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rome diaries, part one

Fountain by Bellini in Piazza NavonaHello, Seattle. I'm in Italy. Monte Verdi, specifically, which is a neighborhood in Rome.

I can barely wrap my brain around the fact that I'm something crazy -- what, six thousand miles? -- away from home, in a land where English is not the primary language, and that there's buildings here that are older than I can even begin to understand, and that I got here in the first place. Truly.

If you want to skip all the word salad and just see the sights, no offense taken. Just pop on over to flickr for part one of the photospread here.

{leaving and arriving}

The trip over was a whirlwind. Like I mentioned in the last post, I'd cleared off about a week and a half before the trip thinking... I don't know what. Thinking that I had to Do Things and that I would Need More Time, but the reality of it all is that I did a ton of laundry the weekend before the trip, took a half-day before I left, ran a bunch of errands and did more laundry until about 10p, took a power nap, and then shoved everything into a giant backpack at 3:30a (that I had to sit on to close) and left for the airport. Half of the things I had in my queue to do before leaving didn't happen, and the rest of the time I kept worrying that I was forgetting something, somehow. Even with four lists that had all been checked at least twice. Again, like I mentioned -- it was my first time. Hopefully I'll get better at it, maybe even as good at it as I am taking stateside trips someday.

So, rush-rush-rush, a bag on my back that feels like it weighs a hundred pounds, security clearance, no time for (decent) coffee, four-plus hour plane ride, layover, delay, nine hour plane ride. During said layover I noticed that our flight seemed to be partially filled by a giant international study-ish field trip full of kids who had a handful of chaperones, one of whom was their drama teacher. She would wind up Not Shutting Up for the duration of the flight. Not once. She was loud and touched with crazy, "hollering at" her kids, trying desperately to fuse pop culture into her speakings with them, and just generally making a complete ass out of herself. Honestly, I thought she was the cheerleading coach until I learned otherwise.

We finally took off around 6p Atlanta-time, and by 9p most of the plane was fed and Dramamined and tipsy / dozing off. Except for Drama Lady. She flip-flopped between talking at an incredibly loud volume, stating that she was deaf in one ear (thus explaining her loudness, because she couldn't hear herself I guess?), and hearing people whispering about her ten rows away and yelling -- from her seat -- for them to shut up because she could hear them. She also managed to do lovely things like yell out strings of words in faux-talian ("Lasagna! Parmesean! Am I right, kids?"), confront the flight attendants and other people on the plane who were shushing her, and generally embarrass America as a nation by her all-around overbearingness. She also kept stating that she shouldn't have to be quiet because it was only 9:30p or whenever it was at any given moment, not thinking about people like me who had been up since 3a Seattle-time, or the woman next to me who was coming from Ecuador or someplace and had been up for almost thirty-five hours. They finally told her that she'd get arrested in Rome for the airplane equivalent of breach of peace if she didn't knock it off, and she finally shut the fuck up.

When daylight started blasting through the cabin and the food carts (frozen bananas and unidentifiable breakfast pocket things) began to roll around, Drama Lady woke up and was quiet as a mouse, which led a few of us to think she might have been a bit tipsy the night prior. Waking, eating, trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy with bedhead and unshoweredness and unbrushed teeth, and suddenly we were off the plane and walking through the airport. Upside to the whole thing? Drama Lady aside, the flight was long, but not nearly as bad as I'd prepared for.

So, the airport. I'm not even going to try and lie here, it was moderately scary to be alone someplace where no one is speaking English and only some of the signs have English translations, coupled with that travel-brain element -- I love the part of waking it up and going new places and seeing new things and having to think in new pathways and all, but not being in my routines does take a bit of adjusting to. And I get it, of course it's only an airport, I'm not being dropped off in a jungle in some third world country or anything -- but the whole place is hot, I'm alone, I'm not quite sure where to go, I have what feels like a hundred pounds of shit on my back and I can't quite differentiate between the buses and the trains, and then I found the trains but which trains, and then I got on a train but am I on the right one, and so on. Honestly, having Haley pretty much direct the process and give me the outline of where to go and where to stop and where she'd meet me and how to get my train ticket validated -- she basically saved my ass. I'm sure if I was traveling on my own that I'd have gotten by and all, and stayed in a hostel and made some friends or what have you... but being here with a fully immersed, fluent local that can rough out the process for me has been infinitely helpful. It's kind of like how I learned today at the Borghese, about how the sculptors went through their processes from drawings to mock-ups and finally to selecting and beginning the carving process of the marble: having a seasoned person there with me to help with my vision, to direct those first crucial cuts that will make or break what I will ultimately turn into my expression of what's taking place -- it's been pretty priceless.

{being here, so far}

On the advice of many, I did not sleep on arrival day, and instead managed to pull Haley away from her schoolwork to run the streets with me for a bit. First things first: learning how to flush the toilet, how the shower has a window but no curtain, how the windows in Haley's room are burst-open-able like a scene out of a fucking movie, how there's washers but no dryers and the laundry hangs outside. We stopped at the local coffee bar where I learned how to order espresso (pay first, receipt to counter, then order at the bar) and took a trip to the market: five days worth of healthy breakfasty things, a ton of fresh produce for dinner fixings, apples, and even a bar of really great chocolate, all for just over 15 euros. After Haley hammered away at more of her paper we ventured out for the night, where she blew my mind with a trip to Trastevere for pizza. If you've never been, Trastevere is what Italy looks like in the movies, with winding cobblestone streets and outdoor restaurants and shops and such. Then, we stopped at the cat sanctuary, which a large outdoor area of ruins where Julius Caesar was said to have been assassinated, and is now home to about 150 homeless cats. (!!!) Then it was off to Piazza Navona, a fountain by Bellini (incredible), gelato (holy shit), and another short walk that rounded the corner to the Pantheon.

Haley's apartment and bedroom viewCat sanctuary (nighttime)Church en route to Piazza Navona

Bellini (above) and secondary fountain at Piazza NavonaNow, Piazza Navona is impressive -- the scale of the fountain and the buildings alone are mind-boggling, simply because they're so insanely huge and (mostly) so incomprehendibly old -- but walking up to the Pantheon was absolutely other-worldly. I knew the historical drive-by, which Haley recounted a bit: giant temple of worship built to pay homage to the gods, monotheism takes over, statues destroyed and replaced with images of saints for "traditional" worship. We all know the story. But really, walking up to the thing -- I mean, the door alone felt like the biggest I'd ever seen. The columns stretched up higher than a man-made structure could ever stretch in my mind, and knowing that you were walking through an area that had been walked through for almost two thousand years (it was originally commissioned to be built in 126 AD) just brought this... shiver. And I say this as one of those "personally spiritual but by no means religious" types, of course. It was absolutely staggering, simply from a historical perspective. That was the first point where I touched one of the columns, looked at Haley, and said, "How the hell am I supposed to go back home and take pictures of bands?" Everything suddenly seemed minute by comparison.

Pantheon (nighttime)A bit of sleep and then day two found me back out adventuring on the tram to see the cats in the daylight, along with trips on my own for daytime shots of Piazza Navona and a stop inside the Pantheon. Again, because there is no other word: staggering. Just the age of it all and the history of the place filled up so many pages in my mind that I almost had to sit down to take it all in. After absorbing all that, I spent mid-day meandering about in Trastevere shooting, retired back to the apartment for a nap after I learned that most restaurants worth their salt are not open from about 1-4p, made dinner for (still studying) Haley and then took a trip out for gelato with her and for more sights.

The day ended with night views of a massive building that was commissioned to honor one of the kings in the 1800s that most Italians hate because it's "too new" and which they refer to as "the typewriter", some of the forum ruins, the Coliseum (which you can just walk up to and like, touch), and the Trevi Fountain. The evening was a bit marred by some creepy foreign guys following us for what felt like miles, saying the rudest things (the gents are prone to being a bit persistent here, but these two were uncomfortably persistent with a side of sketchy), but we finally ditched them toward the end of the sightseeing. By now, not even here for forty-eight hours, I know the basic layout of the neighborhoods, am able to roughly discern what's in which direction, and am more immersed / less fearful. It's also incredibly helpful that I know a handful of Italian phrases and that 92% of the people I've interacted with were able to speak English.

Cat sanctuary

Piazza Navona in the daylight

En route to Pantheon and Pantheon exterior


  Pantheon interior and post-Pantheon gelato view


Coliseum (nighttime)

"Typewriter" monument (above), Trevi FountainToday I was up work-early to go from Haley's to the tram to the bus to the Borghese Gallery, a tiny museum on a huge stretch of property that holds a few hundred incredible pieces. I learned that one of the Borgheses was the nephew of one of the popes, and used his connection quite unceremoniously to gather a collection of art that he wanted, by name-dropping and by force (such that if you refused his "offer" to buy your art, you might find yourself in jail the next day reconsidering your answer) and with a seemingly unending stream of money. There were Bellinis and four or five other artists with incredible stories that I can't quite recall the names of, the one who painted his face into a portrait of David and Goliath as a plea to re-enter Rome, one of the original 'Madonna with Child' images, pre-impressionism, a Ruben, and stories that made up for all those years when I was stoned and out of touch with my history classes in school: Bellini's sculpture of Apollo and Daphne, when he was shot with Cupid's arrow to love her just as she was shot with the arrow to hate him, and the exact moment at which she turned into a tree (and how Apollo declared the tree sacred, and why Romans would wear crowns of laurel leaves as a result, and the tracings of the phrase "baccalaureate"); how the original hermaphrodites were traced back to the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, and the story of how he was met upon in a garden by a woman he rejected, who then begged for them never to be parted, and how the gods complied; how Hades and his pursuit of Persephone explains the seasons, how faux-finishes came to be as an expression of not a lack of riches but to show off how good the artists in residence were capable of being, how the Borgheses wanted so badly to be considered original Romans that the property was littered with fake ruins -- it just went on and on.

Borghese groundsThree hours later, I walked from the Twin Churches back through into the Pantheon area and managed to find little shortcuts back to the tram, and went back through Trastevere hoping the incredible pizza place wasn't shut for lunch -- by the time I got there I'd been on my feet for close to five hours and was absolutely famished. I sat for the best pizza of my life for the second time in three days, and I came back to the apartment where my intended engagement in the regional tradition of a daily "nap" wound up stealing the afternoon. I dreamed of a fake party-wedding (it made sense in the dream) where we all got dressed up and I was betrothed to John Vanderslice in some big, dark, incredible restaurant with tons of friends.

Walking back from the Borghese to the tram{what I've learned}

Well, a few things, specifically on the travel-technicality front:

One, it would have been monumentally easier to take up Verizon on their offer to send me a loaner BlackBerry for the trip, instead of not buying a SIM when I landed (for the phone I forgot to charge) and then going, "fuck it, I'm just going to use my iPhone" and then not having any service, so I couldn't call even if I wanted to at ten dollars a minute or whatever the hell it costs.

Two, I was right to pack in Seattle layers, at least during this time of the year -- it's chilly in the mornings but gets absolutely delightful when the sun comes out. Three, you can absolutely get by on 20 euros a day: I came here with about 50 euros in discretionary funds and a 200 euro / ten day budget, and with a trip to the grocery store on day one, I've absolutely been able to get around, have gelato whenever I want (it's usually only 2 or 3 euros), and not be stressed about funds.

Four, buy a tram pass but don't validate it unless you see a ticket-checker coming. Five, I could have kept living "normal life" up until a few days before I left, there was no need to block off so much time. And last-but-not-least-ly: pack a lunch / snacks if you're going to stay out in the afternoon, and if not, take full advantage of the city-wide nap window! I have to keep remembering that on top of wanting to see everything I can possibly see that it is a vacation too, after all.

I've learned loads more on top of that in the emo / headspace / metaphorical sense, of course, but that's enough words for now. There's trams to catch and more gelato to chase down and pictures waiting to be taken.


rome diaries, part two

(mostly) merry february