Italy Impressions #4: Two dudes, a virgin, and a kid.

4/4/13 ...and buns of solid marble.

There are no photographs allowed in the Galleria Dell' Accademia, but you've all seen the David. I think that was my "I am actually in Italy" moment. I've seen the David in so many films and photographs, that when I walked into the gallery, I had to blink.

His hands are actually very large.The veins on his hands are so lifelike I expected him to twitch.  He's not sinuous, but the muscle definition is warm, strong and relaxed. His feet are also very large.

These are my only bodily observations.

As for other observations, Italy touts them with vigor and humor.

IMG_1912(David DongSML)

IMG_1912(David DongSML)

So the pieces which grabbed my interest were actually the paintings. The way I deal with sensory overload is to zoom in on very small details,and slowly expand my focus, so in the David room, I zeroed in on details . The walls leading up to the David were full of fascinating renaissance  pieces, all dealing with religious subject matter of course, mostly surrounding the Virgin Mary. The Annunciation (The moment the angel comes to hip Mary to her super sacred pregnancy)  is a very popularly depicted scene...for hundreds of years...which was news to me, not having studied these things. I should not have been surprised at how many pieces throughout the centuries are recreations of the same scenes over and over again - I mean, most modern churches have the exact same story-pictures on display, over and over again, so I guess the tradition holds firm.

However, one  depiction stood out to me in particular, Francesco Granacci's Madonna and Child.

IMG_3568(me thinkingSML)

IMG_3568(me thinkingSML)

Here is as picture of me considering this picture, since taking a picture of the picture was not allowed.

A couple of things to preface. In many of the Madonna and child paintings you come across, from the Renaissance and from further back, you see the same stage plot:  Madonna and child in a throne, flanked on the right and left (one level below) by John the Baptist and St. Francis. St. Francis is generally pretty obvious in a brown robe, with a monk's bald spot in the middle, (sometimes the painter adds his stigmata). John is usually dressed in red, often looking sort of bedraggled, like...a wandering baptist...the type who could totally come across a young Jewish guy with big ideas, and y'know. If you don't know, ask a friend. (Hint: the History channel just did a show on this. I think there may be a spin-off book.)

Other details of this typical scene include the dual staffs of the saints: John holding a long staff with a cross on top, Saint Francis holding another type of long scepter. The placement of the staffs is also a theme, many times they form a "v" shape beneath the throne of the virgin. In the more recent paintings (using that term loosely here), John often looks more regal, and sometimes holds a Pope's scepter, while St.Francis stays largely unchanged.

The thing that got me about Granacci's piece was initially the placement of the scepters. The lines of the scepters do indeed form a 'v' beneath the Virgin's throne, but the 'v ' is not central. St.Francis' staff  is at a proper angle to the mid point, but the other Saint's staff pushes the 'v' shape off center, crossing in front of a papel headpiece on the ground (I don't know the proper name for this sartorial wonder.) Also, the sightlines of the characters in the piece are all very specific. There are four cherubs, two to the  upper right and two to the upper left of the Virgin. The upper arches of the outer wings, of the inner cherubs (stay with me now) are equidistant from each other, and also from the edges of the painting. This suggests a deliberate geometry,  which points up the actual middle of the painting, and furthers the strangeness of the off-center 'v.' One more odd thing. Most of the cherubs are looking off to the left (viewer's point of view) the Virgin is looking down to her right at St.Francis, St.Francis is in profile, looking directly across at the other saint....who is looking right at the viewer. The guy who is responsible for throwing off the geometry, is looking at you.

Oh and one more thing, it's not John the Baptist, it's someone named St.Zenobius, who is dressed in the iconic garb of St. John. Later I found out that Saint Zenobius was considered the first bishop of Florence, so this is a local reference.

Well, that set off my "ancient Christian iconography x-files alarm" for the time being! Hope you didn't just die of boredom. I could stew on that all day. And I did.

Photography is not allowed in the Academia, so in case you are unfamiliar with the work, I submit my rendering of Granacci's "Madonna and Child" from memory. Enjoy.

art adap 1

art adap 1

Italy impressions #3: Jet Lag with lovely people

THE NIGHT OF THE SCREENINGTuesday, 4/2/13

Around 5 pm, after laying in bed paying penance for something I ate, I opened my eyes and silently discussed my wardrobe with myself. Bear was on the laptop clicking the keys like one of those Ghost In The Shell robots with extra mechanical fingers. Headphones on. So I looked back at the ceiling and plotted a mental pathway to the bathroom sink.

Made it to the sink. The mirror must be kidding. Either genetics, or products with a comedic sense (probably both) have made my hair resistant to physics. Not just gravity. Physics. I condition one bit of my head, and then the other side goes wack in exactly the same way, after I swear I already fixed it - as if that wack bit had a dual manifestation on my head, like electrons which exist in two places at once. My hair is an adventure in science fiction.

Raya pic (small)

Raya pic (small)

Outside the Odeon Theatre (the oldest movie theatre in Florence, so ya know) people were already lined up along a red carpet.  I hadn't realized this event was open to the public, and I got a little nervous to sing a piece in renaissance Latin. A downright prayer to the Archangel Michael, a prayer they actually used in exorcisms - this is not the usual jazz singer rep.

SHEET MUSIC RAYA SHEET MUSIC

SHEET MUSIC RAYA SHEET MUSIC

IMG_3517(ODEON int SMALL)

IMG_3517(ODEON int SMALL)

We did a soundcheck on the Odeon stage, and the breath of the theatre space inflated my eyeballs. In the wide ribbed gasp between the stone walls and the temple rounded ceiling, I felt my lungs inspire with something old, but very much alive.

When Bear began his program with the Da Vinci's Demons theme on solo piano, the static in the room warmed to a collective consciousness. It's an exciting and mysterious piece which pays tribute to Leonardo Da Vinci's methods, in that the melody is a palindrome. Da Vinci often wrote both backwards and forwards in his notebooks, so Bear's theme does the same: the beginning is the melodic statement, and the second half is that statement played backwards. It's not nerdy, it's core. Da Vinci core.

After two more pieces, Bear called me up to the stage. I had joked earlier, that since it was an exorcism prayer, we'll all be much better off after my performance, should there have been any demons we were unaware of. On the other hand, this was a largely Hollywood event so there was a decent chance most of the audience could end up convulsing on the floor, but one has to take these risks. But truly - that's not the thought I went up there with.

I went up there with the word. Alleluia. I sang it three times. 3 slow modal melismas. Three strings of melody. Then space. Then I started again from the tonic: "Sancte Michael... Archangele... Defende nos..." These lines moved me the most "Saint Michael... Arc angel... defend us." The words are strong and vulnerable all at once. Also, it's completely open to who the "us" is. For me, singing those words I felt an instant fellowship in imagination, and creative adventure with everyone there. A meditative surrender to the moment. An appeal to the muses and the Gods, wicked and magnanimous, the vibratory ocean that is Florence. Graci, Firenze.

So then it was time to do what we really came for. Seeing the first episode! Whiiiich I can't tell you anything about, except it's awesome and you should watch it. So! moving right along...

THE AFTER PARTY!

Bear and I were sitting on the edge of a long table with the cast, right on the corner with Alan Corduner (of Topsy Turvey, and now playing Da Vinci's mentor, Verrocchio).

Bear&Alan(SML)2013-04-06 at 7.53.16 PM copy

Bear&Alan(SML)2013-04-06 at 7.53.16 PM copy

One of these people is exactly as delightful as he looks.

What a wonderful person to talk with. "Delightful" doesn't even begin to touch it. Alan is one of those people who make you feel worldly, make you feel like the things you say are terribly astute, even when they're not. Maybe it was social grace, but it felt like we were chatting with an old friend about politics, filmmaking, corsets, old pianos, forbidden intervals, London's West end , clubbing, hair dressing, Gilbert and Sullivan, well vs. rare steak, and after all that it was his birthday so we all sang a janky, drunken, British, American, out-of-tune happy birthday to Alan. I Hope very much to spend some time with him again. This time in Florence next year?

So when the birthday cake came around, I had to pass it along. Many of you know (now all of you know) I'm allergic to both wheat and dairy, so this excludes most desserts for me. The gentleman to my left noticed me passing on the desert and asked why. I explained, and he insisted that since he spoke Italian, he would talk tothe kitchen and see what could be done so I wouldn't be without something sweet. He got up from his chair, and was back in about 30 seconds with a wink, saying something was on its way. What arrived about 3 minutes later was an orange. A frozen orange with a detachable top. I pulled off the top, and the thing was filled with the most luscious orange sorbet I have ever tasted. All the tang, the bitterness, and the vibrancy of a fresh orange, in ice form. Incredible. I offered him some and he said it was all mine. And this guy plays the villian! Blake Ritson was the mastermind behind my first (and so far only) dessert in Italy.

IMG_0072(Riario)

IMG_0072(Riario)

Look at this fucking Renaissance hipster.

Blake plays "Riario" in the show, a very bad guy as I understand it, but you may remember him from such arty-historical-macabre- surrealist-hedonistic- cannibalistic- baddass-Shakespearian fare as the film "Titus" (a Julie Taymor flick) which is one of my favorite films EVER. Or you may not, because I think only six people saw that film, and two of them were me. But the point is Blake is another rad Da Vinci person, and an another excellent reason to watch the show.

After the party, wine glasses pooled down to colored drops, rims waxed with smeared lipstick, we toddled- cracking backs and sighing- into the thin stone street outside the restaurant. David Goyer and his wife Marina were there with us, and we exchanged short bleary sounds on the theme of overindulgence. Then the van came and swept our fabulous carcasses back to the hotel. And that was Tuesday.

Wed: 4/3/13 THE DAY AFTER

My new sleeping hours appear to be 6 am- 11am. I hope to scoot back by at least an hour every night so in 8 days I can fall asleep by 10pm. I aim for better, but expectations are low.

By the time I woke this morning, Bear had already gone to do press, so it was just me and Florence out my window. I ate a complimentary pear. I keyholed the curtains, and I listened to the clinks and babble of locals and wanderers.

Two people on Segways. Really?

The waiter downstairs at the hotel restaurant seemed a little thrown that I was dining alone, but he quickly re-set the table for me, and brought out a bread basket ample enough for at least 4 people. Perhaps he thought I was lonely, and the best he could offer was the company of wheat things. It was an ambitions assortment, mounds of seedy dough, coiled pizza-like waxen bites, crispy flakes, and brazenly phallic sticks. Bountiful. Of course, I'm allergic to wheat, so instead of eating them I spent my time thinking up interesting adjectives to describe them.

I had porridge (oat meal) and scrambled eggs. Small portions, just enough.

By the time my black tea got to the table, Bear had come back and told me that the Da Vinci's Demons cast was all meeting in the other room for lunch. I took my tea and went with him.

Ended up sitting on the outer side of a white clothed table, opposite David Goyer and his wife, Marina, who were still wacked and fabulous after the early morning attached to the previous late night. I could describe most of the cast as wacked and fabulous that lunch, since they'd been doing press since 9 or 10am, but they're all lovely. Laura Haddock (Lucrezia Donati), was sitting closest to me- she is one of the sweetest people I've met in a long time, and was so complimentary to me after my performance the night before, she really made me feel welcome. Honestly, everyone in the cast did, and they really don't have to,they're the rock stars here. They're really great, or maybe just loopy from too many press junckets. These hours can make anyone friendly and interesting with that glassy-eyed cult member tilt, but I felt real enthusiasm from this group. Lara Pulver (playing Clarice Orsini) is especially interesting, since her overall presence is so polished and strong. When I met her the day before, I thought she was very stalely and professional - which she is- but if you hang around long enough the bats peek from the belfry. We talked, just a little bit, about how she got into her character, and her process in her own mind, fascinating. I am very much looking forward to meeting "Clarice."

LARA

LARA

Lara Pulver. She always wears that headgear. Even to sleep I'm told. She's core.

I sent a flare across the table, and said hello to Blake, who is still not evil yet, and got a picture of he, and Bear and young Da Vinci himself (Tom Riley.)

bluesteel

bluesteel

Tom Riley, Blake Ritson, and Bear. This would be a trio of " blue steel" faces.

Then Bear scooted over to the actor table, and I held the iphone camera, and they all did an impromptu round table discussion on the music of the show. You'll be seeing that on Bear's blog in the not-to-distant future...

LATER!

These first days in Florence, we go where the vans take us. So we herd ourselves from our rooms in the evenings, in the best threads we have, to maximize and minimize the curves we have, to maximize and minimize the attributes we have, through conversations we should or shouldn't have, with other fancy people whose names we do or do not know. We call this activity gathering in the hotel bar.

I don't drink (with veeery few exceptions) so I was Bruce Wayne-ing it with a ginger ale, trying to look grown-up. I was actually pretty tired, because once again, for lunch, I had eaten something with which my body disagreed, and I was taking it slow. For morale, I wore my favorite purple dress, purple tights, and a polka dotted scarf from my friend, Felice.

scarf

scarf

The obvious choice for any high end event

I also wore the leather jacket I had bought that day at the famed Florentine leather market. (I don't usually do leather, kind of a matter of principle, I don't do fur at all, but this seemed like a once in a lifetime purchase..I dunno, weak moral compass at sight of awesome zippers?) I felt hip, but I also felt...weirdly correct. I looked around and noticed everyone was wearing leather jackets. Had I just stumbled upon the "going out for Hollywood shit" uniform? Why had I not noticed this before, I've done lots of Hollywood shit. Maybe you don't see it until you're in it (revelation?). Anyway. So then Blake, who had been talking to Bear, turned to me and said something involving the word "sartorial." Now, there was a lot of sound in the room, lot of glass noise, a lot of chemically induced exclamations, so I missed the rest of what he said. I got that he was commenting on my scarf  (which he was correct to notice), but the rest was lost to the ethers . I looked to Bear for a sense of it, but he was looking at me, so I think I said "thanks" or something. Some more glasses clinked, I heard someone mention the Hollywood Reporter, a lady giggled. I started to get the feeling this had been the wrong answer, because then we were just looking at each other with that anti-gravity sort of lull, like Wiley coyote after he's run off the cliff, hanging in mid-air, slowly realizing he's just committed suicide of some sort.

Another glass clinked somewhere, then Bear broke the moment by asking if Blake had read the Hollywood Reporter review. They turned their respective leather jackets towards each other and talked. I swigged my hardcore ginger ale.

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 10.43.41 PM

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 10.43.41 PM

On the rocks. I am so gangster.

In about 5 minutes, the van came, and we all moo-cowed through the lobby, in a fierce, bovine, showbiz mass. The roads and narrow streets of Florence are a glorious, romantic, middle finger to shock absorbers. If you dragged yourself, bodily, through the streets of this town - serpentine, naked and greased - you would have the same sense of the road as riding in a car. This is neither an insult to the car, nor the driver, it's just a fact. Florence has earned her cobbles, and it's part of the experience.

IMG_1943(cobble SML)

IMG_1943(cobble SML)

"I eat hooves for breakfast." said the street.

So we bumped and jarred our way down Via Romana, making sharper turns than vans are geometrically optimal for, nearly side swiping cyclists and pedestrians who could not be more disaffected. (In LA you might hear someone say, "oh my God,remember that day I was almost hit by a car?" In Italy you'd hear, "Oh my God,remember that day I wasn't almost hit by a car?") Anyway, Bear and I braced for turbulence, and listened to Marina talking to David and Blake about a fashion designer I'd never heard of. I was glad the van was dark so they couldn't see my blankness. I want to know things like that. Maybe it's like the leather jackets, once you know, you know.

The vans stopped at a wall. Wait it's not a wall. That looks like stained glass, or it's a door,oh shit we're here! It was only a 5 minute drive, and I upped and heel-toed my fancy boots on to the stone street in front of a very discreet doorway. Once inside, your eyes must tilt up, and your senses stretch along the length of the spine of the low ceiling. The room was long, with a solid plank along the length of top, and branches synapsing out along the sides, bleeding with white twinkle lights. It was dark and woody. It was like Christmas in Hobbiton.

The menu was pre fix, so of course I had to annoy the waiter about ingredients "senza glutine?" "Huh? " (Italian for "huh?") "Pasta without wheat?" - blank stare-

Eventually, between myself, and another gluten sensitive woman at the table, we got across, and over the course of the night, I picked at a huge bowl of risotto with asparagus. (FYI, most places in Italy have been really cool about this, and many can accomodate. Worst case, you get a slighty disdainful look, and order something else.)

Eros Vlahos (no that's not his character name, he plays Nico Machiavelli on the show) was seated to my right, and was roundly recounting the story of a house party he went to in LA. It was so interesting to hear one of these parties reviewed favorably. Apparently, it was one of these young, beautiful, blowouts, with free flowing everything, and music, and moments which are life changing for at least 24 hours. But Eros has a head on his shoulders. He understood it was a Hollywood shindig, and that's all, that's not what he's in it for even though it's fun. Good on him. Perspective! That, and he compared this party to a UK party, which apparently consisted of "like 10 people sitting around in someone's flat, drinking and listing to dull music, while somebody cries in the bathroom." Wow, well I guess plastic Los Angeles has something on that.

ERos SML

ERos SML

This is not a press shot of Eros, it's a polaroid from his LA party. The whole night was in slow motion.

In an hour or so, the cast and Fox reps were lightly toasted, and so it was time for the surprise. A warble chorus of Brits, Italians, and Americans began another happy birthday song, this time for Tom Riley (Da Vinci himself), who stood as the cake arrived with candles. Tom blew out the candles, and we clapped sloppily. After the celebration, Tom made some rounds, talking to people, and settled next to me where we immediately became life long friends. Observe:

tom:Raya comp

tom:Raya comp

Oh, the times we've had in the last 5 minutes!

It was a good night.

COMING SOON...OUR FINAL DAYS IN FLORENCE, AND UTTER DISBELIEF THAT VENICE, ITALY, IS NOT A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION.

MUCH LOVE, RAYA.

Italy Impressions #2: Belated Easter

At the Piazza Pitti, Bear and I considered blending in with the Florentine locals. We would get asymmetrical haircuts, chic sunglasses and short cigarettes. We would recline on the angled sprawl of the Piazza, looking relaxed yet slightly… disappointed. That EU kind of disappointed. The kind you can only have when you’ve grown up surrounded by thousands of years of architectural glory, and it is just so 5 minutes ago.

We decided we couldn’t pull it off, and instead stood in awe. Unabashed.

pic 1

pic 1

It is still Easter weekend (Monday, April 1st), so the streets of Florence are a single rolling organism of people.The locals, the un-hip ones, remind me of Venice Beach locals  - un-hemmed, scratchy, bohemian men in front of their small shops. The young men pull over on motorcycles or scooters to talk with other young men. They ventilate their cigarettes with urgency, but speak slowly with space to exhale. They gesture like old men, like their souls have come back to this city again, and again, and they know how it goes. Their limbs are slow and flippant, hanging out of a hole-in-the wall pub with an American name. A line of motorbikes parked against the feudal stone.

bike line

bike line

I turned my back to the Piazza Pitti and my body felt like a mask between inner and outer light. The air here is bright like an open mind, and all the shadows opened up their geometry, and my shadow opened up the third of its eyes. A trinity of holy Ghost and holy blue jeans and holy cobbled streets. The chatter of the living generation and the silent reverberation of spectre physics, factories of elevation arced in stone.

IMG_3472

IMG_3472

I saw the sky is just as tender and as fertile after all these years, and every spire is still reaching for her. Marble virgins stretch in agony, stone cold heroes in murderous glory, plump, draped Roman women, hands like blessings and ordered hair. Still ordered.

I heard electron vespers of no density, no weight, but mass, every mass, every mass, every mass, every whispered Espiritu Sanctus, up in smoke from the end of a laugh, to the open throated day, and the outer brightness quarked, and the inner brightness quickened.

I knew Amen.

Italy impressions #1:My dream

I'm on my way to Italy to do a show for a show about a Italy, on a airplane watching a TV movie about another movie eating condensed food in a bar shape pressed to taste like other food and wiggling this pen making letters about words. Everything is a shadowed double until I get to Florence.

I dreamt that when I enter the city, my pupils will contract and the brown of my eyes will gold with the light of the renaissance.