Who says we can’t bring American fun to Italy?
Danilo’s first carving
And the winner is…
Hah – you wish you were here, don’t you?
Sorry for the delay – had a bit of trouble with the Flip, and then the connection on Venice was not the best. I’m posting several in a row here in order to get caught up.
We’re becoming very familiar with the vagaries of Italian travel. Sure, the joys and frustrations of public travel are probably mostly familiar to at least some Americans – waiting for planes, trains, and buses, buying tickets, figuring out the routes, and so on are part of daily life for Americans who live on the East Coast and in many big cities. The flavor of the troubles we’re running into, though, are in my mind unusual, and somehow feel pretty typically Italian – we have now had both a union-called strike and a commuter strike, and we’ve also had to endure a very long trip as the train company took a little revenge on the commuters who struck the day before.
Admittedly, these things could have happened in the U.S, especially the suicide on the track on the track that stopped our train today, but these happenings are part of the experience – dare I say learning experience – that comes with travel. The labor movement in the U.S. rarely calls strikes, and I’m guessing that we’ll never have a strike where soccer moms sit on train tracks upset b/c the train they travel on is too old. These moments, though, mark differences in cultures, as we get a chance to see a country with a far different form of government, one in which some feel powerless despite having the opportunity to vote. Or, perhaps, that’s not really all that different.
Anyway, as usual Danilo was adept at negotiating these vagaries and we got to our destination only about 15 minutes late. That stop was the Museo del Murra, the Museum of the Wall, and we got a feel for the importance of city walls in classical, medieval, and Renaissance Rome. We heard about and experienced the way the walls were constructed, the ability of the Roman guards to lower and raise the gates with a minimum of human power, and the means in which Roman soldiers could defend them. We discovered why the walls were never cannibalized (they were just as important to the defense of the city under the Popes as they were for the Emperors), and we learned that the city had much smaller walls when it was a republic, a triumph in my democratically-inclined mind. We also fell in love with our guide, Dominico, whose eyes were simply the dreamiest color of blue, a characteristic far more common than one might think to Sicilians. The Museo was pretty spectacular, and we also got yet another beautiful view of Rome.
Try to look away, if you can.
After this visit we hiked past the Baths of Caracalla and the Stadium to get lunch. We had pizza or a salad, and Joe came up with a new idea for the carry-out menu at his family’s restaurant. Most of the crew were tired and ready to head back to Castel Gandolfo at that point, but Abby, Angela, and myself soldiered on, heading up the hill to see San Saba. The Church looked marvelous from the outside, but it did not open, and after waiting until 3:15 we headed through the neighborhood (and after seeing another view of the city walls, including a ruined guard tower) we headed back into touristville, past the Circo Massimo, past the American embassy, and to Santa Sabino.
The trip, although not exactly arduous, was well worth it. This Church felt almost bare inside, with a minimum of decoration, but its impact was a powerful one on us as we had it to ourselves until a group of German tourists wandered in. I thought of my mother-in-law because of one beautiful side chapel dedicated to the Madonna, with walls covered in beautiful red and grey marble, and we got a medieval feel with the wooden side benches designed for the choir. No wimpy American kneeling pads – these were wood, and looked serious.
The garden outside was serene, and as often happens Brother Joe came to my mind. It would have been a lovely place for him to have a smoke, methinks. We walked to the end of the garden, past more Roman walls, and came to a marvelous plaza overlooking the Tiber River, the neighborhood of Trastevere, and Campo di Fiore, with St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance. Abby’s sigh upon seeing St. Peter’s was both audible and heartfelt, and the view from the edge reminded us all (like we needed reminding) just why we were here. After a couple of moments we headed back down the hill to a surprisingly not- packed metro, and headed to Termini and then home, such as it is for now.
No visuals from today, unfortunately, because I was certain that we would not be allowed to video in the Capitoline Museum. I was wrong, but still didn’t have my flip, so we were out of luck.
As such, I’ll hit on the highlights and get back to everyone with pictures on my Thursday entry. The museum is fabulous, of course, and we were happy to have Luka back as our guide. Angela made sure to look for a bust of Homer to make all of us English nerds happy. Sarah commented on how the Romans seemed to all have six-pack abs, a smart observation about the Roman definition of masculinity, one removed from the Greeks. After the museum Alyson easily beat me to the top of the stairs that lead to Santa Maria in Aracoeli (there are 124 of them), while as a group we went to the top of il Vittoriano to get a bird’s eye view of Rome that helped me orient myself (yes, I did look up from the map every once in a while). We were a bit annoyed by the obvious disinterest in their jobs of the federal personnel who sold us tickets and rode the elevator up and down, but they were playing intense games of Mario on their DSs, so we didn’t want to interrupt.
After this trip we were down to three, as the rest of the group went back to Castel Gandolfo to rest and recuperate and get work done. Catie, Angela, and I wandered through the Jewish Ghetto, and I gave a hopefully brief explanation of what the term meant, punctuated by excellent questions/comments from the two of them. We saw some amazing contemporary art, a couple of restaurants that I would love to check out (including the first Thai restaurant I have seen in Roma), and we ended up at Largo di Torre Argentina, shopping for shoes and books and reveling in the different age of the tourists (mere saplings to me, compatriots in the student tourist experience to Catie and Alyson).
Both Catie and Angela received blessed oil at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, at which we also saw a mass being performed. I found this church particularly moving, and it fit with our reading of In the Name of the Rose as it featured the final resting place of an early follower of St. Francis and the poet Giulio Salvadori. They drug me away from the excavations in the center of the square and the used bookstores because it was getting late, and we arrived back at campus just in time for dinner.
Entries over the next couple of days will depend upon me finding wifi connections, as we’re going to Venezia. Yes, life is tough…
For our adventures in Stazione Termini, click here…
San Giovanni in Laterano was our destination today, and as usual we wore it out. The first picture is of the group out front, before entering:
San Giovanni was an eye-opener for the group, I think, as we hadn’t really spent much time in cathedrals yet. The massive amount of space inside, the beauty of the gold on the dome behind the chapel, and the fact that we were occasionally walking on dead people had the group tiptoeing around, trying to come to grips with the sheer amount of history available to us in one building. As Americans we probably don’t have a strong enough sense of the whos and the whats and the whys, but we’re quickly catching up, with the help of Danilo’s services as guide extraordinaire.
We then moved onto the catacomb of Domitilla, where we were led by our guide Juan. I took no video inside, mostly because of the darkness, but several of our group got some marvelous shots which I’m sure they’ll post. Juan was excellent as a guide, and he helped dispel several myths about the catacombs in general, the spreading of which he blamed on Wikipedia. I was most interested in what the presence of catacombs say about the ways that cultures treat their dead, and what these sorts of structures tell us about what makes us humans and worthy of being treated with dignity. The group expressed a little bit of distaste at being able to touch and breathe dust that might or not might contain human remains, a thought that brought a bit of the ewww factor. As Americans, we’re completely unused, I think, to the idea of being limited in space, limits that forced Romans to keep digging deeper in order to bury their dead.
We finished the day (for most of the group, anyway) with a visit to San Clemente. We were fascinated by the Basilica itself, and we also toured the temple to a Persian god below. The visible layers of history were a powerful testament to the ways in which faith arises, and this church’s place as an integrated building within a community – not standing apart from all else – gave it a special feel.
After the visit everyone went back to Castel Gandolfo, a bit worn out from weekend adventures. I took my own semi-private trip and saw Santi Giovannni e Paolo and wandered through Villa Cellimonti, glorying in the peace and quiet provided by big city parks before braving the rush hour metro and train rides to make it back in time for another delicious dinner.
BTW, if you’re following this blog and you’re not checking out the photos that Steven Slopek is taking (links on the right), you’re missing a lot…
Those who know me know how much I love(d) Bro Power, and thus might be wondering why I haven’t written about him. I simply can’t do it yet, although I’ve tried.
R.I.P. Brother Joe