Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Cars of Rome

I just couldn’t believe how small the cars were in Rome. The more we walked the more the wonder, as a result, I initiated a study of the cars. Here are the results. I think that for anyone who grew up in Rome, the old Cinque Cento (Fiat 500cc engine) has a special place in your heart.

The Mercedes 'Smart' & a Nissan

Large Mercedes


This is why cars are small in Italy

Friday February 16th

 Wow, what a whirlwind of a vacation. Today Donna has to work, remember that she is a Feldenkrais practitioner and her work was our excuse for coming to Rome in the first place. Turns out there really was a job attached to the offer. By Wednesday, she was hoping it would go away; all she wanted was to continue the touring. So off she went and slowly I gathered myself and rolled out determined to find Trastevere again.

 I exited the palazzo vaguely thinking about a coffee and turned to the left, but as I made my way in that direction the bus pulled up to its stop. Thinking that I would just catch the next one I continued down the street but soon I was standing next to the bus, which was frozen by the traffic and lifted my hand to the driver who opened the bus door to allow me in. So off I went toward town. Somehow, every day seems to either begin or end with the Teatro Marcello. For those of you who don’t know, during high school I lived in a top floor apartment right across from the central synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto. The Rabbi lived two floors below us. To get to the bus stop to go to school, we had to walk through the Teatro Marcello every day. This is why that particular place in Rome is so important to me.

As the bus approached it I remembered the photos that we had taken before and remembered that the lighting wasn’t perfect when I captured the Teatro and the three columns in a single moment. So off I got, crossed the street and shot some photos of the theatre in the morning. Down the alleyway and soon I was passing the Fontana delle Tartarughe (the Turtle Fountain) again. I paused to contemplate it a little better and to see the expressions and the poses of the four boys on the fountain. Across Via Arenula and back to the Campo de' Fiori. I was finally in the neighborhood in the morning and I really wanted to see the Campo with all of the booths. Cool, this time it is there, I paused as I entered the piazza, Mahlon had mentioned visiting the wine bar because the guy with the big nose was still there. Well, I saw a place that said bar and had a lot of wine but the guy’s nose wasn’t so big. There was a Salsamenteria and I stuck my nose in but somehow even in Italy they don’t smell as good as the one on Columbus Street in San Francisco. The Forno next to the Carbonara was open! Actually there were two on either side of the little alley that goes off to the left of La Carbonara. I went straight across the length of the Campo to the one on the left and saw it was for pastry, back out to the one on the right and purchased my first piece of white pizza that didn’t taste like it was made last week. They still sold it by weight and it cost .95 Euro. Now I was happy and I wandered around the square eating the pizza and checking out what everyone was selling. These Italians are proud of the vegetables they are growing. Every box was labeled with what it was, that it was grown in Italy and how much it cost per Kilo. The artichokes were sold individually for one Euro or less; these were labeled as being ‘Romanas’ but one did have smaller artichokes for .50 Euros that came from somewhere else. The profusion of vegetables was amazing, they actually looked good enough to eat and thoughts of having a dinner with just veggies and bread went through my head, but not tonight. Tonight we are going to some special restaurant near the Vatican where Beatrice knows the owners. The vegetables seem very reasonably priced but the cheese on the other hand, wow. I saw some cheese that was labeled at 78 Euro a kilo and it seemed that all of it was at least 23 Euros a kilo. Same place had a little sausage labeled at 23 Euros each.

I wandered down Via dei Cappellari to take some pictures of the street and the arch that straddles it. I wanted to cross Ponte Sisto to get over to Trastevere so I was just wandering vaguely taking in the sites. Glancing at a window on Via Moserato I found myself in front of Hollywood Video. No not the American chain transplanted to Italy just as Blockbuster is but a little store that Renzo had told me would have L’Archidiavolo if it actually existed anywhere. He said it was near the Campo but I never would have found it if I had been looking for it. Obviously, after all of these years, and endless searching for it, I was meant to own a copy of this film. Turns out that Vittorio Gassman co-stars with Mickey Rooney and they had a copy. In my memory, this is a must see film. The devil is sent to earth to wreak havoc in Renaissance Italy. The reality was another thing. It did give me some chuckles but it was not as funny as I remembered.

Dinner at Emmanuele:

Mahlon called and so the narrative ends here.

There is a whole lot more to say... The following year we returned to Rome and went down to Positano and the Amalphi Coast so stay tuned for more.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thursday February 15th:

Today was the big one, today we are being taken to the Vatican Museum by our hostess Beatrice. She has arranged with a friend of hers who is an official guide at the Vatican for us to receive a private tour. She is the tour guide of choice for CEOs and ambassadors from all over the world so we feel very privileged that she has chosen to give us her time.

It is pouring rain as we jamb ourselves into Beatrice’s extremely compact car, small even by Roman standards but it fits great on the sidewalks when there are no spots on the street. Traffic is a complete mess and Beatrice calls her friend to explain that we are on our way but slowed by the congestion. She is already there at the Vatican waiting for us. We arrive at the walls of the Vatican, the line stretches off behind us and we climb out to get in line while Beatrice finds a parking space nearby. We aren’t even on the street that has the entrance to the museum but I suspect that the street can’t be too far off. The line isn’t moving but the tail has a life of its own and it grows another fifty feet longer in a few minutes. After that I didn’t look back because the crush of the crowd made the rear of the line invisible. Turns out that the colorful umbrella that the Indian guy sold us on that first day wasn’t actually designed to be waterproof. As I glanced around I saw water beading up and shedding off other umbrellas around us but on ours, not beading up, I was experiencing a drip, drip on my forehead but in spite of that, it was still dryer under the umbrella than outside of it. I should have raised my hood but since I hadn’t, it filled with water to the point that it sloshed out down my back when I started walking.

The line did eventually start moving and Beatrice’s friend came out in the rain and joined us for a while. She was very nice and also very short. I’m not sure, I’ll have to ask Donna but she must have been under five feet tall, wore glasses and was very much alive in her old age. She was sparkly and fun and she identified us as just like teenagers who were newly in love. Donna and I quietly agreed that she reminded us of Yoda from the Star Wars movies. She left us and bought the tickets, the line moved forward and bit by bit we found ourselves flowing with the crowd through an opening in the vast walls of the Vatican. Another security checkpoint, this one more serious but my camera bypassed inspection again. I talked to our hosts later about security in Rome and they said it was a pain in the butt and should be dispensed with entirely. I guess they are more philosophical about the occasional bombing now and again.

Beatrice’s friend met us and led us in. She took us to a board in the lobby explaining that they don’t let you talk in the Sistine Chapel and so the museum has provided this instrument that scrolls through all of the paintings in the chapel as a teaching aid for the tour guides. This lady really knew her stuff! I wasn’t watching my watch but I have no doubt that we spent over an hour learning about the chapel from that teaching aid. There were two more of these in the museum but as she continued to talk, from time to time a group with a guide would come up waiting to assume the machine. She would always tell them that she had a ton more to say, or she had hardly even gotten going. She sent them off to find another machine because there was no way she was going to give this one up. Tours came and went at the other machines but still she continued to explain. I have no doubt that upon our return to the states; Donna and I will qualify as two of the leading experts on the Sistine chapel. She described herself as a layperson, but had attended conferences on that ceiling. She explained about the politics of the time, gave us a complete history of the development of Michelangelo and his style. Explained how he was almost blind after completing the ceiling. Then she went on to the wall that he did and how upset everyone was by all of the nudity, etc. Well, no point rehashing it all but she had a bunch to say. Eventually she finished and took us into the museum. She was great fun and a great guide. She was so small that she could dart between the crowd and we had to rush to catch up on many occasions. She showed us the stuff that she loved and explained about the things she cared about. Mostly antiquity; stuff which was also right up my alley. We took lots of pictures. She showed us a bathtub carved out of a single chunk of black marble, pretty cool. Then she left us to our own and took off. The good stuff was done with and all that was left was room after room of Raphael stuff and much, much more. Through 50 rooms of modern religious art and finally into the Sistine chapel. It was a grueling trek, but it really was worth it. And I know that I was seeing it for the first time all over again because of the lecture and education that we had received by that sweet old lady.

Exiting the Sistine Chapel we were swept toward the exit and we still hadn’t seen the Laocoon. This would not do. I asked where it was and was told that it is right near the entrance, the old lady had passed it right up. We were forced out the exit and the museum was closed for the day but the special exhibit of the Laocoon was free and would be opening in a few minutes. Seems like everywhere we go, things close up right behind us. The Laocoon was beyond description, I have always appreciated that statue, there is just so must expression on that face. They also had a very detailed model of the museum and I wanted to lift the roof to see if they had done the inside too.

Exiting the Vatican, the rain had stopped. We wandered out and down toward Octaviano and the Metro. Donna was worn out and needed recharging and we stopped someplace for a Gelato. This time I got Nociola and Banana (same as last time) but it wasn’t memorable. What was fantastic was the ‘fondente’ or dark chocolate ice-cream that Donna had. That gelato qualifies as a gastronomical wonder and I don’t think that I could find the place again. Donna wanted to eat and we went into one of the millions of pizza by the slice places. Well, did they see us coming. We were too close to the Vatican. Two slices of pizza and a bottle of water cost us 15 Euro if you can believe that. OK, the slices were large but I just had pizza bianca which should have been 2 Euro so the really did rob us blind.

We took the Metro to Piazza Flaminio (right behind Piazza del Popolo). Everything converges there. Trams, buses subway and train. Seems like you could get to anywhere from there. Stopped at a bar for two Cappuccinos but after the Vatican, recharging those batteries was problematic. Both of us had walked what seemed like a hundred miles. Even though I only brought comfortable shoes and switched them off each day, my feet were sore. I wanted to see the Borghese Gardens but they were up hill from where we were. There was a bus stop so we waited and got on a bus, the park was nice but we didn’t get off until we hit the top of Via Veneto. I told Donna that she had to see it, but the enthusiasm just wasn’t there. I told her the American Embassy was there and the first Mc Donalds had opened there when I was a kid. It was all down hill which is really what sold it and as we walked, we both felt a little better. At the bottom was Piazza Barberini. I wanted pictures of the fountain. Funny thing about Donna, she actually perks up when in the presence of a fountain. Or else she is connected to me and when I go up, so does she. This is probably the case; we are extremely simpatico with each other.

Well that was it, I couldn’t stand the thought of having to walk a foot further so we went down the stairs and caught the metro home.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Some of the Obelisks I saw inRome

A number of years ago at Alta Vista Gardens  Sprint came to us and asked to build a Cell Tower. Our idea for them was to do it in an Obelisk. It took almost two years to negotiate an agreement to get it built but it came out pretty well. As a result of this project, my interest in Obelisks was peaked and I proceeded to photograph obelisks wherever I went.

Top of the Spanish Steps & Piazza del Popoplo

The Elephant Obelisk
Saint Peter's Square
Piazza Navona

Wednesday February 14th (Valentine’s Day): Part II

Well, that was an overwhelming experience not soon to be forgotten. We wandered down a block on that monster street Via della Conciliazione (built by Mussolini before WWII in his attempt to resurrect the Roman Empire) but that isn’t what I wanted to experience so we made a left and walked over to the base of the wall/ramp that joins the Vatican to the Castel San Angelo. Now we were back in old Rome again, it was a quiet street with restaurants that had tables spread all over the street. Donna needed to be recharged (food). After yesterday’s fiasco of a pizza sandwich at the metro station a better meal was in order. Donna wanted a sit down and, after all, it was Valentine’s Day. I passed up the first one because it was too close to the Vatican, then the next few were empty. I explained that since it was a crapshoot, I was looking for a restaurant with someone who might be a local. Well, the next one had a group of six priests all gathered around a table and another table with obvious Italians eating there. Seemed like a good choice and it wasn’t bad. We actually had a great lunch even if I only give the food a B+. The atmosphere was perfect and so was the company. After a while a British family sat down at the next table and for them it was a choice between spaghetti alla Carbonara, and spaghetti alla Bolongese. Well one child and one adult chose each. The youngest boy had an absolutely delightful accent, right out of a Harry Potter movie and he made me smile every time he talked.

After lunch we set off again for the Castel San Angelo and I explained again about the ramp (or rampart) and connection between the Vatican and the castle. The Pope would take off down that rampart and whole up in the castle every time he was under siege. For a while, they changed Popes by killing the previous one and anyone who conquered Rome got to choose the new Pope. We entered the castle, looked up and decided that we really didn’t need to do all of that climbing to see some windy rooms and some armor and other stuff, so we turned around and started of across the bridge. There is no traffic allowed in front of the castle and like many other bridges, there is no motor traffic allowed on the Ponte San Angelo. This is where we discovered what the truly black immigrants do for a living in Rome. They sell Gucci and other extremely expensive purses on bridges with two exits that no police vehicle can drive onto. You can find them on any of the bridges that are closed to vehicles but in few other places. There were other vendors and perhaps an Indian with flowers but I’m not sure now. I turned around to get a photo across the bridge and then we wandered into the small streets of Rome paralleling the river but not quite in view of it. We were hunting out architectural features. Always on the lookout for another fountain, but other things as well. We found ourselves on Via Giulia and I reminded Donna that all first daughters in the Caesar family were named Giulia (not sure that the street was named for one of them). We photographed entries to stores that had pieces of antiquity built into the face of the building. It seems there are tons of examples of those. Took shots of buildings with interesting mixtures of colors and textures. We came across a store that had a whole bunch of plaster feet in the window. There were large men feet down to delicate women’s feet in sandals. We got off a number of shots to send to Leonardo (yes Leonardo, she knows you like feet). There were overwhelming facades of churches on streets that are hardly more than 20’ wide, they must have really been hard up for real estate back then to put such monster churches on such small streets where no one will ever be able to get far enough back to get a feel for the majesty of the entrance to the church. Arched openings that join one street through a building to another street on the other side. And oh yes, for Chris Coseo my client, we photographed a bunch of flying buttresses. He had been giving me a hard time on the flying buttresses that were put in the project so I wanted to show him how common they are. There is a gorgeous arching bridge that connects the Palazzo Farnese across the Via Giulia to another palazzo that adjoins the river with roots and vines hanging down. I noticed that it has the Fleur-de-lis (how do you spell that Mahlon?) symbols on the bridge. I guess that the palazzo Farnese has been the French embassy for a very long time. Just beyond that I came across the fountain I had been searching for. The marble face mounted on a stonewall with the water shedding out of the mouth into a shell and then down into a bath tub. This is located at Via Giulia and the other corner of the palazzo and has always been one of my favorite small fountains. See how many times I mention the Via Giulia, this is a wonderful street to wander down. Lots of interesting stores mixed in with other things. At another time I found a store that sold obscure DVDs.

We crossed the river into Trastevere on Ponte Garibaldi so that I could bring Donna back across the island and show her what is left of Ponte Vechio (very little). Seems to me there was another span that is gone now. It is down to one last piece. Through the Teatro Marcello this time instead of around it. It is undergoing serious reconstruction and there is a team of archeologists in white hazmat suits working on digging stuff up. They have added a whole new wing to the teatro and extended it at least 30’ further than it was before. It is done in a greenish Tufa stone and includes the fine details that the original must have featured. Looking at the photos I see that the apartments on top have been extended over the new wing as well, Guess they are recapturing part of the cost of reconstruction by renting it out. As I mentioned, they are resurrecting ancient Rome. From there we went on to see the round temple of Vesta. With all of the prints that I have and with the one I reproduced at Clyde’s it was time to feel the real thing once again. I couldn’t get very close; like almost everything else in Rome that is two or three thousand years old, there is a fence around it now. Sort of sad. It’s great that they are protecting as much as they can but I can remember the days when I could climb on it and that was very cool too. Note: Turns out that I was wrong, and have been wrong all of my life. Who would have thought? I just zoomed in to what I always knew to be the Temple of Vesta. It is not! It is the Temple of Hercules Victor. How embarrassing is that? Great fountain in that piazza, two mermen supporting a large shell or something and the church in the background, it was fantastic.

Now across the street to the Bocca della Verita. What a crowd, obviously poor timing on our part. The line went all the way across the front of the church and it moved very slowly. There was a side benefit to the wait. Our curiosity was peeked by the hand written sign that said the church had relics of the body of Saint Valentine. Seemed appropriate in view of the date. The line moved slowly but we were entertained by the guy outside that was selling some ancient Roman flute-like instrument that looked a lot like an ancient oil lamp. He could play a tune on it but nobody else could and they were selling like hotcakes to a group of students. As we neared the front of the line an Italian family reached the Bocca. The husband stuck his hand in and screamed bloody murder or something because at that second I was watching his wife and she almost had a heart attack. He really scared the shit out of her, very entertaining. So we arrived at the front of the line. I got a picture of the Bocca by itself so that I have a good photo for when I make one for my own yard and we now have photos of each of us with our hands in the mouth, very touristy but fun.

We then proceeded into the church which is much like so many other ones in Rome except that they had this side altar and above it was a glass and gold box with a scull and some bones in it. All that is left of Saint Valentine. Extremely morbid, but a real crowd pleaser I’m sure and it gets the crowds into the church. As we walked across the street and looked back we saw that they were closing the church and locking out the crowds. We had made it just in time to see the Bocca. I could not have left Rome without seeing that. Well, from there back to the bus stop just down the hill from the teatro Marcello and back home to Beatrice and Renzo.

Wednesday February 14th (Valentine’s Day): Part I

It was time to go after the big guns now, today we chose to see St. Peter’s Cathedral. This time we were not planning on using the trusty 628 bus, instead we needed to walk some blocks and catch the ‘A’ metro line. This one line goes just about everywhere that is anywhere in Rome. It hits up Cinecitta (the center of Italy’s movie industry; the Appia Antica park; Piazza Rei di Roma; San Giovani; Termini (the central train station); Piazza della Republica; Piazza Barberini; Piazza di Spagna; Piazza Flaminio/Popolo; and then runs up Viale Giulio Cesare and stops at Via Ottaviano for Vatican access and then on to other places unknown. On our return we would have a few choices for the closest stop to our apartment but a lady stopped on the street when she saw us take out our map and insisted that we didn’t want to go to the Ponte Lungo stop and steered us to San Giovanni or Rei di Roma instead. She was friendly and probably also wanted to practice her English. So, on our way out we made it the few stops to Termini and a huge crowd joined us on the metro and the doors closed. A minute passed and the doors opened, then they closed again after more people got on. A minute later they opened and more got on and they closed again. The doors opened, more got on, they closed again, opened more got on and now we are starting to talk sardine can type situation. Then an announcement. The train is broken and we all need to get off. Well everyone piled out and the station was totally jammed. I was holding on to Donna because I was on the wrong side of that yellow line that you need to stay behind with no hope of moving over onto the correct side. We both had visions of those movies where someone gets thrown onto the track just as the train rolls in. Well, the good news is that a train rolled in and we lived. We got on the train and made it to Ottaviano with no further ado. Exiting the station we oriented ourselves and began the pilgrimage toward to the center of the Catholic world. It seemed that everyone was going our way and they really were. All races and all the tourists (there were actually some Italians too) congregating on the piazza di San Pietro.

Well there were Saldi (sales) everywhere here too and the prices seemed very reasonable so I stopped Donna as we gazed at a window with a cute outfit and dragged her in to the shop. We selected outfits, she tried them on and we found a cute dress and a top and that put her in an even better mood. I got my wish and we entered the piazza from the side and through the colonnade (the only way). This way the impact of the enormity of the space has its best effect. What do you know, another fountain and another obelisk, what a score! Plenty of other things to photograph as well, I remembered that there were these marked spots in the piazza but couldn’t remember what they were for so I kept glancing around until I spotted what I was looking for. From a specific spot on each side of the fountain/obelisk you can stand in one marked spot and all of the columns line up perfectly. I have photos to prove it if you don’t believe me. We speculated where the pope lives and marveled on the whole thing.

Time to get in. Seemed like everyone who was headed in was off to the right of the piazza, they had a mouse maze going there to gather the crowds and constrict them into a human traffic jamb well away from the doors. Turns out that the reason for this is that there was a security checkpoint with metal detectors and stuff. The Vatican is more serious about this stuff than the Coliseum was. We had to pass our jackets and all packages through the x-ray machine. Cameras were placed on a shelf that bypassed all inspections so if you are reading this and looking for a way to defeat their security, just pack everything in a camera. I set off the beeper when I walked through the scanner. Looking down I saw that I was wearing a belt with an enormous hunk of metal, also I had keys in my pocket along with a bunch of change. As I began to reach for my belt the security officer waved my hand off and came at me with his hand held detector. He ran it down one side and then down the other. It beeped over almost every part of my body but it didn’t seem to concern him in the least. I guess that an AK-47 beeps louder and they aren’t worried about anything smaller than that. We retrieved our jackets and cameras and we were off. Up the steps, through the portico and past the doors into the bowels of the beast. The place was packed! Apparently somebody had told the pope that we were coming and he decided to give us a proper welcome. Unfortunately we had dillydallied at the clothing shop and then in the piazza. By the time we got there, there wasn’t a seat left in the house, and this place seats tens of thousands. We just ignored all of this stuff and made our way to the right and to the glass enclosed cloister that houses the ‘Pieta’. Wow, that is some piece of marble; it just sort of puts everything in perspective when you see what Michelangelo was able to squeeze out of an ordinary piece of marble. Being close to the Pieta’ definitely qualifies as one of those truly spiritual moments in one’s life and we were both awed and humbled by the majesty of the sculpture. We took pictures and stayed as long as we dared without pissing off the multitudes that were pressing in from behind us to spend their moment with greatness. Eventually, we moved on up the right side of the cathedral as the pope continued to talk and they played some great organ music too.

Another new thing in the church. All of the churches are now wired for sound. Saint Peters has a great sound system with batteries of compact speakers covered with camouflage to make them fade into the background of hundred foot high marble columns and pillars. Anyway, the talking ended and the organ music got really powerful, it is always overwhelming to me to hear good organ music and that is definitely my favorite reason to go to a church. Half way up the right side we found the tomb of some dead pope who was being guarded by these two incredible lions. The one on the left of the crypt was especially mesmerizing, as his eyes appeared to be looking right at you. The one on the right looked like the lion was still finishing dinner. Donna knows about Dad’s nickname for me so she insisted on multiple poses with the lions for Dad. I must admit that I look pretty puny standing between these two lions. About then the service was over and all of the guys on the central stage disappeared and everyone started making for the door, we wrapped around the right arm of the cross and approached the gilded altar at the head of the cathedral. Stopping to get photos of all of that gold and brilliance and the stained glass window in the center we noticed that there were a few old guys in trench coats shooing everyone away from the area in front of the altar. I supposed that we were just not allowed to be that close to God, so every time one would turn around I moved in for another photo. They were gentle but firm they wanted this area clear. So we moved on across the front pews to the left side of the cross. It seemed like every where we went there were these guys in trench coats moving everyone out of the church so we decided to move on again. There was another very cool dead pope with this flowing canopy of marble fabric that was being held up by a skeleton. Donna liked this especially and got off some shots of that too. Not much else to tell but the place was really emptying out and we were very close to the last to be in the Cathedral. This was very cool, to almost have the place by ourselves. The coat Nazis had shooed everyone away from the Pieta’ and we took advantage to cross the exit and go over to spend a last minute or two just the two of us and that wonderful statue. They were gentle but firm and got us out of there and closed down the church. Outside I discovered that there are horse stairs leading up to the center of the portico of the church. I had searched all over the internet for examples of the horse steps that are so common in castles. You know, four-foot long ramps with four-inch high risers with rounded edges that allow a horse to gallop up to wherever he needs to get. Well, these were set up so that the messengers could gallop right up to the front door of the cathedral when the Fed Ex guy needed to get an urgent package to the pope. Donna took a bunch of photos of them for me with her camera since I intend to build some of them one day though I doubt they will be made of marble. Oh yes, we have a photo of us standing together with the piazza and the cathedral behind us. Seems to me that I have a pretty dumb smile on my face but Donna likes the photo, oh well.

All through this trip I was on two separate quests. The first was to find the ultimate Nocciola Gelato (hazelnut) . On this quest I ate at least two gelatos a day the whole trip. Good thing I walked so much because there are some real calories in those. The second quest was to find the ultimate slice of pizza at one of those places that sells pizza by weight. Donna soon got sick of the pizza places and insisted on ordering something else like meat and vegetables at the ones that offered more selections but I never tired of eating pizza. This was mostly lunch fare but when Donna was elsewhere, I would eat at these places twice a day. In the end, I decided that the best pizza (by the slice) was to be had right near Beatrice's apartment where I caught the bus to go into Rome. This was also very convenient because I could get food while I waited for the bus.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tuesday February 13th

Intermission: Can't finish now, another day has passed and we walked even more!!!!!!

It all seems like a blur to me now…one day fading into the next… once one starts walking... who can remember where one’s feet have been.

Tuesday February 13th: Let’s see if I can recreate some of what has transpired. Day two, much like day one began with a trip to the bar to pick up another two bus tickets, but this time I bought six. Across the street to the bus stop near a small open market. I don’t know what the lady was selling in the front but the back of the stall was piled high with magnums of white wine shoved in all haphazard, a strangle thing to see in a sidewalk stall. And off we went.

As we approached the Terme di Carracala and the Circus Maximus I decided that what the hell, lets go see the Arch of Constantine and the Coliseum. So off the bus and strolling down the road. What a crowd! The line to get into the Coliseum looked like the lines at Disneyland. We immediately wondered if it was worth the trouble of that line to the thing. We decided to check it out in more detail. Through the security check point, metal detectors and such, almost like being at the airport except that everyone that went through was beeping and nobody was getting checked. I wondered to Donna if they only pulled aside the ones that don’t beep. Turns out the line of thousands was to buy a ticket to get in. Well, there was another ticket box with no line in it at all. They were renting out a little box that would tell us about the 100 most interesting details in the coliseum. We rented the boxes for 4.5 euros each and paid 20 euro each for a Rome Pass which was required to get the box rental. A Rome Pass is a pretty cool thing if you are a masochist and want to see the City in three days. It gets you in free to the first two pay per view museums or points of antiquity (the Vatican is not included because that is in another country as you know). The rest are half price for three whole days. It also gets you three days of use on the public transport system of Rome, which I must say is very good.
Well, into the Coliseum, actually a pretty big place. The present Romans have been going crazy with bricks and are rebuilding all of their crumbling antiques, give them another century or two and there won’t be a ruin left, they’ll all be as good as new. So, the Coliseum has actually grown since I was last there and since I am a builder, I notice things like areas of new construction. Some parts are just repaired, but they are actually adding back what hasn’t been there for centuries! Having noticed that once, I saw it again in many places, Imperial Rome is in the process of resurrecting itself.

We walked around and took some photos. Upstairs there was an exhibition of Greek antiquity, pretty cool stuff, lots of pots like the ones on my shelves at home except substantially larger. Turns out the talking box was a pain to use and far more informative than we wanted it to be. We turned the things in and it was time to recharge Donna’s batteries. Funny thing about Rome and coffee, back home I treat espresso with care, and in fact avoid caffeine entirely after dawn. In Italy instead, this legal form of speed is part of existence. You can drink it all day but when your head hits the pillow for a siesta or the night, no problem sleeping at all, it just stops working automatically when you get horizontal. Don’t understand how this happens here but I do accept it. We went across the street to the 'Met-ro' (Metro Romano) entrance and bought two cappuccinos there and some pizza sandwich, which was really quite bad. As we headed off toward the 'Wedding Cake' (as we used to call it when we lived in Rome) afterwards and found two good looking restaurants just around the corner we agreed that we should not be in a hurry to recharge because not everything is edible in Rome.

Down the via dei Fori Imperiali toward the 'Wedding Cake'. Across the road were the Four Maps of the rise of the Roman empire from a city state, They are missing the later maps that show how it contracted back down again after it fractured into two and was visited by one group after the other of central Asian maniacs. I explained the rise of the Roman Empire to Donna, helped put it all into perspective for her as we discussed the Diaspora of the Jews when the Romans initiated one more final solution in (was it?) 43A.D. Donna is a great person to go to Rome with. She is full of energy (so long as we charge her batteries with more coffee from time to time) and she is interested in all of it and just loves to hear me tell her about what we are seeing. She is about one hundred pages into the “First Man of Rome” and so she is starting to learn about the movers and shakers of ancient Rome as well as the culture. Everywhere we go, there are streets named after the people and the families that are coming to life on those pages, it is sort of like a Rome total absorption project.

We wandered along the edges of the imperial forum trying to figure out what was what and stopped to look at Trajan’s Column. I explained that the pictographs showed stories of parts of his life and explained that if she ran around and around the column she might figure out what that story was.

The primary goal of today was the Fontana di Trevi. Somehow I had missed it yesterday in the initial sweep of points of interest and importance in my old Rome. I was going by dead reckoning as I had done all of the previous day. About the time I decided that we must be there and didn’t want to bypass it by mistake, we were almost at the corner of Via delle Muratti and Via delle Virgini. Good guess, it was just around the corner and one block over. If I had just gone to the corner first it would have been within sight. Saldi! Saldi (Sales!) everywhere! This store on Via delle Murati was advertising scarves and ties starting at 2 Euro. Donna stopped and shopped and while waiting out front I met an African-American couple from back home. The husband went in to shop and I talked to the wife. She wanted to know where I had been and I started showing her on the map. Was she amazed! I had just gotten in the day before and I seemed to have hit every tourist spot for miles around. I showed her how to find the Pantheon and explained why she wanted to go there and that from there it was just a few blocks further to piazza Navona and then to the Campo etc., etc. Donna finished her shopping, she got two scarves and one only cost 2 Euro.
The Trevi was jammed with the sounds of visitors from all over the world. The sun was shining and the fountain was more than glorious. We discussed the fountain which I explained was an early example of artificial rock construction. I explained how the Romans had detoured rivers into their aqueducts and fed them out through the fountains. The water doesn’t re-circulate, it just moves on to the next fountain further downhill. We marveled at the power in the horses and watched this guy who was drawing that horse with a ballpoint pen with no possibility of erasing a mistake. What a drawing, I wanted it but that was out. We did take photos over his shoulder as he worked. There we discovered the other means of employment for Indians in Rome. They work the crowd in places like Trevi. Come up to the accompanied females and offer them a gift of two or three roses, then ask the man for money. There were four or five working the Trevi and we saw this again and again at other romantic spots such as the Piazza di Spagna. We didn’t get roses, but we did get Gelato. I got Nocciola (Hazelnut is my favorite) and Banana, Donna got, well I can’t remember what Donna got but the Nocciola was OK and the Banana was out of this world. Someone had just put a bunch of bananas in a blender and frozen them but they were white and creamy too. As we ate the gelato next to the fountain I explained that everyone who visited needed to toss a coin over their shoulder into the fountain while wishing they would soon return to Rome. I think that this was my problem when I left. I had been to Trevi so many times but was a local so I didn’t make offerings to the fountain before I left and see what it cost me-35 years! Be scared; don’t ever fail to make an offering to the Trevi gods when you visit Rome.

Watching the offerings was quite entertaining, it happens that there are all sorts of ways to do this and every one of them requires that a picture be taken. We are firmly into the digital age and every photo taken must be reviewed and another taken if the first isn’t good enough. Well they dropped them in, most did the traditional thing and tossed them over one shoulder or other while smiling at the camera. Many did as we did and captured the wish together in their minds and made the toss at the same time. A boy of seven tossed that coin like a baseball while his father got it on film. The people at the other side of the fountain were lucky they didn’t get hit. Naturally, it was just so romantic that it got me kissed a bunch and that was fun too.

Eventually, we reluctantly wandered out of that magical square and onward toward another icon of Rome the Spanish Steps. We wandered down the Via del Corso; the road was packed with cars. I guess that this is the one street that everyone is allowed to drive on. The sidewalks were tight and jammed with people. Locals, but tons and tons of tourists. I don’t know whose idea it was but everyone decided that February is the perfect time to visit Rome. Rome is absolutely jammed with tourists. I figured that this would be low season but if this is what low season looks like I can’t imagine what it must be like when people really decide to visit. The sidewalks were too crowded to negotiate and the streets were too full of maniacs in cars trying to get just one more lane of traffic out of the thin concourse. We stopped in Piazza Colonna. I need to check out and get a photo of every single one of those columns, and did I mention it? Because we are about to have Sprint build a cell tower in the shape of an obelisk at Alta Vista Gardens, I have been taking photos of every single obelisk I can find and believe me there are lots of them here. I told Donna that there are more obelisks in Rome than in Egypt or any place else in the world; I don’t think that I made that detail up. In and out weaving, what a relief when we turned up onto the Via Condotti to approach the Spanish Steps. I had chosen the Via Condotti because Donna had already heard of the street and the stores that are on it. I also chose it because it gives a straight on view of the steps as you walk up towards it. What a champ, she didn’t want to go into any of the stores and just glanced into the windows as we absorbed the flavor of the street. B.T.W. this street is blocked at both ends and is for pedestrian traffic only (almost) what a relief after the Corso.

We have also been taking pictures of almost every fountain in Rome, (tax deductible you know) and the fountain at the base of the steps was no exception. Donna and I have matching cameras and we both had cameras. It was pretty cool to compare what each of us were photographing each day, how the pictures tell the story from two points of view. It also created some redundancy and we have hundreds of photos of Rome now. Up the stairs to the top, a wonderful view of Rome is to be had from there, perhaps one of the best. I pointed out the domes of interest. After all, in Rome, any location can be defined (located) by the nearby dome, beyond that the winged chariots on top of the 'Wedding Cake' were also visible and Donna found that monument pretty impressive too (more hugs and kisses). We went into and walked around in the Trinita dei Monti. Only day two and church sensory overload is starting to set in. I wanted to cover the important ones, (actually I like the statues best) but there are so many. Back down the steps again, fought off the Indian guys trying to give away flowers for money and started down the Via del Babuino toward the Piazza del Popolo. By then the need for a bathroom was getting urgent and there are no (public) bathrooms in Rome. We wandered into a cool store; it was full of reproductions of statues of all sizes and from all periods. There were two-ton statues of popes and delicate reproductions of antiquity. The place had literally hundreds and hundreds of statues in it. It was very cool. The statues were stuffed in, room after room and on shelves and niches up to the ceiling. This is a must see place. They also had a bar there, I guess shoppers get thirsty looking at all of those statues. We ordered a fresh squeezed orange juice (cost 6 euro) and rested. The bathroom was hidden behind an enormous statue of a pope and as you walked around the statue, the wall opened up automatically to reveal the entrance to the rest room, pretty cool. With bladders relieved we exited and proceeded to Piazza del Popolo. The piazza was empty! No chaotic traffic machinations. You could just wander around any way you want, what a difference that that makes. We checked out the first of the twin churches but were beginning to experience burn out. Wandered around the square and failed to enter Santa Maria del Popolo. From there it was back towards the bus, which was nowhere near at all! Up via di Ripetta to Augustus’s tomb and along the side of the Ara Pacis (Latin for the altar of Augustan peace). Neither of us really wanted to go in though it was interesting to note that it is the first new museum in Rome since the time of Mussolini and the Romans are awfully proud of it. From there we didn’t actually go in a straight line because it isn’t easy to do so in Rome and somehow touched on the edge of the Pantheon, and I just had to find that little piazza with the elephant statue on top of a pedestal carrying a small obelisk on his back. After consulting the map I discovered that it was just around the corner from the Pantheon. Good thing because by this time Donnas' battery was permanently on empty. She did perk up and agree it was worth seeing on the way home. From there to piazza Venetzia, stupid bus shot right past our stop without even slowing down, we headed around the corner along the base of the Capitoline and finally caught the bus just above the teatro Marcello.
Home, so close, but there was a Hollywood Video store across from the bus stop and brave Donna agreed to go in with me to see if I could find a copy of L’Archidiavolo. No luck.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday February 12th 2007

Monday February 12: We arrived early that morning and were met at the airport by Beatrice in her extremely compact Fiat Cinquecento (500cc engine). It was so compact that it was not immediately apparent if we would be able to fit the three of us and our luggage into that little car. Poor Donna was crammed into the rear seat with the luggage. She was almost buried back there.

After no sleep for almost 24 hours, we showered and got instructions from our hostess on which bus to take to get to the old heart of town and then we took off. We left the apartment and began a search for a place to buy a bus ticket (1 Euro). Supposedly the Tabacherias (Tobacco stores) sold them but they were all closed. I went up to a newspaper stand and here the phrases from that infernal tape held me in good stead. I asked in prefect Italian where I could buy a ticket for the Auto Bus and was told that the Bar across the street sold them. Turns out the bus stop was there as well so we were off to a good start.

So anyway, this bus went everywhere, but the important thing was that the driver assured me it went to the center of town including Piazza Venezia and Largo Argentina. We drove past the Terme di Caracalla (Baths of Caracalla) and many other familiar markers and get this, right past my old bus stop at the Teatro di Marcello (Theatre of Marcellus). Past the Capitoline into Piazza Venezia and over to Largo Argentina where we disembarked.

Off to the Pantheon because they close the doors at dark and I didn't want to miss the interior after having built my own undersized replica this past year. Well, it was great to pass through those amazing doors and into the Rotunda but half of the interior was under restoration and I forgot to pay homage to Raphael. I may need to return because we also bypassed the Tazza D'Oro. Seems like the City is being overtaken by foreigners. It was drizzling and the Indians (from India) had the monopoly on selling umbrellas on the streets of Rome. This guy wanted 5 Euro for the compact model but Donna wanted the large (made for two and a half model) with a rainbow of colors on it. He wanted fifteen for it so I offered him five. He said "no, no" so I offered six. He wasn’t very flexible and Donna didn’t understand that the streets of Italy are just like Mexico co so we agreed on 11 Euro but Donna only gave him 10 Euro and 95 cents. Turns out Rome looks good walking under a rainbow of colors and it did help keep us dry too.

Well, Piazza Navona was only a few blocks over so off we went and entered to view Bernini's fountain of the four rivers but alas, it too is being restored. There were windows to look in but the water wasn't flowing. The other two fountains were in glory so we walked around the piazza as I reminisced about the anti Vietnam war protests of my youth, drug deals and other goings on of Piazza Navona many decades ago.

Naturally from there it was only a few blocks to San Andrea Della Valle and our old apartment so we crossed the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and walked into our old piazza, Largo Del Pallaro. The apartment is still there but the windows and the patio door were shuttered as if the owners are gone right now. We took pictures and I reminisced with Donna about the wild times in that house and the dining table with the painting of the dome across the street. Also New Year's Eve when everything went out the window and the hand coffee grinder that we found one new year's morning before the street cleaners put everything back to normal. By the way, we saw the street cleaners and they have those same old brooms but now the twigs they used to sweep with are made of plastic. Oh well.

I showed the Donna the shape of the building and explained that it was built on top of the stage of the theatre of Pompeii and that Julius Caesar was assassinated there. I forgot to tell her that Leonardo (my brother) is the reincarnated Caesar, but I'll tell her later.

Into Campo dei Fiori. The market was down and the last of the booths were rolling up and moving out. Fresh produce all over the cobble stones and the old movie theatre was still there after all of these decades. So was Giordano Bruno and the ristornate 'la Carbonara'. I have introduced Donna to the spaghetti dish named after the place so now she knows it's origin. Donna is going to have a skewed impression of the history and sites of Rome, but she doesn't care if I am making it up as I go because the narrative is entertaining. Over to Piazza Farnese for a look-see and on down heading towards the Ghetto and our other old apartment.

By the way, one new thing. Little steel and glass boxes all over the place with a Carabinieri (Italian military police) in it. Makes you feel a lot safer but it's sad that they had to do it.

Not much changed there but now its the museum of Jewishness in Rome or something like that. The basement of the synagogue is a museum and since Donna is sort of Jewish, I wanted her to see the inside of the temple. To do this we had to pay six Euro each and wait for the tour. Turns out that there is another temple under the synagogue. I learned more yesterday about Jews in Rome than I ever had before so I guess that it was worth it. As Dad had promised, Limentani's (an incredible wine glass and kitchen store) was still there but wow have they come up in the world. The old doors to the street are still there but inside of that are new glass partitions and everything is in glass display boxes. No problem if you want to pay 20-30 Euro for a wine glass and they have the best stuff there but I was disappointed because the place seems to have shrunk by over 50%. My recollection of the place was sort of a catacomb of glass wear. The place is still large but it no longer encompasses an acre of basement space. Oh well, things do change in thirty years. About this time I realized that I hadn't actually seen one single bread store in Rome. Off I went down the street to the old bread store in the Ghetto, it to was gone. The Ghetto pastry store was still there and we peeked in, then off to the Turtle fountain in the Piazza Mattei. I told Donna about the love lost and the fountain's coming about but perhaps that too is made up, though it does make a good story.

By now it was getting dark and we were thirsty so the goal was Birreria Peroni but first back to Largo Argentina to check out Il Delfino and get a Suppli! Remember mom that I wanted you to make them at Christmas but we never got around to it, anyway, One Track Mind- got to have a Suppli. The Delfino looked smaller to me, guess I grew up since then. It also wasn't as appealing so we got two Suppli to go and headed off towards Piazza Venetia.
Stopped along the way at a tourist shop that had that apron that I wore one Christmas day at Dad's house some years ago. The Michelangelo David from the neck down imprinted on it. I remember that it embarrassed me for a minute or two when I put it on but I soon got over it and it does have such a great shock factor! Guess what I'll be wearing next time I have a dinner party.

We turned down the right street heading for Birreria Peroni but something was off and I didn't see it. I decided to show Donna a church so we went into Santi Apostali (or something like that) If I understood correctly there were two dead apostles in the basement and that was fun to check out. There was a mass in one of the wings but only about 20 parishioners. I don't understand how this city can support all of the churches. Seems like there is at least one on every block and most of them are huge!

We did find Peroni's a little further down the street but it was on the wrong side (or my memory was backwards). Their menu is greatly expanded, but I wanted a pannino with prosciutto crudo and mozzarella to bring me back to those days of old. It wasn't on the menu but the waiter figured it out. He brought me a plate of prosciutto with three olives on it and a ball of mozzarella. I got a side of two pannini and a knife, I was then on my own to figure it out. It worked out to my satisfaction although I ended up with an extra paninno.

We had a great time trying to get across piazza Venetzia. Italian drivers haven't changed a bit. They still resent stopping for pedestrians and rarely do. They really don't want to kill a pedestrian and so it was back to playing the games of chicken from my childhood. I always kept Donna on the other side of me from the oncoming traffic and determinedly stepped out into the onrush of cars always ready to step back before they plowed into us. The cross walks make no difference at all, either way they don't want to stop but a percentage will avoid trying to kill you and so you calculate the odds and eventually get across the street. Anyway, we got across and climbed the Capitoline to see Marcus Aurelius and Michelangelo's piazza at night. It was glorious. From there, down the back side to see the forum at night, that got me kissed, something about it being so beautiful and so romantic, go figure.

We wandered down the back of the Capitoline and that put us just beyond the Teatro Marcello and the bus stop for the 628 was only just across the street. We scampered across and soon we were on our way back to Beatrice and Renzo’s apartment.