Atlas, Not Shrugging

I found myself in the Central Market in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Florence late one night, because after a negroni nothing hits all the spots better than an arancino, or 12.  Sicilian street food, these fried, fist-sized, risotto balls are glorious even this far away from the sun soaked Mezzogiorno.  Although it was late in the evening, it was not possible to find a free table, so I was happy to share space with two Australian tourists from the gold coast who I swear still smelled like sea air.


Small talk with an American abroad these days seems to lead to political diatribes that have the power to deflate even the joy of a rice ball.  I grow weary of explaining the American dystopia, but historians do and should carry this weight on their shoulders.  In the end, I left them with less hope that I would have liked and I went off into a night mature enough that the tourists had already gone home.  I spent the walk home thinking about my surfboard in storage and that invitation to Australia.


A few days later, I found myself in Pisa.  I wouldn’t be the first Florentine to work my way to the coast.  Florence and Pisa share the Arno River, and Florence long dreamed of conquring the city to have access to the sea.  It’s 2017 and Florence and Pisa can’t even agree to share an airport.   Pisa would be a university town devoid of tour busses except for one of the world’s most famous blunders.  The bell tower of her cathedral has leaned, ever so slightly, since 1178.  This was due to the sandy soil, but they kept building the tower regardless.  The tower leans at almost four degrees.  It’s just enough that when you climb the stairs you aren’t sure why you don’t remember the bar crawl you must have enjoyed earlier.


Standing in front of the tower to take a picture releases the adolescent monkey in all of us.  If you look across the square, tourists are pushing, pulling, and kicking the air.  If the aliens land here I have news for you, the report of intelligent life won’t be reaching the mothership.


I am not the only American feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I stood turned and raised my arms to adjust the soaring tower that appeared to be resting on my shoulders.  But I didn’t bend.  A titan standing tall.  This atlas refuses to shrug no matter the weight of the world.  No, Ann Rand; I’m officially calling bull shit.


On the way back to the train station I came upon a striking new sculpture of the furies swirling in flight.  The scene had been captured from Dante’s Inferno Canto IX.  These frightening spirits, both serpent and women, Alecto, Tisphone, and Megera were gorgeously horrific.  Oh, to have snakes for hair!  They swirl violently, punishing the doers of unavenged crimes.  Well ladies, you can shriek, laugh and call your pal Medusa, but Dante’s eyes are closed so, in the end, he is spared the fate of becoming stone.  Correspondences between crime and punishment are an age old philosophical question.  I, like my winged sisters and my old pal Dante, am not easily convinced that sinners need pity.


The furies would surely know what to do with the Atlas who shrugs.  I smirked, and set off to a find a gelato.


  1. Jim m

    I love to read your prose. Insightful, intellectual, and comedic all rolled into one, like one of your risotto balls.

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