Her first time in Italy, and she is eight years old.
I seem to have had no first time in Italy. Part of me originated here, and the familiarity seeps into my organs with each visit. This country and I have an understanding which explains every three-month trip that becomes four months and every return ticket home that gets abandoned.
But my daughter is more American than me. Waiting for our turn to visit the Accademia does not impress her and Michelangelo means nothing. She’d rather be on the train with a bag of sour gummies, scrolling through the games on her iPad.
Finally, we creep a little and the door is within reach. Too bad for the people behind us, who gave up because they were afraid they wouldn’t get back to the cruise ship in time. Too bad for the people in front of us, who five minutes earlier paid a handsome sum to some shyster selling “VIP tours” that guaranteed immediate admission.
Inside, there is air conditioning and the happy news that my daughter’s ticket is gratis. She slumps through the first part of the gallery, completely disinterested in the marble busts and the charcoal sketches. The gift shop gets her attention and I tell her we can stop there on the way out.
Then, we turn the corner. The corner that changes everything.
I smile before I see it and my tumbling stomach hints at the hovering expectation. Tears spring to my eyes like they always do at this corner. I’m a sap for this: for Italian genius and the complete mystery of Renaissance creation. For the perfection of David on display and patient. I take my daughter’s hand and lead her around that corner.
With that gasp, the day has changed and so has the girl.
Almost two years later, we are living in Florence, just a few steps from that very museum. We have seen the sculpture a dozen times now, and every time it stops us at the corner and brings us to our best selves. For me, it’s everything: all of our world’s potential. The violence, the love, the doom – it’s all showcased in that perfect piece of white marble.
Friends are visiting and the girl is excited to take them to the David. She’s showing off a little, but I’ll let her. She considers this her city. She is allowed to run unaccompanied down to the corner market for the breaded chicken sandwiches she likes. She asks to sip my wine at dinner. She’s taking art classes near Santa Maria Novella. All of her life is happening before she is 10, it seems, and I won’t be the one to temper her enthusiasm.
Neither of us is prepared for the lack of interest our American visitors have in seeing the masterpiece. They don’t want to stand in line and they don’t want to pay the 8 euro admission. Earlier in the week, they toured the Medici Palace to appease us, I think, and the girl didn’t understand how less than enthusiastic they were at Michelangelo’s works under the high dome. We love Day and Night and Dawn and Dusk. We expect everyone to.
“We saw the copy of David in the Piazza della Signoria,” the friends say. “It’s just like the real one, right? Been there, done that.”
The girl looks like she’s been punched. Turning to me, she is speechless. I shrug, and we continue to be the best hostesses we can be.
That night, I tuck her into bed with a kiss and a promise that we can take a long bike ride and go to the park the next day. I’ll fall into my own sleep with a new contentment. The tugging will be absent – that tugging that says I should be a more stable, more conventional parent. It’s not true. I have done something very right, and I will drift into night congratulating myself on it.
Cari Oleskewicz is a poet and writer based in Tampa, Florida. Her work has been published in a number of online and print publications including Literary Orphans, Blotterature Literary Magazine, Pork & Gin, The Found Poetry Review and Sandhill Review. She is currently at work on a collection of travel essays.
Judge's Comment: Set in Florence, this tightly-structured story hinges around a dramatic turning point in the middle:
With that gasp, the day has changed and so has the girl.'
A wonderful portrayal of a rich, conspirational mother-daughter relationship, and of the transformational power of artistic beauty.