I am writing this entry on a train ride from Milan heading towards the political and spiritual capital of the empire that has had more influence over Judaism than any other. ROME!
For many years, I have been amazed at Israel’s balance and blend of the ancient and the new. I used to think that ancient ruins next to mobile phone towers was unique to the Jewish state. Bat alas, today in Italy I find an equally stark contrast where see that people are more enraptured with contemporary materialism (the latest mobile phone and Fendi bag) than the rich history, archaeology and flavor of ancient Rome.
But why am I writing about Israel in Italy? Because like Israel, the beautiful country of Italy, and especially Milan where I have spent the past few days, is a contradiction of ancient and modern. Wandering down past medieval canals constructed by Leonardo Da Vinci, through cobbled streets filled with romantic terraced apartments decorated with renaissance art, one will be enthralled by more than just the magnificent gelati ice creams and pizzas. The architecture here devoted to the glorification of Christianity is breathtaking, none more so than the finely sculpted cathedral, the Vernada Fabbrica Del Duomo.
I have never seen a more awesome physical structure for the glory of God, or perhaps for the power of the church. Many visitors tour the great expanse of this magnificent place of worship. Some pray, some take pictures, some take a moment to be inspired by the architectural greatness of Italy’s Renaissance engineers and artists whose work so finely adorns this structure.
Whilst some revere this place as holy through prayer, others see it as another place to tick off on the standard European backpacker itinerary, as having “done it”. There are lovers who cavort intimately on the roof, youngsters who joke around and complain about the stairs, whilst meters away, thousands gather to shop for some of the most exclusive handbags and shoes in Europe with labels such as Luis Vuitton and Prada. I had previously thought that such a blend of the sacred and the profane was something only apparent in Israel.
Milan’s’ Golden Quadrangle’ is the hedonistic end point of limitless consumer culture manufacturers for clothing and accessories. In this street block, finely dressed shoppers from across the world gaze at the immaculately presented windows of Dolce & Gabbana and Versace to name a few. I guess because those that shop in this area would be reluctant to tempt the gods of fashion with poorly dressed staff, there is even a shop devoted entirely to the stylish dressing of maids and servants.
Old and new are like mozzarella is to pizza here in Italy. The same was true in England, where I saw similar images around St Paul’s cathedral in London.
This train ride is about to terminate at Rome’s central station. As we enter this historic city, I am reminded of the contrast, namely, that our ancestors arrived here in chains, whilst we arrive here with backpacks. I conclude by hoping that as I enter Ben Gurion airport this Friday, the old and new of Israel are less palpable, and perhaps more palatable!