Tiny little me
It has become a family joke that I cannot stand near to large representations of the human form without getting more than a little freaked out.
It all started with David. Yes, that David - the rather beautiful statue of a young hero by Michelangelo. Not the original version, on display in the Uffizi in Florence; nor the copy that stands in the Piazza della Signoria - I've looked him in the eye, and did not blanch. In his original setting - under a blue Italian sky - he seems almost to scale; acceptably oversized, if you will. No, it was a plaster copy in the Victoria and Albert museum, on a grey London day, that made me feel rather wobbly.
Of course, once back out in the drizzly streets of a London Tuesday I felt a little silly. It was just a block of stone - albeit fashioned artistically and realistically. I didn't get spooked by the skyscrapers and other buildings, far taller and more imposing, that surrounded me now. So what was it about David?
A few years ago it happened again only this time the symptoms were far worse. We were coming to the end of a US road trip, an amazing holiday that encompassed the massive sandstone arches of Moab, Utah; the towering mountains of Teton national park; the deep canyon, shimmering geysers and wide lake of Yellowstone; the preposterous volcanic outcrop of Devil's Tower, familiar to anyone who has watched 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'; and now we had reached the Black Hills of South Dakota.
At night the figures are illuminated so that they can be clearly seen for miles around. And when you are near them, they seem to jump out at you in an alarming fashion - in particular Washington whose nose, not to appear rude, looms around a corner in a way that can only be described as terrifying.
We thought that was it: the end of the line had been reached as far as my 'that human representation is too big for my tiny human brain to cope' phobia. But no...
All this reminds me of my phobia to spiders. I can cope when they are outdoors and in their proper place; and indoors, I can deal with them fine up to to a certain critical size and then wham! - the freaking out, sweating, panicky visceral reaction happens. I am no longer me; I am not in control. My fight or flight mechanism is entirely focussed on the (actually quite small) 8-legged beastie glaring at me across the room.
But why statues? Why something that is essentially humanoid? I guess my brain is struggling because their size makes them 'wrong', in a way that isn't entirely rational; but it's trying to protect me and repel the alien. It's doing a Turing test, only based purely on size rather than wit or wisdom. Category error. Unexpected item in bagging area.
It is often the case that we are drawn to the massive and incomprehensible to find a sense of awe and, ultimately, peace. We find a sense of perspective and in that our own place in the universe by drawing close to the ocean; the mountain; the chasm. I too feel that draw; and whilst the surge of waves or the vertiginous precipice can thrill and unnerve at times, they never cause this level of disquiet. We all need those moments of context, when we feel reduced to the infinitesimally small beings we really are; yet at the same time we feel embraced by the magnificence around us.
Just so long as that embrace doesn't have stony arms, wings, or a very large illuminated nose.