Half tense, half relaxed

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Celebrating the end of UC Berkeley’s semi-annual climactic week of torture, I was ecstatic to kick off the summer with a trip to my pasty, ancestral home of Europe. First on the docket was Paris, France. 

With no shortage of attractive 20-somethings treating themselves to cigarettes and wine on a Tuesday afternoon, I noticed that the French have a knack for knowing how to unwind with patience and style. Hailing from California’s collegiate capital of dark academia — otherwise known as UC Berkeley — this “work medium, play medium” mindset was a breath of fresh air.

I slowly learned to embrace the reasonably indulgent lifestyle. My favorite French activities included strolling through the city’s Jewish quarter, Le Marais, pretending I know how to think with “The Thinker” at the Rodin Museum and spitting on any American tourist to cross my path (kidding… kind of). Once I had single-handedly run Paris’ cheese croissant supply dry, I saw no point in staying in a city where a “large” cup of coffee is no bigger than a urine sample cup from the doctor’s office. 

So, I hauled my 60-pound suitcase (a physical manifestation of my spiritual aversion to moderation) to the serene city of Florence, Italy. After grabbing a quick bite of the best pizza I’d ever had, my boyfriend and I decided to walk around the city.

Noticeably quieter than Paris, Florence was distinguished by its subdued, narrow streets, the intricate Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral and countless Renaissance paintings stored at the Uffizi and Accademia galleries. With only two days to squeeze in dozens of cultural relics, we booked a walking tour to maximize our step efficiency. After hours of strolling in the hot Italian sun, the tour guide informed us that Michelangelo’s “David” at the Accademia Gallery was next on our list. 

“He’s the perfect naked man,” she described the statue with too much arousal for comfort. “Half tense, half relaxed.” 

Half tense, half relaxed — a deceptively simple phrase whose implications contained the antidote for moving through life without losing your cool. Half tense, half relaxed — the candidly European mindset I learned to adopt over the course of my travels. Half tense, half relaxed — a near-impossible balance I could only hope to strike by simultaneously maintaining an acute sense of awareness and an acute ability to accept the fact that I will never be completely aware. 

As I overheard my fellow American tourists complain about the excessive walking and lust after our upcoming wine break, I prepared to see Michelangelo’s “David.” We strapped on our headsets, waited in the ticket line, shuffled through metal detectors and there he was: 17 feet of pure, gleaming marble. Resting his weight on one side of his body, “David” was half tense and half relaxed.

Effortless and confident, “David” towered over us measly civilian onlookers. With eyebrows raised just enough to convey feelings of pensive judgment and dissatisfaction, I knew that David knew he was better than all of us without even trying. Simply put, he was unamused.

It was the same feeling I got when I watched Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for the first time. From busy carpool lanes to mediocre coffee, Michelangelo’s “David” could take it or leave it. If this statue’s eyebrows could speak, they would have uttered a mere “meh” at the sight of Goliath.

A lifelong agnostic, I was embarrassingly unfamiliar with David’s Biblical lure. So, I decided to conduct some independent research to verify whether or not my hunch concerning David’s doubly neurotic and blasé attitude was religiously defensible. 

And sure enough, according to an article I skimmed, David was able to defeat the rabid, animalistic bully known as Goliath by nonchalantly grabbing a stone from his satchel and tossing it at Goliath’s head. As Goliath fell to the ground, David seized Goliath’s sword and stabbed him to death — all in a day’s work for the easygoing David. Half tense, half relaxed. At this moment, I knew: Larry’s last name is no product of coincidence. 

At the Uffizi Gallery, after climbing four flights of stairs to observe dozens of esteemed works by Raphael, Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli among others, our guide informed us that the tour had come to an end. My fellow Americans rejoiced at the news: It was finally wine o’clock.

By the time we made our way to Rome, my arm was about ready to fall off thanks to seven days of lugging what felt like a small elephant around in my suitcase. But my choice to pack in surplus couldn’t be undone — the only way forward was to keep calm and carry on with my Sisyphean carry-on. 

So with an aching arm and a satisfied grin, I hobbled onto a high-speed train ready to hit the streets of Rome, half tense and half relaxed in more ways than one.

“Arts Away” columns catalog Daily Cal staff members’ arts and culture experiences away from Berkeley. Contact Piper Samuels at [email protected].