here is my very long account of the trip, if you have that much time to waste.
So, I am not sure if I should try to write my account of my trip now or not. I am so very tired from travelling for over 24 hours yesterday, to get home, and have been sick with a cold for nearly a week. And, to make matters worse, am ingesting a cold beer as I write this. But, I am trying to stay awake until a normal bed time hour, so maybe it’s just as well if I spend some time typing and see what kind of mess comes out of my befuddled mind.
We got back last night, nearly midnight. What a hellish return voyage. The first leg, 10 hours from Rome to Toronto, wasn’t so bad. I think that equals 3 movies, no sleep. But in Toronto we had problems getting through the correct immigration passport (getting steered the wrong way several times, running all over the airport, watching the clock get closer and closer to our departure time. Ended up just making the flight at “last call for Vancouver”. Our seats were literally next to the bathroom and last in line, so several inches narrower than the others. I can tell you, if you can, never fly Airbus 330’s. Boeing is the way to go!
Get to Seattle (Rome to Toronto, Toronto to Vancouver, and Vancouver to Seattle) and my bag is missing. We wait; we stand in line to get the info to track it, and then taxi home, hacking the whole way. We have both been sick for days. So, anyway, enough about the return trip and my complaints, and onto the trip itself . . .
We made this trip to celebrate our 25th year of marriage, and Robin’s 60th birthday. With only being able to take about 1.5 weeks, we opted to stay in one place rather than spend the time going to a variety of locations in Italy. The trip to Rome was meant to be a nice time to explore at our own speed, take time to get to know one area and be free to just spend time in the apartment with each other. And, that is what it became. We only had one event preplanned. All other days, we just decided spur of the moment what to do, and every day we were so tired after our day’s wanderings that we came back to our apartment and often laid down and rested for several hours before going out again in the evening for a bite to eat.
I am glad that we had rented an apartment rather than a hotel room. In hotels you must go down a corridor and past other guests, and you only have one room, so you never get any space from each other. Our apartment had a sitting room, a dining room/kitchen and two bedrooms. It was kind of cave like in that it opened on one side only, toward an internal courtyard of this very old Roman apartment complex. So, we could not see the street, nor get an idea of the weather each day when we got ready to head out. On the other hand, we were not bombarded by any kind of street noise, and Roman streets can be very noisy with automobile traffic. There was some noise from the other residents, such as TV’s and voices, and one man who would literally sing Jazz Scat (think Elle Fitzgerald) at the top of his lungs for 2 hours at a time. I kid you not!)
Yes, you really must dodge cars in Rome. They interpret street rules very liberally, and streets are often VERY narrow, with a small strip painted on the side for pedestrians. Woe to anyone walking who loses their footing on the cobblestones at the very moment a taxi is passing close enough to take your elbow off with its’ mirror. They don’t honk at you unless you seem to be oblivious of them. Everyone on the road takes care of themselves, and expect you to do the same. It is not the rule of traffic law that dictates behavior, but the understanding that you are only really responsible for yourself, and you always ASSUME the other person will do the same. Thus, if you see open space in front of you as you drive, you can be sure that anyone ahead of you will take advantage of that space and move into it, because they are taking care of themselves. So, you will not be surprised by this, you won’t need to slam on your brakes or hit them, and you won’t get pissed off, you’ll just adapt. Amazingly enough, it works. Lanes don’t really matter, you just go. Scooters that are in front of you have the right of way, anyone behind you must adapt to your movements. Scooters go ripping between two lines of stopped cars with inches to spare, and yet I never once so a single accident of any kind. They are truly amazingly skilled drivers.
Speaking of drivers, we had our first exposure to the famed Italian drivers when taking a limo from the airport into the center of Rome. Our driver was trying to talk with me in my very limited Italian and he was literally driving something like 85 to 90 mph, while using his iPhone to check on online dictionary for the word “crisis”, for our talk of economics in Italy. And, of course, Italians cannot actually talk without using their hands. It is a physical impossibility, so if they are driving, they must use a knee or Divine guidance to steer while talking and gesticulating with both hands. Must do!
But, I found myself genuinely loving the Italians that I met in Rome. They have a keen sense of national and regional identity and pride. They are generally positive in their attitude, rarely complain, and were so welcoming and kind to us. We had not ONE negative interaction with any guard, clerk, waitress or guide, or just regular person that we met. Even though tourists are there by the millions, day in and day out, they are generally amiable and still able to smile at each person for the most part and are almost unfailingly courteous.
I think having some Italian language made a huge difference. I had started taking private lessons just a couple of months before our departure, and had Pimsler Method CD’s to listen to in my car. By the time we got to Rome, I could manage very simple conversations. With the Italians being appreciative and forgiving of my many, many mistakes, it was a delight to try speaking with them. When the listener doesn’t mind your stumbling attempts, you feel emboldened to try more, and thus you learn more. In Paris, I felt that for the Parisians (this is years ago, mind you) , to hear me try to speak French hurt their ears, and they’d rather I didn’t . But the Italians were very encouraging, so I tried more and learned more, and in reality, by the end of the 9 days, I could manage quite a lot, and understand a lot more. (I am a bit of a natural linguist, I can say without being too immodest. I speak Spanish pretty well, as I do Japanese, some French and now some Italian).
One of the things I had wanted to get from this trip was to see the man fine works of art on display in Rome. We went to the Vatican museum the first Friday evening that we were there. They had Friday evening openings (only Fridays) and I had reserved online. I was glad that we did. Normally it is insanely crowded, such that you cannot take time to admire the tapestries and such because people flow through as if on a current. But, the Friday evening showing was at about a third of normal capacity. We were able to stand in front of these huge tapestries and look at the tiny stitches and weaving, and then back up and see the whole pictures, which are simply stunning. After almost 3 hours (and this included a half hour in the Sistine Chapel where we could sit down and crank our heads up at the ceiling), we headed for home and found out that taxis cost more than double at night, or so we were told. Oh well . . .
Other museums we saw were the Capitoline Museum, which is just above the roman forum and the National museum of art at Massima something or other. Both had many wonderful statues from antiquity. You walk down these hallways with one Roman bust after another, some full size statues, too. Each head is of an INDIVIDUAL, not an ideal, not a concept, but an individual. They are not different from someone you’d run into on a Roman street today. Some are male, some are female, some young, some old, some with wrinkles or wide noses, some with ornate hairstyles. You can see PEOPLE, who were rich enough many centuries ago to hire an artisan to “take” their portrait. Only not with a camera, but with a chisel, in marble.
I walked down past each one and it just felt like I was meeting a lot of people, and I even said “hello!” to some of the children portrayed. And the stone sculptures that captured motion were simply amazing in their accurate portrayal of the human body, captured in a single moment of action. The ancients were far superior to any artists that came along for the next thousand years!
And, what we see in museums is a small fraction of what existed. Much has been destroyed, and more is still under the ground waiting for discovery, someday.
The other thing that made a big impression on me was the frescoes taken from rich villas. These were wall paintings that decorated the houses of the rich. We saw some of them “in situ” when we went to tour Pompeii, but they were very fragmented. The ones we saw in the National museum were stupendous! I was literally, and I mean literally, moved to tears! Robin (DH) thought I was nuts, but he didn’t spend years studying art at University. These paintings were so expressive, with such superb simplicity of line and richness of color that they were hands down my favorite thing to see in Rome.
But the Coliseum is also pretty amazing to see. When you walk up the stairs (after paying admission and going through airport style security) and you come out on the landing of the 3rd level, you see the largeness and steepness of it, and you can imagine how it must have been, filled with 50,000 screaming spectators, and multiple gladiator fights going on at the same time on the sand covered floor at the bottom. You could see the many chambers underneath where the wild animals were kept until raised up to the floor by way of 80 different elevators! They said that when it was inaugurated, in something like 80 AD, there were some games that lasted for a week and about 9,000 wild animals were killed in “hunting displays” and of course, hundreds of humans were killed, too. To be honest, when I walked around it, I felt a kind of malevolent feeling to it. I just can’t stop thinking of all the misery that happened there, for the “enjoyment” of the masses.
The tour of the Forum and the Palatine Hill, areas that are right next to the Coliseum, was very informative. I would give anything to be able to see what that area looked like in its’ heyday. It’s hard to imagine the wealth and sophistication of the ancient Roman world, two thousand years ago. That lasted for centuries, and then fell to decay and the destructive incursions of “barbarians” and the efforts of the Catholic Church to suppress, then to erase, the Pagan past. All these ancient buildings, and Rome is simply lousy with them, are now not much more than piles of bricks. It’s because the romans built with brick, and then clad those building with marble. All that marble was just waiting for the Christian church when they were looking for materials to build there churches, so they just took it. They stripped the marble facades, pulled down the solid stone pillars and filled in the buildings with earth, to then build on top of them. You now see only pock marks all over the remaining stone constructions,(some of the coliseum is brick and some stone) where the metal brackets used to be that held on the colorful marble facing. That marble facing is now in St. Peter’s Basilica! In the Vatican. (We did go up in the dome and got the view over Rome from there. Pretty cool!)
My husband and I are not religious, so we did not hold back our feelings of regret that these magnificent buildings were so decimated by the Catholic Church. Nub, it is not fair to judge ancient peoples by modern standards.
I will say that going into the churches and seeing the paintings and statues there shows you how intensely important the story of Christ and the place of the Saints and all was/is to the lives of those that go there. Even though, as I said, I am not religious, I was deeply moved to see the depiction of Christ in the arms of Mary, in Michelangelo’s “Pieta” sculpture. And there were others that really expressed the feeling of Godliness, and how we come as sheep to the Shepard. Anyway . . . I am a very sentimental person.