Friday, May 7, 2021

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Joe's Neighborhood

David or Pinocchio?


joes1The loud and angry Italian couple leaned into each other as they faced off like professional wrestlers getting ready for the big, slingshot-catapult, missile-dropkick finale to their match. Waving their arms and posturing on the narrow, crowded street, they left little room for us to politely walk around the drama. And, of course, not understanding the language allowed us a breezy freedom of interpreting the action. Is he that lout who frequently cheats on his wife and was caught this morning sneaking home with freshly smudged lipstick on his white shirt? Or is this just the daily discussion about who’s picking up little Angelo from school?

No matter the reason, these are two people not at their best on this chilly morning in Florence, Italy. We’ve all been there, by the way, whether in Florence or Des Moines. It’s why we have New Year’s resolutions. We have to try to be better in the future because our behavior in the past is sometimes nothing to write home about. As my mom would periodically say to me, “You’re better than this.”

I’m good with that mantra. In fact, I love self-help programs that claim they will make me better. Get Thin. Get Happy. Lose Your Belly. Lower Anxiety. Brighten Your Teeth. Defeat Aging. Save Your Marriage. Yup, I love a clear path to perfection. Whatever can possibly be put into a program with multiple steps, I’m doing it. 30 Days to Better Spelling? Sign me up.

Until yesterday.

I was walking in the Accademia Gallery Museum in Florence, doing the normal tourist stuff, when I turned the corner and saw the worst thing possible for a guy with a self-help fetish.

Prep Iowa

Whaaaaat? Gigantic arms — muscled legs — rippled stomach — smooth skin — good hair. Michelangelo’s David in all his glory. No wonder he’s forgotten his pants as he heads out the door to slay Goliath. Lord, if I looked like that, I’d forget my pants, too. Give me a break.

David is unbelievably, horribly, frighteningly perfect!

What was Michelangelo thinking? This is disaster for all of us. Who could possibly be David? The last time I had smooth skin was when I was 2. Where are my stomach muscles even located? How can I have good hair when I have no hair? And, I’m sorry, I’m just getting older. My future is not the slaying of enemy giants but the promise of green Jell-O salad served cafeteria style.

joes2Here’s the truth — I WILL NEVER BE A BETTER SPELLER IN 30 DAYS!

I’m done.

OK, OK, breathe. There’s got to be another option.

Let’s see, besides Michelangelo’s David, there is a second example that comes out of Florence, Italy.

“As soon as he reached home, Geppetto took his tools and began to cut and shape the wood into a Marionette. ‘What shall I call him?’ he said to himself. ‘I think I’ll call him PINOCCHIO.’” The Adventures of Pinocchio, Annotated, Carlo Collodi. 

Yup, that would be our guy. Interestingly enough, that same Pinocchio was dead by the end of Chapter 15 for being such a bad boy. Yup, Pinocchio was so far from perfection — such a rotten kid — Collodi killed him off in the original story. Thankfully, the editor of the newspaper in Rome, where the story was serialized back in the day, asked Collodi to resurrect the puppet and do another 20 chapters. And, lo and behold, in Chapter 16, Pinocchio is saved by “The Lovely Maiden with Azure Hair,” and has many more adventures before turning into a real boy. Not bad.

And you have to love the life lessons in Collodi’s Pinocchio story:

  1. Don’t tell lies;
  2. Take your medicine when you are sick;
  3. There is no such thing as a Field of Wonders that will suddenly make you rich;
  4. Don’t believe everything you hear;
  5. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you;
  6. Don’t be too proud to work;
  7. It’s never too late to learn;
  8. Choose your friends carefully;
  9. We are in this world to help each other; and
  10. There is always hope for someone with a kind heart.

And, if you do all of this, you might turn human. Maybe.

OK, isn’t Pinocchio our guy? Forget the six-pack abs. Forget the perfect hair. Forget being a hero. Isn’t it enough of a program to work on not turning into a donkey by the end of the day?

Back in Florence, the couple stopped yelling at each other as we watched. And, as is not uncommon in Florence, a passionate embrace followed. Leaning into each other with all their problems and scars and messiness. Wonderfully trying to be human.

That’s enough for 2017. ♦

One Comment

  1. John Domini says:

    *Complimenti,* Joe Weeg. Too few Americans know the sort of quiet revelations Italy is capable of in winter, when the crowds are gone.

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