Cole Sabin is an emerging freelance writer and poet from Seattle. Originally from Denver, he has a background in Criminal Justice from the University of Colorado. Turning his sights to his lifelong dream of writing, he is working on finishing his first novel, The Author, as well as a collection of inspiring short stories which will include the following.
Florence Out of Time
I can’t believe this is happening, I just can’t believe I am actually here right now. After four long months of working my ass off, picking up extra shifts waiting tables, ignoring my friends every weekend and pinching pennies everywhere I could, I’m finally in Florence. This is quite literally a dream come true.
Gripping my backpack straps tightly and taking deep, slow breaths I inch toward the planes front exit. Excitement, pulsing through me like jolts of electricity, sparks a smile onto my face.
"Ciao," I say pleasantly to the stewardess standing at the exit door, gazing blankly ahead. With great effort, she flashes a tight-lipped smile which vanishes almost immediately and with a heavy sigh returns to her empty stare.
Once off the plane I speed walk past the crowd of lethargic passengers. I'm one of the first to get into the customs line and get called up almost immediately. I slide my passport and customs ticket to the sleepy-eyed, droopy faced customs agent sitting at his desk behind a thin pane of glass. He looks them over silently, making eye contact only once to confirm that my face matches the one in the picture.
"What brings you to Italy?" He asks the words slithering out of his mouth.
“Well I’ve al –,“ I start.
“Just say business or pleasure,” he interrupts.
“Great.” He stamps my passport and gestures for me to continue through the airport.
“Ciao, grazie," I say trying to stay friendly.
“Next,” he moans lazily to the line behind me.
“Alright," I whisper to myself slowly. I’m only here for eight days, so not wanting to waste a single moment I dash for the exit. Drawing strange looks from the slower crowd, ignoring baggage claim, it’s not until I’m through the large sliding front doors that I finally pause.
Taking a deep breath, I calm myself and close my eyes to feel the moment. The air is warm and moist, the smell of fresh rain singes my nostrils. My bag, stuffed with a weeks’ worth of clothes, rests heavy on my shoulders. I hear cars passing slowly in front of me and the dull sound of thunder in the distance. I can see a large, dark, anvil-shaped cumulonimbus cloud in the distance pouring its contents over the Tuscan hills.
I hop into one of the cabs parked outside the airport.
“Ciao,” the young driver says with a thick accent. “Where to?”
I pull out the crumpled piece of paper that has my hotel scribbled on it. “The Regazza hotel,” I read to him confidently.
“Um, I…” I trail off, turning the paper over in my hand searching for more information. “The Regazza,” I repeat confused.
“Si, which Regazza. There are three Regazza hotels in Firenze.” He says impatiently. I read the paper again, carefully looking for a more specific answer.
“The Regazza Centro, the Regazza Blanca or the Regazza Termini?” He asks waving his clasped hands.
Not finding the answer, I hand him the paper. “This is all I have about it.”
“Ci, the Regazzo Blanca.” He says after a short glance at the page. He puts his cab into gear and whips out of his parking spot so quickly that it shoves me into my seat. A ringing bell echoes through the car speakers and he presses a button on his earphones. “Ciao?” He says in Italian. “When I talked to her the other day she said everything was fine. If she had a problem she should have told me to my face.” He continues, in Italian.
My heart pounding, no longer from excitement but from the way the driver speedily weaves through traffic, tossing me from one side of the back seat to the other. His hands occasionally too busy waving through the air expressively to grip the wheel. Once off the highway, Vespas meander fearlessly between cars, missing bumpers by mere inches.
At the crest of a hill, I get a handful of seconds with a view of the dome, in the center of town, cresting the top of the Florence Cathedral before being tossed around the backseat again.
When we finally screech to a halt in front of my hotel I must pry my white-knuckled hands loose from the handles on the roof to pay.
No more cabs in Italy, I think as I enter my hotel. I approach the check-in counter, behind which are 3 girls talking. I wait patiently going completely unnoticed for minutes. “Scusa,” I say politely interrupting, now remembering my aim to put my fluent Italian to good use and speak as little English as possible. The girls turn, see me and one of them slowly approaches as she finds a stopping point in their conversation.
“Name?” she asks without eye contact.
“Eh, Jarred,” I say dryly. “Jarred Snell.”
“ID?” I slide my passport across the desk to her. She typed into her computer and slid a card key with my passport back across the desk finishing with a bored sigh. “Room 313,” she says with a fake smile and immediately turns back to her friend, continuing their conversation.
“You have a nice day to,” I say bitterly.
As a person who works in customer service, I deeply despise rude people, but nothing is going to get me down today because today I am in Florence. I’m mad for only a moment, but the elevator ride to my floor is enough time for my imagination to run wild. I picture the cities immaculate, ancient architecture, the smell of handmade pasta wafting down the streets, sculptures and street artists on every corner. Excitement surges through me again and I can no longer keep the smile from my face. “Ahhhh," I yell once the hotel door clicks behind me. I throw my bag on the bed, plug my phone in to charge its nearly dead battery and leave with nothing but my room key, wallet and a vague sense of where anything in the city is. There will be plenty of time for pictures and maps later, but right now I just need to see it.
Once outside I pause momentarily to channel my excitement; to focus my senses, feeling them all at once. “Don’t freak out,” I whisper to myself. “You’re just walking through the same streets that Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci walked on, no big deal.”
As I walk though, I find myself drastically underwhelmed. Every street, every alley, every gutter is unnaturally filthy. Piles of trash flow over garbage cans and collect near curbs, strange liquids ooze down chipped, cracked walls of nearby houses and an open dumpster smell follows me everywhere I go. And the graffiti. Oh, does Florence appear to love its graffiti. It’s on every storefront, wall, window and even on the streets themselves. I’m not talking Banksy’s either, these are crude, colorless, mostly unintelligible tags of cuss words or the perpetrators street name.
I am disappointed, I finally admit. This can’t be where it all happened. It can’t be the city that I have studied for years. Can’t be, can’t be, can’t be.
It’s got to be better closer to the center, I reason, trying to stay encouraged. Still, the luster is lost. The glee I had inside only moments ago has transformed into a mix of disdain and judgment. I've heard meeting your heroes can be a disappointment, I guess it applies to cities also.
Minutes later I enter the crowded courtyard of the Basilica Santa Croce, buzzing with the murmurs of passing tourists. This seven-hundred-year-old building is the largest Franciscan church in the world. This is one of the reasons I’m here. I’m ready to gaze at the ivory walls highlighted by river green of one of Italy’s oldest churches. Ready to enter and see the graves of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo. Instead, I get to stare at scaffolding, with construction men working to restore the ancient church. Tape around the entrance alerts approaching tourists of its closure for the summer.
"It's not fair," I mumble to myself with a heavy sigh. "I swear if the rest of the city is like this – ". Frustration boiling to the surface, I imagine every sight I’ve come to see being nothing but disappointments. The statue of David crumbles to pieces, the Duomo closed for exactly 1 week, the Uffizi gallery robbed blind overnight.
As I angrily head toward the Duomo something slams into me, knocking me down.
“Dannazione,” the stranger and I say simultaneously.
“Watch where you’re walking idiota,” the stranger shouts in Italian.
“You crashed into me stronzo," I shout right back, jumping to my feet a hot rage boiling over me.
“What did you call me?” he asks whirling around and with a firm grip grabs me by the collar, pulling me up to my tiptoes.
“I said you’re an asshole,” I slap his hand away and press my finger firmly into his rose-colored shirt. “You crashed into me. I wasn’t even walking.”
He presses me back powerfully. I’m ready to fight this stranger but my anger cools and a tinge of fear causes me to hesitate as we lock eyes. His wild blue eyes stare right through me. He has long flowing gray hair and a matching beard. He's dressed like a Renaissance fair actor, wearing velvet burgundy-colored tights, a matching tunic, and frilly tan blouse.
The man’s chest swells with air, for a moment I think he’s going to punch me but instead releases a long sigh and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I am truly beginning to hate this city. Everyone here is petty and selfish,” he says quietly to himself.
"You're telling me. This city is nothing but disappointment-," I trail off when I see the Basilica is no longer covered in scaffolding. It's unobscured, pearly, ivory walls shining over the courtyard. The buzz of tourist chatter is gone, replaced by an eerie silence, the tourists themselves all missing as if magically transported elsewhere. The houses surrounding the courtyard are all covered by a thick, milky, fog and only their silhouettes remain.
“Where did everyone go?” the old man asks. Both of us look around the courtyard concerned and curious.
“Maybe they went somewhere else?” I say, trying to rationalize the situation.
“No, listen.” We stand silently, hearing only the wind blowing through the streets. I look up at the sky still bright blue and feel the hot sun burning my cheeks. “The entire city is quiet.”
“So, everyone in the city is gone?” I ask skeptically, looking down the surrounding streets and alleys seeing no one. “Hello? Is anyone here?” I yell to the city. There’s no response.
He shrugs, “that is what it sounds like.” He picks up a small violet hat, which must have fallen off when we bumped into one another, places it gently on his long greasy hair then walks over to one of the foggy buildings and pokes at it with his fingers. “Fascinating,” he whispers. I follow his lead, prodding the houses with my hands. I almost expect my hand to slide right through the foggy exterior, but the walls still feel stony and rough, only their appearance is different. “How strange.”
“What the fuck is going on?” I ask stupidly. “Why is the church the only thing not covered in this? And what happened to the scaffolding that it was covered in a minute ago?”
“Scaffolding?” the old man asks.
"You didn't see the scaffolding? The church was covered in it because of renovations and is closed for the rest of the summer. Which really bummed me out because I wanted to see where Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo were buried,” I say carelessly.
“Michelangelo? Buried?” He looks at me bewildered. Slowly scanning me head to toe. I could feel him eyeing my Adidas shoes, denim jeans, and a t-shirt with a blue and orange Auburn logo.
“What?” I ask feeling violated.
“I think,” he hesitates, rubbing his chin. “Who are you?” he asks, abruptly changing the subject.
"Um, my name's Jared," I answer still frustrated with the old man.
“Where are you from Jared?” He asks again.
“The States,” I answer proudly.
"Yeah, the U.S," I smirk pompously.
The old man stares at me confused. “The U.S.?” He echoes slowly.
"The United States of America," I say slowly, chuckling condescendingly. I don't think it's likely there's a person in the whole world who doesn't know where the U.S is. Is he stupid or just pretending to be?
“And,” he hesitates for a moment, licking his lips as if tasting his words. “What year is it?”
“Um,” I hesitate taken aback. “Don’t you know?” I’m truly beginning to question this person’s mental health as he waits patiently for an answer. “Two thousand eighteen?” I answer slowly.
His eyes widen, and he strokes his long gray beard, "incredible." Then he begins pacing around the courtyard mumbling to himself. He pulls a worn leather notebook from inside of his tunic with a small piece of chalk and scribbles in it furiously.
“What are you –.” Without looking, he raises his hand to cut me off and continues his writing. I wait silently for several minutes before he slowly closes his notebook and returns it to its hiding place.
“Jared?” He turns to me finally. “I would like to apologize for the way I grabbed you earlier. I’m truly sorry for the way I pushed you. The city has made me forget my manors and, truth be told, I have had a hard day, but that does not excuse my behavior.”
"Yeah. I'm sorry too. I overreacted."
“Please, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Leonardo da Vinci,” he says casually, placing his hand gently over his stomach and bowing lightly.
I stare at the old man blankly. "Did you say, da Vinci?" The man nodded proudly. "You expect me to believe that you are Leonardo da Vinci? The Leonardo da Vinci?”
He looks confused again. “You don’t believe me?”
“Do I believe you’re Leonardo da Vinci? Um, no.” He stands confused, not knowing what to say. “Who are you really?”
“I have already told you. I am Leonardo da Vinci.” He answers stubbornly.
“Right, well let me reintroduce myself. I’m King Frances, the king of France.” I say sarcastically. “Did someone put you up to this? Am I being Punked or something?”
“That’s what all of this is isn’t it? A prank, right? To make me look stupid? It worked, it’s a good one. I don’t know how you guys did it. It’s pretty damn elaborate. I mean this is some David Blaine level shit,” I say gesturing to the houses. “You got me though, so you can give up the act.”
He gapes at me with his hands clasped desperately. I look around at the abandoned courtyard, the uncovered church, the gray, blank houses waiting for the pranksters to reveal themselves, they always pop up after being called out on those prank shows. No one does. I look the old man up and down, carefully studying his face which is patiently waiting for me to get onto the same page. It seems, strangely familiar. I try to recall the few places where da Vinci's face can be seen. As Socrates in Raphael's School of Athens, on the face of his Vitruvian Man and his own self-portrait. All these images run through my head, their vague similarities somewhat matching his.
“No way,” I say, still in disbelief and his expression lightens. “I know nearly everything there is to know about da Vinci. If you really are him, you can tell me who your, or, who da Vinci’s, teacher was?”
“I was taught by Maestro Verrocchio,” he replies happily.
“What was your Dad’s name?”
I pause, any good da Vinci impersonator would know these answers. "Ok, let me see that notebook of yours," I say, incredulous. "If you really are him, I'll be able to tell."
“Very well.” He pulls his leather-bound notebook from behind him and reluctantly hands it over, “Please be careful.” Slowly I flip through the fragile pages, carefully and painstakingly examining each, completely awestruck and amazed by what I see. Page by page, the nearly illegible mirror writing, surrounding gorgeous sketches and doodles. A drawing of a cross-sectional batwing, a flowing river, a horse leg so detailed that it almost looks like a photograph, each surrounded by scribbled notes. I scratch one of the notes carefully and the chalk flakes right off. Years of studying his notebooks, years of analyzing every sketch, every painting. These look authentic and they are certainly too elaborate to still be a prank. I look at Leonardo astonished.
In seventh grade, my history teacher taught a lesson on the Italian Renaissance and its impact on the world. Since then it has been an obsession of mine. I've learned nearly everything there is to know about it, the people, the art, even the language. I know the works of all those periods biggest names, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Raphael. Shit, I've even read Vasari's Lives of the Artists. I don't know any other nineteen-year-olds reading 16th century biographies.
Especially Da Vinci. The things he accomplished intellectually and artistically have been one of my life’s greatest inspirations. I’ve read nearly every biography written about him, even the fictional stuff. Michelangelo and Raphael are great and all but da Vinci, this guy is the reason I get out of bed most days.
You know that question people always ask, "If you could go back in time to meet anyone, where would you go?" My answer has always been, Florence, during the high renaissance, to meet Leonardo da Vinci.
I’ve never met a celebrity before, I always imagined that if I had I would calmly say something like, ‘hey, don’t mean to bother you, but I’m a big fan,’ and coolly walk away. This is different.
“Oh my fucking god, you’re Leonardo da Vinci,” I say in English, my voice echoing loudly. “Leonardo da fucking Vinci.” I’m so excited that I can’t stand still, I pace around him, touching his sleeves as the word vomit pours from my lips. I switch back to Italian, “you made the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, you invented Helicopters, flying machines, you discovered fossils and pretty accurately described how they got there, you were one of the greatest anatomists of all time, you were the first to discover that heart valve thing centuries before that Valsalva guy, or whatever his name is, and physicians wouldn't realize you were right about how it works until the 1960s."
“Slow down, slow down. I don’t understand half of what you’re saying,” Leonardo pleas.
“And you designed a weird bee powered, olive press, thing, it never worked but it’s still cool.” I finish, now gasping to catch my breath. “Sorry, I’m a big fan.”
“But I don’t understand. How is this possible?”
"Ah ha," he says excited now that I've finally caught up. “I’m not quite sure, but all of this is reminding me of a story Maestro Verrocchio used to tell. Brunelleschi died before I was born but Verrocchio had the pleasure of meeting him several times. He would tell us all sorts of stories about him, many were true, others were legends. The particular story that I am remembering now was a story about how Brunelleschi met a man from the future. Somehow, the two men from different times bumped into each other, the city became empty and nearly all of it was covered in a thick fog. As they were the only people in the city, they walked together and chatted. Legend has it this is how he figured out how to build his Duomo. At the time I believed it was just another absurd story, now, though, I am not so sure."
“Right. So, what does that mean?” I ask still not understanding.
"It appears that somehow time has folded itself from your time and mine," he says while gesturing with his hands held out flat and folding them together, touching his index fingertips. "Somehow bringing only the two of us to, what appears to be, a version of Florence that is outside of the normal stream of time. Which might be why we can see the church but not the houses. I would guess other monuments throughout the city may still be intact as well.” I blink at him still not understanding. “I am not one to much stock in faith, but this has all the makings of a divine miracle. As such we may never understand the how of it and should instead focus on the why of it. Why us? Why here? Why now?”
“Ah of course,” I say pretending to get it.
“For me, I believe it may be to learn about the future. So, please tell me what it’s like in your time? The land you’re from, for example, what is it like?” he asks excitedly.
I tell him a little about America, which, to his delight, is named for his friend Amerigo Vespucci. I make the mistake of mentioning my flight, which opens a whole can of questions that I was not prepared for. He asks question after question for the better part of two hours about my time and how everything works, most of which I don't know the answers to. Even if I do, I’m afraid telling him might cause some rip in the space-time continuum or something. It’s strange being confronted by such relentless curiosity for things that I took for granted on a daily basis.
Mental note: look up how planes work back at the hotel.
“Leonardo,” I interrupt finally. “You’ve been asking me questions nonstop for hours. Look the sun is starting to get low. Shouldn’t we be figuring out how to get back?” My glee at meeting my hero was now smothered by the stress of possibly being stuck in a timeless Florence to starve to death. What if I must consider killing and eating Leonardo da Vinci here? Maybe that’s how Brunelleschi escaped, killing and eating his counterpart.
“I know,” he says with a sigh, “but you live in such a fascinating time. I’m dying to know more.”
“No, my time is boring. Everyone spends all day on social media sharing –.” I stop myself before I say pics. That would be another rabbit hole of questions I do not want to get into. “Talking about their meals.”
“Social Media?” Leonardo repeats, looking excited again.
I put my hand in the air halting this line of questioning. “Trust me, you don’t want to know.” He forcibly restrains himself. “Your time is the fascinating one. You live in a time of massive discovery, following a time of massive ignorance. New art, new sciences, new parts of the world. In my time everything is basically known already.”
“That is probably not true. I’m sure there are plenty of areas for people to discover new things. Especially for yourself as an individual, there seems to be plenty of things for you to learn. No insult intended, but if I were you, I would be learning everything there is to know, in order to be certain that there is indeed nothing new left to learn.”
Did Leonardo da Vinci just call me stupid? Cool. But he’s right. There are plenty of things that I don’t know about, hell there’s a world of things that I don’t even know that I don’t know about.
“You are right, however,” says Leonardo. “We need to figure out how to get back.” Leonardo thumbs his lips contemplatively, “Let me ask, why have you come to Florence?”
“Well, I’ve always found your time fascinating. I’ve studied it so deeply, the art, the people, their discoveries. I’ve had this deep desire to come here and see it all for myself.”
“Well then, perhaps that is where we should start. You’ve come to see Florence then I shall be your guide,” Leonardo says with a slight bow.
“Alright,” I say giddy. So now I get to see Florence with Leonardo da Vinci as my tour guide? Hell yeah. This trip just took an interesting turn.
“Although, I don’t know how much of it we’ll be able to see,” he adds gesturing to the milky colored houses. “This way,” he says, and we begin walking through narrow cobblestone streets.
“So, now let me ask you,” I say. “What were you doing before you got here?”
“I had just gotten out of a meeting,” he says, his jaw clenching tightly.
“What kind of meeting?” I push, sensing he’s withholding something.
“A city council meeting,” he pauses with a sigh. “To determine where to display the David statue.”
“The David statue? Michelangelo’s David statue?” I ask surprised. “Whoa, you got to decide where to put the Statue of David? That’s pretty awesome.”
“I don’t see what everyone likes about it. It’s got those monstrous hands and feet, it’s much too big, completely out of proportion but still, they call it the pride of Florence.” He says bitterly.
Suddenly I remember learning about the feud between the two Renaissance masters. I never imagined that their bad blood ran so deep.
“He’s a hack. His figures look like sacks of walnuts, muscles are not lumpy like that. Do you know he doesn’t even study anatomy?”
“Mr. da Vinci,” I interrupt. “Why did, or, do, you and Michelangelo hate each other?”
“He’s arrogant, he has no respect for his elders, and he thinks no one is his superior.” He says, waving his hands erratically and aggressively. “You know what he said to me today? He said that I never finish projects. That half of my commissions go unfinished and the other half take much longer than they should. Said it right in front a whole crowd of strangers completely unprompted.”
It gets quiet for a moment between us as I struggle to find a response. “I've always assumed that because he's so much younger than you, he had been told by everyone that you were the best while coming up and even looks up to you. Even your first addition to a painting is rumored to be so good that your teacher quit painting because of it. He's a young, ambitious, up and coming artist who wants to prove himself to be the best. Maybe he feels to do that, he needs to cut you down because you are the best. As if he feels the way to get out of your shadow is to diminish you or make you seem smaller,” I say, a little proud of my insight.
“Hmm,” Leonardo says considering my words. “I’m not sure I care about why he’s a rude ass to me, I only care that he is a rude ass and because of it, I’m going to make sure he never gets out of my shadow,” he says ominously.
“What do you mean?”
“The Gonfaloniere thought it would be a good idea to commission the both of us to do paintings of battles on adjacent walls as a competition to determine who the is the best painter in Florence. I’ll make sure my painting far surpasses his. Mine will, of course, I don't paint people to look like they're filled with rocks. Anyone who walks into that hallway will immediately notice his mediocrity when contrasted to my masterpiece,” he says furiously.
“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” I say timidly, now remembering his Battle of Anghiari painting. A piece that would be lost after quickly deteriorating due to an experimental painting technique and eventually replaced entirely by a Vasari painting. It only exists now as copies by other painters.
“That’s what I was going to do after the meeting. I was looking for inspiration for my new painting. Speaking of inspiration,” Leonardo says as we come to a corner and points ahead, where I see the massive Dome on the top Florence Cathedral towering above us at the end of the street.
"Whoa," I say, awestruck. "Oh my god. It's so beautiful. It's amazing," I ramble.
Leonardo smiled proudly, breaking his foul mood and absorbing some of my joy.
“It is the crown jewel of Italy. Anytime I look up at it, I immediately feel better.
“Oh man, I wish I could live here and look at this every day.”
“So, the dome is still around in your time?”
“Yeah, people like me come from all around the world to see this place.”
“Impressive.” Leonardo’s eyes twinkle as he looks at it. “Brunelleschi was such an amazing genius. For 200 years, every engineer who looked at the project said it couldn’t be done. They said that they’d never be able to build something that could hold that much weight. Until Brunelleschi. He won a competition for designing the dome.” Leonardo ranted, beaming up at the dome.
“It’s interesting, the way you talk about Brunelleschi is the way I talk about you in my time.”
“Let’s see if we can get inside,” Leonardo says joyfully. “We can climb to the top of the dome for one of the best views of the city.” I agree excitedly.
“Damn. No luck,” I say, after pulling hard at the massive locked doors.
Leonardo sighs disappointed. “Well, I know another great place for a view. If you’d like to see it?”
“Sure, it’s not like I’ve got any better ideas.”
“This way.” He begins leading the way, down more narrow streets and alleys.
“Leonardo, what if we don’t get out of here? What if we’re stuck in this place forever?”
“Well, luckily I’m old so I won’t have to worry about it nearly as long you will.” I chuckle nervously. “Let’s not worry about that right now, let’s see where things lead, and we can panic if we continue not finding answers. My assumption though, is that time will unfold, and we will be gently placed back into our own times.”
I wonder what makes him think that but am too afraid of appearing stupid to ask.
“So, about you,” he says picking up where we left off. “You came to Florence to follow your dreams is that correct?”
“Er, yeah. I love everything about the Renaissance. I – “
“It’s what we call your point in history. Being here is a dream come true and I worked my butt off to get here. Meeting you is more than a dream, it’s, well, I don’t even know what to call it.”
“What about my time do you find so fascinating?”
“All of it. The art, the discoveries, the accomplishments. The people in your time are titans of intellect and accomplishment.”
“But why us specifically? Why me? Why Michelangelo?”
“You guys are considered masters of multiple disciplines. I have many different interests and I guess I just want to be more like you guys.”
“I see. So, are you also an artist then?”
“No, well kinda. I like to draw, I’m pretty good at it but I wouldn’t consider myself an artist.”
“What do you want to do then?”
“I’m not really sure. I’m supposed to figure out what I want my major to be pretty soon, I can’t stay undeclared forever.”
Da Vinci just shrugs and shakes his head as if to say, ‘I have no idea what any of that means.’
“A major is the field that you study in college, like math, engineering or law. Undeclared is what you call it when you haven’t picked a major yet, like me.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Yeah, this last year I just took prerequisite courses. Which are just general knowledge classes that you have to take no matter what major you pick.” I say, staying ahead of his questions this time. “But, pretty soon I’m going to either need to pick a major or drop out entirely.”
“Well, I don’t know much about university. I never went, I wasn’t allowed. Bastards,” he says bitterly, “aren’t allowed to. But who needs it. Universities are only good at teaching how to regurgitate the ideas of others. Maybe it’s different in your time, but I prefer to study the only perfect examples which are nature and experience.”
“Right,” I say disappointed. Is he telling me not to go to college? Maybe this old guy is just too far removed from my time to understand.
Seeming to sense my doubt he continued, “Regardless, not having a discipline at your age is not the worst thing that could happen. How old are you by the way?”
“Ah yes, you’re still fairly young. I believe it’s normal for people to have many different areas of passion. Lord knows I do. Sometimes I truly love painting, other times I feel trapped by it. Recently, I will admit, I've begun to feel weary of the brush. I didn’t have much choice in being an artist. I showed some skill at it when I was young, and my father sent me off to apprentice as an artist. I wasn’t allowed to follow in the family business or attend university. I was a shame on my father’s reputation.”
"Yeah but you're da Vinci. The da Vinci. You're –."w
Then we turn a corner, entering a long, narrow, outdoor hallway lined with dozens of marble columns, many of which have niches carved into them and are filled with marble statues.
“What is this?” Leonardo asks.
“Oh, I’ve heard of this, it’s the Uffizi gallery. All of this was made after you died. These statues are to celebrate Tuscany’s great heroes and geniuses.” We walk through the hallway past statues of people like Dante, Galileo, Vespucci, and Machiavelli until we stop at the statue of Michelangelo.
“Ugh,” Leonardo scoffs. “I am tired of this man’s face. Look, even his statue stands as arrogantly as he does. What do people say about him in your time?” He says impatiently.
“Well,” I begin hesitantly, “some think he may be considered the greatest artist of all time.”
“Ludicrous,” he yells and throws his hat at the statue. “Have they seen his work? Greatest artist of all time my ass. He doesn’t even deserve to –.”
“Look here,” I interrupt. I walk a few statues down the row and stand in front of another. “It’s you.”
Leonardo hurries over. We both stand silently beneath the statue, my eyes flickering from it to him. The likeness is uncanny, the long hair and beard, the flowing robes and cape, his gentle, curious expression.
“Michelangelo’s daily insults, I can admit, are getting to me. Partially because I fear he is right," Leonardo says softly, still staring at the statue. "Lately, I've wondered what exactly my legacy will be. Will I be remembered as a masterful painter or as a whimsical one? Is that even important?"
"Well, I think I can tell you that one. In my time, anyone who knows about you considers you to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest genius of all time. You made discoveries centuries before your time. You are the definition of a renaissance man. Which is a person who is a master in multiple fields of study. And honestly, the painting you are going to make against Michelangelo doesn’t work out. It fades and corrodes and is eventually replaced, as is his. But one of the paintings you make after that, in fact, I believe you’ve already started it, becomes the single most famous painting in human history.”
Leonardo stares up at the statue, his beard glowing golden from the light of the setting sun. The shadow of a subtle smile edges its way onto his face. “The greatest genius of all time huh? Thank you, Jared.” Leonardo turns back to me, pats my shoulder and continues toward the exit.
We leave the courtyard and turn onto a walkway next to the Arno river. Leonardo points to the bridge ahead of us, with apartment buildings balanced on the edges and says, “Ponte Vecchio. This bridge is always packed, one of the best areas of the city to shop.”
“Whoa cool,” I say impressed by the unique design.
As we cross the bridge a long silence falls between us. Leonardo is still glowing from the Uffizi, his proud smile still beaming, but I can’t help but sink in a pool of self-pity. The size of his achievements makes me not even want to try anymore. What can I possibly accomplish next to that?
“Leonardo,” I say timidly as we turn onto a nearby dirt path. We walk uphill, past trees and bushes in full natural color. “I understand why you and Brunelleschi would be in this place, you’re geniuses who created masterpieces that have impacted the future for centuries, but why am I here? I’m not a genius, I don’t have greatness in me the way you or any of those statues do. I’m dumb, I never do anything right. I’m nothing more than an average student with nothing more than average talent at anything that I do,” I ramble pitifully.
Through a parting of trees, we come to the top of the hill, into a paved square just outside the city. In the middle of the opening was a large copy of the statue of David towering above us. His confident gaze overlooking the city. “I will admit,” Leonardo said, “it is a magnificent statue. Do you know why he is leaning like that?” I shook my head. “There was a flaw in the marble, one side was significantly weaker, flakier than the other. He’s leaning so that most of the weight is balanced on the strong side. He was able to work around its weaknesses and still create a beautiful statue. I do not believe that just because you have not yet picked a discipline means you do not have great potential. What you must do is bring your very best self to every situation. To do that you must be like this statue, know your strengths, know your weaknesses and have the determination to overcome any giant in your way.”
“Thanks,” I said. I considered for a moment how many things I’ve tried and failed at. Then I wondered, of all of those attempts, how many did I actually try my best at? Probably some, but definitely not all of them.
“Come look,” Leonardo said, walking to an unobstructed overlook view of the city. The milky fog over the buildings was beginning to fade and the red-tiled roofs glowed from the crimson sunset. Florence which just a few hours ago, seemed so ugly to me, now set my spirit aflame with its beauty.
“I believe,” Leonardo said, “The word Renaissance might mean new birth? Is that correct?”
“I think perhaps that is what all of this was for, for the two of us to have our own personal renaissances and it seems to be coming to an end.” I look at Leonardo who is turning foggy, the milky mist covering him. “I want to thank you, my friend. This has been quite an extraordinary day.” I look deeply into his kind blue eyes as we shake hands.
“Yes it has. Thank you, Leonardo.” I say, trying to squeeze my final words in.
“I do not believe our paths likely to ever gross again but my guess is that you are meant to go on to do some amazing things. Goodbye Jared.”
“Goodbye,” I say quickly.
The fog covers him entirely and he evaporates into thin air. Suddenly I’m on the same hill surrounded by tourists and locals chatting nearby. The city, now completely uncovered by the fog, is gorgeously luminescent in golden sunlight. I hear passing traffic and distant car horns echo in the distance; the faint aroma of a nearby restaurant makes my stomach growl; and an artist nearby dabs paint onto his canvas, copying the gorgeous scene.
There is a strange feeling that comes when an impossible, once in a lifetime event is over. It immediately feels like a distant memory; a dream you wish you could go back to. Yet as I stand here I don’t feel sad, I feel strong, steady and powerful. Leonardo’s words fresh in my mind, I think about my future without an ounce of doubt about who I want to become.