Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Into the Red Sea

Res Publica

July 2004

by Lisa Otten

I swung my legs up and over the balcony ledge and let my feet hang down. The red tile was warm under my palms, comforting, and the sun that touched my face was itself joyful, delighted to shine on this city. The breeze was soft and rich with the scents of jasmine and rosemary. Grand green mountains stood silently by and the river flowed contentedly at their feet. Between them, and around it, and below me stretched out a great sea of red roofs. Many church bells began a song, ringing out above them from all around; the low tones rolling and the high tones laughing their glad response. Then, the great Duomo of Florence joined in with its robust baritone voice.

Florence from above is warm sunshine and gentle breezes over a vast red sea of tiled roofs dotted with spired churches and flat palace islands. When the red sea parts, Florence from below is old worn stone and fresh bread and street vendors selling cherries and strawberries and oranges and eggs to be taken home for breakfast. It is wine shops and book stores tucked into alcoves centuries old. It is piazzas and narrow streets still remembering the footsteps and the words of the great men who walked them ages ago.

All that is fine and good and lovely can be found in Florence. Frescoes in churches tell us of the Trinity, the Passion, the Cross, and the Saints. Ancient gods and goddesses look down in vivid colors from the lofty ceilings of palaces. Likenesses of the great men who found their home and delivered their genius in Florence line the interior of the Uffizi Gallery. The face of Venus is drawn in chalk on the sidewalk. A viceroy of Michelangelo’s David stands proudly in a city square.

When the sun sets, what was only cool shadow during the day takes on flesh and form at night. The soul of the city rises, dresses in her finest robes, and softly walks the streets, awakening those who know her name and beckoning them to speak for her. A woman stands on a corner and sings; the song is mournful and lovely, heartbreaking in its perfection. Down the street and a couple blocks away, a string quartet stands among the ruins of old columns and through their music the soul of Florence speaks for hours of the beauty she has known. Her gentle glory floods the streets and graces the evening air as she moves wearing wonder like a mantle about her shoulders.

Men, to be human, must wonder; they must be continually drawn to look up, ever higher, ever deeper, hungering to marvel, driven to know that reality which underlies everything they see, and instinctively representing everything, even those things understood only in part, in images. Florence witnessed an explosion of this wonder and still glows with that divine infusion. Poetry, marble and fresco bear the manifestations of these marvelous inclinations of the soul to sublime beauty. Her music lifts the soul. Her art sanctifies the imagination.

A divine breath parted lips of dust and brought forth life. That same divine wind parted the red sea so that man might meet with God on a holy mountain. And again, the air of heaven swept down upon the red tiled sea of a Tuscan city so that man might again know God. May it breathe also on us, parting the dust that has settled on our souls and plunging us into the wonders that the red sea has known.

Lisa Otten is a senior from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, majoring in Philosophy, Political Science, and History.

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