Back, side or rear, down below or up above — these are as essential to any physical ensemble as the “front and center” components. So is the entourage of less obvious wonders and treasures appended to and around them. Too many people see the facade, nave and main altar, their vision blurred and thoughts overwhelmed to the point of numbness by the unending assemblage of wonders covering every surface.
“Side chapel? Is that like fries with a burger? Can I have a gift shop instead?.
They are led to the tomb of the hero or the Tintoretto in a space filled with extraordinary works, diverted from or blind to the whole – whether art, architecture, history or environment – then rushed to the next itinerary stop or dot on the guidebook map, “counting coup”, yet not forgetting the gift shops along the way…
To buy a reminder of what they missed!
Please accept some encouragement to “look around” whenever you visit a place, whether preconceived as landmark or hovel, no matter the original intent of your visit! Do not forego the opportunity to go beyond the popular route, tour or thing, beyond the “must see” list. Not all of the wonders will be in that little gift shop booklet.
Certainly, what is presented to you is often a wonder, but much may prompt you to wonder about lunch and to recall the infamous Peggy Lee lament…
“Is that all there is…”.
Always hope that the spiel about what is observed is accurate, winsome, and enriches your experience about the greatest thing the world could possess. A good rule of thumb, however, is “Trust but verify”! Either way, do not let it demand bypassing the great, the good, sometimes the thought-provoking not-so-good… and also things of truly unsurpassable, irreplaceable excellence.
In famous places, wonders great and small are easily obscured by crowds, commerce or rushed schedules. At the worst, the story heard is a collage assembled from an endless series of mutilated data scraps continually mutating across generations dutiful guides and authors…
A script altered like a story whispered around a kindergarten circle.
Look Out Behind You!
A corollary recommendation to consider: When told to look at the grand scene before you, always reserve time to turn around and look the other way! That amazing scene (or banal view) may still today be what “The Powers That Be” beheld from their historic perches, or certainly do today.
That outlook may be the most enlightening revelation you will find in a place! It may reveal how “They” got to this place, where they came from, what they claimed or envisioned by adopting that outlook, who supported or opposed them, what inspired them or to remind them of what they feared. Sometimes…
Context is everything.
A Few Examples from Venice
Venice, Italy, has unending alternative views and viewpoints! When in Basilica di San Marco, go behind the high altar to observe the Pala d’Oro – obvious and noted as an extra-ticket highlight, yet just off the beaten track (and boy is it beaten!).
Visit San Donato (a “shorthand” name) on Murano where what is first revealed to you is its”rear” – the apse. Study it for a while, go around the building past the campanile to the quiet and plain campo, then turn around to face the unadorned facade (…except for its excellent form, proportions, exceptional artifacts, and a view of the context of the place).
Only then can you enter one of the most historic places in the Venetian Lagoon – through a side door around another corner! Neither the journey nor the destination will disappoint you. Start the process all over again as you step up to gain the interior of the church.
An easy alternative is to enter almost any Campo via a “minor” route or two, and then return the same way. If you became lost and had to go back, there is no extra charge for this experience! The exercise will instill comprehension of relationships between community open space and its church to that neighborhood in a way that using only the “main drag” will not share. If the church is missing, ask where it stood and imagine that relationship.
Or, step into a museum gallery or church alcove that has only one work displayed. Forgotten, banal…or extraordinary?
Perhaps as extraordinary as Leonard da Vinci’s “L’Uomo Vitruviana”, displayed in a tiny gallery off a back hall in the Accademia a while ago, overlooked or dismissed by the uninformed, unadventurous, unimaginative, and those who claim all creativity and culture begins with them… all who sniffed – “It’s only one little drawing…it’s like a closet…nothing to see here, move on to the good stuff”.
That drawing changed the world.
And, in your home, town or countryside…wherever you live, work, play or traverse, enjoy the same exercise. Both wonders and mysteries to explore will reveal themselves to you.
Just because you chance upon, search out or discover (for yourself…truth is truth whether you knew it before or not) “The.New.Thing”, you are not an “expert” and you do not own the knowledge. You may become a bit more enlightened! A little more curiosity, wonder, study and thought will raise you up a little bit, perhaps enough to motivate your next search for “back room” treasures.
At the least, think a bit more highly of your slightly more enlightened self, but with humility instead of hubris. You may join (metaphorically) as one Rudyard Kipling noted…
“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.”