Dome: Here for It, #320

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

Okay, one more story about Italy and then I will go back to my regular programming (recapping My Best Friend's Wedding for the 90th time). On our second day in Florence, we decided to go to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It's a huge, sprawling piazza, with a gothic-style basilica that has atop it the largest brick dome in the world, plus a hexagonal Baptistery, and a tower the same height as the dome, called a Campanile. We got advance tickets to go up to the top of the dome, where you can walk around outside. I'm going to say the phrase that has come to define my life "I didn't really think this through; everybody was just talking like it was going to be fun so I said 'Sure!'."

Me, realizing what I have agreed to do on a daily basis.

It was a complete shock to me to discover we'd be walking all the way up to the top of the dome. Did I think there was an elevator in this brick basilica dome from the 13th Century? Babe, I have the object permanence of a 4-month-old; when the dome is not in my line of vision, it doesn't exist at all. There could have been a rotating sushi bar in there for all I knew.

Anyway, I like to walk. I got nothing against perambulating!

First we walked up the Campanile, which is 414 steps. I was like "okay, well perambulating can go to hell. I for sure did not come to Italy to work out. I came to eat my weight in pasta and to walk up a regular number of stairs. Like, for instance, 12. I hear there is something here called the Spanish Stairs and that sounds lovely but I am an American and I would like to use the escalator if possible."

Me, when confronted with Medieval technology. "What do you mean 'they didn't have electricity back then'? How did they make-a the espresso?!"

Despite my protestations, after an espresso break, it was time for our dome appointment. That was 480 steps to the top and isn't it amazing how much of tourism is just torturing yourself for a photo and a memory? Folks in the tour group were straight up wheezing and clutching their hearts. I am folks!

Begrudgingly breathtaken!

Alas, it was totally worth it. That the worst thing about tourism--all this awful stuff is actually pretty nice! The photos are stunning! We made a memory! Life has purpose! We got to see the huge mural of the dome up close from the inside, which was incredible and then we climbed up a tiny space between the inner dome and the roof–literally scaling the curve of the dome--and walked out on to a landing high above Florence. Gurl, dome engineer Filippo Brunelleschi was wild for this one!

At the top, we were looking out on the city at the railing and the four of us started talking about where to go to dinner. I decided to start using a weird little British accent because I'm a weird little guy.

I became aware of a man behind me holding on to a pillar. He looked queasy, as if the heights were getting to him. "Excuse me," he said to me, "would you mind if I hold on to your arm for just a second to get to the rail?" This man's accent was the exact accent I'd been doing as a weird bit, so then I had to decide if I should keep doing it and invent an insane back story or immediately drop it and look deranged?

Deranged won.

A menace!

He grabbed my arm and gingerly made his way to the railing and thanked me. He still didn't look so sure about all of this, so I said, "Do you want me to hang out while you look at stuff? I don't mind." Because I am deranged, but also kind.

We got to chit-chatting as the rest of the group started to wander off. He pointed to a tower in the distance and said "That's the tower that Hannibal Lecter pushed the guy off of, do you remember?"

"Oh yeah!" I said, lying.

"I went there earlier," he said, with awe in his voice. "It's the reason I made this trip. I'm going to all the places Hannibal Lecter went in the movie." Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my friend Colton immediately turn around in alarm upon hearing this man bring up Hannibal Lecter to a stranger. But because I am deranged and kind, I kept engaging the man in conversation, him holding on to my upper arm like we were a long-married couple, receiving a lifetime achievement tribute after recently retiring from our career of chasing Anthony Hopkins around the globe.

On the right, the tower that Hannibal Lecter something something'd

"So," I said, "is that your thing? Serial killers?" And the way I said it, beloveds, was the least judgmental I have ever been. This is what's wrong with me, frankly. A friend will show me treasured family heirloom and I'll be like "Hmmmmmmmm.... okayyyyyy... if it makes you happy, I guess it's cute." But a stranger says he's doing a Carmen Sandiego for serial killers and I'm like "Oh, how lovely to have hobbies!"

He said that he wasn't a serial killer fan, just a Hannibal Lecter fan, which--okay now I will be judgmental--is even more looney tunes! He is my favorite person.

Because we were now best friends, he told me that he was staying across from a hotel that served a dish with brains in it (YES I CONTINUED TO BE IN CONVERSATION) and he reminded me that Hannibal had eaten brains in the last scene of the movie. He said that he was going to go to dinner there tonight because it was his last night in Florence.

"I don't think I'll like the brains..." he started.

"But you have to do it!" I said, because I am an encourager and I good advice and it makes me happy to see other people achieve their dreams. Then I said, "You can have the brains with a nice chianti" referring to that line where Hannibal talks about having a Census taker for dinner and eating his liver with fava beans and a nice chianti. I really don't go in for Hannibal Lecter like that, but it's such a bonkers phrase with such phenomenal words sounds, it stuck in my brain.

Speaking of, though, I did not remember anything about a tower in Florence or eating brains in Silence of the Lambs (which did not stop me from having an extended conversation with my new friend.)

Later, after some googling, I discovered that the brains thing was in Hannibal, a 2001 sequel to Silence of the Lambs that I did not know existed. I was just nodding my head and being like "What you're saying is normal and what I am saying is normal and we are both very normal! Underneath our feet is a cathedral dome where they've painted the Last Judgment with all the saints in heaven wearing clothes but also, enormously, the actual devil eating naked people in hell and--no offense to artist Giorgio Vasari--but I think that's pretty weird! Half the mural is breathtaking in its beauty and the other half looks like the Trump inauguration. This is in church! There's a frog-man painted on there whipping naked people and, like, sometimes I think how the world would have been different if they had Prozac in the Middle Ages."

I did not take a picture of the frog-man in H-E-double-hockey-sticks because I don't need my phone getting possessed.

Ah well! It's nice to have hobbies! The way I see it, most Medieval people were stressed out to the point of derangement but also often quite talented. This is also how I describe myself in job interviews.

After a bit more chit-chat, I asked my friend, the Hannibal Hunter, if he was going to be okay staying up by himself because I had to get back to my friends; we were on a scavenger hunt for locations from The Lizzie McGuire Movie and we had a very full itinerary. I bid him good night and went off in search of some fava beans.

Oh wait, I do have a hobby!

And that hobby is redoing my website randomly. I reorganized the page dedicated to my plays and added a bunch of gorgeous photos from most of the productions! Give it a click and also send it to the Artistic Director of your favorite local theater.

Let's hang out!

On April 2nd, I'm hosting The Moth StorySlam in Philadelphia. The theme is Green. Tickets here.

On April 13th I'll be at the San Antonio Book Festival!

On May 2nd, my play An Army of Lovers begins performances at Azuka Theater in Philly. It's about a lot of things but I'm pitching it as "if Audre Lorde crash-landed into Succession." Tickets reservations are free (pay-what-you-wish after the performance). Some performances will sell out, so grab your tickets early here.

On May 11th I'll be at Books in Bloom in Columbia, MD! More info here!

Hmmmmmmmm.... okayyyyyy...,