The Thursday Thesis - 27/04/2017
“Beauty, Death, and The Angel’s Navel”
I asked Gianni what the dim orange lights were, down the hillside from the road that snaked up his home near to the funicular.
“Candles, in Staglieno” he answered. That seemed to be enough for him, and he fell silent.
I was (as usual) ready to display my ignorance and asked what Staglieno was; and so began a peculiar love affair, between a Brit abroad and The City of the Dead.
You see, Staglieno is a cemetery, and it is – for me – one of the World’s most beautiful places.
Built on the banks of the River Bisagno, its great walls enclose a vast complex of elaborate tombs and shrines, with a population comprising hundreds of statues.
And one statue in particular.
She stands in niche XIII of the Upper Western Arcade, sullenly staring out from the Oneto family tomb – a beautiful angel, complete with feather wings and flowing gown.
But there’s more to her than the usual angelic attributes: first, there’s the undeniable sensuality of her pose and the way her hips tilt forward.
Then there’s the cold intensity of her unerring gaze.
After that you can marvel at the apparent texture of her dress, hemmed with stars, and the perfection of those feathers.
And there’s the little thing which Monteverdi gave her that makes her so enigmatic and fascinating: she has a navel.
And that’s odd – given that angels are created directly by a supposed god...
That’s why she’s so fascinating – she’s a perfect angel with a fatal flaw.
Nobody is perfect, and – in many ways – it is our own lack of perfection that makes us who we are.
And It's the way that everyone is imperfect in different ways that make teaching such a pleasure.
Perfection is bland, sterile and anodyne: who would be daft enough to want to be that?
Here’s to our imperfections - every single one of ‘em - because that's what makes us interesting, special and unique.
See more of Staglieno here: www.staglieno.comune.genova.it/en/node/199
© Neil Cowmeadow 2017
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