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I'm Sam Anderson, I'm a staff writer for the New York Times magazine, and in 2016, I wrote a story about the most famous statue in the world, Michelangelo's David, and how his ankles are full of little micro cracks that actually are so serious they threatened to send him toppling over and smashing on the floor. This piece had been brewing for years and years and years, ever since I had spent a little time in Florence and I just fell in love with the statue of Michelangelo's David, which is ridiculous to say.


It's like trying to tell people that, like the Mona Lisa is a cool painting or something. It's the most famous statue in the whole history of the world. Everybody knows that everybody has seen a billion images of this thing. But when I saw in person, I had this almost like religious experience where I was just blown away by, I don't know, like the potential of human beings for greatness. 2016. The year kind of snowballed in intensity, I guess, into this political situation that a lot of people, myself included, didn't really think was possible and there was so much rancor and anger that summer.


So I think it felt very natural for me to start thinking really deeply about perfection and imperfection. During election seasons, when people think about politics, there is a lot of fantasy and a lot of projection about what this perfect nation that we live in should be like and how we need to we need to restore it to its former perfection and. When you look at anything, you start to see that it's actually full of cracks and it's got all kinds of imperfections built into it at a really deep level, and seeing those imperfections is really the only way to see the thing for what it actually is, including America, including the statue of the David, including ourselves.


So here's my story. David's Ankles read by the great Eduardo Ballerini. Who talks like if Michelangelo sculpted voices is a he is a sculpted, buttery voice, he sounds nice when he talks. Sounds good. Last summer, early in the morning, I stood out in the main square of Florence to watch the tourists come in. It was quiet. A Zamboni like street cleaner drove its rounds, leaving wet circles on the paving stones. A vendor unpacked TARP wrapped souvenirs from the back of his white van.


When the crowds began to arrive, tour groups from Japan, China, Germany, Spain, they seemed less like people than like whether they surged into the square, pooling and drifting, they clicked selfies in front of the statues. A small herd of Segway has rolled past one rider singing fake opera at the top of his lungs. I watched a tour group from Arizona clearly identifiable by their neck. Badges approach the white figure of Michelangelo's David, towering on a pedestal in front of City Hall.


One of the tourists pointed to it and said in a tone of amused contempt, It's the most famous statue in the world and they just leave it outside. No big deal. Just hose off the pigeon crap.


The implication was clear. Italy was a backward country incapable of protecting its cultural treasures. To be fair, the tourist was not the first person to make this accusation in its history. The Italians. Luigi Barzini writes that one of the basic pleasures Italy reliably provides for visitors is that of feeling morally superior to the natives. I sometimes felt this pleasure myself. The inefficiency of the Italian bureaucracy, whether selling you a postage stamp or fixing a street, was often marvelous to behold.


And indeed, the statue of the man was pointing out, had obviously suffered from standing outside the marble with striped, with dirt.


But the tourist was one very important respect. Wrong. It was not pointing at the actual David, but at a full scale marble replica.


Michelangelo's real statue did once stand in this spot, but it was moved for its own protection 143 years ago.


The original is now in a museum across town, shielded from the elements perfectly safe.


Or at least that's how we like to think of it, we are conditioned to believe that art is safe beyond the reach of the grimy world. We don't hang the Mona Lisa next to an archery range. We put her in a fortress. Walls, checkpoints, lasers, guards, bulletproof glass. There are scholars, textbooks, posters, a whole collective mythology suggesting that the work will live forever. But safety is largely an illusion and permanence of fiction empires hemorrhage, wealth bombs fall on cities, religious radicals decimate ancient temples.


Destruction happens in any number of ways, for any number of reasons, at any number of speeds. And it will happen and no amount of reverence will stop it.


Few humans on earth know this melancholy truth better than the citizens of Florence, they are born into a profound intimacy with decay. The city was the epicenter of the Renaissance, home to such art history. Superheroes as Joto Brunelleschi, Donatello, Cellini and Leonardo da Vinci and the relics of that period have been under siege more or less constantly ever since. In 14 '97, the fanatical monks of control natural his followers door to door to gather the city's non-religious art books, clothing, musical instruments and piled it all 50 feet high in the central square and set it on fire.


The infamous Bonfire of the Vanities. The spectacle was such a success that he repeated it the following year.


In 1895, earthquakes shook Florence so hard that citizens, fearing aftershocks, spent the night sleeping out in the streets.


The 20th century brought Nazis and Mafia car bombs. This November will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the great Florentin Flood of 1966, an inundation that overtook much of the city center, killing dozens of people and destroying old masterpieces. Today, the perpetual engine of Florentin destruction seems only to be getting bolder, its latest target is its most ambitious yet the mascot of the Renaissance shining ideal of the human form, one of the most celebrated artworks in this or any other city.


Michaelangelo's David. The trouble is that David's ankles, they are cracked, Italians first discovered this weakness back in the 19th century and modern scientists have mapped the cracks extensively. But until recently, no one claimed to know just how enfeebled the ankles might be. This changed in 2014 when a team of Italian geoscientists published a paper called Modeling the Failure Mechanisms of Michelangelo's David through small scale centrifuge experiments that dried titled Concealed A Terrifying Story. The paper describes an experiment designed to measure in a novel way the weakness in the David's ankles by creating a small army of tiny David replicas and spinning them in a centrifuge at various angles to simulate different levels of real world stress.


But the researchers found was grim, if the David were to be tilted 15 degrees, his ankles would fail. The seat of the problem is a tiny imperfection in the statue's design, the center of gravity in the base doesn't align with the center of gravity in the figure itself. When the base is level, in other words, the David's body is slightly off balance. There is, as the article nicely puts it, an eccentricity of the load's, this place is extra pressure on the Davids narrowest part, his ankles.


As long as the statue is perfectly upright, the eccentricity of the load's is tolerable, but there is very little margin for error. If you tilt the base even slightly, the stress on the ankles sharply increases. Now, it just so happens that for a very long time, before he was moved into his protective museum, the David was leaning slightly. No one is sure exactly why he stood for more than three hundred years in the spot where I saw the tourist from Arizona scoff at the dirty replica.


Popular legend says the lean was caused by a thunderclap in 15 11, part of a violent storm that Florentines interpreted as a bad political omen. But more likely, it was a result of the ground shifting slightly for regular ground shifting reasons, something like the force that tilts the famous Tower of Pisa or the one that sucks constantly at the city of Venice. For several hundred years, the David leaned at an angle of several degrees, that doesn't sound like much, but when you're dealing with six tons bearing down every second of every minute of every day of every year of every century, it is plenty.


Hairline fractures worked their way slowly through the stone, the right leg is significantly worse than the left. As the tilt of the statue increases, the stress will move higher and higher up that leg until at the moment of failure, it will break off just below the knee. But what would make the David tilt? The big fear is tremors, tremors of all kinds, traffic rumbling, the nearby construction of a high speed train tunnel, the steady concussion of tourists feet and most of all, earthquakes, Florence sits near several active fault lines.


And every so often the city takes a seismic hit in December 2014. A rash of 250 earthquakes rattled the countryside around Florence. Most were minor and none hit the city directly. But still, Florentines could feel the motion. My mind could not stop imagining it. An earthquake hits the center of Florence. Liquid waves roll under the rigid city. The church bells ring out of time. Terracotta tiles rained down from the Renaissance roof tops. Priceless paintings rattle off the walls of the city.


Meanwhile, inside the Accademia gallery, the David's pedestal begins to tilt slightly at first, just enough to shift the statue's gaze so that he looks not at his old enemy anymore. The implied Goliath off in the distance, but at a new one, the floor he's been standing on for one hundred thirty four years. As the ground continues to roll, the Davids tilt accelerates five degrees, six degrees, seven, eight, nine. Gravity begins to act not just on the top of the David's head, but on his back, pushing him forward 10 degrees, 11 12.


Finally, the compromised ankles reach their angle of maximum stress. They begin to slide along. The old microfracture faults an earthquake within the earthquake and the David's legs and ankles are crushed by the weight of the body above. He begins to truly form. The first thing to hit the floor is this bent left elbow, the arm that holds the heroic sling and it bursts along the lines of its previous breaks. Old scars left over from an incident in the 16th century involving an unruly mob and a bench.


And the rest of the marble will make the floor and the physics from there will be fast and simple force resistance. The brittleness of calcite crystals, the shearing of microscopic grains along the axes on which they align. Michelangelo's David will explode. This election, Absolute is reminding every American to prioritize voting over everything else, yes, even drinking alcohol. So whatever you do, vote first, drink second. Remember, your vote has the power to shake or stir the election, make it count Absolut.


Drink responsibly, vote responsibly. When I first saw the David in person, the only word that came to mind was perfect. Why hadn't anyone ever told me he was perfect? I was 20 years old, exhausted, unwashed, traveling for the first time ever, ignorant of almost everything worth knowing. Perfect. I now know is not a terribly original response to the statue, nor a very precise one, but in that moment it filled my mind.


It felt like a revolution. Urgent, deep, vital, true. Standing in front of the David was by far the most powerful experience I had ever had with a work of art, the statue is gigantic, 17 feet tall, three times the size of an actual man, the height of a mature giraffe on other facts that no one had ever told me. I'd always assumed, based on the images that the David was lifesize to find otherwise seemed like a category error, like arriving at the Taj Mahal to discover that it is actually the size of a walnut.


There was an existential snap in my brain, a sudden adjustment of the relative values and proportions of every other object in the world, including me. He towered over me and his iconic pose. Back foot flat, front foot tipped, shoulders cocked, left arm raised to hold the ceiling. Huge right hand hanging down by his side had turned fiercely toward the glorious future. He was a giant marble God, except he wasn't a God. He was a man.


But then, of course, it wasn't really a man either. It was white stone. But the stone looked somehow soft like flesh, and the hard, soft marble curved and rippled into muscles and veins, tiny and large, subtle and blunt, each feature easing inevitably into the next, all the way around. I kept roaming, looking for imperfections, not finding any. My mind ran in silly loops, the only word it would settle on again and again was perfect.


I stood there in my filthy Birkenstocks, feeling a sense of religious transcendental soring, the promise that my true self was not bound by the constraints of my childhood, by freeway exits, office parks after school programs, coin operated laundry rooms, a dingy apartment complexes, vineyards plowed under and converted into Wal-Mart's instability. Change dead dogs, divorce. No, the David suggested that my true self existed most fully in some interstellar super historical realm in which all the ideal things of the universe commingled in a perpetual ecstasy of harmonizing trumpet blasts.


If such perfection could exist in the world, I felt and so many other things were suddenly possible to live a perfect life, creating perfect things to find an ideal way to be. What was the point of anything less? Again, I was 20. My girlfriend and I were in the middle of a six week shoestring budget grand tour of Europe, we slept every night in teeming hostels, ate meat with our hands and public parks, frightened people with our terrible German.


But it was all worth it for moments like this, moments in which I could truly believe that perfection was real, as real as a train station a few hours away and that my life was heading toward it. A huge crowd swarmed around the David gawking and chatting, but I hardly noticed them. My girlfriend and I stood in the museum for an extremely long time until the crowds began to thin. Eventually, we left and moved on to another museum, another city, and then we went home and as the years rolled up their sleeves and marched, American Libbie, we got married, had children, found jobs.


I fantasized about perfection or crashing again and again into what I discovered were the extremely solid walls of my own limitations. Just on the other side of those walls, I knew stood the David on his special pedestal, an impossible destination that I was nevertheless determined to reach. But the meeting between my head in that wall began to take up more and more of my attention. And after a while, I started to wonder if the perfection on the other side actually existed, if there had ever really been anything there to begin with.


The David began in 14, 64 with a mistake. Several mistakes, actually.


In fact, so many mistakes and such serious ones that the whole project seemed to be ruined from the start.


The source and precise extent of the mistakes have been disputed over the centuries. But what we know for sure is that none of the mistakes were Michaelangelo's fault because he wasn't born yet.


The block that would become the date was cut out of the mountains 11 years before its eventual sculptor's birth. The first mistake was the stone itself, the marble cutting community in and around Karara was and remains today practically a sovereign nation with its own dialect and politics and law and hierarchies of technical expertise.


Michelangelo was a native of the quarrying world, fluent in its ways that the sculptor who chose the block, Agostinho the Duccio, was largely ignorant of them.


He had been selected by one of Florence's most influential groups, the Wool Guild, to carve a monumental marble statue of the biblical date. It would sit high on the edge of the city's great cathedral, the Duomo, to serve as a show of strength and artistic post and a warning to the city's enemies. But Agostino was in over his head. He had no experience carving marble on this scale. Nobody alive did. The block he chose was huge but flawed.


The power of marble, after all, is supposed to be in its perfection. A pure white chunk cut at almost impossible expense out of the dirty, ragged mountains. But this slab was marred by little holes discolored by Vane's. It was not only Agostinho the who was overmatched, the Warriors were, too, the block was 18 feet tall and something like 25000 pounds.


No one had harvested a stone this large and close to 1000 years. The whole process was one ordeal after another. Because statuary marble tends to form up near the tops of mountains, it took months of labor to get it down to the quarry floor.


The trip from Karara to Florence and 80 mile journey that takes around two hours in a modern car took two more arduous years.


There were teams of men, teams of oxen, big ocean ships, flat river barges, inclement weather, months long delays. At one point, the giant block fell into a muddy ditch and had to be laboriously extracted. One scholar speculated that this accident caused the cracks that now plague the ankles. When the block finally arrived in Florence, it was greeted as a wonder its size to the public would have been more apparent than its imperfections. It was deposited in a courtyard behind the cathedral, a huge white apparition in the middle of the small brown city.


People came from all over just to stare. City leaders went to inspect the block and they were dismayed. It had not only been badly chosen, it had also been badly carved. Agostino, as was traditional, had roughed out the block at the quarry, a quick whittling down to leave only what was necessary for the eventual statue.


In doing so, however, he had compounded his previous mistake. The block had been strangely narrow to begin with, and Agostino had made it even narrower. He created an awkward hole in its middle. It was hard to see how this stone was ever going to become a plausible human form. Some believe that it was ruined at the city's investment was already lost. Agostino was fired. The block was abandoned. It sat there on its side, getting rained on, hailed on, fould by birds for more than 30 years.


After a while, it became a fixed part of the landscape of Florence. People in buildings changed all around it.


Regimes rose and fell, but the monumental block never moved. Residents began to call it with some mixture of respect and mockery. The giant. I didn't get back to Florence after my initial visit for nearly 20 years when I did finally return. It was as an adult man on the brink of middle age. I was not quite 40, but felt in many ways older by hair, once as heroically thick as the Davids had begun to thin visibly. And I felt sad about this.


And I also considered my sadness to be its own failure because I wanted to be the kind of person who didn't care about superficial middle aged things. Every morning when I stepped out of bed, my joints hurt, especially my ankles. But your doctor had recently diagnosed with arthritis. They were 20 years older than the rest of me, he said. My youthful pursuit of David, like perfection had gone, shall we say, not terribly well, I turned out to be a strange person, not anything like an ideal.


My life was littered with awkwardness, estrangements, mutual disillusionments, abandoned projects recently had begun to notice an odd tick in my interpersonal style, a problem with my gaze. I would be speaking with someone, a friend or a shopkeeper or very normally. How are you? Good, thanks. How are you? How's your summer? And then for no discernible reason, my eyes would dart away from my interlocutor urgently right over one of his or her shoulders, and the shift would be so sudden that the person would whip his or her head around to see what on earth I was looking at a policeman or an exotic bird or a runaway train.


But it would turn out that there was nothing there at all. My gaze had been flicked away by a little spasm of social discomfort. And so the person would look back at me confused and I would manage to hold his or her gaze for another few seconds until the social energy built back up between us to an intolerable level, at which point I would suddenly break the circuit again by looking away and the person would look one more time back over his or her shoulder to confirm that nothing was there.


And then our relationship would be altered forever. Perfection, it turns out, is no way to try to live. It is a child's idea, a cartoon, this desire not to be merely good, not to do merely well, but to be faultless, to transcend everything, including the limits of yourself. It is less heroic than neurotic, and it doesn't take much analysis to get to its ugly side. A lust for control, pseudo fascist purity, self-destruction, perfection makes you flinch at yourself, flinch at the world, flinch at any contact between the two.


Assume what you want, above all, is escape to be gone elsewhere, annihilate. By the time I returned to Florence, I'd grown accustomed to spending solid weeks in a state of high anxiety. My hands would turn freezing like a corpse, and I would sit at my desk wishing I could cry. And my wife would tell me with increasing urgency that she was afraid I was going to have a heart attack. Eventually, after many years of this, I was prescribed a daily pill intended to stabilize an imbalance in my brain chemistry.


And this solution has worked more or less. Yet I'm still plagued by this eccentricity of the Loades, an impossible tension between the fantasies in my head and the realities on the ground. And so on my bad ankles and with my broken gaze, I returned to see the David. Things in Florence seemed essentially the same crowd still waited for hours in the brutal heat to enter the church like museum inside the David stood exactly as I last saw. I experienced the same moment of revelation, the sudden improbability of his size, his excellence, he still dominated the space, still held the light on his impossibly subtle musculature.


In fact, he was looking better than ever because in the intervening years, he had been cleaned millimetre by millimetre at great expense. And with some controversy, the grit and dust of 500 years scrubbed off the marble seemed to glow. Once again, my brain reached for the word perfect, but perfect no longer seemed adequate. Although I couldn't see the cracks inside the David's ankles and legs, I knew they were there. I knew other things, too, that the marble of his face was parked with holes, for instance, but restores stores had filled in that he was missing a small chip of stone from one of his lower eyelids.


And that is right. Little toe had been lost multiple times, and that a crazy man had taken a hammer to his left foot in 1991. Although the Davids maladies were mostly patched up over the centuries, you could still see all the scars. And the year one, amid fresh political spasms, the leaders of Florence decided to rehabilitate the giant, but who could possibly save it? There was some talk of giving the project to Leonardo da Vinci, the city's and Europe's reigning genius.


But Leonardo was an intellectual. Nearly 50 years old, who openly disdained the process of sculpture that sweaty, blunt hacking at Stone and the end of the commission went to a less famous Florentine, Michelangelo, a 26 year old eccentric who had just made his reputation in Rome by carving a marble pieta for St. Peter's, a statue of astonishing grace and maturity and polish. Michelangelo hurried home to take the commission. The first step had been to stand the giant up.


This in itself was a production. Once again, all of Florence came out to watch the block had been sitting there for 35 years, almost the entire life expectancy of a 16th century human, and it was now in worse shape than ever. Marble is best to carve when it is freshly cut from the mountain. The longer it sits out, the more brittle it becomes. The giant was now thoroughly cooked, in the local parlance, dried out by decades of sun.


Some people said it was beyond salvaging. Many wanted to attach extra marble blocks to it. They said it would be impossible to get a proper figure out of the misshapen mess that was left. This would become one of the feats that would elevate Michelangelo to mythic status that he not only salvaged the ruined block, but also turned it into a masterpiece as the Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari put it. And truly, it was a miracle on the part of Michelangelo to restore to life a thing that was debt.


The miracle took some time, first, Michelangelo decided that he needed to carve the David in private, so workers came and built a roofless shed around the giant for many months inside his shed, Michelangelo toiled away on the scene, using a series of finer and finer chisels in an attempt to rescue every centimeter of the stone. He was a servant of marble, so he would have understood everything about the block, all of its grains and flaws and possibilities, the figure of the David began to emerge little by little as a victor Kuhnen puts it in his definitive recent history of the statue, from marble to flesh, like a person being slowly revealed as water drains from a bath.


When the shed was finally opened for public viewing in the summer of 2003, the David really must have seemed like a miracle. The dirty old cooked giant had become a smooth, enormous naked man, paused just on the brink of heroic. The young sculptor did not run from the dimensions of the block, he embraced them, turning them into his figure's signature elements. The blocks narrowness yielded the lean twisting body as opposed to an over muscled Superman, but its huge head and hands.


Michelangelo gave the David a grotesquely furrowed brow, a shelf of a forehead closer to Neanderthals than a modern humans, because he knew that anything more realistic would fail to scan for a viewer on the ground, the figure was unreal, but real stylized but natural. It would come to define the city. A debate raged over where to put the David, the statue was so powerful, so impressive that it seemed a waste and perhaps even impossible engineering wise to install it in its intended destination, way up on the cathedral.


Instead, after rounds of conferences among the Florentine intelligentsia, it was decided that the sculpture would be installed in the city's central square, the Piazza de la scenario, where everyone could see it. A special machine had to be invented to move it. A huge wooden frame inside of which the David was suspended in a net of ropes, rocking gently as a crew of men rolled it across the city on greased beams. At night, it had to be protected by armed guards from rowdy kids who are throwing rocks at it.


The David's journey took four days at the end of which it was installed to much fanfare out in the public square. It would stand in that same spot for the next three hundred sixty nine years, a period during which it would be shaken by thunder, hit by carts and smeared with bird feces. And 15 27, a riotous mob tried to storm city hall and another mob in defense of the public order threw heavy objects out the windows. Stones, tiles, furniture.


A bench hit the David breaking his left arm and half. Michelangelo went off to Rome, where he painted the Sistine Chapel, designed the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica at the time, the largest in the history of the world, and eventually died wealthy and famous beyond measure at age 88. It would never see his David again. The giant continued its slow decline, although the broken arm was eventually mended and reattached, the statue remained outside, exposed to rain, ice, hail, wind and vandal's, its surface began to visibly degrade.


In the 19th century, the statues restored tended only to make things worse. They used wax, which discolored the marble and acid which aided its surface. Before long, the David needed restoring from his restoration. A broken rain gutter on the Palazzo Vecchio poured torrents of water directly onto the statue. Concerned citizens began to agitate for him to be moved indoors. They built a protective wooden shed over him, isolating him in a bubble of safety. This brought the public life of the David full circle.


It was carved in a shed. He was hidden in a shed. Eventually, the statue's protectors were able to move him on train tracks, laid laboriously across Florence to a custom built room in the Accademia. But the room still wasn't finished, so the David sat inside a crate for years, growing colonies of microorganisms like a huge piece of cheese. Academia tracks well over a million visitors a year, and they all end up in one room, the Davids Rotunda.


I stood there in the summer of 2015, watching the crowd, watched the David. They're in the room was perfectly still the tourists found themselves with maps of Florence guides speaking directly into their followers ears via a head mounted microphones, led large groups into the center of the crowd like battalions into battle. I watched a woman take a short nap while leaning against a stone column. A couple from Holland sat down next to me and fired streams of Dutch at each other.


The only word of which I could make out was the English Six-Pack. Most of all, people took pictures for almost its entire history, the Accademia had been a strict no camera zone, but the rise of smartphones made that impossible. And now the phones have taken over. Tourists spend their time in front of the three dimensional David poking a two dimensional version of him on their touch screens. I witnessed the execution of many, many selfies, the jockeying for a proper angle, the sudden dead eyed smile, the brisk walk away.


There always seemed to be something furtive, something almost criminal about a selfie, often through a trick of perspective. The selfie take his own head would appear on the screen twice as big as the Davit.


The most popular target for photographers was to David's genitals.


People were obsessed with him.


I watched a very American man, Tommy Hilfiger shirt, Oakley sunglasses, BMW, baseball hat, pretend to keep the statue's testicles while his wife took his picture.


And then his wife pretended to cut the David's testicles while he took her picture. Two women posed for a photo pretending to hold the David's penis simultaneously as if it were a trophy fish, a serious man touched focused his iPhone camera with delicate precision on the David's foreskin.


At the back of the crowd, I found that David security guard, he sat sideways on a folding chair, chin in hand, a model of relaxed uninterest.


He seemed to watch the room without even looking. When he spoke, his mustache moved over a mouth that was missing several teeth. It was a native, Florentin, and he told me stories about crazy tourists weeping thongs and about the great flood of 1966 in which his family's house was underwater up to the second floor.


I asked him if after all this time, he had any personal feeling of all left for the Dep't, he said he did not.


If you eat chocolate every day for 20 years, he said, you will get bored of it. If looking at Michelangelo's David is the equivalent of eating chocolate and walking the streets of Florence is like drowning and Willy Wonka gushing Chocolate River, the image of the David is everywhere. They are bookmarks, mousepads, T-shirts, posters, watches, key chains, mugs, ballpoint pens, commemorative plates, pies, servers, snow globes, sugar spoons, USB sticks and Christmas ornaments.


There are leather shops and pizzerias and even parking garages named after tourists can buy aprons that make them look as if they have the David's body, the lean, muscular torso, the naked little penis. And then there are the statuettes, a vast army of miniature imitation Davids that stand in shop windows and on hawkers carts and all the famous piazzas at the academy, I found a store called in English David Shop. It was a David replica bonanza, more Davids than I have ever seen in one place before.


The smallest was the size of my pinky, the biggest slightly taller than an average Italian woman. I bought a postcard that was also a jigsaw puzzle featuring the David's penis wearing sunglasses and saying Chow. Next to the Duomo for an exorbitant price, I bought a bobblehead, David, his giant head attached by a spring, waggled ridiculously as I walked. He waggled past many other versions of himself, hundreds, thousands, infinity davits from a distance. Many of the replicas looked acceptably David like, but upclose.


Most of them were laughably bad. The replicas are like a systematic exploration of all the possible ways to distort Michelangelo's design. Their faces are squashed, their heads are flat, their noses are pointed. They look like goblin's. Some of them seem to have breasts. Others have rib cages jutting out in high relief like cartoons of shipwreck survivors. One shop window, David stood several feet tall and cost more than 200 dollars, a serious investment that would have taken up major space in any buyer's home.


Its face looked like a bug eyed, emaciated LFS. Its muscles were lumpy and gnarled. Its feet were long and bony, like the feet of an ancient witch. In a fairy tale, its hair looked like a pile of spaghetti. It seemed more a parody of the David than a tribute and the Accademia gift shop. I bought a sticker that read simply David Manea face, I decided, was the epitome of David souvenirs, a tribute not to the actual David, but to our mass enthusiasm for him.


Sometimes when I found myself fed up with Florence and its crowds, overwhelmed by the kitsch, the heat, the vendors, the constant eruptions of Renaissance cosplay, my walks took me across the river, away from the old bridge for the plain yellow building with a stationery shop on its ground floor. Twenty feet up when no one ever seemed to look was a small historical plaque, identifying it as the temporary home of the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This is where he agonized over the writing of his novel The Idiot, which I was rereading.


Dostoyevsky was in many ways the anti David ugly, short, hairy, awkward, nervous, ill, angry, a profit of spite and self sabotage. I found him incredibly inspiring. He spoke to me beyond the kitsch, above the crowds from the other side of my old simplistic understanding of the David. He gestured towards something more complex, more inclusive, more sustainable.


Dostoyevsky moved to Florence with his wife in 1868 during a miserable swing through Europe, and he detested the city at times with a degree of comic loathing that only he could have mustered for such a beautiful place. He complained about the humidity, the rain, the crowds, the heat. He never learned Italian, preferring to sit in his room alone, wrestling with his knife.


He stayed for nearly a year only because he was too poor to leave. It compulsively blown much of his money at the roulette tables of Europe. As I looked at the David, I thought about the idiot and as I read The Idiot, I thought about the David, they existed at opposite Poles and yet they also spoke deeply to each other.


The idiot was Dostoyevsky's attempt to create an ideal man, a modern Christ, what he called a completely beautiful human being. It was forced to try to write this perfect book, however, and humiliatingly imperfect conditions, isolated far from home and intense poverty and grief. The Dostoyevsky's young daughter had died just months earlier and delayed by fits of epilepsy. Up in his cramped apartment above the paper store, Dostoyevsky flogged his unruly book. The idiot is full of wild crowds bursting into rooms out of nowhere.


Its plot is strange, lurching, unbalanced. Its hero is seen by everyone as a fool, and his presence seems to cause trouble wherever he goes. The book is in both theme and execution, one of the great artistic statements of the impossibility of human perfection. Rereading it during the visit to Florence made me feel somehow spiritually itchy. Unlike Michelangelo, Dostoyevsky was missing from the official law of the city, he couldn't buy postcards bearing his image or visit a museum devoted to his life and work.


This made him even more of a refuge, a small secret I shared with Noah. One afternoon, I walked into a part of the academia that most people never see down a labyrinth of staircases and hallways to a small office tucked into the very back of the building. This belong to Angelo Tartufo, director of the museum, the official protector of the David. The walls were hung with medieval paintings. Theretofore, he wore a green Umbro polo shirt. He was relaxed, animated, candid.


He spoke in long streams of Italian, punctuated occasionally by roars of laughter. We talked about the Davids cracked ankles, a topic with which tartufo he was very familiar. I asked him about the geoscientist terrifying paper. He rolled his eyes. It was, he said, mainly a publicity grab. We have known about these cracks for more than 100 years, he pointed out, and they aren't getting any worse than David is now perfectly upright, and he is one of the most closely monitored artworks in the world.


There are maps not only of the cracks themselves, but also of every stain and blemish on the surface of the marble, of every repair that has ever been made. Even of the patterns in which dust tends to, for visitors to the Accademia will notice a large, inelegant plastic brick mounted behind the David to monitor all of its vital signs. Temperature, motion, angle of inclination. It is labeled smart brick. New, fast, easy, smart.


Tartufo, he conceded, however, that he was still worried about an earthquake. Sometimes he had bad dreams. All of that high tech monitoring can only warn us it can't protect anything. And while it seems to be true that the cracks aren't getting worse, they're not getting better either. As long as they exist, the David will be vulnerable. What then is to be done? In fact, a relatively simple solution to the ankle problem already exists, although we can't fix the cracks, we can mitigate the stress that makes them dangerous.


There's a special kind of anti seismic base that allows a marble statue to move along with any tectonic disturbance. It's similar to the kind of technology you'll find under buildings in San Francisco. Many less illustrious statues in earthquake zones are already protected by such bases. They're not terribly complex and considering the potential consequences of leaving it undone, not terribly expensive, about 250000 euros, according to tattoo free, a tiny fraction of the revenues that David earns the museum in a single year.


In 2014, after the earthquakes rocked the countryside around Florence, after the global media fretted about the possible destruction of the David, Italy's minister of culture said that an anti seismic face would be installed under the statue within a year, but a year passed and nothing happened.


When I arrived in the summer of 2015, six months after that statement, I half expected to find men in hard hats working around the Davids pedestal. Instead, there were only the usual tourists. David, meanwhile, stood there in his old precarious rigidity, vulnerable as ever to the tremors. I asked her to free what was happening with the anti seismic base. The delay was only bureaucratic. He said. He had met long ago with a company that did this sort of stabilizing work.


Tartufo had told the Italian press that the job was underway.


The base could hypothetically go in at any moment. Of the Italian government, 33 said, refused to allow him to install the base. The nation was in the middle of an elaborate restructuring of its museum system, and it was planning to put new leaders, some of whom would be known as super managers, into Florence's highest profile and therefore most lucrative museums.


This matter to free a lame duck director and the Italian government was not going to allow him on his way out the door to execute a project as important as saving the David Italy, in the midst of its own economic collapse, wanted to be the hero that stepped forward to save the David from collapsing.


The problem was that no one could say exactly when this power transfer might occur and even after it did, if and when the base would be installed.


When Tartufo departed, he told me he was planning to pass the project of the anti seismic face off to his successor. This, he said, is what the new director would have to deal with first.


Meanwhile, every day the David would remain at risk.


In fact, tartufo, he told me, the high tech monitoring device in the base of the davits pedestal, the smart brick, had recently been turned off.


There was no point in monitoring anymore, he said. Everyone knew what needed to be done. Now they just needed to do it.


First of all, it was not the only one who told me a story like this, I met with a woman named Contessa Simonetta Brandolini that one of the most powerful figures in Florence is Art World. Eighteen years ago, the contest founded a non-profit organization called Friends of Florence, which is financed and overseen the restoration of many of the city's endangered masterpieces from sculptures in the central square to Botticelli oil paintings in the FEC to 15th century Mannerist frescoes in a popular local church.


The organization fills a crucial lack in Italy, helping to make up for the increasingly cash strapped governments inability to take proper care of its decaying cultural heritage. In 2004, Friends of Florence raised half a million dollars to help fund the cleaning and restoration of the David, and they continue to pay for the statue's regular monitoring and upkeep. A family of spiders, Brandolini told me, had been discovered living in the giant caverns of the David's hair. Every few months, they covered his body with dusty webs that needed to be vacuumed off.


Friends of Florence would dearly love to raise the funds to pay for the David's anti seismic bass. But the Italian government again and again has insisted that the state will take care of it. It seemed they believe that an outside organization rescuing the David would be improper. She was an even keeled and practical woman, but while relating this to me, she grew visibly frustrated. There was simply nothing she could do against the overwhelming force of official Italian national pride.


Destruction takes many forms, not just a sudden apocalyptic crash or the long term degradation of rain and ice and wind, there is death by an action, death by neglect. There's also death by reference, death by Ubiquiti, death by subtle retail shops, humiliation. The David super fame struck me as another eccentricity of the loans, the tension between the actual statue, the original physical thing unique in the world, and the statues ubiquitous image. The thing itself was hopelessly outnumbered by its own reproductions.


We knew the David so well and our own knowledge of our knowledge of that image that we could hardly see the David at all. There was a part of me, a part I never mentioned to the museum director or the Contessa or anyone else in Florence. I was titillated by the possibility of the David falling over. It was a perverse adolescent iconoclastic streak, a dark troll that lived under the otherwise more or less serviceable bridge of my conscious mind. It was something like what Freud called the death drive and urge toward failure and collapse, especially the things we want most in life.


If perfection in life truly isn't possible, croaked my trol. And it isn't. It isn't that perhaps we should move on to the relative perfection of destruction. My inner troll worshipped not the David, but the cracks and the David's ankles, they were as a fatal flaw, so deliciously humiliating, such a perfectly ironic undercutting of the statues, otherwise heroic stature that David's destiny said my role was not to stand, but to break. This put me in mind once again of Dostoyevsky, the grumpy outcast seething in Florence, the antedated my troll could easily have been one of his characters.


It could have been the splenetic narrator of notes from underground who recoils against the notion of rational utopia of the perfectibility of mankind. Two times, two is four is no longer life, gentlemen, but the beginning of death. The real power of Dostoyevsky's work, though, is that despite all the misery his characters endure, his vision is not actually miserable. It is redemptive, celebratory, powerfully totalizing. Humans are compulsive, irrational and petty. Yes, but they are also selfless, intelligent and idealistic.


And Dostoyevsky. There is a radical acceptance that strikes me as in its own way, a new, more perfect vision of perfection, an envelope of understanding that can hold the entire universe. I began to think of the David not as a traditional hero, but as a Dostoevsky character, like the idiot he was an ideal man with no real place in the world, misunderstood, assaulted by crowds drawn into all sorts of unheroic shenanigans. There was God knows much that was insane about our relationship to the statue, the compulsive selfies, the inertia of the Italian bureaucracy, the David mania.


But as a character in The Idiot puts it, to attain perfection, one must first of all, be able not to understand many things.


As I walked around Florence, I was exposed to hundreds and thousands of horrible David replicas at a certain point I began to actually love them. They were so awkward, so bad and so numerous that they were, in the aggregate, somehow good. A perfect tribute to Michelangelo's strange genius and to the gnarled history of the statue itself. They were themselves little trolls, but David's imperfections made flesh sprang fully formed out of the cracks in his ankles and set loose upon the world.


At home and my mentor, I keep a small crowd of them, a green one, the bobblehead, a white one that looks like an elf, one of them, a tiny keychain, recently fell over and broke his head, cracked clean off. I keep its pieces there with the rest. A month after I met with him, Angela, theretofore he was removed from his position as director of the Accademia Banti seismic based project, needless to say, had not yet commenced.


Tato, for his replacement, was one of Florence's new so-called super managers, a medieval scholar from Germany named Cecily Holberg. I met her in June at a lush hotel bar overlooking the Arno River. I'd expected someone stern and formal, but Holberg was in fact relaxed and unpretentious and congenial, with a sly humor that rushed into all the gaps in our conversation. She seemed perpetually amused to have been plucked out of her small German town and imported to watch over the most famous statue in the world.


She referred to the David jokingly as her husband. We drank spritzers and had a wonderful time. I asked Holberg about her husband's ankles. Had there been any progress under her watch on the David's anti seismic bass? This was six months after Holberg took charge and a year and a half after the Culture Minister's initial promise to place the David on the base. There had not been any progress, Paarlberg, in fact, seem surprisingly calm after all, an earthquake was still hypothetical and she had inherited plenty of other, more pressing problems.


There were holes in the museum's roof that let rainwater through, that were illegal vendors who hassled the tourists while they waited outside in line. There was the problem of finding space and the clotted center of Florence to expand the undersized museum. After her arrival, Holbrooke said people emerged from everywhere to tell her how to save the David. Everyone claimed to be an expert. Everyone seemed to have something to sell. But Holberg wanted to take her time to consider all the options.


She wanted the right solution, not just the fastest or easiest. At some point in the future, she said, she would probably travel to Los Angeles to consult experts at the Getty Center about how they protect their statues. In the meantime, Högberg said, if a major earthquake were to hit Florence directly, every museum in the city would endure some destruction, not just the academic. I found this somehow not comforting at all. For now and for the foreseeable future.


It would just have to trust the David to keep stamping. This was recorded by Autumn, Autumn is an app you can download to listen to lots of audio stories from publishers such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and The Atlantic.


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