Really, I don't know how people ever leave this place. I've still got the weekend ahead of me before my day of flying starts at 10a local time Monday, and I'm already plotting how to get back, how much it would cost and how long I could realistically stay for.
Yep. It's that good. Good in ways I can't explain. Good in a sense that it's a whole other lifetime here, good in the way that I won't know how to answer people when they ask me how Rome was. Life-altering-ly good. Incredibly, indescribably good. Tattoo-worthy good. And before we go any further, shortcut to photos part one is here, part two here. Moving on:
The last few days feel all blurred together now that I'm trying to purposefully write them out, but each one in and of itself was independent of the others, a series of mental Polaroids... Monday (day four of the trip) started off with a three-plus hour tour of the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's basilica, both of which were breathtaking in stature and content. The longer I'm here, the more I realize that I'm just looking at the relics and results of these massive white-guy hostile takeovers: country is functioning, (normal) Christianity is on the down-low, Paganism / pantheism abounds -- and then, boom! Group of white guys decide that they know the one true religious way, and that said one way is the best way, and that it's going to be their way or the highway -- and suddenly people in opposition to this are getting burned alive in public, the great artists of the day are commissioned to paint the scenes of this "one way" of religious "truth" everywhere they can reach, the temples and basilicas and statues built in honor of all other ways are destroyed. The more places here I visit, the more I learn; and the more I hear the conversations from actual current-day Italians regarding the seeming insanity of it all. Now, the Catholics have their little city, the relics and results bring tourists and help the economy, and everyone manages to get along. But it doesn't make it any less insane-seeming, fundamentally.
Now, all of that said, I'd be lying if I told you that getting to see those structures wasn't completely cool, and that the scale and the age alone are, as I said in the last post, positively staggering, and that stepping in the spaces and breathing in the air at the very footsteps where major historical events took place has not been one of the greatest experiences of my life -- because it was, they are, and it has been. These elements, fused with the absolute departure from daily American life and culture as I know it, spending hours at modern cafes built atop centuries-old cobblestone, taking in the light and the fashion and the secondhand smoke and the something-I-can't-quite-describe-ness about it all, make me yearn to come back before I've even begun to start leaving. As crazy as these contradictions are, I'm already trying to figure out how to return. It's another magnet, just like Seattle. And when the pull is this strong, I have to pay attention.
But, I digress -- back to the tours and the fourth day: the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's, the statues, the ceilings, the scale. It was almost too much to take in, like how good museums fill you up and the sponge suddenly can't hold another drop. The fact that they pillaged the pagan temples for content to build them aside, both structures are pretty fucking impressive. The ceiling of the Hall of Maps alone in the Vatican was almost too much to bear, the Raphael rooms painted life in light in ways no one had ever seen before, literally from floor to ceiling; the Sistine Chapel (no photos allowed, unfortunately) and it's majesty and the stories of how Michelangelo had a humped back and a disorder of eyesight for years and years following the completion, and the last statue that he ever signed (because, as he stated, he'd be "so famous he wouldn't have to sign his name ever again") that's now behind bulletproof glass because some activist attacked it with a hammer back in the seventies; the forty-story tall dome section of Saint Peter's, and how Bellini made the visual element of the basilica from the ground inside it as such so that people wouldn't be terrified to enter, because of the sheer scope and scale of the place -- using tricks of the eye and scaling statues so that it looked much more manageable than it really was.
If there's one recommendation I can make for anyone traveling to Rome, it's to take the guided tours as much as you can for the major list items on your sightseeing agenda -- I hooked up with a place called Dark Rome tours through my friend Haley, and they were absolutely three for three. I would have still been able to witness some of these fundamental beginnings of art and architechture, of course, and still been struck by it all -- but having attentive, educated guides to lead the way really made all the difference.
Day five, Tuesday, started off running late for (and then immersing in) trips through the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. Again, we have a functioning empire and pantheistic worship among the people of Rome trotting along just fine, and then you turn around one day and both the Coliseum itself and all of the forum / surrounding areas are a veritable quarry for the churches being erected. Thankfully, I think it was... in the 1800s?, one of the popes finally got his shit together and realized that, regardless of who believed what and which gods were worshipped where, all of these structures were part of history and thereby to be honored by all Romans, and an immediate "cease fire" was put to the pillaging of these gorgeous buildings -- which is what explains all the half-demolished structures that are shored up by more modern brick edges and concrete walls. A period of preservation and restoration begain, and with the exception of Mussolini being a complete douche and literally making his own holy road right down the middle of the forum (which destroyed countless buildings and put the Coliseum front-and-center for an immeasurable amount of damage from the sheer pollution from the roadway alone), the effort to take great care of what's left and preservable of Rome's precious history is a working part of Italian life today.
In the Coliseum itself, we learned the different seating levels for classes of citizens, how animals would be brought from other countries and starved so as to provide a good "show" when they fought each other, how public executions took place in the morning, the slave labor it took to run all the underpinnings of the "stage" area, and how the whole shebang was a way of the emperor at the communicating laws, power, and a sense of majesty to the people of Rome. The forum was more remnants and corners left of the main area where Romans would congregate and hold their gatherings and markets, all the main buildings, the original location of the eternal flame and where the vestal virgins stood to tend it, a pagan basilica that was pretty much the footprint for the construction of St. Peter's, and on and on.
The tour also included a trip to Palatine Hill, a massive spot where a castle once lived that was bigger than anything I can even begin to explain, and the hill itself also supposedly marks the birthplace of Romulus and Remus, the founding moment of Rome -- legend has it that one of the vestal virgins birthed these twins that she had to give up in the midst of scandal, and that they were then raised by a she-wolf, which homage to is seen all over the city. However, the term for "she-wolf" and "prostitute" (in either Italian or Latin, I don't remember which) is one and the same -- so, the tour guide left it up to us as to which way we wanted to interpret the meanings of the beginning of the city as we currently know it.
Wednesday (Haley's first day off of class / the land of perpetually writing papers) and Thursday were filled with churches, ruins, views, shops, coffee, gelato, conversation, and just getting to see the real eat-sleep-breathe kind of Rome, with a lot of it spent away from the tourists. After a late night Tuesday we started Wednesday at the cafe across the street with espresso and pastries, Thursday started at Haley's favorite spot for Nutella-filled croissants out by the cat sanctuary; Wednesday found us at the mouth of truth, wandering through the ruins of the Jewish ghetto, standing at the very spot where chariot races once took place at Circus Maximus, past endless boutiques, at the foot of the Spanish Steps, and inside the (more foreboding / less artistically profound than St. Peter's) walls of the masive San Giovanni; Thursday at Campo de' Fiori, a free trip to the Capitoline Museum for International Women's Day, and then out for errands and more coffee. We closed out Wednesday with apertivo (a deal where you buy a drink at a restaurant and they put out a buffet of totally good, all-you-can-eat food) topped off with the best tiramisu in Rome at a place called Pompi, and Thursday we had a multi-course two-hour dinner at a gorgeous little spot in Trastevere, Cantina Paradiso -- where we ate, talked for hours, and patched some pieces of life together, all to the tune of a few back-to-back REM albums.
The sun is setting here on my time, literally and figuratively -- it's both nearing the end of the day now and I've only got a little time left in the city itself. We've still got a trip to Ostia Antica on the docket, along with one last jaunt around Trastevere, one last pizza, and one last gelato at the place where I've learned to order without speaking English; and then a full-to-the-brim Sunday: coffee, an open-air fleamarket, one last hello and goodbye to the cats at the sanctuary, packing, dinner, three coins into the Trevi, and another gelato out by the Vatican so I can see it all lit up at night.
Hopefully I can post on the plane so everything is up-to-date by the time I land, but if not, I'll have the rest up sometime next week when I've caught up on running and sleep and detoxed from all the carbs. Sweet Roma, I miss you already. <3