Sunday, September 2, 2007

Did You See the Trevi Fountain?

As I turned the corner I could see it - there was the Trevi fountain; well, behind that giant mass of other tourists. I had read about it in the guide book and knew a few facts about it. I waded closer to get a better look, but I was hungry, hot, tired of the paparazzi and in any case, on my way to meet someone. I left after a couple minutes with a nagging sense of guilt - both for thinking myself insensitive and for somehow offending the work of art. Did I really see the Trevi fountain? How long do you have to look at such a thing before you can claim to have really 'seen it?' Do you have to feel something and understand the significance of every detail? Whatever it means to have seen and appreciated a work of art, I was sure that I hadn't done it.

Later, as I was waiting to see the Sistine Chapel in a line that I'm certain could be seen from outer space, I began to wonder if I wasn't alone in this. Perhaps I'm being too cynical, but it seems to me that a large number of tourists are are on a frantic crusade to check of as many boxes as possible on some sort of checklist. This is, I suppose, good for conversation when one returns - no one would want to admit to having been in Italy for two or three weeks and not having seen the Sistine Chapel! But this isn't the only reason people make the effort to see these things. One also learns a great many astonishing facts about these sorts of works from tour guides and the Lonely Planet - not to mention the disembodied voice that comes from those strange audio guide devices. These bits of information really are useful, and often deserve the gasps of astonishment they receive, but the fact that Michelangelo had a hard time painting on a ceiling can't be the most important thing about the Sistine Chapel. But I'm left wondering - is it still possible to appreciate something like the Trevi fountain in these circumstances?

Chris McClure


Antonine Plato said...

Hey Chris,

Cheers for the comment, much appreciated!

Just reading your blog there, believe it or not I couldn't find the Trevi fountain when I was in Rome as a student. Maybe it was just cunningly concealed by tourists?

Have to agree with you on the old check list thing, i'm a sucker for it as well though i pretend i'm not. Was in Athens a couple of months ago and trailed all the way up to the Parthenon only to find out it was closed because it was too hot. Still, i'll always remember the slush puppy my girlfriend and I shared outside the gates of the Acropolis!

Keep up the good work...

Erica Alini said...

"good for conversation when one returns." Yep, that's exactly how I feel when I have to visit a place in too little time. On the one hand the ache in your feet and your legs and the hustle from rushing from one place to the other start taking up more of your energies than the appreciation of the works of art themselves. On the other hand, if you don't do it, you feel gulty. I especially find this to be the case when you're dragged around by someone else. Guess that's why I hated old rocks so much when I was a kid. But if I take my time and I make the decisions, then I find myself sincerely appreciating the works of arts, no social conventions and checklists involved.