thing I want to hear when I feel like shit is that I should “Elicit a few wows today” (my last-stage-emphesema cough just might do that, I suppose) or to “Impress myself today” (with how long I can go between tissues?)

Are Americans such workaholics that we need to “Be unstoppable” even when our bodies are literally telling us to stop? (These are definitely American cough drops. European cough drops would surely have enigmatic and nihilistic catch phrases like “Take it or don’t. It’s all the same.” Or “Ultimately you can’t escape death.”) I’ve known many people who hate to miss a single day of work even when they are feverish, doubled over in pain, or knowingly infected with something contagious. Why are we too impatient to let our bodies heal? What is so important about “work” (see deathbed cliche about more time at the office)? Why on earth did a cough drop company decide it was their duty to remind you to do your duty by not letting illness keep you from achieving everything you are capable of [when you are at your peak, in robust good health]? And if I just can’t “Power through” do I need to feel guilty? If “tough” is not, in fact, “my middle name” – does that make me weak, unworthy, disappointing? What kind of message are these lozenges sending? Like I need to feel shittier about myself for not living up to a cough drop’s expectations of me when I’m already feelingshitty.

I want to start my own brand of cough drops. I want to give people permission to let their bodies do what’s necessary to feel better. Instead of “Get back in the game,” mine would say “Get back in bed;” not “Seize the day” but “Seize your pillow.” Not “Take charge and mean it” but “Take a sudafed and sleep it off.”

Or just “Whine.” And how about”Watch TV”?

Not “Be resilient.” Just “Be sick. It’s okay to miss a day of work.”

Which cough drops would be more inspiring to you when your nose is running off your face, you can’t laugh without five solid minutes of coughing, and it hurts to move your eyelids? Wouldn’t permission to wallow in self-pity make you feel worlds better than being told to “Dust off and get up” or to “Hi-five yourself”? Which is a pretty lame pep talk anyway.

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