(Video caption: A street performer in Rome does her act when the light is red, then collects from drivers and pedestrians.)
Wednesday, June 28, 2017: This was one of those days when you can believe that millions of people from all over the world decided to gather in specific cities to bump into each other. Not in the sense of serendipitously meeting one another but as in physically rubbing, brushing, colliding sweaty bodies against sweaty bodies at designated spots around those cities, at the Vatican Museum in Rome, for instance. Who knew there were so many art lovers and/or Catholics in the world that day after day they would wind up and down the street in a line of perspiring humans waiting to to see Laocoon and His Sons (one of my favs), Perseus with the Head of the Gorgon or Apollo Belvedere? And, of course, the Sistine Chapel, the cherry on top at the end of the tour.
The bumping into each other isn’t confined to the line at the Vatican Museum. Any place with a Bernini statue or a mortared brick dating back 2,000 years or so can draw a U.N. General Assembly: American college kids, Japanese busloads, women in hijabs, women in revealing shorts and tops, well-dressed Romans coursing through the crowds to get to work or lunch, Africans selling selfie sticks, group leaders heading up lines of followers snaking through the throngs.
It took me a moment at the Forum to figure out the new tour groups – new to me at least. It used to be that the group leader carried a stick with a flag or hankie on top, or an umbrella, something he or she could hold up high like the company colors for her troops to assemble on. Then in front of some point of interest the leader would rattle off history, facts, myths, dates or figures to the listeners leaning in for something that might make the particular rock, smear of colorful oil or carved stone relevant to them.
On the Forum, I saw a flag-waving leader well ahead of her trailing charges and talking so that none of them had a whisper of a chance of hearing her – but for the receivers hanging from brightly colored lanyards around their necks. Leaders speak into a headpiece; followers hear through the little boxes dangling under their chins.
It makes the old ploy of sidling up to a group to hear some free explanation in English a bit trickier. At the Pantheon, my favorite building in Rome, I was happy to find a group of students from the University of Oklahoma doing it the old way. A scholarly-looking woman raising an OU pennant happened to assemble her group so that they surrounded me. Rather than stepping away to yield my spot, I decided I’d sooner stay and learn something. Did some college Joe or Jody really give a rip about the history of concrete? Having spent a summer and fall pouring concrete back in ancient times (1975), I did.
(Video caption: The ceiling of the Pantheon.)
Our group leader explained how the Romans did it back in about 120 A.D., dumping loads of ’crete over wooden forms to make the distinctive square patterns of the building’s roof. These “coffers” are stacked on top of each other in smaller concentric circles to form what can be considered a corbelled roof.
Our scholar added some information on when the Romans came up with their recipe for concrete, a bit about emperor Hadrian and the niches around the inside of the building that were once filled with statues of Roman gods who later gave way to Christian figures.
“I could not have brought you here on a better day,” she told us as rain started falling through the opening in the center of the roof (an oculus) and onto the drain in the marble floor.
Outside, the selfie-stick sellers were hawking umbrellas, and it was good to linger between the 40-foot columns holding up the vestibule roof before we made a dash to La Casa Del Caffe’ Tazza d’Oro across the plaza for a granita di caffe, a delicious concoction of heavy cream, a coffee snow cone and whipped cream – not a calorie in it, of course!
Luigi, who worked the night desk at the Hotel Grifo, advised us to arrive at the Vatican Museum at 1:30, lunchtime, when the crowds thinned out. The plan was to grab a quick lunch and then head for the museum. “Grab a quick lunch” and a good restaurant in Rome are two things that don’t go together. Quick lunch didn’t fit in with the two things Cole wanted most from this trip with grand parents: to visit the Ferrari museum (more on that later) and eat lots of Italian food. We made good on that latter request at our lunch after we walked through the Piazza Navona with its famous Bernini statues and fountains. We ate, we lingered, we watched a young couple eat, snuggle, argue and then eat and snuggle some more (they packed away more food than the three of us did). We had pizza, we had pasta, we had dessert, we watched people running through the rain in the narrow street outside. We didn’t get to the Vatican Museum until well after 1:30, and the lines were long and our patience short.
(Video caption: We did not get into the Vatican Museum but visited St. Peter’s Square.)
We’ll come tomorrow, we told each other, and stopped to get tickets. That’s when we found out about the holiday for Saints Peter and Paul, the founder and protector of Christian Rome. The museum would be closed tomorrow for the feast day.
We had a fairly well-scripted itinerary for our two-week visit, and now we were going to see if we could change one piece of it without the whole thing collapsing. But that could be put off until tomorrow in our effort to fulfill Cole’s food requirement, which we did with a scrumptious meal that night at Nonna Betta in the Jewish section of Rome. Highly recommend the restaurant and visiting the area.