In Rome, there’s no such thing as an anachronism. Everywhere you look there is Baroque, Romanesque, Classical, Neo-Classical, modernist, etc, and it all looks equally charming, and usually equally dingy. It’s kind of like my kitchen. It seems like no matter how long a time it’s been since I’ve cleaned it, it’s always about the same amount of messy, give or take a few dishes.
Anyway, I made a list of pros and cons of my time in Rome. Spoiler alert: the pros win.
Things I’m rather happy about:
1. My daily gelato
Gelato translates as ice cream. I don’t think it needs any further explanation.
2. My tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
I splurged and went on a guided tour. I had no illusions that I’d be able to see much in the museum, and at least with a guide, I learned a lot about the few things I saw. The guide had grown up in a bilingual home with an American mother and gone to college in the US, so both his English and episteme were more pleasant than most tours I’ve gone on.
His overarching thesis throughout the tour was that most of us had come to see Michelangelo’s work, but in order to understand it, you had to first explore the works that inspired him. The Pope first opened the Vatican collection to the public during Michelangelo’s childhood. Prior to that, only princes, high clergy and ambassadors ever saw the art of antiquity. The act of making art public, perhaps more than anything else, informed the renaissance style.
3. The “no flash” setting on my camera
I have a surprising number of fairly good, guilt-free photos. Enough, in fact, to make me glad I’m hauling the beast around instead of a more convenient point-and-shoot.
4. Open-air busses
Per Jacque’s orders, today I marched my self down to Termine Station and got on an open-air sightseeing bus. You get a ticket that’s good for the entire day and you can get on or get off the bus at any stop, and when you’re done there, just get on another one. They’re about 10 minutes apart, so there’s very little waiting. They have recorded tours in at least six languages too, so you can hear about all the places you’re passing in English, and then switch to German when you go around again.
For lunch, I had colonelleni (I have no idea how to spell it, but I know it wasn’t something I’d seen written before), which was kind of like pasta blintzes baked in cream sauce. With it, I also had a tomato and mozzarella salad. Basically, it was big slices of tomato and fresh mozzerela cheese with salt and olive oil and a little lettuce to garnish the plate.
I don’t know how to describe the cheese, but it was unlike any mozzerella I’ve ever had. It was moist, tender, and full of flavor without being pungent. Perhaps the best explanation is that it was like a slice of a giant cottage cheese curd, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t do it justice.
6. Old ladies from Manchester
This morning at breakfast in the convent, I sat with British ladies. This is their 31st trip to Rome.
The more talkative of the two ladies told me that she was a teacher for many years and had been married to a Polish man who had only taught her one word of Polish: chleb (bread). One of her sons is now on the Liverpool city council and a former student of hers is Paul someone, whose name I probably should have recognized because he now plays for Manchester United. Despite those connections to rival teams, she’s more of a Man City supporter herself.
When I told them my former roommate is a Chelski fan, they found that very amusing.
Here’s a highlight from our conversation about her grandkids: “What do you do with a bachelor’s in theoretical physics? Fix computers, apparently.”
The other one gave me a lot of advice about sightseeing in Rome, much of which I found to be inaccurate, but I’d imagine 30 visits or so ago, it was very useful to them.
7. Friendly Germans
Probably because of my family background, or maybe because my first trip to Europe was to Austria and Germany, but I gravitate towards Germans. Since I didn’t bring a watch, and I haven’t gotten a SIM card for my phone yet, I have been asking my fellow tourists for the time every so often, and usually I chose to ask the Germans.
In St. Peter’s square, I asked an older German gentleman with a watch, and he told me 6:20. His wife corrected him, saying it was 4:30. They then had a brief argument about which was the big hand and which was the small hand. She won; it was 4:30.
Shortly after that, I discovered that I can check the time on my camera.
8. The Pantheon portico
The Pantheon was, I believe, the first pagan temple to be converted into a church, and it’s still an active place of worship today. I know this because when I got to the Pantheon, it was 6:00 p.m. and they had started saying mass inside. There was a large sign and a barricade at the door, saying it was closed to anyone not there to pray.
A lot of my fellow tourists were hanging out in the piazza in front of the Pantheon waiting for it to reopen when suddenly we heard from out of nowhere loud, crashing thunder and then the pitter-patter of rain.
Within a minute, there were at least two hundred other people taking shelter with me under the columns of the Pantheon, and the rain brought out a festive atmosphere in everyone. When it let up, we all headed our separate ways, and I managed to get as far as the Fontana di Trevi before it started up again.
9. Cats in ruins
There’s a large excavation out in the open in the middle of Largo di Torre Argentina in which several black cats live. I’m not sure what the story behind it is, I think the site was some sort of temple, and maybe it was associated with cats. Anyway, there was also a large sign in Italian and English at the site advertising an animal shelter a few blocks away and describing how they care for the cats. Strange and wonderful.
10. Understanding conversations … in foreign languages!
Most of the time, the conversations I overhear are exactly the sort of thing you hear in English. However, even the mundane becomes exotic and challenging when it’s foreign.
For example, at the Coliseum, I overheard this dialogue between two Russian teens:
Brother: “Stand over there so I can take your picture.”
Sister: “Why always me?”
Brother: “Mom said we must take pictures.”
Sister: “Why don’t you stand over there?”
Brother: “It’s my camera!”
(His logic is unassailable.)
Likewise at the Coliseum, there was a Ukrainian family who were quite peeved with the ticket cashier because they did not qualify for the “European” ticket price. Ukraine is the center (geographically) of Europe, whether it belongs to the EU or not!
I just wish I could understand the Italians who I actually have to rely on for goods and services.
11. Business casual clothes
While my original intent was mostly just to not look too American, there was a guy ahead of me in line the guards ordered to tie a shawl around his legs at St. Peter's today, and I was happy it wasn't me. Grown up clothes have their advantages.<>
12. Zen tourism
Douglas Adams described the Zen method of driving as picking a car that looks like it knows where it’s going and following it. While you might not get where you wanted to go, you usually end up where you truly need to be. Given my somewhat famous lack of directional orientation, I tend to apply Adams’ theory to sight seeing. I don’t think I would have ever found the Spanish steps if it weren’t for following a small family carrying groceries. Likewise, I didn’t even realize the church I stumbled upon following a Japanese couple was the one I was looking for until I’d already explored about half of it.
I may not know where I’m going, but I do a pretty good job of ending up where I need to be.
Things I could do without:
1. That smell
While walking down a dark alley, I overheard two Germans coming from the other way. The lady said something to the effect of, “Do you sense the stench I’m smelling?.”
The man replied, “Yes, urine.”
Their conversation could have easily narrated many other places around the city. It seems wherever there is an open archeological dig, someone has recently urinated there.
I don’t know what the deal is with cashiers here, but twice yesterday I was glared at and sparked a whiny conversation with a coworker for needing to break a twenty instead of having exact change.
Today I had a much better time with them because I had coins. I did, however, manage to drop my wallet and spill its contents on the floor of the restaurant I had supper at because I was trying to juggle an ice cream cone, my camera bag, and find exact change. The elderly cashier, who could almost pass for Santa Claus, was very kind about it, considering I was able to give him exact change.
3. Jet lag
I tried writing and going through photos last night and faded out sometime around 8:30 p.m., then awoke around 3:00 a.m. ready to meet the world. Since the world, particularly breakfast, was not yet ready to meet me, I eventually managed to go back to sleep and make it to 7:00 a.m.
When the Vatican Museum decided to restore the Sistine Chapel, they found they had no budget for it. So, they had companies bid for the rights to the chapel. Long story short, Kodak owns exclusive rights to all photography or other reproductions of anything in the chapel for another fifteen years still. That means we can’t take photos inside, even without flash on. Epic P.R. fail. Kodak managed to take an overwhelming good they were doing for the world and turn it into a reason for tourists—the people most likely to purchase their products—to resent them.
It doesn’t matter how good of shoes I have, my feet just aren’t used to this much walking anymore. Yesterday was actually worse than today, probably because of amount of time spent hauling my luggage around the streets of Rome trying to find the convent I’m staying at. Thank you, Thomas Jefferson, for America’s grid-pattern streets.
6. The tanness of everyone around me.
If there's anywhere that needs a civil rights movement for the ghastly pale, it's Italy. The few redheads and I stick out like sore thumbs. Perhaps that's why I've been gravitating toward the Germans.
I have, however, done my best to "get a little color" as Mom calls it, and currently that color is lobster red.
That's about it for my time in Rome, bright and early tomorrow morning I'm headed to Florence for the next two days. I will post photos at some point, but I need time to sort through them and also an internet connection that doesn't require begging a nun for a Cat-5 cable.