Saturday, March 29, 2014

Enjoying an Espresso with Michelangelo

                About a year ago, I was helping my mom cook dinner when a gum commercial came on, depicting a dad and his daughter experiencing amazing life events together, including a baseball game, riding the train, and her birthday as they got older. Then the commercial showed the daughter moving her stuff into the car and going off to college. As she was making one last trip hauling stuff to the car, she dropped the box and out poured  hundreds of origami gum wrappers made into cranes! This scene triggered an emotional response in me like I had never had before! While I have always been an emotional person, nothing could have prepared me for seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
Photo credit: David Marks

It was a rainy Tuesday in March, and we met up with our wonderful Context Travel docent Cecilia and 3 other tour mates to start our adventure of the day, which was the Vatican tour. Of course, I was bursting with excitement because I was about to see the Raphael rooms, Bernini’s Baldacchino, and Michelangelo’s dome. These pieces of art and architecture have a huge impact on art we see today, and they have been emulated throughout time.

After seeing the Raphael rooms, we made our way down to the Sistine Chapel. Our amazing docent Cecilia forewarned us not to look at The Last Judgement until we reached the middle divider so we could see the full wall perfectly. As soon as we stepped foot into the chapel, a guard kept yelling, “No cameras! No pictures! No talking!” This was quite a shocking experience, because the Chapel was not as big as I thought it would be, and it was filled to the brim with people. What surprised me was that I felt like I was one of the only people in the chapel that day who experienced magic. I was surprised to see people acting as if this visit was a daily, normal thing – because it was quickly becoming a life-changing event for me.

The Sistine Chapel is a space where Michelangelo spent from 1508-1512 just painting the ceiling, and again in 1535-1541 painting The Last Judgement on the front wall. When I saw Michelangelo’s depiction of Genesis (the first book in the bible), my eyes started to get blurry, there was a pressure in my chest, and my body started heaving. When I saw Adam and God nearly touching, it took my breath away. To see how Michelangelo depicted how the start of mankind and God were so close really got me thinking of his religious beliefs then…and how it would change during his painting of The Last Judgement.

Picture Sources: Google Images

As I made my way to the center wall, I turned around and automatically zeroed in on Michelangelo himself. His painting of himself really unnerved me because I felt his presence so strongly while staring at him. I saw his despair in the way his mouth is slightly open, I felt his agony in the way his skin is loose, and his position in which he is halfway to hell and halfway to heaven. He painted the hell so violently and creepy. I felt his doubt in the church, as something he so strongly believed in came crashing down once he possibly started to experience the corruption in the church. I was stunned, shaken to my core. To see a religious struggle right there, for everyone to see, as painted by a master, was an experience like no other. I stood there, astounded at the religious struggle and transformation happening right before my eyes.   

Picture Sources: Google Images

“SHHHHHHHHH! NO TALKING!” The guard interrupted my reverie and brought me back to the present. My eyes gushing like a Roman fountain, I looked up at the ceiling and noticed Jonah who got swallowed by the fish - and he is huge compared to the other characters. In between the tears pouring down my face and my nose starting to run, I started laughing - because I could see Michelangelo painting Noah first, and then thinking, “Oh dear, better scale it down a bit.” I noticed that people were giving me crazy looks, possibly because of the trifecta of laughter, tears, and a runny nose.

Near me, a man with his hands in his pockets bumped into the man in front of him on accident. The man in front yelled out “Hey you, watch out! And don’t touch my bum!” The guy behind him said, “I didn’t even touch you, my hands are in my pockets!” Then one of the guard rushed over and says in his best English, “Calm down, please!” As my dramatic moment with Michelangelo was put on pause for the men’s melodrama over bum touching, I reassembled myself and then returned to Michelangelo and my discussion through our hearts. I looked around at Malik and Mr. Marks, expecting the same reaction I had, but they had no tears! I guess people react to things differently.

Sooner than I thought possible, Cecilia rounded us all up to leave. I had thought we’d be in there 20 minutes, not just five! I didn’t want to leave, but at the same time I was happy to, because I was crying fiercely, my stomach was heaving violently, and my head was throbbing. I was overcome with emotion - and I was the only one in the Chapel wearing my emotions on my face. I could not form one coherent thought or barely move my feet to walk out the door. My brain was going a thousand miles a minute while the rest of my body was on autopilot.

          Upon reflection, I figured out why I reacted so passionately to the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo talked to me just as if we were sitting down having espressos and pastries like best friends do. I finally recognized why I cried for the gum commercial after this; because the commercial showed me such amazing life experiences and I felt them as I’ve gone through my life. However, being in the Sistine Chapel was just like having Michelangelo right behind me, whispering everything he thought about each character in my ear. We had a Hallmark moment. I really believe Michelangelo still lives in the chapel, or at least his soul does. I don’t know when I will ever go back to the Vatican, but when I do, I hope Michelangelo will chat with me again like old friends who catch up easily after a long period of time apart.

          I am so grateful to Context Travel for helping me understand and see something that has affected countless people through the ages, including myself. I experienced the Sistine Chapel, and feel like I should win an award, just as after you eat a dozen spicy hot wings and win a t-shirt. I want an “I experienced the Sistine Chapel and managed to make it out of the room” t-shirt. I think Michelangelo would like one also, I’ll ask him the next time we have an espresso. 

-Myriah Catalano


Jessie V said...

Love this, Myriah! Art can certainly change lives - and our perspective on the world.

Anonymous said...

Such a wonderful description of the intensity you felt, both touching and funny (hah the bum fight!) at the same time! You both are wonderful writers

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