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In Italy, Photography is the New Cleavage

■ 26 May 2012 by James Martin

Lots of people fail to notice the fact that that moral imperatives change over time. The new pick-and-choose Leviticus Misreaders—modern “Christians” who hate all manner of people so God doesn’t have to but think He was kidding about the pork and the shaving—fall into this category.

half naked woman statue pictureThe (observable) fact is, moral imperatives can morph in a very short time indeed. I’m talking time spans of less than a lifetime (which is, of course a couple of years shorter for Americans with their perfect and expensive “health care” than it is for Italians).

In any case I actually miss the old days of visiting Italian churches. As you approached that enormous door carved with depictions of various acts of saints you couldn’t remember, there’d be a toothless old woman standing beside a wicker basket overflowing with colorful (and oddly translucent) cloths which the foreigner was expected to use in various creative ways to cover the flesh that couldn’t be seen inside a church. (“It’s a scarf! It’s a skirt! It’s a head covering! It’s The Magic Fig Leaf of the Hot to Trot 70s!”)

Each and every travel guidebook worth its cover price would warn you of which fleshy bits needed to be hidden before you could enter a church. The wicker basket of cloths was for the forgetters: The shamed.

Covering these magic mounds of flesh was a matter of respect, the guidebooks trumpeted. You wouldn’t want to flaunt God’s creation in front of, well, God.

Today, not only are the toothless women gone, but the signs that pointed you toward them and their magic cloths have been revised. (And yes, folks walk into churches in shorts and “Where the Hell is Cleveland?” tee shirts these days.)

vineyard statueOf course, the story doesn’t stop there. Nope. There are still signs pointing out the expected moral behavior of guests inside the sacred buildings. The contents of their outcry, however, has changed. Flesh is no long an issue, evidently; there are no fleshy ideograms with bold Xs marking out cleavage and coltish legs.

Sorry, I mean the ideograms and bold Xs are still there, I suppose to represent God’s evidently fickle (if not evolutionary) ire. But now the Xs sit proudly atop stick figures using still cameras and video equipment. God hates Nikon and zoom lenses.

How far we’ve come. We of the enlightened classes used to laugh at those backwards foreign people who thought photography stole their souls. The world turns.


The gratuitous pictures on this page are from the area outside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell’Assunta (great Byzantine frescoes you aren’t supposed to photograph!) on Torcello island in the Venice Lagoon. I’m especially fond of the mostly naked woman sinking into the gravel in front of the church, just where the toothless woman would have stood in the old days. The hands-free Saint and his vineyard/poppy field is just a nice picture. Well, I think it is anyway.

In Italy, Photography is the New Cleavage originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com May 26, 2012, © James Martin.

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