Category: Italy


Piece of Rome

It has been with me for two and a half years now, through Rome, Missouri, and
Minnesota. It has lived in two dorm rooms. For some reason, it acts as a security that I will again
visit Italy and have a “Vacanze Romane.”

Audrey Hepburn clinging to Gregory Peck’s back while they zoom through the streets of
Rome on a scooter, her face glancing down and away from the forward future, while his meets it
with a determined, daring sideways smile: I am both. Scared to face the future, looking back,
letting someone else face it first, yet also knowing I might as well let the wind play with my face.

The poster’s glossy finish reflects the light from my plain dorm florescent light fixture.
The indefinite light lines make me wish the picture was real. I know it is just a poster now,
nothing more. But to me, it is real: as real as the Trevi fountain was when I touched its warm
whiteness three years ago.

The Italian words on the poster movie advertisement provide me with a sort of fake
identity, reminding me that someday I will speak Italian, someday find a Gregory Peck.

Silently it speaks of the sights, sounds, smells of Rome. I smell the tobacco, hear the
loud cadences of human talk, feel the hard cobblestones beneath my shoes. I own a piece of
Rome.

Times New Roman

           Rome. The word may conjure up associated images of ancient historical figures, stately 244buildings, or culinary delights in your mind. Or perhaps you first think of designer shops, sports luxury cars, or modern architecture. Regardless, what you will inevitably learn to associate with Rome is walking.

             Yes, of course there are other methods of transportation, such as taxis, the Metro, buses, cars, but many of the narrow cobblestone streets that are home to places like the Pantheon are inaccessible by most those. In order to fully experience Rome, you must walk, as thousands of others have done and continue to do. It is walking that allows you to absorb the sights, sounds, smells and wonders of the city. And it is while walking, the practice of deliberately placing one foot in front of the other, that you are able to simultaneously escape and experience the mad rush of human traffic mixed with motor scooters, bikes, cars.

            You might begin walking in the early morning near Palantine Hill, the alleged residence of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. You would see various clay-colored structures built in layers upon each other, each representing a certain era of history. You would probably notice the boring colors of brick, drab clay, and moldy stone contrast with the vivid green of the grass and surrounding cypress trees. Almost everything here has experienced some sort of decay, crumbling or collapsing. Here and there are scattered bits of marbled glory: a lone piece of cornice standing guard in the absence of its better part; broken pillars lying dejectedly around a field; archways leading to nothing.

           Moving down the hill, through these old residences, you would then enter the area of the Forum. Your eyes would be enticed by the wild majesty of the dethroned ancients, those foundations struck down but not destroyed. If you turned your head to the left, you would see the three columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, all that now remains of the impressive temple; if you turned to the right, you would see the cross of the converted-temple-cathedral of San Lorenzo towering above you. If you looked straight ahead, you would see the ivory columns of Saturn’s temple rising up against a clear sun-filled blue sky, as the warmth of the sun added a tingly glow to your upturned face.

            Then, if you wished, you could elbow your way through the mass of humans to cross the noisy, crowded Via de San Gregorio. The juxtaposition of modern roadways complete with traffic lights and new automobiles against the ruins of the Forum and Palantine Hill and the Colosseum would seem odd and yet completely natural to you as you crossed the street much like you would do back home. After arriving on the other side, you could then tour the renowned Colosseum. Although its sheer size and numerous arching windows are immediately impressive, it would require some imagination to afford a glimpse of its former splendor. Now uncovered, its naked walls stripped of their marble, it appears brutish and lifeless. The rotting labyrinth of its underground cells and passages whispers up dark tales of enslavement, gore, and death. In the arena, only empty brick walls and ledges remain where once were lavish seats. It might seem, as you look out over the vast arena from the second level balcony, that the partial, crumbling grey remains serve as dignified sentries barring the way to the past, to memories of the bloodied dead.

                Once you had finished at the Colosseum, you could walk back to the Metro station and board the next packed train for the stop by the Spanish Steps. After freeing yourself from the elbow-to-elbow crunch, you could exit and make your way over to the Pantheon,  pausing to view the elaborate, still peaceful Trevi fountain of course. Along the way, you would see souvenir stands hawking dozens of cheap prints, posters, jewelry, scarves, or postcards.

                  By this time, you are likely to be a bit hungry, ready, no doubt for a Panini sandwich from one of the area’s many sidewalk cafés. The ever-present scent of tobacco mixed with that of fresh bread may convince you to enter that quaint shop with the tantalizing window display of sandwiches, pastries, and breads. After deciding among the various lunch options, and successfully communicating your choice to the cashier in an embarrassing comprise of English and Italian, you could go back out and continue to the Pantheon. “Ah! Good food makes life so much better,” you might think as you meander over the cobblestones, savoring the taste of melted cheese, pastrami, and lightly grilled bread.

              Eventually, maybe after a few missed turns, you will come out in front of the Pantheon, that gigantic enclosed circle with an enormously open rectangular porch. Oddly enough, its exterior is completely lacking any of the dazzling marble covering the interior. Now a cathedral, the Pantheon contains art depictions of saints, Jesus, or Mary which seem strangely out of place in what was originally a temple dedicated to “many gods.” The iron-studded wooden doors dwarf  the tourists flooding over their threshold. The opening of the famed dome illuminates the empty ledges of the circular temple where statues of the gods once sat until Jove was replaced by the Pope. The other tourists wouldn’t be at all surprised to see you slowly turning around in a circle with your eyes fastened on the dome, trying to comprehend its massive symmetrical perfection.

              Once you have strained your already-sore neck muscles and decided that perhaps you had better move on, you might choose to go enjoy a cappuccino at the pricey café across from the Pantheon. While relaxing there, you would be able to people-watch as everyone hurries to and fro in front of you, sometimes shouting, sometimes running, and the people at the tables around you speak pleasant cadences of Italian. You might even hear an occasional English conversation or two. At your little table, you would be at once a stationary part of the restless crowd and separate, isolated from it. You may even feel a certain timelessness as you gaze on an enduring part of the past while observing moving elements of the present.

             Since dusk would not be not very far away by now, you might decide to begin heading back to your hotel.  Passing through narrow avenues enclosed by buildings crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, you would come out near the Trevi again. A few blocks later, the large façade of the church of Sant’Ignazio may catch your interest, causing you to enter. As you do so, you would inevitably look up at the astounding ceiling paintings, some creating marvelous illusions of domes and arches. Up front, you would see breath-taking designs made of  gold, marble, and enormous paintings. Angels, saints, apostles, and cherubim are anywhere you look. The elaborate decorations seem to gild the church itself. Everywhere are glorified, so-called Christian saints or heroes, yet Christ is found nowhere.

              Once you have spent some moments reflecting amid the beauty you have seen, you would perhaps choose to move on. Stepping out into the darkening street, you would walk a few blocks, past designer stores with their lit up window mannequin displays, eventually coming out to a busy street owned by speeding cars, impatient  scooters zooming between honking cars, oversized buses, and bikes. You might start thinking about where you will eat dinner.  Will you feel like quick pizza or pasta, or the lengthy two or three course meals? A few blocks more and you will have reached the Metro station. The red and white sign appears, the underground tunnels isolate.  Once again, you board the shrieking, speeding demon, fighting to keep your balance as it lurches forward; fighting time, as is Rome, to stay standing as it lurches back. You are moving all too quickly. Then, you remember why you like to walk.

I need to go to Italy again. Especially Florence.

I went for the first time ever last March, and now that seems like eons ago. Looking at another blogger’s travel writings has made me even more aware of how much I miss Italy. Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about my trip a lot, and wishing desperately that I could return on a whim.

Someday. I will return, that is not the question. It is just a matter of when. A matter of when? sounds like a matter of whim to me…

Florence(Firenze) is full of whim and whimsy. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance, but it has not yet lost its quaintness. The romantic Ponte Vecchio bridge, the ephreal  Birth of Venus, the elaborate marbled Duomo, the crowded markets. Bread that is at once chewy and soft; puddle-studded cobblestones, enormous fortresses.

In Firenze, there exist remarkable contrasts that are somehow unified. There is the “street life,” and by that, I mean the aspects of the city as seen from the streets: narrow cobblestone roads often littered with waste, muddied water, and trash; the rush of human traffic smashed between crazy cyclists, motorists, or buses; street stands loudly selling scarves, leather trinkets, or food; little shops; hidden avenues; cafes. Then there is the “site life,” the interior feel of tourist sites: the reverberating silence of the tombs of Santa Croce Bascilica, the silently screaming ceiling paintings of San Lorenzo, the wordless communication of the Uffizi Gallery’s many exquisite paintings; the marbled dignity of the Duomo, the gilded grandness of the Palazzo Vecchio, the stilled statues of the Galleria dell’Accademia.

One fun thing about Florence, and many other places in Europe, is that you get everywhere by walking. This seems to make life more rushed (you’re always running late due to the amount of time it takes to walk) yet you’re also able to slow down and take in all the sights. (More contradictions, I guess. )

If you are interested in visiting Firenze, I would recommend reading travel info sites, like Frommer’s and other travellers’ writings of their adventures. Some possibilities include: http://joeitaly.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/planning-a-trip-to-florence-italy and http://mytuscany.wordpress.com.

The following pictures are from my trip. They are of  two interior views of Santa Croce, a view from the street leading to Santa Croce (the brick building in the distance is actually the back of Santa Croce), a designer shop (one of many!), the Duomo and bell tower, and the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

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Someday, I will return. And it had better be soon!