Working to Live!

Maiori. A beautiful little town on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. I knew there was something quite different about Maiori the minute the taxi dropped us off at our hotel. At first, I thought it was the fact that the town is squeezed into a small space between steep cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea. I soon learned, however, that it was more than just Maiori’s “squeezed” setting that made it different. It was the smiles on the faces and the friendliness of the people who live there that made it different. It was the fact that it was far more important for “Maiorians” to stop and talk to friends or acquaintances, than it was for them to get where they were going. And, as it has been said, in Italian villages such as Maiori, people “work to live.” They do not “live to work.” That the village closes down every afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. during the height of the tourist season so that everybody can rest and refresh is ample proof of the “work to live” ethic. There is, however, one more major difference between Maori and most towns in the U.S. of A. We didn’t learn about this difference, however, until a few days after our arrival.

Dinner at our hotel was served at 7:45 p.m. We were assigned to our own table and the same wait staff consisting of Marcello, Antonio, Lydia and Vincenzo served us every night. Each had an assigned role. Marcello presented the menu and noted our selections. Lydia took his note to the kitchen, while Antonio brought the drinks and poured the wine. Vincenzo served our food and, during the rest of our dinner, took care of our every need. He often kept us entertained, unless another table demanded his attention. It was from Vincenzo that the new revelation of “difference” came upon us.

On our second or third night at dinner, we told Vincenzo that we were planning to walk to Minori, the next village up the coast, early the next morning. Vincenzo rolled his eyes and grimaced.

What’s wrong Vincenzo?” Karin asked.

No Minori,” he said.

What wrong with Minori?” We inquired.

He replied. “Maiori better. No Minori.”

After Vincenzo’s obvious display of distaste for Minori, we, with a bit of trepidation, still decided to make the trek. What we found was a serene village that was just as beautiful as Maiori and with people just as friendly.

Over the next several evenings we engaged in a friendly “Maiori vs. Minori” battle with Vincenzo. And yet, it was very clear that Vincenzo was in love with Maiori. He loved everything about it from the beauty of the sea to the annoying fireworks that were set off at all hours of the day and night. He loved the people. He loved the annual San Maria de Mare summer religious festival. He loved the food and the nightly stroll along the promenade that ran the length of Maiori’s beach. Not only did Vincenzo not give two hoots about Minori, but he could not have cared less about any other Italian city or town. In fact, he could not have cared less about Italy. Maiori was home. Maiori was his neighborhood. “Italy, NO! Minori, NO! Maiori, YES!”

One night, after eating way too much pasta, I suggested to Karin that we take a walk along the promenade before retiring for the night. That walk resulted in a “Holy Molly” moment! Almost everybody who lived in Maiori hung out on the promenade. Older folks strolled or sat on benches talking, children watched the nightly puppet show, lovers walked hand-in-hand, teens did whatever teens do and old men walked the “Italian Stroll.” Everybody was out and about.

This is what made Maiori different. It is one big neighborhood in which relationships are nurtured, children are cared for, where people walk toward one another, rather than walk away from each other and a neighborhood in which one who is lost might be found and one who feels invisible has a good chance to be noticed. No wonder Vincenzo loved his town.

Maiori reminded me of the neighborhood of my childhood. Richmond Circle in Pittsburgh was a neighborhood in which everybody knew everybody. Dads carpooled to work with one another. A Mom could borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbor next door. Kids had multiple parents looking out for them. Where did neighborhoods like Richmond Circle go? Has our mobility de-constructed neighborhoods? Has the inter-net and social media rendered neighborhoods obsolete? Do we live in an “out of sight, out of mind” world? Has our “splendid isolationism” negated community? Maybe instead of building more apartment complexes, housing developments or condominiums, we ought to move the dinner hour to 7:45 p.m, build a promenade and take a stroll every night. Maybe, we should reverse our priority from “living to work” to “working to live.” It might bring a few more smiles to our faces. And like Vincenzo’s Maiori, our village might become a place that we love, rather than simply the place where we live.

John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA

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“Un-Inventing Religion”

Florence is an incredible and inspiring city! Since we did not have near enough time to see all of Florence, we elected to hire a guide to take us around so that we, at least, captured the essence of the city.

Laura, our guide, met us at our hotel. From the moment we met her, she radiated love for her city. She was also well versed on both its art and history. Our first stop was the Uffizi Gallery of Art. Paintings and sculptures by artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello grace its many halls.

Hall 15 displays the works of Leonardo da Vinci. It was in that room that I had an epiphany. We stopped to look at Leonardo’s painting of the “Annunciation.” It depicts an angel announcing to Mary that she would bear a son who would be the Messiah. Standing directly in front of the painting, I immediately noticed that Mary had a halo, was finely clothed in 15th century Florentine dress and sat in front of a beautiful Florentine house with the Tuscan country-side in the background. There was no evidence of the true Mary; a poor Jewish woman living in the God-forsaken village of Nazareth.

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As I continued to look at the painting, Laura sidled up next to me and asked, “Don’t you think that the angel is too big and that Mary’s outstretched arm is way too long? It’s out of scale.” She went onto say that some people think that Leonardo’s “Annunciation” is evidence of a young artist who had yet to fully learn his craft. I am no expert when it comes to art. Lord knows, I can’t even draw a stick figure. But clearly, even to one ignorant of the intricacies of fine art, the painting was out of scale. I looked around for Laura to continue the discussion. She had moved away from me, but was signaling me to join her. When I did, I was no longer standing directly in front of the painting. Laura and I were standing to the right of center. “Look at it now,” she said. Looking at da Vinci’s painting from that angle, the angel was perfectly in scale and Mary’s arm looked to be exactly the right size. As Laura explained it, Leonardo meant for the painting to be looked at from the right side, not from in front of it. When Leonardo da Vinci painted the “Annunciation”, he may have been a young painter, but he was already a master.

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Later on that day, Laura took us to the Academia to view Michelangelo’s “David.” Standing at the foot of that brilliant sculpture, it is clear that one of David’s hands is huge. It is completely out of scale. Like da Vinci’s “Annunciation”, however, Laura explained that Michelangelo sculpted the “David” to be displayed 65 feet above the ground. “From that angle,” she said, “David’s hand is perfectly in scale.” To view a painter or a sculptor’s work, to capture its full essence, is truly a matter of perspective.

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My epiphany, however, was not exclusively related to works of art. “Holy Molly!” I thought, “Could it be that my faith is built upon only one perspective of God? Have I have missed the fullness of God by only standing directly in front of what was painted for me by my church?

There are many different angles from which we view who God is and how God does or does not participate in human affairs. Sometimes these perspectives conflict with one another. This, however, does not mean that a particular perspective is right or wrong. We all look at God from different angles. We pick our spot. We choose our own perspective. Most world religions are fundamentally human inventions. Human invented religions, however, always limit a God who refuses to be limited. There is nothing that religion needs today more than to be “un-invented.”

The Flemish Sculptor, Giambologna, inspired by Michelangelo, created a sculpture that was eventually named the “Rape of the Sabine Women.”

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What is amazing about this sculpture is that, unlike Leonardo da Vinci’s “Annunciation” and Michelangelo’s “David”, there is no one way to look at the sculpture. It has no front or back. There is no correct angle upon which to view it. It cannot be limited to any single perspective. You quickly realize that there is no beginning or end to the sculpture. It moves you to continually circle around it, even as it draws your eyes to the heavens. The God that we seek has the characteristics of Giambologna’s magnificent sculpture. God has no beginning and no end. God is not limited by our human perspectives. The true God is never out of scale as long as we lift our eyes to the heavens and circle ever closer to the God whose love and grace is not ours to lose.