Tuesday, May 6, 2008

That's Gotta Hurt

Cannery Row in Monterey, California, made famous by John Steinbeck, flocked to by tourists for the dramatic coastline, popular aquarium and fresh seafood. Now, add to the list of Cannery Row points of interest the place where Marc Lipton (the man whose knee you see above) lost control of his motorcycle, sliding 50 feet, according to this KSBW story. The scrape, to Lipton, looks like the Virgin Mary and he cites the resemblance as the reason why he did not suffer a more severe injury. Lipton was close to home, so he wasn’t wearing leather chaps. The scrape does have that hooded Virgin Mary shape. Lucky as Lipton was, that really has to hurt. I can't imagine getting home and going right for my camera. I wonder how it will scar. No word on the condition of the bike.

Many Madonna of the Toast stories originate in California, which makes sense since it is the state that bore many iconographic American images (thanks, Hollywood). Steinbeck certainly played a hand in crafting California into the American psyche with his astounding and acute renderings and responses to Manifest Destiny.

Steinbeck did cast his gaze beyond the US, however, so here is some extra credit reading: a travel essay written by him about Positano, Italy, which first appeared in a 1953 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. The piece details the drive from Rome and the goings on of this ancient Amalfi Coast town. The writing is straight travelogue with ample examples of the local color (like the embittered cobbler who is convinced that all of his shoe designs are stolen by the designers in the cities).

Germane to this blog, however, is this story of the town’s very own Virgin Mary sighting, involving the church above, Santa Maria Assunta (no reason to paraphrase Steinbeck):

Like most Italian towns Positano has its miraculous picture. It is a Byzantine representation of the Virgin Mary. Once long ago, the story goes, the Saracenic pirates raided the town and among other things carried away this picture. But they had no sooner put to sea when a vision came to them which so stunned them that they returned the picture. Every year on August 15, this incident is reenacted with great fury and some bloodshed. In the night the half-naked pirates attack the town which is defended by Positanese men-at-arms dressed in armor. Some of this fighting gets pretty serious. The pirates then go to the church and carry the holy picture off into the night. Now comes the big moment. As soon as they have disappeared into the darkness, a bright and flaming image of an angel appears in the sky. At present General Mark Clark is the sponsor of this miracle. He gave the town a surplus Air Force barrage balloon [my hyperlink]. Then very soon the pirates return their boats and restore the picture to the church and everybody marches and sings and has a good time.

I love the fact that the "flaming image of an angel" is achieved using a World War II leftover! War and religion have always walked hand-in-hand I suppose.

Anyone else in the mood for a trip to Italy?

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