Secret Art 2: Keith Haring

I like the late Keith Haring's spirited, vibrant work — you can visit his website here — but this page of my website concerns itself specifically with the painting on the wall beside the toilet. It's not a poster, not an art student's fond reproduction. It's an original Keith Haring, painted on the wall of the bathroom of a working-class snack bar high in the Apuan Alps of northern Italy.

In the summer of 2001, I returned to the University of Maryland's European Division for a semester and taught several classes on a US Army base just outside Pisa. Mondays through Thursdays, I had English 101 at lunchtime and either public speaking or upper-level business communication in the evenings. From 1:30 to 6:30, though, I was off, and I'd usually either go to the beach or do some touring around. One day, I drove up into the mountains, stopped at a little snack bar to sip a cappucino at an outdoor table and enjoy the glorious view all the way out to the Mediterranean. At one point, I went off to find a bathroom — and there was what looked like an authentic Keith Haring painted on the wall! I went into the bar and asked the woman running the place about it, and she proudly explained that "the American" had visited many years ago, had stayed in one of their upstairs guest rooms, and had painted the picture in the bathroom and — she pointed over my shoulder — "questo, la," meaning, "that one, there." I turned around, and, yup, there was another one on the wall behind me, that one protected by a sheet of clear plastic.

When Becca — a major Haring fan — joined me a couple of weeks later, I took her up into the mountains without telling her what awaited us, sat her down at a table, then eventually sent her off to use the bathroom. "I don't need to use the bathroom," she said. "Trust me," I told her, "you really want to go to the bathroom." She came back very excited and impressed.

What's the name of the village? I know, but I'm not telling. That's what makes it a secret.

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