This morning and the first part of this afternoon was spent in the Vatican museum, where among other things I got to see Michelangelo’s, “Last Judgment” and a couple of nice little stories resulted out of it. Firstly, we were not allowed to take photographs inside the Sistine Chapel but, not knowing, I got my camera out but, just as I was about to click, some porters, who until this point I had not even noticed, descended on me, shouting, “no photos, no photos, my instantaneous reaction was to click the camera without focusing properly on the “Last Judgment” and then over the loud speakers, in about six different languages was to be heard, “no photos and quiet please”. Secondly, there is this little story about how in 1565, shortly after the Council of Trent condemned nudity in religious art, a certain Daniele Ricciarelli , better known as Daniele da Volterra, was employed to cover the genitals in the “Last Judgment” with vestments and lion cloths. Poor old Daniele, who was actually an excellent painter in his own right, became famous mainly for this work, which earned him the nickname of “Il Braghetonne” or the breeches maker”.
Well, there was me sort of defying the authorities today and there was Michelangelo, if not defying the authorities, stretching what was allowed to the limit and on getting back to the hotel, I read this interesting story in the ‘New York Times’ about another set of artists defying the authorities. Under the headline, ‘As Taboos Ease, Saudi Girl Group Dares to Rock’, there is a story about new-found freedoms in Saudi and about a female rock band that defies the kingdom’s conservative religious establishment. The ‘New York Times’ tells us as Saudi’s “harsh code of public morals has slowly thawed, especially in Jidda, by far the kingdom’s most cosmopolitan city.”(1) Here, we have “Jeddah” or “Jidda” being portrayed as some sort of San Francisco in the late sixties. Do any of you remember the song; “If you go to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”? Then there were the girls burning their bras and everyone dropping acid. Fucking hell, if you behave like that in the desert kingdom punishments would range from cutting off one or more of your extremities, through to death by stoning or a trip to Jeddah’s “Chop Chop Square”. It is amazing how the western media just loves to produce these little stories about people in the Arab and Muslim world striving for those little freedoms that people in the west attach so much value to. These girls are probably extremely well-heeled, they are pursuing their interest underground and, believe me, when it comes to the bit, they will be putting away their guitars and, more than likely, getting prepared to marry one of their equally wealthy cousins.
There are, perhaps, a couple of assumptions on my part in what I have just written about the “Jeddah Jammers” and their, “inshallah” fates. Nevertheless, at least two things are certain. Firstly, I won’t be going to Mecca to take photographs of the Great Mosque, will I? Moreover, and remember that Michelangelo finished painting his “Last Judgement” in 1541, no Muslim anywhere is going to paint nudes and should they try to do so in Saudi they will end up literally “underground”.
The picture shows the little corner of “the Last Judgment”, which my camera managed to catch