Saturday, February 20, 2010, 8:09 PM, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
In 1505, Michelangelo’s David was revealed to the city of Florence, Italy. The gigantic statue, filled with the terribilità that characterizes Michelangelo’s greatest masterpieces, awed the Florentines, reminding them of their greatness and inspiring them to action. This statue is known to many as Michelangelo’s greatest creation – surpassing even the majesty of the Sistine Chapel, still able to inspire the masses as it did five hundred years before. David, already a symbol of Florence and the Florentine people prior to this statue’s creation, is depicted. This David, however, unlike the Davids of other artisans, recreates the exact moment prior to the Biblical character’s battle and subsequent triumph over Goliath, the tyrannical giant. Michelangelo’s David is suspended for eternity in deep thought, looking into the distance, contemplating what very well could his demise, and yet, still clutching the sling and stone, ready for the struggle to come.
On my last day in Florence, I stood in front of Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia for at least an hour. While the magic was still there, it seemed as if I was looking at a different character, at a piece art that told a different story than it had a mere four months before, when I first laid eyes upon it. I was struck as silent on my last day as I was on my first, just as I was each visit I paid to Florence’s famed museum, each visit invoking and inspiring new emotions, sometimes soothing in times of homesickness, others leaving me to wonder.
This last time, I gazed into David’s eyes, turned and walked away, refusing to look back even one last time, unwilling to mar the memories I was planning to take home to the United States. “What was it,” I wondered, as I walked away, “that was different?” Surely, it could not have been the statue. Michelangelo is long dead, and no one would dare to mar his work of art. David’s eyes told the same story. His hands clutched the same stone. But the girl that walked away from David that day, and Florence the next, was not the girl that hopped off her first international flight four months before.
As we left the Galleria dell’Accademia, I linked arms with my housemate and friend, needing that small connection as we wandered one last time the streets of Florence, along the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio, past the Duomo and up towards the piazza that overlooks the city. Carlee and I were silent for a long time that day, linked only by our arms and our memories. Both of us had changed. Four months before, I was barely able to master the basic Italian needed to buy my groceries or order a panino – now I could converse with anyone, strangers and friends alike. Four months before, I knew the basics of the Renaissance – now I could wax poetic about the highs and lows of the Italian Renaissance, identifying the major works of art by all of the Italian greats. Four months before, I had never hiked the Alps or seen the water overflow from the canals onto the streets of Venice. I had not visited the Vatican; I had not personally allied myself with the Medici Family. Four months before, I did not have a family of Italians to take care of me, to laugh with me, to love with me. Four months before, I was a different person.
Even now as I write this, I can look down at my wrist to see “Firenze” boldly emblazoned on the purple leather bracelet I have worn every day since before I left my home in Florence. The small, outward change in appearance does not even begin to proclaim or explain the dramatic changes on the person inside. Studying abroad in Florence changed my life. In exchange for the piece of myself I left behind, I took my own little piece back with me to America, unwilling and unable to pretend to be the same person that left. I clutch my imaginary sling and stone, as Michelangelo’s David has done before me, and like Michelangelo intended, I am now inspired and ready for whatever may face me.