Thursday, June 04, 2009

May 29 - 31 Rome

(note: I was in charge of writing this post and Sammie's in charge of pictures. However, the packers are here, as I type, and we've been crazy trying to finish things up here in State College. As soon as Sammie calms down long enough to sit in front of a computer, I'll add pictures to this post...mlm)

Friday, we got off the boat and went straight to the hotel (Marriott again) to sleep. Sammie was as sick as I had been in Naples, so a long nap did him a lot of good. I took a shorter nap and made a list of all the stuff I wanted to see in Rome. I’ve been to Rome twice and have mainly seen the touristy stuff—Coliseum, St. Peter’s, etc. The last time I was in Rome was Thanksgiving of ’03. In spring semester of ’04, I took a Baroque art class with Troy Thomas, my thesis advisor and an awesome art historian. He lived in Rome for a while and so knew where all of the good art was stashed. I sat through the entire class kicking myself that I hadn’t known all this stuff when I was there and promising myself I would go see it all next time I went to Rome. Well, I didn’t get to all of it, but I got to a lot of it!

We left the hotel in the late afternoon and headed first for the Coliseum. Unfortunately, I got us lost, so we had a hard time getting there. Along the way, we saw the Capitoline Museum that had some of the Caravaggios I wanted to see. We paid 9 Euro each to go in and looked around for about 45 minutes at some ancient Greek statues and pottery. It was very interesting, but I was anxious to see the Carvaggios and get on to the Coliseum and other things we had planned. We were having trouble figuring out where to find them, asked a couple of different people, and walked all over the entire museum. Finally, the third person we asked told us that the exhibit was closed. (Arrrrgggghhhhh!) This is something we discovered about Italy: museums are not very well marked and it’s hard to get information such as directions. Oh well.

Our route to the Coliseum went past the Forum, so we gazed at the splendor that was Rome while walking. Sammie wanted to touch the Coliseum and take some pictures. I have to admit I was still pouting that I didn’t get to see the Caravaggios and that we had wasted so much time and money. Poor little American tourist… :) We found a little outdoor café that had excellent lasagna and pizza, then made our way back to the hotel.

Saturday was museum day! Can I just say how lucky I am to have a husband who will let me drag him around to art museums in Rome all day? He’s such a good sport! (We had a discussion in the middle of the day of how my dragging him to art museums and stuff like that compares to his hauling me off to soccer or football games. I think we give each other a nice balance.) We started with the Vatican, along with the rest of Rome’s tourist population. The Vatican Museums are amazing! They started out in “paganism” with a lot of classical sculpture. We saw the Lacoon and the Apollo Belvedere (to drop a couple of names) and many other beautiful Greek-inspired Roman works. We then transitioned into Christian art. A ceiling in one of the Raphaelite rooms (though I don’t think it was painted by Raphael…) depicted the transition from Classical subjects to Christian subjects.

I loved the Raphaelite rooms, and especially The School of Athens. I’ve studied this painting many times, and even taught it. (Warning: Boring Art History Paragraph) It’s the epitome of Renaissance painting with strong Classical influence: Plato and Aristotle stand in the middle, surrounded by celebrated Greek and Humanist philosophers, artists, and thinkers. The painting is a literal study in mathematical proportions and linear perspectives, with all lines in the painting converging on the two figures in the middle. I had always seen it as a beautiful, well-crafted representation of humanity, reason, and logic. I never realized that it had a counterpart painting, hanging in the same room on the opposite wall, named Disputation of the Holy Sacrament. It shows God, Angels, and Saints above, looking down on Religious, Philosophical, and Intellectual figures below, debating the Sacrament. All lines in the painting point to the actual Sacrament on the altar at the center of the painting. The message is that the power and wisdom of God comes to men on earth through the Holy Sacrament. It complements The School of Athens by celebrating the power of God while the other celebrates the accomplishments of Men. They are both very Humanist ideas, but with a different focus. Anyway, I just loved seeing the School of Athens in that context and realizing it was only half of the story Raphael was trying to tell.

I apologize for this, but I need to put in one more boring art history paragraph. Skip to the end if you need to. I’ll never know… I also loved being in the Sistine Chapel (even though it was so crowded in there, I almost didn’t want to go in). The audioguide that we had gave a cool perspective on Michelangelo. They talked about him not just as an artist, but as a Theologian. Everyone who’s seen a Michelangelo painting or sculpture recognizes his gift for portraying the human body. Irving Stone describes Michelangelo sneaking into the morgue at night to dissect cadavers and study their anatomy so he could better represent it in art. I had always just thought it was a Renaissance, humanist thing—the Greeks loved to celebrate the ideal human form, and so, then, did the Renaissance artists. But the audioguide suggested that Michelangelo, in portraying the unclothed human body so many times in the Sistine Chapel, was celebrating the body as the vessel by which humans can become like God, and can return to Him. This is a very basic concept. As Mormons, we talk about mortality, or the time spent in our mortal bodies, as the time to prepare to meet God. We talk about overcoming the things of the flesh or the natural man and succumbing to the things of the Spirit. We acknowledge our bodies as imperfect, although still sacred, and look forward to receiving perfected, glorified bodies in the Resurrection. (By the way, does that mean that I can eat chocolate all I want and have a perfect body? Mormon Doctrine never really addresses that issue…) In early and Medieval Christianity, this idea led to practices such as asceticism and even more extreme practices such as self-mortification or self-flagellation. Part of Renaissance Humanism was celebrating the human body again in all of its beauty and magnificence. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo took that idea and added to it the idea that it is through our bodies that we come close to God. I never thought Michelangelo was that profound. It was wonderful to have that insight about him.

Okay. I promise to step out of Humanities Teacher mode. (For a little while at least. I may need to wax laborious about Caravaggio later on.) We were in the Vatican Museums for a long time – 11:00 to about 3:00. Our brains and feet were sore when we came out, but it was a great experience! Our next stop was the Galleria Borghese. We had to reserve tickets beforehand and needed to be there by 4:30 to pick up the tickets for a 5:00 entrance. (They limit the number of visitors into the Gallery.) We stopped at a Creperie for one ham and cheese crepe each and one nutella crepe to share. Yum! We then proceeded to have the most frustrating experience of the trip – finding the Borghese gallery! It took us two maps, lots of asking people on the street, too few street signs, and over an hour, but we finally got there—hot, sweaty, and really annoyed. But we got there. The Borghese gallery is awesome! I really love two of their policies: limited number of visitors and no cameras. It was still crowded, but not as bad as the Vatican Museums. And you didn’t have to stop every two feet to wait for a tourist to take a picture of another tourist striking a cheesy pose in front of a piece of art.

In the Borghese, we first entered a room with SIX Caravaggios! Sammie said he hadn’t understood why I was so disappointed the day before when we couldn’t see the Caravaggios in the other museum, but now he understood. They were wonderful! I love Caravaggio because he depicts Biblical scenes and people as real. Mary has dirt on her feet. Matthew, Peter, and Paul look like old men. They’re not idealized, too-good-to-be-true figures that no one can relate to, but real people. (Which is why his art offended so many of the people he painted for…) We also saw 5-6 Berninis. We both loved those, too. Sammie was especially captivated by David. We both loved his facial expression of pure determination and effort. We also loved the Rape of Persephone and the way Pluto’s hands press into her flesh. I kept having to remind myself that we were looking at marble, not real human flesh.

Enough about Art History. After coming out of the gallery, we found a charming little restaurant/café and had focaccia, pasta, and entrees. Halfway through the meal, as our stomachs were rapidly filling up, we commented to each other that we had no idea how Italians stay so thin. Unfortunately, after that huge meal, we had to run to catch our shuttle back to the hotel. We were exhausted! We had left the hotel 11 hours earlier and had been on our feet for all but about 2 hours of that entire time. We slept soooo well that night!

In fact, we slept so well that we both forgot to set the alarm and woke up late on Sunday. We rushed through breakfast, though, and ran, again, to catch the city bus. It was an interesting ride. We didn’t realize that our hotel was so close to a large gypsy population. They started getting on the bus and we realized what a good idea it was to not ride that bus late at night. A mother got on with her three adorable children. Her little girl, about 3, was adorable with huge brown eyes and brown curly hair. She waved at us and smiled for almost the entire ride. It took us an hour and a half including a bus ride, two subway rides, and a fast walk up a steep hill, but we made it to church in time for Sacrament Meeting. The meeting was wonderful. The topic was conversion. A new convert told her conversion story and two other members talked about conversion in general. I was surprised at how much I was able to follow. Sammie really enjoyed being in an Italian Sacrament Meeting again. I was impressed by the strength of the ward. I also noticed how noisy the meeting was. Oh well.

After the meeting, I had a nice surprise! A friend of mine from an old singles ward (the Madison Ward) was there with his wife and two kids! Ricardo Scardina moved into the Madison ward for my last year there, quickly fell in love with his writing teacher at LDS Business College (Jana) and married her in February. I was always really impressed with Ricardo and his roommates and thought they were great guys. It was so random and fun to run into Ricardo and Jana at church in Italy! We got to catch up on our lives in general and on Madison Ward gossip. We also met two other girls, EJ and Sadie, who were backpacking in the British Isles and Italy. We all set out for the metro station together. We said goodbye to Ricardo and Jana at their stop on the way to the Vatican and continued to the Pantheon with EJ and Sadie. We walked around with them for a couple of hours and wandered by the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon. After buying them some gelato, we said our goodbyes and made our way to the Piazza Navona to gawk at Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain and Piazza del Popolo to find some more Caravaggios. There are three churches in that area that have Caravaggio paintings. They were all wonderful! I especially loved the Martyrdom of St. Peter. Peter’s face is so precious, and so real. He’s an old man, clearly nervous about being crucified. He doesn’t have an unreal, otherworldly, longsuffering, saintly expression, but looks like he’d really rather not go through with this. (But of course he will.) I thought about our latter day prophets and how I would feel if President Monson or President Hinckley were martyred. I felt a great love for Peter and for our modern day prophets.

In the Piazza del Popolo, we found a café with excellent lasagna and pizza. Sammie thought it was the best food we’d had all trip. We sat for a while soaking in the atmosphere. The piazza was crowded with rowdy Italian teenagers (Sammie’s nickname for them is Grummets), some locals, and lots of tourists. A guitarist had set up shop on the square and was wailing on his guitar. We enjoyed listening to him, except Sammie said his guitar wasn’t “eq”ed correctly, and we wished Sammie had his bass and could join in. Eventually, some young girls started talking to him and, well, that was the end of the music. Bosnian and other Eastern European refugees made the rounds of the square, selling roses to tourists. Sammie told me how they are sponsored by “the club” (he said it was dangerous to use the word “Mafia” in public) who extorted large sums of money from them just to let them stay in the country and live in a small apartment with 10-15 other refugees. We drooled as two Ferraris drove by. After soaking up the atmosphere for a while, we made our way to the metro stop and the hotel. As we drove out of town, the bus again filled with gypsies. They all got off at the same stop, next to a large field, and Sammie saw a path leading into the trees that most of them headed down. A few feet later, we saw some gypsy women and children scavenging through a garbage dumpster. Again, we were glad we weren’t on the bus late at night. (Sammie had been feeling bad that we paid a lot extra to use the hotel’s shuttle bus rather than the local bus, until we actually rode the local bus. Then we felt the extra money was worth it.)


cath said...

that is so classic that you ran into ricardo!! ahhh - the memories!! i loved the lessons, teacher - and went and looked up some of the artworks you referred to ... wow. you know me, i am thrilled with a plain old monet, but i could easily become more cultured if i was around you again!! so glad you had the chance to take this adventure ... and i look forward to hearing about your new place - and an update on phoebe would be nice, too ... HUGS!!

Renee said...


checking out your blog and surprised to see you all went to rome i'm going in december!!! i'm sure sammy's italien came in handy.

-Renee (sammy's old friend in burbank)