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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Political Darkness is Eternal



The title of this post is a bit ominous. Sorry, but with Citizen Trump playing fear cards against women, Judaism and Islam, immigration, veterans and now our democracy, he holds a dark and bloody full house. But as Monty Python might have said, "Why be glum?'

The Florentines and other Italian communities have been going after each other for centuries. Throughout Florence there are fortified towers that were built for family defense. (Pisa, a city with a similar history, supposedly had 180 of these towers at some point in its own violent past.) After an episode of inter-family violence, when perhaps one family murdered a member of another family after that family had murdered one of theirs . . . the offending family would flee to their tower to wait out the storm. And if during the attempt to overwhelm the defenses, a few "blue collar" houses (made of wood) burned down, ah well, such is the cost of politics.

Florence is a city consumed with its past: the towers and other architecture, the sculpture, and paintings. There is a general preoccupation with its glorious past, which rests on violent political strife. The present in Florence is muted. There is a beloved soccer team and I will attend a match soon. But most restaurants pride themselves and advertise themselves as homes of traditional Tuscan and Florentine cooking. Tripe a big deal here. The city's thousand year old symbol, the Giglio, a sort of fancy Fleur de Lis, is everywhere: the soccer team, the buildings, the napkins, the tablecloths, the manhole covers, everywhere. And so what you see as a tourist is not that different than what a resident experiences. Yet, the hyper-violent past on which all the preserved and respected glory rests is treated as the small cost of giving birth to the Renaissance.

As temporary residents, with a lean toward being tourists, we have seen a lot of art in just a month. Spectacular does not begin to describe the treasure housed and strewed about throughout the city. Yesterday, however, we attended an exhibition of art by the modern Chinese artist Ai Wewei. I thought, mistakenly, that the show was to be a single instillation. Instead there were several rooms of his art including a piece built out of 900 bicycles. The core theme of the exhibition was the violent, corrupt, and anti-democratic nature of the present Chinese government. A repeated trope dealt with the destruction of the artist's large studio and workshop. He was asked to build it by the government who then tore it down, removing all trace of its presence, just as it was finished. Ai Weiwei hosted a single opening and closing party, to which he was prevented from attending by house arrest.

In America, in the free world, we are so very fortunate to live with the blessings of democracy. But we take them for granted sometimes. Alternative forms of governance exist and have existed. These alternatives can achieve greatness, but at a cost. A cost I do not wish to pay and fortunately, will not be required to pay, despite the efforts of some to place making America great again before American democracy. Democracy is the American greatness.

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