Machiavelli and Balloons

I remember walking the halls of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, my head tilted toward arched ceilings filled with paintings. On the way to a room filled with Botticellis, I saw Machiavelli, whose devotion was Florence. There he was, a small panel in the middle of hundreds of people, painted and real. His picture did not portend the influence his book, "The Prince," still has on political thought.

"And here it should be noted that one can be hated just as much for good deeds as for evil ones; therefore, as I said above, a prince who wants to maintain his rule is often forced not to be good, because whenever that class of men on which you believe your continued rule depends is corrupt, whether it be the populace, or soldiers, or nobles, you have to satisfy it by adopting the same disposition; and then good deeds are your enemies."

I could not help feeling a sense of intrigue as I walked through this stunningly beautiful city. I saw the ghosts of powdered social faces calculating each move, the consequences of which could mean power or ruin. But it was imprisoning somehow to be in the Machiavelli's world. As lush as Italy was, I wanted to get out of its literature.

Two weeks after I came home from Italy, I realized I had booked 4 days at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, and packed up to go to the Southwest.

Big sky. Fat tourists. Shades of tan sand in the baking sun. The sunsets were dominated by pale pink and blue, and the green was dark, dry except for one or two bright yellow Aspen trees in the crisp October evening. No one talked of intrigue. The conversation was just, "Hey, look at the balloons," or, "You ever flown in Colorado before?"

One might think this is intellectual poverty, but I felt a weight lift from my head.

There were funnel cakes that I couldn't believe people were eating on a field at 5:00 am, as balloon-rise time is 6:00 am. I smiled looking at the lit Donald Duck balloon in the morning darkness. And up in the air, drinking champagne, surrounded by 800 other balloons, I felt blessed that I lived in America.

Would anyone like to comment on the difference between America and Europe, in life, in literature?

© copyright, 1999, Barbara Steinberg
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