Rome 11/9/10

November 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Today we slept in then decided to walk to the “Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II”, which is better known as “The Wedding Cake”. It was a monument completed in 1935 in honor of the first emperor of a unified Italy, it was quite controversial because the building of this glaringly white monument destroyed a large part of the Capitoline Hill and a medieval neighborhood. It just doesn’t fit in with the rest of Rome’s architecture. The American GI’s stationed in Rome in WWII called it “The Typewriter” because that’s what it reminded them of.  I believe it was the London press that originally dubbed it “The Wedding Cake”. At any rate,  if you ask where the Wedding Cake or the Typewriter is,  locals will know what you’re talking about.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to The Wedding Cake/Typewriter is because a Vincent Van Gogh exhibit was temporarily on display there. I’m not the artsy-type but there are certain artists that I like and Van Gogh is one of say, two that I really care/know about. I dragged George there kicking and screaming but once we were there he was very glad I uh, encouraged him to go. There were perhaps 70 or so of his lesser known paintings on display and they showed the progression of his unique style. The thing I really like about him is that while many artists painted the wealthy and aristocrats, Van Gogh went out to the rural areas and painted peasants doing their work and their homes and places of worship. I really don’t know how many more pictures I need to see in my lifetime of wealthy aristocrats dressed in all their regalia standing there doing nothing but looking self-important. I find seeing the average person in their natural setting doing an everyday activity much more interesting. I liken it to today’s “action shot”. If you ever get the opportunity to see a Van Gogh in person, do it. The way he used paint to create texture cannot be captured in a print, and with the vibrant colors he often used it was an amazing effect that made me feel like a kid who wanted to reach out and touch the pretty colors. (But I resisted!) Unfortunately we could not take pictures and I didn’t want to be thrown out so I resisted that urge too.

After that we walked to the Spanish steps, during the walk I wanted to verify that we were on the right street so I stopped and asked a man who was doing some work on the façade of a store front. I asked him in Italian if this was indeed Via Del Corso. He understood me just fine but he corrected my pronunciation of “Corso”. I ran together the whole word but in Italian you stress the first syllable, “COR-so.” Once I pronounced it correctly he kindly verified it was Via Del CORso. Don’t get me wrong, he was very friendly about it, but I had to pass the test.

There were lots of people at the Spanish steps, but the most annoying ones were the foreigners trying to give all the women “free” roses. I hiked to the top and got a couple of pretty photos, but other than that there wasn’t much else to do. I did like the hustle and bustle in the piazza below and overheard an American woman laughing with her family about how a couple of Italian women had “kidnapped” her and showed her around the area. The two Italian women were right there and were laughing right along with her. The Italians are very friendly and seem willing to drop what they’re doing to show you around. A single woman in our group had this happen with a few Italian men at various times throughout the trip (not that they would have ulterior motives or anything…) but when the men dropped what they had been doing and took the day to show her around she thought, “Gee, don’t they have jobs to get back to or something?” It’s like a country full of people with ADD, they sort of just go with the flow. (I’m beginning to understand myself more by being in Italy…)

We took a cab back to the hotel since we were pretty tired from all the walking. We went to some other restaurant near the hotel and the food was decent. The waiter was very attentive but a bit shy. It didn’t blow us away but the seafood they offered us was big and fresh. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel room and turned on the TV to see South Park dubbed in Italian. The theme was in English so that part had Italian subtitles. The Cartman voice was pretty close and so was Kenny’s voice (rrmmm rerrr rrerr rrr isn’t hard to do in any language) but Mr. Mackey’s voice was way off (not sure how “M’kay” would translate into Italian…maybe “V’Bene?”). Anyway, we went to bed early to get a good night’s rest because Peter with ItalyMondo would be picking us up and taking us down to Guardiaregia tomorrow and we’d get to see where my great-grandparents and centuries of my ancestors were from.

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Rome 11/8/10

November 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Today we had a guided tour and our first stop was the Vatican. It is quite an amazing place, it’s its own country and there are about 800 people who live there. You used to have to show your passport when entering but that is no longer the case. Everywhere you look is some kind of art, whether pre-Christian pagan statues, tapestries, or paintings and mosaics on the walls, floors and ceilings. When we first entered there were a few of what would be hundreds of pre-Christian era statues of naked men, one unfortunate statue had been uh…castrated. The reason was that one of the Popes decided that such displays were obscene so either the parts had to be removed or they would have to be covered somehow. Rather than cutting the parts off of thousands of statues someone came up with the bright idea to cover them with stone fig leaves, so most of the statues were decorated in this manner. We also saw several statues of small boys, wealthy people would have a sculpture made of their child…sort of like taking your baby to JC Penney’s photo studio today. We saw the Sistine Chapel but pictures were not allowed in there, I probably could’ve snuck one but jet lag had temporarily sapped me of my rebellious streak, but Michelangelo had that covered…in light of the one Pope’s problem with naked statues it’s odd that the Sistine Chapel depicts so many nekkid people. One cardinal in particular saw the work in progress and told Michelangelo he had to clothe those people and complained to the pope. Michelangelo said that he was commissioned to paint the creation and man was not clothed during creation. The pope agreed but the cardinal kept complaining. Michelangelo thanked the cardinal by depicting him in purgatory waaaay at the bottom of a painting on the wall, right by one of the entrances. He complained about THAT to the pope, but the pope didn’t like the cardinal either so it’s there to this day.

We toured St. Peter’s Basillica and it was HUGE. The dome is 10 stories and the canopy over the alter is 3 stories. You really have a hard time understanding the scale of the church, so down the middle of the sanctuary are tile mosaics in the floor at different lengths from the alter (which sits directly under the dome). These tile mosaics have the names of famous national cathedrals around the world, the first one closest to the alter is St. Patrick’s in NYC. This represents the length of that cathedral in relation to St. Peter’s. Once we realized that St. Patrick’s and several other larger cathedrals could fit into St. Peter’s it gave us some idea of the scale. Afterwards we visited the Vatican gift shop and saw a woman making mosaics. It was tedious but beautiful work. Mosaics don’t fade over time like paintings or fabrics. Further down you can see a Van Gogh mosaic she had done. I did not buy it because it was €15,000. (That’s about $50 gazillion USD considering the exchange rate.)

After that we went to the Coliseum. The arched entryways really reminded me of Ohio Stadium, it made me realize how much influence Roman architecture has on societies today. There isn’t a lot to see, many pieces are missing because over the years people would take materials to use to build other things. It still had a beauty of its own despite the activities that occurred there. Gladiators were slaves and on occasion were able to earn their freedom if they were excellent fighters, in such rare cases they would become quite wealthy. But in most cases the owners got all the money and eventually someone beat them. Of course, many Christians died there for their faith, the first believed to be Saint Ignatius. They died cruel and terrible deaths for choosing Jesus Christ over the Roman gods. The catalyst that helped end the gladiatorial games was due to another martyr – Saint Telemachus, a Christian monk from Egypt who visited Rome and was so shocked by the bloody games that he went to the middle of the arena and  began shouting that they should be stopped. The crowd was outraged and stoned him to death. Some time after that, Emperor Honorius issued an edict that stopped the gladiator games. Where the great emperors once sat is now a simple wooden cross that stands over the ruins. What once was a testament to their power has largely been dismantled brick by brick, and the end didn’t come about by force or a bloody war, but by someone being brave enough to stand up for what was right. You can’t help but stop and think of your own faith in light of these brave Christians. God gave them the grace to endure.

For we went to a small “Tavola Calda, which is sort of a carry-out where you can buy food but find somewhere else to eat it. I got pizza and ate it back at the hotel, it was good but not as good as what I’d had at the unknown restaurant the night before. That afternoon we took an optional tour that required much less walking than the morning tour, they primarily took us around Rome on the bus to see and hear about various landmarks, the only place we had to walk was in the Catacombs.

We rode around Rome in the bus and saw so many things while our excellent tour guide explained the sights. I’m not going to name them all because I can’t remember them all, but later in the week when we went adventurin’ around Rome on foot we came back across many of those sights.  We stopped at the Catacombs of St. Domitilla, which is the largest catacomb in Rome, it features a beautiful underground Basillica and a 2nd century fresco of the Last Supper. Pictures were not allowed there out of respect for the dead. The land where the catacombs are located were originally owned by Flavia Domitilla and Emperor Vespasian was her grandfather. Her husband, Flavio Clemente, was on the consul in 95 AD but was condemned to death by the emperor while Domitilla was exiled to the island of Ventotene for the crime of “atheism”…in other words, they were Christians and did not believe in the pagan gods of the Romans. Domitilla knew they would want to confiscate the land once she died, so she ordered that it be turned into catacombs for Christians. This was a clever idea since the Romans believed that ALL graves were sacred,  no matter the decedent’s religion,  and should never be disturbed.  She also was fulfilling a need for the poor Christians who needed burial grounds.

In the evening we ate at a restaurant near the hotel called Pizzic8. It had a Napolian flair to it, and our waiter was so friendly that he really made us feel welcome. I wasn’t really hungry because we had eaten a snack earlier, but George ordered pasta with a meat sauce and it was WONDERFUL. We went back to the hotel and sat at the bar for awhile talking with others in the group then went to bed.

Rome 11/7/10

November 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Our trip to Italy began in Rome, we arrived around 8:30am local time on Sunday, November 7th. We took a short nap in the hotel then went out exploring on our own. We walked over to the Castle of St. Angelo which is right by the Tiber river. The castle was originally built by Emperor Hadrian in 135 AD for his burial place. By the 14th century Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St. Peter’s Basilica, this became the escape route for the Pope and his treasures when the barbarians attacked. As we were standing on the bridge in front of it the Italian Air Force flew over in tight formation with contrails using the colors of the Italian flag! We were in the right place at the right time.

Our first meal was at a restaurant whose name escapes me, we had pizza and “table wine”. The pizza was good and the wine was excellent. It was the first time I got to/had to use Italian in Italy, my first words were “Il menu”. It just doesn’t get much more exciting than asking for a menu in Rome, but at least they understood me! The reason I don’t recall the name of the restaurant is because while the food was good the people were not exactly welcoming. They were not rude but we got the sense it was more of an establishment for locals and tourists were sort of in the way, so we did not grace them with our presence after that.