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.