Florida 2023: Open carry. Closed minds.

Published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette April 19, 2023

“Florida parents upset by Michelangelo’s ‘David’ force out principal.” Washington Post, March 24, 2023.

Firing a Florida charter school principal for forgetting to notify parents sixth-grade students of Renaissance classical art seems a bit of a stretch. 

The Renaissance and I have a certain history,. I first met a cast of ” The David” in 1980s London. The V & A was on our list. Gobsmacked, I recalled the encounter in free verse:

"I passed unchallenged through the great cathedral doors of the Victoria & Albert Museum down on the Brompton Road. 

My quest that day was open ended. A hopeful hope, that just

approaching art would, in turn, lighten my earthly load."

I’d turned fifty with business never far from mind. We’d dreamed of and saved up to book a London flat for a week. Lured by Charles Dicken’s books, the city’s history, theaters, markets and walkability were on offer. Four of our children were well grown; the fifth was in England for a UMass Junior year. 

Back to the Victory and Albert Museum.

"Rabbit soup-tureens, crimson dragon-desk from China way.

'This,'  I thought, 'is not my day.' A passage yawned as I walked,

and there in stunned amazement, I stood and gawked!

By the time people reach fifty they’ve seen everything. So thought I until I took a chance to travel. It’s a big world out there, waiting for the open minded. Education? Hah! Experience is what matters. Which necessarily takes time, a lifetime? One teacher’s positive comment about a forgotten sentence is alive and well. To hear in 2023 that A.I., artificial intelligence, creates better and cheaper than wordsmiths is going to take some proof reading! 

Michelangelo had over the centuries slapped me in the face, stopped me cold as ice; for facing me: large, naked and bold in that under-heated space, loomed a plaster cast of “The David,”

a beauteous giant man in muscled, marbled, grace.

The AP picked up the story, making its way into the March 27th Daily Hampshire Gazette. Cecille Hollberg director of the Galleria dell’ Accademia where the ‘David ‘ is housed, expressed astonishment at the controversy. “To think that ‘David’ could be pornographic means truly not understanding the contents of the Bible, not understanding Western culture and not understanding Renaissance art.” In twenty-five words Ms. Hollberg put the State of Florida and America’s hunger for education to shame.

I knew : 

 When first unveiled he had caused

 Florentine mobs to riot in their streets

I thought:

 Frail life, in conscience, sobs,

 When confronted with such feats.

I changed:

 And we scribblers must resort

 to this now necessary ode;

 a poet's first artistic battle report

 viewed upon the Brompton Road.

This shock confrontation of Michelangelo and me appeared in my, A Winter Offering and A Second Collection.

Dumb to the poem’s ekphrastic status, I went with my gut.  

The London V&A gave an experience not duplicated until, unexpectedly, Florence, Italy beckoned in 1992. Once in a while life throws curveballs that transform into homeruns. I had a long-delayed goal to finish an English degree. Professor Arthur Kinney welcomed me to his UMass Renaissance Center. I was twice blessed in meeting A. D. “Tony” Cousins, of Sydney, AU, the center’s first visiting scholar. Tony and I remain fast friends.

In 1992, I had Pan Am Airways frequent flier miles that were going to expire with the airline. The British Institute of Florence offered two-week language and History of Florence courses. They were affordable providing you lived in student digs. I memorized the address “settenta nove via Capponi” for a Contessa’s gorgeous pre-war apartment. Despite my American accent, the taxi took us to her door. A surprise Italian holiday for students nearing sixty.

Recounting two weeks in Florence, Italy–leading to Easter–is almost unfair. We had young legs and freedom unfelt for a very long time. Our rented room required long walks on Via Cavour, or figuring out transport. ‘Tabac” shops sold bus tickets to the city center. Enjoying a morning coffee followed by a sunlit walk along the green Arno is close to a heaven on earth experience. 

Accademia director Cecille Hollberg invited the principal, school board, parents and student body to view the “purity” of the statue. Maria Stone, head of the humanities department of the American Academy in Rome, said the Florida incident was another episode in escalating U.S. culture wars. She questioned how the statue “could be so controversial as to warrant a prior warning.” 

To wit: Late night host, Stephen Colbert, asked CBS lawyers if he could show “David” on his Show. The answer: “Left of the screen–two seconds!”

A coincidence: Following near-death colon operations in 2011, I wrote 21 “True Dreams ” from an induced coma. Six years passed before, The Pilot’s Satchel. Its cover illustration, Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man drawing, is naked. With luck, ignorance may get my book banned in Florida. Twenty-one comatose poems and an examination of conscience are a hard sell up here.

I hate to be the one to tell these two educators that under bills by Florida Governor DeSantis, one complaint by an undereducated parent could remove certain library books. Guns are just dandy.

All this, when President Biden and Democrats are crying for legislation banning assault rifles, which we had from 1994-2004. 

Followed by: le deluge! Millions of AR-15s!

1 Comment

  1. Matt the #4 son says:

    Jim, you still have a great way with words, and a sharp wit that has not declined with age. Thanks for a well written and interesting take on the strange times we live in and your journey around the globe.


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