Peter, Paul and Harried

Fountain
Trevi Fountain

Thursday, June 29, 2017: Peter and Paul probably did not intend for their feast day to be celebrated this way: Spending hours online trying to undo plans made weeks in advance of our two-week trip to Italy. But I blame them for keeping their holiday a secret within the city of Rome, and especially within the city-state of the Vatican, where the Vatican Museum – closed on holidays – happens to be located.

The Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul was not a big deal in the Methodist Church of my upbringing and apparently something that slipped the mind of my fallen-away Catholic wife. So it wasn’t until the day before the holiday that we found out that our planned visit to the Vatican Museum fell on this saints’ day and the museum would be closed.

We had disobeyed this Roman commandment: Thou shalt make Vatican Museum online reservations weeks before you arrive.

Probably we’ll leave that to Cole to get it right next time he visits.

We tried to get a spot at the museum on Friday. No vacancies. We tried to rearrange travel plans to return to Rome a day early in the next week. That meant cancelling a night in Venice, which was a no go because our Airbnb reservation was a two-night minimum. In fiddling with Airbnb online I hosed up the app, probably made my credit card vulnerable and froze my cell phone. We may have messed up the car-rental agreement as well. We’ll find out when we go to pick the car up on Friday.

In the end, we left everything as originally planned, apologized to Cole for skipping the Sistine Chapel and hit the streets. It was noon by then, but we packed in a full day:

Steps
On the Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps: OK, they are beautiful and there are lots of them, but in the end they are just that: steps. Great place to hang out (lots of places to sit), wonder what it was like when Shelley, Keats and Byron lived nearby, watch people looking at steps and the church of Trinità dei Monti at the top of the stairs where there is a great view of Rome.

Capuchin Crypt: While the effort to make art out of human bones fails in my aesthetic opinion, you have to admire the faith and dedication these monks had. The bones were assembled there from the friars who died between 1528 and 1870 as a way, this website says, “of reminding themselves that death could come at anytime; one must always be ready to meet God. A plaque in the crypt reads: ‘What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.’” I loved that the sign leading into the crypt included a quote from the Marquis de Sade. As the website says, “Granted, the crypt was to his tastes.” (No photos allowed)

Crowd
Crowds facing the Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain: The herd was gathered at the waters on this day.

Selfie
The ever present selfie stick

Hundreds staring at the Bernini sculptures and making it an Ichiro throw from right field to home plate to toss a coin in this fountain – and chances would be pretty good he’d poke his eye out on a selfie stick, which were at full mast all around. Still, it’s a beautiful creation and one that should not be missed.

Foro de Caesar: This night time visit to the Forum was my favorite in Rome: A great history lesson brought alive with modern technology. This audio (English available) and visual tour features projections onto the remaining stones of what it must have looked like in the time of Julius Caesar. The bare stones of the monuments look as though they would make for cold living and working quarters. But with the images shone on the stones, it’s easy to see what life would have been 2,000 years ago.

Forum
A night time tour that shows what the Forum would have looked like
Caesar
Julius him own self
Head phones
Suited up for the night time tour
Room
What a Forum office might have looked like

Let’s all meet in Rome

(Video caption: A street performer in Rome does her act when the light is red, then collects from drivers and pedestrians.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017: This was one of those days when you can believe that millions of people from all over the world decided to gather in specific cities to bump into each other. Not in the sense of serendipitously meeting one another but as in physically rubbing, brushing, colliding sweaty bodies against sweaty bodies at designated spots around those cities, at the Vatican Museum in Rome, for instance. Who knew there were so many art lovers and/or Catholics in the world that day after day they would wind up and down the street in a line of perspiring humans waiting to to see Laocoon and His Sons (one of my favs), Perseus with the Head of the Gorgon or Apollo Belvedere? And, of course, the Sistine Chapel, the cherry on top at the end of the tour.

The bumping into each other isn’t confined to the line at the Vatican Museum. Any place with a Bernini statue or a mortared brick dating back 2,000 years or so can draw a U.N. General Assembly: American college kids, Japanese busloads, women in hijabs, women in revealing shorts and tops, well-dressed Romans coursing through the crowds to get to work or lunch, Africans selling selfie sticks, group leaders heading up lines of followers snaking through the throngs.

It took me a moment at the Forum to figure out the new tour groups – new to me at least. It used to be that the group leader carried a stick with a flag or hankie on top, or an umbrella, something he or she could hold up high like the company colors for her troops to assemble on. Then in front of some point of interest the leader would rattle off history, facts, myths, dates or figures to the listeners leaning in for something that might make the particular rock, smear of colorful oil or carved stone relevant to them.

On the Forum, I saw a flag-waving leader well ahead of her trailing charges and talking so that none of them had a whisper of a chance of hearing her – but for the receivers hanging from brightly colored lanyards around their necks. Leaders speak into a headpiece; followers hear through the little boxes dangling under their chins.

Trio
Traveling companions in front of the Pantheon

It makes the old ploy of sidling up to a group to hear some free explanation in English a bit trickier. At the Pantheon, my favorite building in Rome, I was happy to find a group of students from the University of Oklahoma doing it the old way. A scholarly-looking woman raising an OU pennant happened to assemble her group so that they surrounded me. Rather than stepping away to yield my spot, I decided I’d sooner stay and learn something. Did some college Joe or Jody really give a rip about the history of concrete? Having spent a summer and fall pouring concrete back in ancient times (1975), I did.

(Video caption: The ceiling of the Pantheon.)

Our group leader explained how the Romans did it back in about 120 A.D., dumping loads of ’crete over wooden forms to make the distinctive square patterns of the building’s roof. These “coffers” are stacked on top of each other in smaller concentric circles to form what can be considered a corbelled roof.

Our scholar added some information on when the Romans came up with their recipe for concrete, a bit about emperor Hadrian and the niches around the inside of the building that were once filled with statues of Roman gods who later gave way to Christian figures.

“I could not have brought you here on a better day,” she told us as rain started falling through the opening in the center of the roof (an oculus) and onto the drain in the marble floor.

Coffee
Granita di caffes all around

Outside, the selfie-stick sellers were hawking umbrellas, and it was good to linger between the 40-foot columns holding up the vestibule roof before we made a dash to La Casa Del Caffe’ Tazza d’Oro across the plaza for a granita di caffe, a delicious concoction of heavy cream, a coffee snow cone and whipped cream – not a calorie in it, of course!

 

Nile
Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona. The male figure representing the Nile has his head covered because the head of the Nile was unknown when Bernini made the sculpture

Luigi, who worked the night desk at the Hotel Grifo, advised us to arrive at the Vatican Museum at 1:30, lunchtime, when the crowds thinned out. The plan was to grab a quick lunch and then head for the museum. “Grab a quick lunch” and a good restaurant in Rome are two things that don’t go together. Quick lunch didn’t fit in with the two things Cole wanted most from this trip with grand parents: to visit the Ferrari museum (more on that later) and eat lots of Italian food. We made good on that latter request at our lunch after we walked through the Piazza Navona with its famous Bernini statues and fountains. We ate, we lingered, we watched a young couple eat, snuggle, argue and then eat and snuggle some more (they packed away more food than the three of us did). We had pizza, we had pasta, we had dessert, we watched people running through the rain in the narrow street outside. We didn’t get to the Vatican Museum until well after 1:30, and the lines were long and our patience short.

(Video caption: We did not get into the Vatican Museum but visited St. Peter’s Square.)

We’ll come tomorrow, we told each other, and stopped to get tickets. That’s when we found out about the holiday for Saints Peter and Paul, the founder and protector of Christian Rome. The museum would be closed tomorrow for the feast day.

NonnaWe had a fairly well-scripted itinerary for our two-week visit, and now we were going to see if we could change one piece of it without the whole thing collapsing. But that could be put off until tomorrow in our effort to fulfill Cole’s food requirement, which we did with a scrumptious meal that night at Nonna Betta in the Jewish section of Rome. Highly recommend the restaurant and visiting the area.

 

Grifo

 

What I did last summer

I drove 4,974 miles across America, 1,392 kilometers around Italy, pedaled my bicycle 384 miles across Iowa, 391 miles across Nevada and paddled 85 miles on the Willamette River in Oregon – and never wrote a word about any of it.

Forum
Kathy and grandson Cole at the Foro Romanum.

Until now.

 

The time of darkness has arrived in the Pacific Northwest and I’m trying to make time to reminisce about the Madcap Schemes of 2017. Let’s start with Italy:

 

Actually, let’s start at the Heathrow Airport in London with me bitching about what I hate about flying these days. Yeah, I want to be safe, but I feel captive to sixth-century fanatics who think blowing up people advances their fantasy/religion somehow.

So at Heathrow we had to go through the whole security humiliation again and the bloke at the X-ray machine scolded me for not having my “lick-quids” properly sorted.

“Anything you can drink, any lick-quid, goes into a plastic bag by itself,” he emphasized. So my lick-quid soap, which I would never drink, got a plastic-bag home of its own away from its deodorant, razor and toothpaste friends.

And then it was on to Rome.

 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017: No one slept past 5:30 a.m. as jet lag had its grip on all of us. So we got an early start on getting Roman passes (worth it) and heading to the Foro Romanum, where we spent four hours in the hot sun and 90-degree temperatures. But well worth it.

What remains of Imperial Rome serves as a reminder of how short-lived our American experience is – 200 plus years seems pretty paltry next to the 1,000 years Rome put up as the most influential people in their part of the world, which eventually spread from northern Europe into Africa, from the British Isles into Asia. They made it roughly 500 years as a republic and then came Julius Caesar, military dictatorships, Christianity and the coming apart of Roman dominance. I could not help but wonder if our current administration will mark such a turning point.

I did not carry my cell phone and its constant barrage of news flashes, message, etc. I read the Telegraph that I bought in London, mostly for the rugby news, and Trump was not mentioned once – what a delight. The trip made obvious the obsession I have with following the course of this administration and how opposed I am to all it is trying to do – and to the disruption that is causing in my being, in my mental and emotional “life course.”

Taking a Trump dump, expelling what had been binding up my mental and political digestive system, was a great relief, although I did take note of a few things: Europeans seeing the GOP health plan as failure of Americans to take care of their own. Then there was Johnny Depp’s comments on assassinating the president. That made me sad, or just SAD!, as the illiterate would tweet. Once someone is given the spark of life and has cleared the womb, I figure no one has the right to snuff it out. Natural forces seem to do just fine in that regard without our help.

Colesium
Outside the Roman Coliseum

After the Forum, it was time for lunch and naps. We were back at it late in the afternoon, heading to the Coliseum. The section of the audio tour (recommended) on the games held at the Coliseum gives an amazing account of carnage as spectator sport. At the opening of the Coliseum (80 A.D.), 5,000 animals were killed in hunts and fights. At one time, Emperor Trajan had 10,000 gladiators fighting and 11,000 beasts hunted, fought and certainly killed. Games started in the morning, lunch included executions as a warm-up to the fight-to-the-death gladiatorial matches later in the day. Gladiators could be slaves, who might win their freedom, or Roman citizens hoping for fame, fortune and possible advancement in society. Gladiators fought twice a year, according to the recording. Military deserters were snacks for wild beasts, and prisoners were normal fare for both animals and gladiators (not implying cannibalism here).

The audio guide said that at one time, the Romans had 170 holidays a year with “games” in the Coliseum on many of them. That might have been the inspiration for author Robert Harris to have Cicero, frustrated at how many days the court would not be in session to hear a case he was presenting, say, “For pity’s sake, does nobody in this wretched town do anything except watch men and animals kill one another?” Highly recommend Harris’ historical fiction, the Cicero trilogy.

Orator
Cole, an orator in the making

 

Horse's ass
Make of this what you will

It all raised the question of how Western society went from being so open about its real life violence to the voyeuristic violence of today where we have a great appetite for depicted violence in TV, movies etc. but would mostly be appalled (I hope) if, say, Trump reintroduced public executions, which would be a sure sign that our pendulum was swinging in the same direction as ancient Rome’s.

 

 

Circus
Overlooking the Circus Maximus

In the evening, we walked past the Circus Maximus, where chariot races were held (think “Ben Hur” where Charlton Heston gets white horses, doesn’t use a whip on them and still wins the day, as we explained to grandson Cole, who had not seen the movie) and on to the Travestre area for gnocchi and bruschetta at an outdoor café. It was a long walk home, but I was happy we found our way without using GPS, relying on good old paper maps and my own perfect sense of direction to get to a point where we turned a corner and there it was, the Hotel Grifo, our hotel, adding only an hour or two to the eight we walked during our first day in Rome.

From now on, Kathy announced, we would take a cab home after 10 o’clock at night.

Tiber
Night time walk along the Tiber