If you visit Brescia (and you should, especially if you want to see the start of the upcoming Mille Miglia) don’t miss a trip to the City Museum.
Ok, “City Museum” isn’t a scintillating title for a museum, but it offers a fascinating glimpse at Brescia’s checkered history none the less. The museum is inside the former Monastery of Santa Giulia, which was founded in 753 A.D. by Lombard King Desiderio. The whole thing sits on top of some Roman houses. The houses were found under the monastery’s kitchen gardens, the remaining walls evidently used to separate the garden sections. (Just like the garden outside my building, which sits tight inside the lower level of a torn-down house so the ground level is the same as the terrace of the lower story. Thus, while you’re eating al fresco and you want another pomodoro for your salad, you just lean over and grab it instead of walking down stairs to the real ground level.)
Anyway, getting around the huge museum can take hours. When we reached the Roman houses, I stopped to sit and listen to a school teacher talk to his students. (Students outnumbered adults about 2 zillion to 1 on account of it being a school day in the middle of the week in spring.)
This particular group of students seemed about 11 or 12 years of age. They were parked in front of the mosaic on the left, which seems to depict a naked man feeding his jaguar with a funnel in much the same way as housewives feed corn to ducks to bloat their livers into foie gras. I could be wrong.
In any case, I figured I could understand Italian spoken to such young’uns so I listened in. Just then the teacher started talking about wine. He described the flavors and mouth feel of modern wine, then started to explain how Roman wine would have tasted, which evolved into a discussion with the students about the differences in food that meshed with the difference in the wine over the centuries…
“Hold on a minute!” I thought to myself. What if this were the United States? Can you imagine what would happen if a teacher started waxing poetic about wine to his 11 year old students? (For Italian readers: knowledge in America is considered poison in some quarters. Ok, most quarters. Knowledge of sex and alcoholic libations tops the list. To know about sex (for example) is to have it. To have it is to offend God, who invented the appurtenances used in the act as well as the desires which make us mad to practice it. Dang, I can’t explain it because it’s pretty idiotic, but it’s like that…)
I imagine (now that the practice has been made popular and deemed effective by the enthusiastic people who practice it) that any school board worth its salt would maybe try waterboarding the poor schmuck who would dare to talk about these forbidden subjects to his students. If that didn’t work, a month of supersized “value meals” at a fast food emporium might do the trick to keep such a teacher “on track.”
Oh, by the way, there are some extraordinarily vivid frescoes in the church of Santa Maria in Solario (inside the museum complex) which depict such blood-dripping martyrdom scenes as Saint Sebastian playing his standard role as a pincushion for spent arrows as well as one depicting a couple of presumably sinless gentlemen ripping a woman’s breasts to shreds (Saint Agatha perhaps).
Torture. It’s all part of the heritage.