Thursday, November 29, 2012
in the room with raphael
crowds of people pulse on all sides of me, their body heat pressing into me, hearts thumping, their fingers pointing at walls alive with color and history. wide-eyed, they sigh and speak a babel of languages, their heads and necks tilting back—snap, crack—for a better view, first in the pinacoteca, and then in raphael's rooms. there it is, the school of athens and, oh god, higher still, heaven in a ceiling. at times i think i cannot breathe. there are too many people. i remind myself inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
i attempt to take a few pictures with my iphone—after all, how often does one encounter the stanze di raffaello?—but i am not really in the mood. am i coming down with a cold? a raw rain runs clear rivulets across the vatican museums' windows. i position myself by backing away from the throngs toward an empty area near the wall, being careful not to touch the wall. (i have already been chastised once for touching by roman guards in the castel sant' angelo.) the window area is cordoned off, but i feel better with a view of the damp day beyond the crush.
my blah mood starts to disperse when i notice a couple intent on studying the artwork. i try not to stare, but they stop right in front of me. i pretend to be interested elsewhere, yet i am curious. my eyes can't help returning to them, to her smooth white skin and wavy reddish-blonde tresses, to his intelligent eyes and shapely bald head. there is nothing outstanding to behold in these ordinary people, but something about the strangers that i can't quite figure out gives me the sudden urge photograph them. that's the odd thing about it—i am rarely moved to take deliberate snapshots of people i don't know.
the second i see them, i realize they are unusual subjects. he leans into her, gently, slowly, his hand touching her hair, his head touching her head—but no, it's not a tender moment he seeks, it's the audio guide—while she looks up. after he gets close enough to her to hear, they do not move. they stay frozen in the spot they have claimed for themselves, her eyes fixed on the ceiling, his eyes fixed on me (well before i even lift my phone). it's as if they are simultaneously posing for me, but not posing for me. yet that can't be, that's not it. they are listening, absorbed by a voice in their ears whispering a language they understand, explaining the details of what their eyes witness.
i try not to be obvious; i turn and take photos of the frescoes—but what to focus on with this overload of detailed stimuli coming from walls and ceiling? so i just do it; in the blink of an eye, i do it, i do what i have wanted to do all along—i turn back around and touch the camera button.
there is this uncanny sense i have—an idea, a ridiculous idea, perhaps, but a fun one and one that seems like it could be true—that this man and this woman make their living as actors, not because they are dramatic or seem to be striking a pose, but quite the opposite—because they are relaxed and comfortable and, above all, quiet in their own skin, in their own space. it is as if they are alone, not a tourist in sight, in the vast, ornate, renaissance chamber, as if they belong standing where they are standing, and they themselves are on view, an audience sitting in darkness just beyond the walls of raphael's room waiting to applaud.
the man and woman are in position—they just are. they inhabit—more than that, they own—this piece of air.
i can't help clapping in my head.