Elsa remembered the eerily real anatomical models in the museum of La Specola in Florence: the sleeping Venus with her braided hair and her hinged belly, that showed the layers of the insides; the fingerbones wearing the veins and arteries like a lace glove; the skulls cut through to show the teeth in the jaw and the floor of the mouth and the eyeballs gleaming in their cutaway sockets. She and Kirsten had stared, twelve years old and utterly hypnotized. They huddled over their sketchbooks for hours afterward, recording the impressions, two skinny little dark-haired girls who passed for Italian themselves: she with her spectacles and her mop of curly hair, and Kirsten with her great ship’s-cable of a braid hanging down her back. Two skinny little girls in jeans and loose shirts and sensible clogs stood hour on hour in museums staring at the exhibits. It wasn’t the famous David, standing in replica in the great square, that fascinated the Felix sisters, but these gleaming simulacra of dead flesh, live and bright in their colors after more than two centuries.
That skill she added to the list of things she wanted to learn; at age fourteen, it all coalesced when she faced that blond boy with his sharp sulky face and his curtains of fine pale hair, who (had he been alive) would have had two admirers to contend with, her and Kirsten, for it was the first and only moment in which they had stared at the same human face in infatuation, until Kirsten realized it wasn’t a girl after all.
Author’s note: The museum known as La Specola (The Observatory), is the oldest natural history museum in Europe and includes among its collections the astronomical instruments of Galileo (hence the museum’s name), natural history specimens, and the wax anatomical models described above. See here for a Flickr slideshow of details of the wax models, originally created for the teaching of anatomy. (Warning: they are accurate full-color reproductions of dissected human cadavers. Do not click the link if this is an unnerving prospect.) [All web links accessed 1/12/2012]