Thursday, June 26, 2008

26th July, Firenze
A strange feature of Florence life are the huge queues every day to get in to see the two galleries - the Uffizi, and the Accademia.
You can avoid them by going to a little office down the road and booking a time slot in advance.
The Accademia seems to have the longest waiting list, I suppose because the David that it contains is the most famous art work. The galleries there and at the Uffizi are full of people with anxious looking faces trying to make sure they've seen whatever is there that is famous.
Or standing, looking anxious, frowning as they listen to what is told them through their head pieces, or reading what is said about them in the guidebooks, or listening to what their guide is telling them they ought to see.
But hardly anyone is actually looking at the pictures or the statues themselves.
And even fewer people are displaying any pleasure in looking at them.
There's a dreary kind of haste to it all, as people prepare to rush off and meet their schedules..
Or engage in the most furious family squabbles. "She isn't listening to me"
"He kicked me"
"LOOK at your mother while you're speaking..."
And then people are moaning about how tired they are, and how much their feet ache, and how hot it is going to be when they get outside it.
In front of the David were two formidable women in custodian's uniforms hissing angrily at anyone who showed the slightest inclination to take a photograph, while her companion every now and again fiercely try to hush everybody as if trying, so ineffectually, to succeed in getting people to actually look at the exhjibits they were supposed to be seeing.
And I won't even begin to try to describe what they are like.. except to say they are all astonishing, and deeply moving, they really are, if you just take the time to look at them.
Only it's hard work clearing my head from all the hubbub that surrounds them.
And upstairs in the Accademia there is the most astonishing tapestry, that is supposed to represent the crowning of the Virgin, but which actually represents the most astonishing joyful event of the mystical marriage of male and female...
And looked at by no-one.
the gallery remains empty.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

24th June
Just down the road from where I live is the monastery of San Marco.
One of the amazing things about it is that the cell walls are decorated by astonishing and beautiful frescoes by Fra Angelico.
he was, everyone agreed, a saintly painter himself, who prayed each day before he started work (we have that in common) and who wept, hugely, each time he had to paint a crucifixion. Which he did very often. I can't help but wonder how he chose the subjects for the pictures... did he take requests? He certainly painted many many crucifixions, often with members of his order painted into the pictures, often with bare chests, often flagellating themselves...
There's an extraordinary picture of the Crucified Christ with St. John in the cloister... Christ himself bears no sign of suffering in his face at all. He looks serene and blissful.. the one who is suffering is poor St John, embracing the foot of the cross with the profoundest anguish on his face.
And the sky is painted the most intense, the most cerulean, the most peaceful blue that it's possible to imagine.
One of the cells is where Fra Savanarola lived while he was head of the monastery.. which he used as a base for his reign of terror in Florence. He said he based his words on the Crucified Christ and wanted to turn Florence from its apparently wicked ways and create there a heaven on earth.
Predictably, perhaps, he created a hell.
For a while, Boticelli became one of his followers and burnt some of his own paintings, being under the impression that they were sensual and wicked.
the friar's cells - he had three of them, booting out the novices on the grounds he needed more space to himself - are one of the few which have no paintings on them at all.
If only he'd had the beautiful one of the rushing River Jordan, with Christ being baptised, or one of the very tender ones of the women with the dead body of Christ, or the Virgin Mary calmly and tenderly submitting her will to the Angel who has come to see her...
Perhaps he wouldn't have ended up responsible for the deaths of so many of his fellow citizens.
Or finally dying tortured to death.. slowly roasting over an open flame in great town square.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Suddenly the sun has started to appear in this amazing town...
Yesterday I came to the end of the first draft of my play JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN.. and when I woke up this morning, everything had changed.
A whole pressure had left me.. there was no need to hold myself ready and at the disposal of the stream of ideas, thoughts, feelings and images that have been flowing through me the last few days.
I could take the memory stick along to a chop, get the document printed, and then relax.
So I did. I took a leisurely trip to the market, and simply relished the sight of the aubergines, the figs, the gigantic peppers, the courgettes with their flowers still attached to them..
and delight in unpacking them when I got back home...
and relish my coffee...
Then I set out to to walk through the city, book my museum tickets for next week, feeling often utterly overwhelmed by the wealth of impressions and the amazing beauty in front of my eyes.
Then I sat down at the place where i always have lunch, civil servant that I am.. and pressures began to build.
"No peace for the wicked" my father would say, mysteriously, when I was a child... I found myself starting to think about the far more intractable Lyceum play, and then wonder whether these words I had had printed out were in fact any good at all... In the end I had to take them out and start reading them.
It was like a switch kicking in.. the whole process began again, and I was writing in revisions that simply had to be there with an otherwise unanswerable urgency...
And then a whole chunk of dialogue slipped into my head at exactly the same time as the arrival of the main course.. nothing very profound, something about mother Mary doing the ironing when the angel came, and there was nothing for it, I simply had to write it down.
And so i did, while the chicken got cold...


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

18th June
I am writing a play in Florence.
I am staying in a converted palace near the central market, which at this moment matters more than all the amazing monuments that i am also near, and the words are flowing more sweetly and easily than they have flowed for years and years.
I hesitate to write this in case I put a jinx on the whole process...
I spent last week at an extraordinary congress of dancing in a seaside holiday village about an hour north of Venice...
There were over a thousand people there and on a couple of occasions I found myself translating in front of just about all of them.
Which was strange, given that it was only the third time I had done such a thing before, and for reasons I still don't altogether understand I must have been doing something special because everyone seemed to want to stop me and say how good a translator I am. In a way the point was not the translation but to be up there in front of all those people, very publicly a trans woman. this is a situation I would before have feared with the most amazing intensity... but which somehow seems to be connected with the success I made of it.
And it was lovely to be praised so much, and hugged and kissed so much... but somehow just now I feel very happy to be anonymous here in Florence where I must end now, because it also feels as if there is hardly time to do much more beyong write and eat and sleep...


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