Peter, Paul and Harried

Fountain
Trevi Fountain

Thursday, June 29, 2017: Peter and Paul probably did not intend for their feast day to be celebrated this way: Spending hours online trying to undo plans made weeks in advance of our two-week trip to Italy. But I blame them for keeping their holiday a secret within the city of Rome, and especially within the city-state of the Vatican, where the Vatican Museum – closed on holidays – happens to be located.

The Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul was not a big deal in the Methodist Church of my upbringing and apparently something that slipped the mind of my fallen-away Catholic wife. So it wasn’t until the day before the holiday that we found out that our planned visit to the Vatican Museum fell on this saints’ day and the museum would be closed.

We had disobeyed this Roman commandment: Thou shalt make Vatican Museum online reservations weeks before you arrive.

Probably we’ll leave that to Cole to get it right next time he visits.

We tried to get a spot at the museum on Friday. No vacancies. We tried to rearrange travel plans to return to Rome a day early in the next week. That meant cancelling a night in Venice, which was a no go because our Airbnb reservation was a two-night minimum. In fiddling with Airbnb online I hosed up the app, probably made my credit card vulnerable and froze my cell phone. We may have messed up the car-rental agreement as well. We’ll find out when we go to pick the car up on Friday.

In the end, we left everything as originally planned, apologized to Cole for skipping the Sistine Chapel and hit the streets. It was noon by then, but we packed in a full day:

Steps
On the Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps: OK, they are beautiful and there are lots of them, but in the end they are just that: steps. Great place to hang out (lots of places to sit), wonder what it was like when Shelley, Keats and Byron lived nearby, watch people looking at steps and the church of Trinità dei Monti at the top of the stairs where there is a great view of Rome.

Capuchin Crypt: While the effort to make art out of human bones fails in my aesthetic opinion, you have to admire the faith and dedication these monks had. The bones were assembled there from the friars who died between 1528 and 1870 as a way, this website says, “of reminding themselves that death could come at anytime; one must always be ready to meet God. A plaque in the crypt reads: ‘What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.’” I loved that the sign leading into the crypt included a quote from the Marquis de Sade. As the website says, “Granted, the crypt was to his tastes.” (No photos allowed)

Crowd
Crowds facing the Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain: The herd was gathered at the waters on this day.

Selfie
The ever present selfie stick

Hundreds staring at the Bernini sculptures and making it an Ichiro throw from right field to home plate to toss a coin in this fountain – and chances would be pretty good he’d poke his eye out on a selfie stick, which were at full mast all around. Still, it’s a beautiful creation and one that should not be missed.

Foro de Caesar: This night time visit to the Forum was my favorite in Rome: A great history lesson brought alive with modern technology. This audio (English available) and visual tour features projections onto the remaining stones of what it must have looked like in the time of Julius Caesar. The bare stones of the monuments look as though they would make for cold living and working quarters. But with the images shone on the stones, it’s easy to see what life would have been 2,000 years ago.

Forum
A night time tour that shows what the Forum would have looked like
Caesar
Julius him own self
Head phones
Suited up for the night time tour
Room
What a Forum office might have looked like

Let’s all meet in Rome

(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.

Trio
Traveling companions in front of the Pantheon

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.

Coffee
Granita di caffes all around

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!

 

Nile
Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona. The male figure representing the Nile has his head covered because the head of the Nile was unknown when Bernini made the sculpture

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.

NonnaWe 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.

 

Grifo