Monday, December 17, 2018

Florence and Messi

Although my wife and I aren't leaving on our trip to Florence for ten months I have begun to peruse the guide books. And I have been immediately drawn to how many of these guidebooks try to helpfully rank the sights for me, usually working on a three-star system:

Three Stars: Don't miss!

Two Stars: Worth a visit if you can.

One Star: Go if convenient or of particular interest to you.

Now when I say I have been "drawn" to these rating systems, I mostly mean that they attract me towards them only to leave me in frothing rage at their blithe lack of nuance, cookie cutter opinions, and sheer lack of understanding.

Soon, no doubt in this very space, I will tell you how I would rank the cultural sights of cities, and how something like The Doria Pamphilij or San Luigi dei Francesi, both in Rome, could be better bets than The Colosseum or The Vatican Museum.

But not today.

Today I am too irritated at an aspect of all of this, an aspect I will call Local Relativism.

Here, take the best tourism sight in your city. If you live outside of North America you can't play. I'm terribly sorry. If you're in New York we can try, but it might not work. But you all can follow along and feel superior. Has everyone else chosen? Good. 

I chose The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, wait, no, The Mall of America. The Mississippi River? Oh, oh, Minnehaha Falls!, no, no, go back to the Mall, no, Foshay Tower or the Spoon and Cherry or... 

Scratch that. I have no idea what to choose. I don't know, I couldn't decide. 

But I'm relieved you so confidently chose yours!

Let's say you live in New Orleans and you chose, random example, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. That's your three star sight. Your benchmark. And I vaguely remember it as a fascinating place from a long ago trip, although I may be remembering a different cemetery.

But now let's put that three star sight in Rome.

No longer is it number one on the list. It is, and no offense is meant by this, now the 11,243rd best sight in the city. Which is not bad, really. But do you think all the 11,242 sights above it have three stars?

No, they don't. The fancy review guidebooks will have given maybe eight places in Rome three stars. This leaves 11,235 places, all more highly regarded than St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, having not gotten three stars. 

The reason they only have eight three-star places in Rome is because they are comparing Rome to Rome. It is like taking 84 different people who are all 7 feet 3 inches tall and deciding who is tallest. Then saying only four of them are really really tall.

Four 7'3" tall people are really really tall

Five 7'3" tall people are pretty dang tall

And five 7'3" tall people are kind of really tall 

All of the others are merely listed, albeit acknowledged as "Tall".

At this point, the very point where you might just be beginning to see what I mean, you might also be wondering what has me so upset.

Two things:

I don't like the way the guidebooks keep giving The Medici Chapel, in Florence, one or two stars. We are planning on staying across the street from The Medici Chapel and I am taking it personally! That's our Medici Chapel! Those are Michelangelos in there! If we had one knee of one of those sculptures in my Twin Cities we would be known as The Michelangelo's Knee cities. 

But it's Florence, so, whatever, one star.

But the second issue is even more important, but is, oddly, not travel or city related. 

Messi was recently chosen as the 5th best soccer player of the year. 

In case I haven't found a way to lecture on this to you Messi is inarguably the greatest soccer player who ever lived. But he's been doing it for awhile now and people have gotten a little tired of it. "Eh, he'll have other years." They say. And so they choose The St Louis Cemetery No. 1 as the best soccer player in the world for a year. Because each year of Messi soccer is 7'3" tall or like one of the best sights in Rome or Florence; there are just so many!

People like to talk about things like this as subjective. Maybe that's fine. But the moment you pick favorites, have a contest, or try to helpfully award stars, objective gets to enter into it. And once it does

1. Messi is better than everyone else at soccer. It's weird but actually objectively true. You can still watch this in real time.

2. Rome is a very nice city to visit if you do it properly. I am suspecting the same for Florence but I have lost faith in the guidebooks who tell me so.

3. If you try to compare Michelangelo's knees unfavorably, even slightly so, to anything else in art or a city, you're just going to look silly.

I'll admit I'm a little worked up about this, so it might not make total sense, but you'll have trust me on it. I can't fix it. I'm afraid I've injured my fingers from typing too hard.


  1. Back beyond the mists of time, in my youth, I lived for several years near the most massive and the oldest trees on the planet. All of the regrets that have since mucked up my life can be traced back to this negligent period when i never paid my respects to those ancient beings. Now, covered in shame, i am left a self loathing pagan. The goddess may absorb me back into her biomass and there would be no loss. :°[

    1. NOOOoooooooooooooooo!

      Those trees are everywhere. You are already part of the biomass. You are golden and living forever right now.

      Nothing is inevitable, and nothing ever was.

  2. You're right, i am already biomass. Thanks for the realization!
    Maybe my point now is that if you're out touring and miss some of the most important sites, blame the natives. Common knowledge holds that all natives everywhere are lazy, shiftless & unhelpful.


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