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PADUA / Gregory On Inside the Basilica of Saint Anthony they're celebrating a mass for Aldo Moro, murdered two years ago by the Red Brigades, his body jammed in the trunk of an abandoned car in Rome. The first mass I've ever been near—the fascination of the chanting and incense. Lightning from a storm gathering all day knocks out the electricity, but the mass continues, lit only by its candles. Trisha directs my eyes up toward the huge central dome—how the gold background of the Byzantine mosaics isn't simply gaudy but catches and reflects back the half-light of candles so it gleams down through the shadowy vastness. In the basilica's Treasury we see a large case full of saints' relics, including Saint Anthony's "incorruptible tongue." Once he came to preach at Rimini but was locked out of the city by its tyrant and so preached to the fish along the shore and they listened with great interest. The tongue itself is difficult to locate in its elaborate chalice of crystal and gold; it looks like a tiny piece of lava, charred and porous. In the space of ten minutes we look at two statues by the same sculptor, Donatello. They couldn't be more different, or more disturbing in their differences. On the high altar, a sensual Christ on the Cross that reminds me that Vasari credits Donatello as the first sculptor of the Renaissance to go back to the "ancients," to copy the Greeks and Romans and thus bring over the grace and elegance (and nakedness) of the human body. In the piazza outside, Donatello's equestrian statue of the Venetian mercenary captain known as Gattamelata, "Pussycat," because of the ruthless, agile way he pounced on his enemies. This grim and rigid man on his huge bronze horse makes me want to think of the statues as two rivers flowing apart, separating forever: a river called History, that's actually only brute force, and a river called Beauty, whose source is sexual grace. I'm on the verge of invoking Saint Anthony: "Give me eloquence to declare that there are two rivers and you can't be in both. An artist must choose." Next week in Florence, when we rendezvous with a friend who lives and works in Tuscany, he's just finished a novel about terrorism 20 ¦ The Missouri Review and is full of information and eager to share it over dinner. After I say how fond I was of its quietness and arcaded streets, he tells us that Padua is one of the most violent of Italian cities. Its university, whose shaded walks Petrarch and Bocaccio strolled, hasn't been open an entire semester for years. The preferred mode of brutality in Padua is for a group of young thugs to step out of the shadowy arcades and bludgeon a professor to death with bicycle chains. What makes Paduan violence distinctive, he insists, is that both right and left wing professors are victims. As this last detail, about the right and left wing teachers sinks in, I see a naked human body like Donatello's Christ: two wings are being painfully torn from its body. Now, home in Virginia, I find myself mulling over certain vivid details of that calm day in Padua: It's dusk. We're on our way back from the basilica to our hotel when we realize how cold it is, much colder than we were told Italy would be in May. Trisha isn't dressed warmly enough, so we search the shops for a sweater, finally find one in a place called "Jeans West." It's one of a chain of trendy boutiques; its logo stenciled below its name in a long line across the large, plate glass window: an American cowboy on a galloping horse. It makes me think of the statue of Gattamelata, but it isn't solid and heavy; the horse races at a precipitous gallop, all four hooves off the ground (which you have to imagine beneath it). The store's theme is American, from name to logo to style of clothes, but everything for sale is designed and made in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 20-24
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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