When I was nineteen years old, I was an Army private stationed in Darmstadt, Germany. Desert Storm had us all on lockdown, and with Christmas coming up, my boss at the time, Chaplain Mike Suttle, strategized a back-door way to get some of of us lower-enlisted soldiers off-post without having to take official leave. He personally sanctioned a week-long “retreat” to Rome, justified to the higher-ups by him leading a daily prayer session. None of us gave a shit about the praying, we just wanted to get our stir-crazy asses somewhere else. Italy sounded cool.
With a thumb’s up from the battalion commander, Chaplain Suttle put me in charge of logistics. I scored us a short bus from a local special education school, made arrangements with American and German bases en route for free accommodation, and mapped our route. We’d blast through Bavaria and Austria in a day, then make stops in Venice, Pisa, Florence, and finally Rome, where the Chaplain was hell-bent on arriving on Christmas morning, just in time for the Pope’s international blessing.
I’m thinking about this trip today, during a month-long retreat of my own to Mexico City, because last weekend I wandered through my Roma neighborhood to Plaza Río de Janeiro, where a replica of Michelangelo’s David commands the center. Turns out, with the exception of Africa (OK, Antarctica too), there are similar replicas on every continent. There’s a plaster cast of David in a London art school, complete with hooks to add a fig leaf when the Queen visits. There’s another, a gold-painted foam David that stands twice as tall as the original, on display in Louisville, Kentucky.
Such novelties aside, the David I saw last weekend stands in a perfect place to watch the sun cross the sky. Mexico City’s bronze David leans casually on his rising pedestal, muscles flexing, gazing to the left as expected, while pigeons take permanent fixture on his curly mop. He’s centered within a shallow fountain where I watched children dive in and out of the water, splashing each other as children do, while celebrating an occasionally found peso coin. The plaza itself is enveloped by art deco mansions and a never-ending flow of hand-holding pedestrians lost momentarily in the water’s white noise, slowing their stroll, often stopping to embrace, to kiss, to look up at the plaza’s marvel. A certain perfection of ageless art. An original in itself.