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Home again from Rome.

13 November 2012

I am home again. A tragically short trip. I wish I’d had longer. There is much to see in Rome, as it turns out. It’s this whole amazing city. In three days of wandering, I did manage to see all of the sights that I’d intended to see ahead of time, and a few I’d never heard of. So, a general accounting of the trip, after arrival, which I’ve described in previous posts:

The Colosseum: Perhaps the most iconic of all of Rome’s great landmarks, I cannot begin to do justice with mere words the awesome impact of seeing the Colosseum. Perhaps it was in part because I was so tired, so I’d love to hear from people who’ve also done Rome. But when you walk out of the metro station, the Colosseum is just there. It’s enormously, impossibly, present. Huge. Shocking. Blinding. It was 9 am and the sun was shining through the arches, with high cirrus drifting in a field of Parrish blue. The sensation is as shocking and fixating as having ice water thrown in your face. Inside the Colosseum is incredible; very well preserved. You can feel the ancient combat on the floor below. I wandered around an hour or so before heading up the Via Sacra and seeing the Roman Forum. The Colosseum is surrounded by arches and ruins, and the old Roman Senate. If you’ve any pull toward the ancient western world, you simply must see this place.

The Vatican Museum: Next up on Friday, I went to see the Sistine Chapel. It’s in the Vatican Museum, which is opulent to the point of excrescence. Part of me was deeply disturbed by the incredible wealth of the Vatican, which might as well be dipped in gold. So many places Catholics languish in vile squalor, and the Vatican has diamonds overflowing their pockets. It’s a bit unseemly. Nevertheless, the Sistine Chapel is amazing. I have learned that Michaelangelo was essentially the PI of the project to paint the ceiling, which took about four years and for which he was paid about 2 million dollars in today’s money. He did the crucial work himself, but a lot of “post-docs” worked on it too. And a priest yells at you to be quiet about every forty seconds. It was awesome to see the original great work of art, but the experience wasn’t mystical or transporting.

The Spanish Steps: I hadn’t heard much about these prior. Knew the name. Went there on Saturday morning. They’re a lovely set of steps, built in the 1700s, overlooking a small piazza with a fountain in it. Pretty. Hard to say much more. They’re a major landmark, and well-regarded. I thought they were nice. The view from the top of the steps is down a long alley like avenue, which looks for all the world like a movie set backdrop.

Galleria Borghese: My friend Chicago Joe recommended that I see the Galleria Borghese, a tiny museum which only allows a few people in each day and them only for two hours each. You have to book tickets in advance. Inside they have the greatest sculpture ever wrought by the hand of man. Paolina, by Canova, is there. Which is stunning. The marble couch looks soft. But the true masterworks, which I was utterly unprepared for the mastery of, were the Bernini works. Bernini’s David. Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina. Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. Bernini’s Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius. Unfathomably amazing. It is impossible to believe that they do not walk, quickened, at night. I believe that I could now immediately tell any Bernini from any not-Bernini. He is unequaled. There is no one in his class that I’ve ever seen.

Fontana Trevi: I went from the Galleria Borghese to Fontana Trevi, at the advice of Doc Becca. I’d actually never heard of it, or perhaps only in a Dan Brown book. It’s a huge and impressive fountain, and I got gelato and tossed a coin into the fountain. A coin in Fontana Trevi is supposed to assure your return to Rome. I sat there as dusk descended. A wonderful place to let the sun go down.

Saint Peter’s Square: The last thing I did Saturday was to go to see the huge basilica in the Vatican. There’s an enormous obelisk, in a collonaded square, topped by statues of.. saints? I think? dozens of them. I didn’t go in to the basilica. Long line and exhaustion, and I didn’t feel the need to spend any more money there. Though, I’m not sure it costs anything. But seeing the square was decidedly worthwhile. It’s one of those central landmarks of western civilization that’s been burned into our collective consciousness for generations.

The Pantheon: Sunday morning I went to the Pantheon, a hall that predates Christianity, but which is now a church. It’s a stone rotunda with an enormous hole at the top, a feat of engineering which would be troublesome today, but which was accomplished prior to the invention of the zero. Astonishing. Like Fontana Trevi and the Spanish Steps, it’s in a tiny space. Rome does not have much in the way of huge, wide open plazas the way Paris or Berlin does. Everything is close and stacked together, and hard to see.

I walked tens of miles through Rome, also seeing Pont- and Castel Sant’Angelo, and Piazza Navona. I’m running out of my ability to describe things. It was far, far too much to see in three and a half days. There are winged angels on chariots at the tops of a bunch of buildings in Rome. No idea what that’s all about. Very much worth figuring out at some point. But I put a coin in Fontana Trevi. I’ll be back.

My flight home was awful. It was meant to be ten and a half hours. It ended up being fifteen because a woman had a heart attack and we had to divert to Dublin to let her off. Then, she didn’t want to get off, and the Captain had to tell her: “Whether you go to the hospital or not is up to you. But you will get off my plane. I won’t take off again just to have you die over the Atlantic.” The plane was packed with rude, elderly American women who were on a spiritual high and couldn’t seem to get around the fact that I didn’t like having them rub their giant asses in my face while they chatted in the aisles. I eventually had to tell one of them: “You are seriously violating my personal space, and it’s making me very uncomfortable.” in a voice only just shy of homicidal. It took every ounce of civility I had not to murder everyone.

So now I’m home. There’s a grant to write. PECMC is going to bring me out for a job talk and interviews. I have shit to do. But I’m glad I went impulsively to Rome. It was worth all the trouble and expense.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Syd permalink
    13 November 2012 13:06

    It sounds awesome. I have not been to Rome or to Italy. Perhaps one day….

  2. 13 November 2012 19:34

    I really liked Rome! LIke you we only had three days. We did a walking tour to see the major sites and enjoyed that. We also visited the night market/nightlife along the Tiber, which was one of the highlights of our trip.

  3. 14 November 2012 11:59

    I’ve never been to Rome – however in the UK we have a few fantastic glimpses of the Roman occupation – there is a palace in Southern England as big as some in Italy – no one knows why who who it belonged to but the mosaics left are incredible. Last year in Cirencester (old Roman capital in the West of Englan) we looked around a museum with many Roman artefacts and visited it’s amphitheatre, sadly now grassed over humps but impressive humps when you then start to think of how big it was and what happened there

  4. Kathy permalink
    14 November 2012 19:06

    I have never been to Rome but have seen colosseums in Nimes and Arles in the south of France. Very humbling to think that these structures have been around for so long and so many feet have worn the steps down over the years. What fun to just take off and have such an interesting trip….. glad to hear it was so satisfying for you.

  5. 25 November 2012 11:08

    I WAS floored by the Sistine Chapel. Literally. I lay right down on the floor to look up at it. Nobody yelled at me, probably because I was a seventeen year old blonde girl.

    I was also amazed by the Dome of St Peter’s basilica: still, I believe the biggest traditional dome in the world (not counting sports stadiums). I had recently read the Agony and the Ecstasy, and I was, like, Michaelangelo’s biggest fan. Still am. In my book, he beats out all the rest of the bunch as an all-around artist. Sure, Leonardo was the greater intellect by far, but look at his paintings today and look at Michaelangelo’s. Michaelangelo was a chemist, and his colors are today almost what they were then. And nobody ever did what he did in marble.

    If you are ever in Florence, you MUST go see the David. Of course, it’s awesome, but you might as well look at the replica outside the hall if the David is all you want to see. Inside the hall, there are number of M’s unfinished sculptures, and THEY are worth a trip across the Atlantic all by themselves.

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