Monday, March 4, 2013

Rome: 2004 Pt. 2

I cannot tell you how much I love this city.  (Let me link to this before I forget it.) I was completely obsessed with this place even before I arrived because it was front and center in so many of my Italian classes.  It's survived so many tumultuous times and seen so many leaders come and go.  Some of the best artists and craftsmen of western culture found funding here and left a legacy in their wake.  It's the epicenter of Catholicism which, love it or hate it, has influenced countless historical events.  All kinds of architectural experiments have been carried out here.  The city has rebuilt itself on top of itself who knows how many times.  So old, but so vibrant.

Our hotel was a stone's throw from the Pantheon.  Each morning, we would step through the sliding glass doors onto the street, and it would be ... completely silent.  At 8 or 9am, when most people in the U. S. are frantically trying to get themselves or their kids somewhere!!, the Italians are still taking it easy at home. They're on a delayed schedule: Things pick up around 10am, die down around 2pm, pick back up at 4pm, and dinner's never served earlier than 8pm.  Evening is actually the loudest, most active time of day.

Nothing smells better than Rome in the morning ... at least, this is true in January.  I might not feel the same way in the middle of summer.  In January, the air is chilled but not cold.  Your face gets the same feeling from the air as it does from a chilled pool in July.  It's like, "ahhhhh." It's hardly ever windy, though the days usually start cloudy.  I know this sounds bizarre, but the air smells like this gorgeous, delicious mix of melted chocolate and butter, strong coffee, cigarettes, and car exhaust.  It is the best smell.  It dissipates eventually and you're left with cigarettes and car exhaust, but even that smells gorgeous too.  The smell of the traffic and the buzzing whir of the street scooters is one of the best features of Rome.  I've never found anything similar on this side of the Atlantic.  It just doesn't exist here.  Philly just smells (honestly, where is that stink coming from? has anyone figured it out?), and NYC is just LOUD.  Weirdly, in the U. S., cigarettes deeply offend me. In Europe, I don't even notice them even though everyone is smoking them.

Some mornings, we ate at the hotel, but other days we would pick a cafe' on the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon.  Italian breakfast is so wonderful.  I hate eating in the morning--I've been this way my whole life.  It takes me four or five hours of being awake to want a meal.  When I was little, all I wanted when I woke up was a small cookie or bite of cake.  But, I wasn't allowed "to eat that kind of trash" in the morning when I was kid, so I ate NOTHING most mornings (sometimes I forced down cereal just for the hell of it) and waited until lunch.  Guess what the Italians do?  They eat what can only be described as a cookie or a bite of cake in the morning (with caffeine ... and a cigarette) and then eat a real meal hours later.  This is what I had wanted to do the whole 20 years of my existence, but I had assumed that I must be some kind of freak ... until I went to Europe and found out that an entire continent agrees with me.  I guess I'm finally RIGHT about something?

You can eat outside in January because everything is heated and it's not that cold anyway.

Hot chocolate--the consistency of melted candy bar--and chocolatey, buttery morning rolls.  My friends are thinking, "Where I have seen this photo before ...?"  It's in my kitchen.
Going to/from the Pantheon. It just squeezes it's way in between the modern buildings.

One of our favorite places to go this particular week was the Borghese Gardens.  We also went to the Borghese Museum located in the gardens (definitely the ONE museum I would tell you that you must see while you're there, even over and above the Vatican Museums which are just sickeningly, opulently absurd. Bernini's sculptures at the Borghese are mind-blowing).  But, the gardens are public and you can go whenever you want.  Walking through them several times never felt boring.

Another one of my most favorite pictures from this trip.  Yes, the oranges are real.  See? Not that cold.

While standing near this fountain one day, another couple came up to us.  I assumed they were Italian or  French because they were so well dressed.  The guy held his hands up to his face and pretended to take a picture and said, "Foto, per favore?"  I replied in Italian, "Sure, I'll take your picture," and he handed me his camera.  He and his girlfriend posed in front of the fountain, I took the shot, and he said in perfect American English, "Thank you." And I said in my American English, "You're AMERICAN??"  They replied, "You're not Italian??"  And we said, "NO!" And then we all laughed.  They looked at Ron and assumed he was a native Roman and that I must be too just because I was hanging out with him.

"La faccia dei Romani"
Let's be clear: I do not look Italian even though my face is a carbon copy of my father's Italian relatives.  Ron, however, looks very Italian.  His profile looks like it came off of a two thousand year old Roman coin.  We would be out places, other Italians would look carefully at both of us, and finally they would settle on Ron and start whatever conversation was in order (to order food, to buy a train ticket, to pay for something).  Ron would sorta laugh and point at me, "Lei parla italiano. Lei."  She speaks Italian--talk to her.  The Italian in question would look at me very oddly and I would answer in Italian whatever question they had asked Ron, and usually The Italian would start to laugh and look at Ron and say, "But you look so Italian!"  Several Romans said to him, "Ma, ha la faccia dei romani!!  E' americano??"  You have the face of a Roman!  Ron would just laugh.  And then they would turn to me and say, "Non sembra affatto italiana. Non affatto! Gli occhi azzurri." You don't seem Italian at all: Blue eyes.

Thank you?

The other place we visited several times that week was Piazzale Garibaldi above the Janiculum/Trastevere.  It's a steep uphill climb through the city streets and narrow passageways, but so so so worth it, especially right before sunset.  Even after sunset is fine.  We would buy warm chocolate crepes and watch the city change colors before everything settled into a golden navy blue.

"Golden navy blue"

Rinaldo telefona sua madre.  We had to call home at the weirdest moments because we were six hours ahead, and we didn't want our parents to think we were dead overseas in a post-9/11 world.

Rome was still decorated for Christmas because the holiday doesn't officially end until the Epiphany on January 6.  Everything shuts down on the Epiphany since it's a national holiday, so we had to plan to accommodate all of the museum closures and mass schedules.  At night on the holiday, everyone just goes out walking.  Everything is closed, but no one wants to be inside all night. It's total pedestrian mayhem. Here's Via Condotti in front of the Spanish Steps (the Fifth Avenue of Rome):

For some reason, I remember being shocked by the sheer volume of strollers and children.  It was truly a family night.
Two things I had to consciously avoid photographing over and over: windows and shrines to the Madonna.  Now that I think about it, I don't have any pictures of the outdoor corner shrines ... I know I took several ... maybe I lost them? 

There are at least 4,300 reasons to love this photo.  How many do you see?
We used one day to take the train to Assisi. When we went on our high school trip (still haven't digitized those pictures yet), we stopped in Assisi and it was my favorite part of the whole week.  It takes about two hours--maybe two and half hours?--to get from Rome to Assisi.  We left early in the morning and came back at night.  None of my shots really convey the gorgeousness of this tiny little mountain town.  It's in the center of Umbria, the only landlocked region of Italy.  The only word to describe Umbria is green.  It's so beautiful, even in winter, that it's obvious how/why San Francesco became a saintly tree-hugging hippy.  Read his "Canticle of the Creatures," one of the best things I ever read in college.  If I could, I would get my college prof to read the medieval Italian to you in his whispery class performance voice--that was probably my favorite college class moment ever.

Assisi was so beautifully decorated with the most gorgeous green and red garlands.  Every doorway and archway had them.  The entire town is so beautifully constructed out of this sandy brown stone--everything was built during the 15th/16th century or earlier.

See those tall potted cypress trees? You can buy them to use indoors at your local supermarket at Christmas but, guaranteed, it will be dead less than three weeks after you bring it home.

Erin had this turned into a painting for me.  It'll be the centerpiece for my dining room one day.  Look at the wheelbarrow full of succulents!  Let's see Terrain top that.

These medieval towns are built into mountain sides.  When you find yourself walking uphill, you're headed toward the center of town and the heart of the village.  If you're walking downhill, you're headed out of town toward the periphery of things.

You know you're looking at olive trees when the leaves shine silver.

Here, I loved the potted plants next to the front door, the clothes in the second window, and the tiny Christmas tree in the top window.

Mom, see the cyclamen on the railing above me? Even they survive outside here in January.  Steph and Laurie: do you miss your Docs?  My feet still miss those shoes.

The week ended as quickly as it began.  We ended our last day the same way we had all the others: Walking past the Pantheon and to the front doors of our hotel.

The morning of Day 8, we checked in at the airport and found out, much to our amazement and surprise, that we had been upgraded to business class for free!!  It should be noted that this is the only time we were bestowed with such a gift. It has never happened again.  If you've ever seen the Seinfeld episode where Jerry gets to fly business class and Elaine gets stuck in coach, then you already know the difference. That episode didn't really exaggerate much.

Here's the best part about getting upgraded: LEG ROOM!!! SO MUCH LEG ROOM THAT YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY FILL IT ALL UP!!!  I couldn't reach my toes to the seat in front of me.  The other great thing: You can recline your seat more than two inches.  AND they give you free ear plugs.  OMG, EAR PLUGS.  Totally changed what I think about airplanes.  (They don't HAVE to be loud!)

The OTHER great thing: They serve you real food.  Our lunch was several courses.  Here's the cheese course (well, half of it anyway):

They serve everything on real china with cloth napkins, and you drink out of real glasses.  I think the silverware was plastic, but that's fine with me.  They also served pasta and ice cream sundaes.  Was it some fancy gourmet meal? No, but imagine eating off of an Applebee's menu on an airplane.  Compare that to the inedible glop that you are typically served on an airplane. Does that make sense?  It was INCREDIBLE.

The French/Italian Alps
I slept for most of that flight (because you can sleep when you're not sitting straight up in a chair), but when I was awake, I flipped through my Italy tour book and planned a return trip to Florence in 51 weeks.  I was sort of kidding myself, but it turned out not to be a joke ...


Laurie said...

Oh payphones, I don't miss you! Love seeing this pictures from your trip. Seems like so long ago. My favorite is the first one. But I also really like the one of the olive trees!

Wahlberg Boy said...

I had a great meal in 2001 sitting right at one of the tables by the Pantheon pictured here. Interesting how peoples lives can cross the same paths, years apart and thousands of miles away from home. It reminds me how small the world truly is. On a lighter note, is it possible that when photographed in Italy, Ron actually looks MORE Italian?

Jo Harper said...

Oh, Wahlberg Boy, I have thought the same thing so many times! We were there in April 2001 with our high school trip on Spring break--don't tell me you were there too?