Marolt: In Italy, you’re a peein’ art
They say art speaks for itself. I’m not so sure. The interpretation and perspective are too highly dependent on placement.
I concluded this at the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy. It is one of the greatest and oldest museums in the world, stuffed with incredible classic sculptures, paintings, ancient books, some modern stuff and a few mummies. Even the architecture is art, I think.
We got there just as they opened the doors. The most famous sites in the country draw crowds making spring break at Disneyland seem like Walden Pond in February before the end of the last ice age, but before 9 in the morning you pretty much have the places to yourself. The downside to this is that there won’t be a herd to follow, so you are alone to figure out what is worth looking at.
This holds true with the facilities, too. So it was that I headed to the basement for the men’s room. One note to novice Italian travelers: There is an exchange rate between U.S. dark roasted sludge and delicate Italian cappuccinos. Currently the rate is roughly five lukewarm coffee-flavored milk-foam Italian breakfast drinks equaling the kick from one cup of Café Americano. You can actually get bloated with cappuccinos before you’re half awake.
Anyway, I had the place to myself. I walked into the gigantic men’s room and was greeted with a full-width granite wall at the opposite end that had a thin film of water pouring down it adding pleasant visual and auditory atmosphere. Along the other walls ran a bank of toilet stalls opposite sinks and hand dryers. The paper towel has yet to be discovered in Europe.
The astute reader will notice there is no mention of urinals. My first thought was, “Oh no, I’ve accidentally wandered into the ladies room, again.” I checked the door and noted the universal symbol of a man wearing a blue suit. Again, I looked around for the urinal because that was the necessary device for the job.
Ah ha! I thought. This is an art museum. That beautiful waterfall wall at the end of the bathroom that is draining into the floor must be the urinal! Clever!
No sooner had I begun employing the implement than my son walked in. (Please note that he is a college sophomore, so he knows everything.) He saw me in front of that wall taking care of business and began to howl. “What are you doing?” He cried with tears in his eyes. He could not catch his breath for laughing.
“This is the urinal,” I said as innocently as I had concluded two minutes before, but more doubtful now.
“No it’s not!” he guffawed. “That’s a fountain! Are you crazy?
I countered his observation with darn good fifth-grade logic. “Where’s the urinal then?”
He pointed out that none of the 20 or so toilets in the door-less stalls had toilet seats. That’s because they’re dual purpose, he told me He also pointed out that they’re not exactly giving away water in Italy. It’s in such short supply that they charge you for it at restaurants whether it’s fizzy or Florentine tap. Nobody would have a urinal that continually runs water all day long. Of course it’s a fountain that recycles its supply.
Good points all. And I was suddenly sorry if the water I was tainting was not being flushed into the sewer. I would have halted the process then, but that’s easier said than done. Ironically, he then joined me in relieving himself there, too, I suppose because I had ingrained in him the notion that “Father knows best” and ignoring the mounting evidence against that.
As we stood there side by side, it occurred to me: “So, if this isn’t a urinal, why is there a grated drain in the floor below it?”
“Fountains need drains, too, Dad.”
Kids have an answer for everything. My last line of defense was that there was no place for anyone to throw coins into this fountain, but I didn’t say anything thinking that perhaps throwing away perfectly good money into a man-made water feature in a shopping mall or an airport might be a distinctly American thing.
I may never know if that water pouring off the polished granite wall at the Ufizzi is a urinal or work of art. At any rate it got us talking, looking and, obviously, imagining. That is the point of art, right? Besides, who says a plumber can’t be an artist, too?
Roger Marolt is sorry to perpetuate the stereotype of the clueless American tourist. firstname.lastname@example.org
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