Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Trouble With The Annunciation

Our culture promotes the veneration of children and tells us that everyone deserves babies, as many as they want, it’s each person’s right to be a parent. The lovers of infants and toddlers and offspring treat us, who don’t want kids, with suspicion.
I’m probably able to spend a few weeks in Italy because I have no children or anyone who “needs” me. I’m glad about that. I’m not “good” with kids any more than I’m a “good” gardener or keeper of dogs and other pets. I don’t default to compassion and kindness. The chromosome of caretaking or parenting has been either left out or corrupted somewhere along my lifeline. I don’t know anything about children; how to raise them, teach them, encourage them. Those are skills that are beyond me and are best left to others.
I have never bailed a kid out of jail, put him in re-hab, or taken care of grandchildren while a daughter “gets herself together”.
I admit that I’ve often counseled my young friends, “If you have children, your only job is to make them feel great about themselves. If you don’t have children then don’t have children. You’ll thank me.” How do I know this? Instinct? Selfishness?
When I was in Florence 15 years ago the population of the world was 6 billion people and it was busy. Now, the earth is creaking under the burden of 7.1 billion and climbing and all the newcomers are trying to get into the Uffizi gallery this year. As a student of population and its irritants, I suspected that this increase in the multitudes would affect me, so I bought memberships to the Amici Degli Uffizi (Friends of the Uffizi), which, for 100 Euros, offers a way for us to avoid the long lines and hours making small talk with strangers from all over the world.
We tried out our Uffizi cards yesterday, Saturday, and they worked seamlessly. We were inside within 10 minutes. We still had to climb all those stairs in the stuffy old office building, trekking up narrow steep stairways. Being jostled by the crowds was a drag but I didn’t have to wait in line for three hours and it was worth the euros to join the Amici Degli Uffizi and know that we can return to the museum whenever we want.
The Uffizi has recognized the risks associated with old buildings and mobs of people who are easily confused and mostly lost, so only 900 people at a time are allowed into the museum. Our destination was the Botticelli room and there were 200 fans inside. I counted. Most visitors are milling around as fast as they can, stopping only when something familiar or colorful catches their eye. They quickly have to get through this collection and on to something else because they only have two weeks in this complicated and rich and difficult ancient European city.
Botticelli’s “Annunciazione”, The Annunciation, was the painting that seized my attention on our first visit to the Uffizi Gallery. It is an amazing, beautiful work and has all of the trademarks of the artist; sophisticated color, thoughtful arrangement, impeccable execution, clean lines and of course, fabulously attractive faces.
I looked over the heads of 200 people, stood my ground until they passed by and drifted towards something more popular, The Birth of Venus or St. Sebastian’s execution. I found a bench, sat for a while and looked at the painting. The angel Gabriel is crouched very low to the ground in front of Mary, almost groveling, and it makes him subservient to the shocked but still dignified Madonna. He isn’t dominating and demanding and browbeating the young “virgin”. He looks a bit embarrassed, reticent, and she appears dismissive and annoyed. She is turning from her studies to learn the alarming message.

“Mi scusi, Miss?”
“Si? What do you want?”
“Well, I have some big news for you. Good news.”
“How did you get in here? News? What do you mean? Are you pazzo? Crazy?”
“No, I’m not crazy. But you, young lady, are pregnant.”
“What? Get the hell outta here.”
“No really, you are going to have the best baby ever. Jesus Christ.”
“Jesus Christ. Holy crap!”

And so on. Big shock and disbelief. It is one of the most important moments in Christianity: virgin birth, sacrifice, purity, celebration of the Messiah, crucifixion, turn the other cheek, the Holy Family, lamb of God and the flock of sheep and most of the other rudiments of Christianity started at this moment of confusion and surprise.
I’m curious if this is this where all the babble about children and the sacred embryo, lovely childbirth and the beauty of pregnancy got started? Don’t get me wrong, I truly love my nieces and nephews and their kids. They are already here. I’ll probably love their children’s children. What can I do but enjoy them?
But I wonder if this is where the overzealous celebration of young motherhood began which has carried into current times? Is this the beginning of the concept that every young woman who gets with child is a saint, a Madonna and every wise assed, randy, loose limbed fertilizing dropout she sleeps with gets to be a proud pop for a few months before he hooks up with a new Madonna, disappears, gets arrested or has second thoughts and stops sending the check? Is this the origin of the myth of the sacred fetus? Could this be the event in Christian mythology that is responsible for all the fucking tourists and visitors who are impeding my observation of that incredible, beautiful, important, dangerous nightmare that is the seminal image of the misguided principles that support the billions of people who are ruining the environment, taking up all the parking places, who are in my way, crowding me, a sweating babbling claustrophobia-inducing iPhone, iPad, map and audio guide-clutching mob who are collapsing under their own weight?
Goddamn Botticelli. Goddamn him to hell.

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