Venice and Florence: incomplete homework

This is another section from my 5th Travel story, Barbara and me in Europe, the same one that contained the Verdi story.

Venice was a place for us to relax.  We had a lovely pension in which to sleep and affordable restaurants were plentiful and between my Spanish, Barbara’s French, and the English speaking Italians, language was not a problem.  As a couple we needed this retreat time to consolidate the relationship, to share and feel together what we had individually experienced thus far on the trip.

We hadn’t talked much in Vienna among the foreboding government buildings on the Ringstrasse with their Frau gate-keepers.  But each of us was processing our own experience in Northern Europe, especially in Czechoslovakia.  My one attempt to present myself as a composer had been in Prague when I went to the office of culture which had a room devoted to contemporary Czech composers.  I was warmly received, as a tourist, and shown to a listening booth where I could listen to some of the music of the chosen composers.  There were no composers lounging about to converse with, only cultural tour guides.  I was very aware that I would not have been among the chosen had I resided in Prague.  My general sense of how I might fit into the cultural life of the world was slowly gaining a realistic perspective.  I think I began to understand that I would never be a part of the establishment of the music world, either in academia, or in the concert halls.  It still was a vague notion, but it was sobering.

Barbara’s grandparents were from Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Galicia.  Czechoslovakia was as close as she had ever been to this heritage.  And the young Jewish poet, sensitive, artistic, and intellectual, was a window for her to the world of her grandparents, and a possibility that might have been.  I was aware of the connection and let it play out. 

Venice was a place for us to talk and walk and be with each other and share our experiences, inner and outer, to reaffirm our relationship and feel the bond of our love for each other.

It was also where we took Intro to Italian Renaissance art and Architecture.  But the degree program was in Florence.  I still can not believe the quantity of masterpieces in that town.  We took in as many museums, churches, palaces, and halls as we could in the five days we were there.  We were physically tired at the end of each day, but would still go into a church on our way home in case there was a chapel painted by Masaccio, or Fra Angelico, or some other amazing artist whose works we had only seen in books or on rare occasions at museums in the U.S.  Florence was the richest cultural experience we encountered.  We saw and learned enough to stay with us for a lifetime.

As wonderful as our experiences were in Venice and Florence, I have to mention that I have another association with these cities.  As I have examined the world I live in, I have come to believe that Capitalism is the gravest threat to the survival of our species, and I know that it was in Venice and Florence at the time of this artistic flowering that capitalism got its spark to become this uncontrollable behemoth that now governs and threatens our world.  I don’t know how to put my wonderful experience and my disturbing understanding in relationship to each other, but I did have to mention the conflict, if only as a note to myself for further homework.

Well, that’s a pretty big statement, “Capitalism is the gravest threat to the survival of our species”

So let me say first of all, Capitalism is different from free market economics, or the opposite of Socialism.  Capitalism has to do with the role that money, or capital, plays in the economy. 

Second:  anything which increases exponentially, like compound interest, eventually bifurcates, it can’t last.  Compound interest helped speed up the pace of economic growth, and that seemed like a good thing for a few hundred years, but now it’s a bad thing.  I don’t think our world can handle much more “growth.”  Or rather the world that sustains our species.  For me it’s that simple.  We are in one big Ponzi scheme and it will not end well for those who bought into it, and that’s all of us.

There is a history of the church prohibiting interest.  It started when money systems were developed that could represent property; around 8th century BC.  People started putting up their property as guarantees for loans and then when they had a bad season, they lost their property and became enslaved.  That’s when the good kings of the Bible, Hezekiah and Josiah, enacted the no interest laws. 

It lasted through Pope Clement V, but then in order to finance the Crusades, the Church established the doctrine of “indulgences” whereby cash payments would cancel the “sin” of charging interest – a win/win strategy for the church and the bankers. 

The Crusades helped open up trading between Europe and the Orient.  The Northern Italian city-states, Venice and Florence, became the commercial center of this trade, and developed the foundation for financial capitalism.

But then there is all that art.  And much of it is in churches. 

I know that good art, much less great art, takes an incredible amount of time.  But I don’t think there has ever been an economic system that has been just to those from whom the money came and adequately compensated the artists.  

And I am OK with that.  Great art does not come from the desire to make a living.

It was mainly the large community of artist working together in Northern Italy that created the flowering, not the money.

Or that’s what I want to believe.

I think I’d best just take an incomplete on this homework assignment.


About Newell Hendricks

I have lived a good life. Maybe a counterculture life, maybe a normal life. I have written operas, built houses, been involved with cross-cultural education between Latin America and the U.S, and hardly ever had a job I have helped raise two wonderful children with my amazing wife. It's been a good ride. And I go to church. I've just finished a book of stories from my life, I am still connected to an organization in Nicaragua that promotes sister relationships between communities, faith communities, or schoold, and to the extent that my cancer doesn't pull me down, am attempting to share some of what I have learned, or at least tried out. Welcome, and let's share.
This entry was posted in art, Capitalism, compound interest, Memoire, Travel in Italy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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