Sean Dietrich: Meeting Michelangelo

The Accademia Gallery is crowded with people. Lots of people. Half the world comes to this museum on a daily basis. There must be a thousand tourists waiting to get inside.

Michelangelo’s statue of David draws four thousand visitors each day the museum is open. Which is about a million and a half visitors per year. They come from all four corners.

Right now, I’m standing in line alongside the rest of the world. A 23-year-old art student from Curaçao. A 48-year-old attorney from Sacramento. An 18-year-old with cerebral palsy, from Glasgow. A 72-year-old florist from Ukraine. A mid-sixties Korean couple in matching pink jogging suits.

And a little French girl ahead of me. With pigtails. Missing teeth. She’s cuter than a duck in a hat. She looks at me and waves.

I wave back.

No sooner have we entered the building than we are greeted by security.

You know the drill. Visitors must remove belts, phones, keys, switchblades, underpants, etc., and place them on the conveyor belt so they can be X-rayed. All redheaded writers must then be spun around and fondled with a metal detector wand.

Every time I go through security, I remember when security checks like this were foreign and unusual. Now they are commonplace. And necessary. As I write this, only hours ago there was a mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine. At least 18 were killed. Security is part of our world now.

We file into the museum. There are a lot of other paintings in this place, from a lot of other artists. But amazingly, nobody is looking at them. The large clot of people rushes through the preliminary exhibits and cuts straight to the chase.

The David.

Michelangelo’s masterstroke is 17 feet tall and weighs 12,500 pounds. For us visual learners, that’s about the size of a two-story building, and the same weight as three entry-level Ford F-150s.

The detail is astounding. The veins on his neck. His oversized hands. His intricate toenails. His wrists. His calves. His thingy. It’s all enough to make you stand in rapt awe.

But very few in this museum are awestruck. They simply don’t have time to be. They are too busy on their phones.

I see a throng of Americans in New York Yankee ball caps rush into the gallery, pose together, backs facing the statue, they flash peace signs, and take selfies. Whereupon, they simply walk out.

Another group of college-age tourists, from Spain I think, does the same thing. Enter. Pose. Leave.

A team of young Australians poses before the Renaissance figure. One of the group is brandishing a selfie stick. They all shout “Yeah!” And they stride out of the place without looking back.

Get in. Get picture. Get out.

Multitudes of halfhearted visitors navigate the statue, shooting video. They never remove their eyes from their device. They never quit thumbing away on screens.

I look at the crowd surrounding me. Above the crowd, arms are held high, clutching phones, shooting video, and making pictures. Heads tilted upward, so they can see their phone displays.

There is a guy walking around the exhibit doing a FaceTime call. He is talking loudly. He doesn’t even show the caller any images of the statue, just his own face.

I sit on the bench with David for a little while. Hanging out with Michelangelo. And I’m taking it all in.

When I was 16, I read “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” by Irving Stone. A biographical novel about Michelangelo. I read it three times. It affected me greatly. I’ve been waiting half my life to sit right here, on this bench, and meet Michelangelo personally.

I suppose I should be documenting all this on my phone, like everyone else. But i don’t want to. This would cheapen the experience for me, somehow. It would be a lot like taking a selfie during your own colonoscopy.

So I just sit here.

The little French girl is sitting beside me. She is one of the few who is actually looking at the statue. No phone. No selfies. She is swinging her legs. Head cranked backward so she can see David’s shoulder.

We look at each other briefly and exchange a smile. Almost as though we understand each other.

Amazing isn’t it?” I say to her.

Oui,” she says.

Oui indeed.

Originally published on Sean’s website. Republished here with permission.

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