Friday, March 31, 2017

Hodgepodge 153/365 - Marathon

This Sunday, April 2, is the Rome Marathon, kicking off at 8:40 a.m. near the Colosseum.

This Sunday at 9:05, I will be on a train leaving Termini Station. At least, I hope I will be. There remains the trick of getting to the station—normally, straightforward; this particular Sunday, not so much, since the marathon crisscrosses the area.

I'm pretty sure it will be okay. I found a note on the ATAC (city transportation) website saying that the no. 40 express bus to Termini will be sospese (suspended) between 8 and 1. If I'm waiting at the bus stop at 7, 7:15, that should work. Right?

If all else fails, I've Google-mapped the walking route—48 minutes, some of which covers part of the course. But again, if I set off at 7, I'll be at Termini almost an hour before the race starts. Surely there won't be barriers keeping little ol' me from crossing the streets I need to cross. (If there are, I'll just bust through 'em!)

I'd rather take the bus—my backpack is kind of heavy, though that said, a bit of early-morning exercise wouldn't be a bad thing before sitting on the train for a few hours.

We'll see. In any event, I'm glad I finally noticed the date that's on the banners scattered throughout Rome, and realized that that event might just get in my way if I wasn't careful. I hope I'll be okay!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hodgepodge 152/365 - Tourist

I have never been comfortable being a tourist. Some people—Germans and Dutch, for example (if I may generalize)—seem to do it with aplomb. Me, I always wish I spoke the language, and didn't have a telltale camera over my shoulder, and had a reason, besides mere curiosity, or the tyranny of a guidebook, for going where I go. I also wish I weren't so easily profiled, by one and all: the waiters standing outside restaurants wanting to coax tourists in for a meal; the Africans with their knock-off leather bags or selfie sticks or collapsible wooden bowls, for sale, a bargain!; the freelance guides standing outside the historic sites, who address me in English and German.

Though of course I know they're only guessing. They have no idea who I am. Not until I open my mouth, anyway. And generally the only word that comes out of it is "no." A fine Italian word.

One side of the Titus Arch
Today around noon I took off along the Tiber, heading ultimately for the Forum and Palatine Hill. Once there, I dutifully read about selected sights in Rick Steves's Rome 2017. I found the Vestal Virgins interesting. And the Arch of Titus, which commemorates the defeat of Judea in 70 c.e.—that one's meaningful because I was just at the site of the Second Temple, the destruction of which the arch celebrates and which led to the Diaspora. I enjoyed wandering up the hill, mainly because of the flowers that are bursting out.

But I have to admit: I'm a little weary of being a tourist. I'd like something more meaningful to do with my time.

A little voice whispers in my ear that I should be taking notes, scribbling ideas and impressions, trying to work something up for an essay. The voice is right: I should be doing that. But being a tourist seems to require all my energy. I'm only here now! Don't want to waste my time!

Whatever the hell that means. . . .

It's an interesting space of discomfort, one that I visit willingly when I travel by myself. Some days I do manage to lose myself in simply being in the present moment, being a tourist but at the same time not being a tourist, if that makes any sense. Just being, and absorbing, and perhaps growing. Other days—like today—I guess I feel a little homesick for my routine, my expected comforts (a pot of coffee! the ability to cook! a good hug!), and a sense of purpose.

But I've got another ten days of this touristing business. I'd better get with the program.

Here are some photos from today.

Part I: A walk along the Tiber, as far as Isola Tiberina.

Part II: Heading inland, looking for—and finding!—a geocache along the way. These Italian youths were practicing their lounging along with another consummate lounger at the Victor Emanuel Monument.

Part III: The Forum. Views looking west and east (note Colosseum and Titus Arch); Vestal Virgins' domicile (they had a couple of pools in their courtyard, and exemplary Virgins got busted).

Part IV: I was really digging on the bursting springtime: a candelabra plant, wisteria, the pink-flowered Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), and something that I saw in Israel as well that is not dill but looks very much like it.

Part V: The walk home, via the Victor Emanuel Monument (it does catch the eye), the Pantheon (I did not go in), a mural called "L'asino che vola," and finally a captivating art store that is so complete it sells pigments for making your own paint. I mean, seriously: that is amazing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hodgepodge 151/365 - Vatican Museum

No photos allowed inside the Sistine Chapel
—besides which, it's full of people;
so this is from the Vatican website

The reason I decided to come to Italy is simple and silly: when I was here in 2006, I visited the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel, where I managed to find a seat on the bench along the wall and gape for quite a while at Michelan- gelo's magnificent ceiling. As I sat, the murmurings in the room would gradually build into a low roar, at which point— every five minutes or so—the guard would yell, "SILENZIO!" And immediately, there was quiet.

I wanted to hear that repeated.

Turns out—and this I should have known—you can't go home again.

Today there were several guards, mostly shooing people off the marble steps in front of the altar, or admonishing "No photos!" The chapel was crowded with restlessness. Just as I was getting ready to leave—having failed to secure a seat on the bench—a priest did, very friendly-like, exhort silenzio, as well as silence, from the altar and then go on to expound, first in English, then in Italian, on the holiness of the place and invite those assembled to pray silently while he offered up some words of praise in Latin. It was no simple, explosive command, but . . . a little speech, topped off with a benediction. More fitting, perhaps; but I wanted my memory validated.

That said, I had shuffled my way to the chapel without having seen the long series of halls lined by beautifully painted cabinets that, on one, bore the picture of the hoopoe that I hoped to revisit. Those ended up coming after the Sistine Chapel. And into the bargain, I spotted a common kingfisher, a favorite bird. So my disappointment over the chapel was alleviated.

One final comment: Rick Steves in his guide to Rome goes on at length about the lines to get into the Vatican Museum. It's enough to make you want to give up before you even try. As it turned out, there was no line. I waltzed right up to the ticket booth and paid my €16. I did follow his advice and go during the weekly papal audience, which may have helped. That is not to say that the place wasn't jam-packed. It was. But at least all my shuffling with a crowd took place inside the museum and not in a long queue of anticipation.

And so: mission accomplished.

Here are some of my photos from today.

Many tour groups: this one Korean.
The spiral ramp up to the main museum area.
Most people used the escalator and bypassed
this lovely space.
See? Crowds.
Grand architecture.
The Map Gallery, one of my favorite places in this museum.
A detail from the Map Gallery.
A colorful angel: no idea who she's talking to.
A working model for a Bernini angel
This statue pleased me no end!
Raphael's "Liberation of St. Peter."
A tour guide pontificating.
This hoopoe will have to make do for the live one
I failed to see in Israel.
Context: the hoopoe and kingfisher exist on cabinets
much like these: elaborately painted creations that
line a long stretch of rooms in this museum.

The staircase you take to leave the museum, also spiral.
St. Peter's Basilica from the Cortile della Pigna
St. Peter's from the front
Bernini's Colonnade, with a long line of people
waiting to get in to St. Peter's

And finally, a few shots from my post-Vatican wanderings, in Trastevere and the Parco Gianicolo, with wonderful views over Rome.

That's the Pantheon in the middle.
(Can you spot it in the photo above as well?)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hodgepodge 150/365 - A Walk through Rome

The last time I was was in Rome was February 2006. I'd attended the Torino Olympics, but my post-Olympic plans unraveled, so I was met with a few extra days to do something with. I'd never really considered coming to Rome before—I think I was intimidated by all the history —but for some reason Rome seemed like the best destination just then. It was cold and rather rainy. The tourists were elsewhere, perhaps dreaming of a visit once the weather warmed up and days were longer. A time like now.

I am flabbergasted by how different it feels. There are hordes of tourists, flocking after guides, their little flags held aloft. The narrow pedestrian streets are packed with people, many of them Italians, but many not, with Vespas skillfully weaving their way through the masses. I've been reading in Rick Steves's guidebook about the long lines to visit the biggest sights—the Vatican, the Forum and Colosseum, the Villa Borghese.

I will visit the Vatican, lines or no: to see the Sistine Chapel (and hear the guide yell "Silenzio!") is why I'm here. And I'd like to see the Villa Borghese again: I loved that place last time. (Though one thing I liked was its quiet beauty—even with limited admissions, I'm pretty sure I won't get the same impression this time.) I might visit the Forum simply to gain access to the Palatine Hill, which I remember enjoying.

But otherwise, I may just wander in less trafficked areas that are new to me: Trastevere; the Jewish Ghetto; along the ancient Appian Way. At least, in my imagination they're less trafficked. I guess I'll find out.

Today I undertook a short pilgrimage to some places I enjoyed eleven years ago: the Pantheon, which on my last visit was virtually empty, with rain falling through the hole in the roof; the Trevi Fountain, which in 2006 I stumbled on by surprise, and shared with only a couple dozen others. Today, needless to say, the situations were different.

The Spanish Steps and walk along the blufftop, however: those were much as I remembered them. (Okay: maybe a few more people lounging on the staircase.) I was hoping to identify the restaurant I ate dinner at my last evening in 2006, at the top of the steps, but failed. Since I was alone, the maitre d' invited a Belgian woman, also dining solo, to share my table. What could I say? But we ended up having a delightful conversation—she was a children's book writer and illustrator, and was researching a book having to do with Rome. I've forgotten her name, but the experience is still a bright spot in that last visit here.

Today I'll post a few photos from the day's wanderings: street scenes, views from the bike/walking path along the river, a few bridges. Not "the sights" per se—but just as interesting (perhaps even more so) in their own way: lived life. (Click on the pictures to view them larger on black.)

Beautiful seed pods


Near Piazza del Popolo

Behind the Pantheon (which is on the right)

Ancient preserved against modern

"Everything has changed . . . I love you
I wish you a world of good ∞"

At the top of the steps leading down to the river, near
the Ponte Reg. Margherita; both sides have full access for
walking and biking and even driving

Note fisherman on the right

A few shells were on the water, practicing—
mostly singles; this was the only double

Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II, southern aspect

Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II, northern aspect

Ponte S. Angelo from the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II,
with the Ponte Umberto I in the background:
lots of bridges!