Archive for November, 2008

Florence Galleria – Michelangelo’s David


To see the statue of David, for the first time takes your breath away. In the tribune at the end of a long gallery lit naturally from above by a glass cupola, this statue is the most beautiful man-made thing I’ve ever seen. You know the familiar story from the Bible in I Samuel, Chapter 17 of the young David, the future king of Israel, who though only a shepherd boy defeats the Philistine giant Goliath in single combat with only a sling.

michelangelo_david_head.jpgThis David’s gaze to his left is penetrating, his eyebrows heavy, his brow is furrowed, his hair is tousled, almost a whirl of linguine. Many commentators say that this is a visage of intelligence, not the usual triumphant victor after cutting off Goliath’s head, as is often portrayed. His nose and nostrils are large, yet his mouth is rather narrow. He looks like Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins.

michaelangelos_david_hand.jpgHis right hand seems over sized. The veins of his right hand, wrist and arm are bulging… but not those of his left. In his right hand, visible only from behind, can be seen a smooth round stone. His left hand is relaxed and holding the sling slung across his left shoulder.

A guide I overheard said that Michelangelo intended the statue to be seen from below, not at eye level as we often see him. If so, this would explain much.

Below and to the right of the statue is an exhibit of the Stanford Digital Michelangelo Project. This monitor displays the statue from different angles and different lighting, rotated in 3D. You’re able to see details that you can’t see from a distance. Impressive.

The Galleria dell’Accademia is one of the “must see” places in Florence for art, especially sculpture and plasters. However, most people go there to see “the David.” Make sure you make a reservation ahead of time.

There is a copy that stands along with seven other statues outdoors in the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) which is the seat of the Florence civic government and political hub of the city — and the original site of the statue. But it’s not the same as experiencing the original statue at the Accademia Gallery.

Bill Petro

Driving In Italy


It has been said that you have to be CRAZY to drive in Italy, but I tell you that you MUST be crazy to drive in Italy — preferably homicidal. Drivers here are assertive and aggressive, believing that it is more blessed to take the right of way than to give it. Indeed, I found no translation into Italian of the phrase “giving the right of way.”

Cars.jpgSome of the streets are not actually intended for car, at least cars the size that you and I know. Instead, Smart Cars, rarely seen in the wild in the US are popular in Italy. They are more like half of a pair of roller skates than an actual car. I’m sure I saw a “size” sticker on the back of one of them.

electric_car.JPGThere were even smaller vehicles with 3 wheels, 2 in the front and electric powered.

horses.jpgThe streets in Florence were designed centuries ago for horses and carts, but now serve cars, motor scooters, and people — usually all at the same time. I’m told that it is technically illegal to hit a pedestrian, but that gave me no greater confidence as a pedestrian when crossing streets.

signs.jpgDrivers in Italy are most imaginative, able to place three car streams within two lanes. Lane markings are merely a suggestion; the Italians think of them more as guidelines than rules. Street signs are considered decoration and no one pays any attention to them as they’re moving too fast to read them.

Lanes.jpgMotorcycles and scooters move at 90 degrees perpendicular to the traffic, squeezing through the interstitial spaces between stopped cars. As I drove through the streets of Florence, I noticed them moving around my (relatively) slow moving vehicle as if they were birds.

Once getting on the Autostrada, I thought things would speed up, until I looked up the word in a dictionary:

Translation: a special road you pay a toll on for the privilege of going long distances at slow speeds.

A drive into Florence during commute hours from out of town could take 1.5 hours to go just 30km. As there are only 2 lanes each way, and no shoulder to speak of, if there was a breakdown traffic could come to a virtual stand still. But there was one saving grace. Once you get out of the metropolitan area, the rules on the Autostrada change. There are two lanes with two speeds. The name of the right lane is roughly translated “farm vehicles” where they move at slow poke speeds. The left lane is known as the Benz lane, where high-end automobiles move at hyper-light speeds, announcing to cars ahead of them their intention to crawl up their tail pipe by flashing their high beams as they approach from behind.

Saint GPS

The patron saint of many Italian drivers is GPS, the Global Positioning System device, found in so many cars, not just passenger cars but delivery vehicles as well. We took a tour bus, and that driver had a GPS. It didn’t keep him from taking the wrong road, but that’s another story. Drivers proudly display this talisman on their dashboard or windshield. Italians use one that is addressed by the name Sophia.

GPS_1.jpgThe one I had was addressed by the votive title Garmin, or specifically Miss Garmin. I like having a female voice, as it tends to cut through traffic noise better. While I usually respond well to a crisp female British accent telling me how to drive (“Oh, Miss Moneypenny”) it’s hard enough listening to a female American accent butcher the Italian street names. Since GPS devices do their pronunciation by phonemes, the American placement of accents don’t match the Italian ones. I just followed the arrow on the screen.

In general, it takes 3 Americans to drive in Italy: one to pilot the vehicle, one to do the navigation, and another to recognize and call out hazards like stop lights.

UPDATE: Six months after I returned from Italy, I got in the mail two driving tickets. One for driving in an area that is only allowed for hotel guests — you must register your license with the hotel — and another for driving in an area reserved for taxis and busses. About $300!

Bill Petro


Bill Petro Bill Petro is a high-tech business development professional with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Information Storage, Virtualization, and Social Media technologies.

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