Show up early.
I lived and studied abroad in Glasgow Scotland during college. Would recommend studying abroad, would not recommend Glasgow.
Part of my experience was fucking off all of my classes and mastering the art of “the essential”. I learned while abroad how to study to get good grades, not to understand. Fortunately, I did pay enough attention at my philosophy of mind classes to peak my interest in thought experiments I’ve since pondered endlessly (The Ship of Theseus / Identity).
The experience was about adventure. As such, my goal was to try new things, say hi to new people, make friends with folks with only the common language of a wine bottle and a smile.
My adventures brought me to Italy, the Southern Riviera in France, and Spain. London, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Athens.
Too many stories. Couchsurfing and making friends with an American tour guide (from Alabama) who took us on a guided night tour behind houses and into alleyways for the best views of ancient Rome. Sleeping in a Russian opera singers studio in Milan (dude was a tube of muscle, had the long hair, the whole deal). Sharing an evening with a lady who, in whispers and broken English, told me “This is our night” — how sweet and young and romantic it felt. Trading hash for a nights sleep with at a club promoters friends brothers room at 4am. Wobbly walks home, pork sandwiches and beer, wine glasses in piazzas, the never-ending hunger of refusing to eat anything but an authentic grandma’s red sauce (found, worth). Getting shot with a BB gun in the back of a head by a little kid in Naples (Napoli) and the subsequent physical restraint from a friend because of my red blood fury (the kid saw my eyes and did he run, wow).
But my favorite experience was in Florence.
It had been raining all week, terrible weather. My travel partner “Sauce” and I had unlimited euro-rail tickets and the endless nights of drinking had set in; I’d known my limits enough to check out early the night before and find our hostel to sleep. Our last day in Florence and it was beautiful.
I knew Michelangelo’s David was the sight to see but between this and that, it looked like it would be skipped. No. I was determined. So I began to walk to the Accademia Gallery.
I arrived to closed gates, a Monday morning before 9am, having just finished my breakfast of a flakey baked good and two shots of espresso (with a bit of raw sugar on top for balance). I walked up to the cashier and saw a sign. Closed on Mondays. Dammit. I barely knew what month it was at this point, the whirlwind was real.
As I turned, the cashier called for me, “Escusi, sir”. I turned back as he waved me over.
“Today we are open. Not normal, the weather. Do you want to come?”
I looked behind me, saw the metal rails where tourists would normally line up to pay and enter, nobody. Me, this cashier, city cats on the street, an old man sweeping cobblestones. It was as Italy as you can imagine.
I nodded, purchased my ticket, and at 9am, the entrance to the Museum opened.
I walked down one long hallway following signs labeled The David, and then turned to my right to see it.
The most incredible human creation I have ever witnessed. The David by Michelangelo. Alone, standing enormous yet young, supple, expressive, marble stone at the end of the hallway.
I looked behind my shoulder. No one.
I knew at that moment how special this experience was, my skin already pocked with goosebumps, adrenaline pushing through my heart. But I took my time and I slowly approached.
I cried soft tears, joyful tears, as I walked. I’ve never cried before or after witnessing such a thing.
And alone, just me and The David, I witnessed.
I circumnavigated the base of the statue. I tried to let go of everything that was “Denny” and be the phenomenon of this vision, this in-betweenness of this art, my short blip of experience on earth, this history, the time, the talent, the exactness of this sculpture.
Just me and The David.
I don’t think I took photos, or if I did, I don’t have them. But I didn’t need to. There’s no point, frankly. What is born from this piece of art is not captured by a photo. Not for any metaphysical reasons other than its enormity, its subtle detail, the three dimensional (four perhaps) rapture of witnessing its beauty.
I lost myself and was here, now, with this.
Slowly, I heard the murmur of shuffling feet, the gasps at the turn of the hallway, and knew it was my time to leave. I had had my time.
The biggest lesson I learned from my experience with The David was to show up to things that are important and show up early. To try even if you don’t think such a thing is possible. To ask to meet the things and people you want in your life.
Sometimes you will walk down the hallway in the Galleria Accademia and bear witness in solitude to the most beautiful creation in human history.
[Post written on 2/6/22, 14 years later, no edits. Photo of the little restaurant we found with the Grandma’s red sauce.]