In Florence, a Statue that Launched a Thousand Side Trips


Author: Michael Patton


In early September, during my first days in Rome, I took a few organized tours with my study abroad group to the Roman Forum, Colosseum and Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. But on the weekend, I left the group to go on aimless walks along the meandering streets of the old city. Rome is a little like an architectural layer cake, with remnants of ancient buildings lodged beneath the stones of the Renaissance and modern apartment buildings spread on top as frosting. I fell in love with Rome almost instantly, but it wasn’t until my eyes met Michelangelo’s 17-foot-tall marble statue of David in Florence that fully comprehended that the sights around me were real. In that moment, the bubble separating me from my surroundings simply burst, and I realized that I was not only abroad, but that I was also a part of all I was seeing.

That morning in Florence, standing in the halls of the Academia Gallery where David is housed, I looked over at a friend I met a few weeks before and tried to utter something to express my amazement, but nothing came out. Staring at David, all I could think was, “My god, it’s not just a slide.” As my professor walked to front of the group and began to lecture, his head level with David’s right foot, I tried to take notes. But I just couldn’t take my eyes off the sculpture—its ribs were so precisely sculpted I’d have sworn its torso was alive and breathing. Throughout the lecture, I was prepared for David to step off the pedestal, flatten my professor and walk straight out of the gallery. It didn’t, of course, but by the time the semester ended, though I’d seen nearly all of Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings, nothing affected me quite like David.

I remember rolling out of bed the next morning and telling my roommate, “Cam, it was just excellent, I can’t stop thinking about it. For the love of the world, the David is pure excellence preserved in marble form.” Seeing the statue changed me. As a five-foot-ten spectator, seeing the 17-foot masterpiece made me feel like a tiny person in a massive world. To some, David was just a statue, but to me it represented the moment my perspective broadened and my desire to travel ignited.

In the coming months, planes, trains and a pair of feet transported me from the deserts of Morocco to the mosques of Turkey and from the glittering lights of Paris to the winding canals of Venice. I chased the enriching moment I had with David in every country I came too. I couch-surfed and hostel-hopped. I shook new hands and celebrated the holidays with new friends in new places. I pushed myself to taste new spices of life and learned how to travel with only a backpack. I could go on forever about Europe and its dazzling sights and sounds, but I won’t. (I’d be crazy, though, not mention the Italian pasta, the pizza and, of course, the Chianti.) By the time the day came to fly home I found myself saying, “Maybe it would be all right to live somewhere else. Maybe America isn’t my only option.” 

I know the school grind is back in high gear, and it’s a little late to go abroad this semester, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have an experience outside Occidental. There’s so much beyond the Quad and the late-night cramming session. If you can travel, you must. Head first or feet first, take the leap. You’ll find your David out there somewhere. 

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