bargello

So I was in this bar, y’know? And they had this Jell-O… cubes of the stuff, all sorts of colours. Oh, I don’t know what was in it, but man, I had some, and I started seeing these cubes arranged in zig-zag jagged lines, like flames, like diamonds, like curves, like great big square pixels. The patterns were mathematical, too; it was intricate. Oh, it was wild, man… but it was funny too. It had me in stitches, like big stitches, I’m too serious. But that stuff was trouble. I woke up in the slam. A big castle-like prison. And I was strapped to a chair… and it had the same patterns on it… wwwwwww…

OK, no, bargello is not some electric bar Jell-O. It’s two things, but mainly, unless you’re in Florence, it’s a kind of decorative stitching. It’s stitched not on clothes but typically on canvas, and the stitches usually cross four threads and are set up in squares – and the squares step up or down in regular patterns. The squares are different (often vivid) colours, making bands that form waves, diamonds, sharp zags like curves…

I’ll tell you something else that has squares on it, though all in a tidy row and flat grey: the Bargello.

Wait, what? Ah, I mean the place. Which is to say the palace. The Bargello is a building in Florence, Italy, also called the Palazzo del Popolo. It’s a museum now, but it used to be a prison and guard station – executions were performed there too. The chief of guards, whose domain it was, was the bargello. Um, huh? Yeah, the building was named after the dude. But it gets better… the dude was named after a building. What building? Late Latin bargillus (cognate with German Burg) meant “castle” or “fortified tower” – which in fact the Bargello is. It has a crenellated parapet and crenellated tower, meaning they have those square teeth. So you have squares, and you have a building that refers to a man who is named after a building that looks like the building. This seems a bit like, say, a nested diamond bargello pattern.

Not that the word bargello will necessarily make one think of a detailed, rather demanding type of needlework pattern. The overtones of barge seem rather broad and pushy, and Jell-O fat and jiggly. (Jell-O manufacturers: yes, I know there’s no fat in Jell-O.) But the voiced affricate in the middle of the word has a certain acuity to it; it’s the same sound as starts judgement and justice, after all. And the the parallel lines of the ll have that linear mathematical taste too. And then there’s that bar. No, not the one with the coloured gelatin cubes. Well, maybe.

Oh, how did the building and the needlework come to have the same name? The needlework pattern is evident on a series of chairs in the Bargello. But somehow I don’t think they were ones the prisoners used.

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