Benedict benedictizing and Ara Pacis

These may be a bit out of order, so for reference this entry is for Sunday the 25th.

Andrea and I made another trip to the Vatican to try to get inside St. Peter's. Instead, we found a crowd of approximately one billion cheering people standing in the square listening to the Pope say mass or give a blessing. It wasn't entirely clear, but I'm guessing the latter. And when I say cheering, I mean literally cheering. With big banners, and lots of screaming in German at various intervals when the Pope broke into der Mother Tongue. See, this is what happens when the College of Cardinals lets the German guy to wear the big funny hat. The Poles were always much more sedate as pilgrims - always seemed to be saying quietly, "Ah yes, well, we're quite pleased we got be Pope this time, instead of, say, lined up and beaten. Very pleased, in fact." German pilgrims combine all the endearing qualities of German tourists (even *I* am embarassed) and the self-congratulatory boisterousness of a bunch of lads whose futbol team just won a match.

So we snapped a pic, said ha-ha to the idea of getting inside, and headed for the Ara Pacis.

Which was, in a word - magnificent. The whole thing, even its new Richard Meier building. I know, I know - everyone from armchair antiquarian to art-school ass-hat has an opinion on the museum building. Well, I got one too.. Not a half bad job, Dick. Could it have been executed better? Certainly. Was it thoughtless to put an expensive modern building on top of a possible cultural site? Probably. Is it better than any other building erected in Roma in the past 50 years. In my very limited experience, definitely. I'd love for someone to show me how very wrong I am by pointing out some stunning newer work, but from what I've seen so far, it's not bad at all. Of couse it's still new, with shiny white travertine un-cruddied by traffic and weather, so I reserve the right to change my opinion in a couple years.

The Ara Pacis itself is beautiful, and the story of it's recovery and assembly reads like only history (and no novel) can ever read. I was so inspired (by the project, as well as the altar) the I picked up a couple books in the musuem store.

And today was the day I got my phone to work.


Why this industry desperately needs me...

Some of you may be aware that my plan was to blog my trip from my brand new shiny Samsung Blackjack, and in fact, I am posting right now from the very device pictured here. The experience has not been entirely pain-free up to this point, although hopefully all the technical issues are ironed out now (although the crippling bouts of thumb-rickets are just beginning).

My primary feedback for cingular would be that once you have said that you are enabling international roaming, and begun charging for the service, a good time to *actually* enable it would be, say, immediately. Not, for instance, after forcing the customer to call support from abroad.

Also, when a customer calls and says they can't use their phone, don't ask if they're calling from that phone.

Roma updates later tonight!


The wonders of technology

This is a test posting from Ryan's Blackjack. Standby for more astounding triumphs of the nerdy over the romantic!


OK, you can have just a little

I wasn't going to, but I can't resist. I went to the Domus Aurea today -- Nero's Golden House, now buried under the ruins of Trajan's Baths. The tour was great, but even more incredible were the dozen jaw-droppingly attractive young women that were leading the tours / staffing the ticket office. Glamorous, beautiful, with lovely thick accents when speaking English. I know nothing more about the Domus Aurea than when I started (due entirely to the level of distration I suffered, not the quality of the tour), and guess what... I couldn't care less. That's what books are for.


Today is my last day in Roma, and you can't have any of it. You'll have to ask me in person.

I will finish up some old posts to fill in the gaps over the next couple of days, so be sure to check back (and check the older posts as well, sometimes the updates get shuffled in there if they're too old).



On the top of the Aventine Hill is the Priory of the Knights of Malta, which has, for some reason, extraterratorial status. Its garden has been designed in such a way that when you peer through the keyhole of the gate you can see three separate sovereignties: The grounds of the Priory, Italy (the city of Rome), and the Vatican. It took two different settings to capture all three on my little camera, but here is the view...

malta near

malta far

The Aventine also has lovely parks filled with oranges and spectacular views of the city.

A day of contrasts

I hiked to Tridente today to visit the Ara Pacis and the Mausoleum of Augustus. On the way, I took my little detour to visit Il Gesu.

Unfortunately, the Ara Pacis (Altar of Augustan Peace) is inaccessible due to galloping mounds of scaffolding that are impressive even by Italian standards. Richard Meier is apparently in the process of building a museum space for the Altar that he thinks Rome will finally appreciate. I'm not so confident, but I'll reserve judgement for now. In stark contrast to the flurry of activity at the Altar, the Mausoleum of Augustus next to it looks a bit bedraggled. The grounds are ill-kempt, and sitting as it does below the current ground level (the ancient ground level was about 4 meters lower), this burial place of the most powerful Roman emperor ever, looks small and insignificant. The marble and travertine cladding was pillaged in the Middle Ages, the remains removed, and the building subsequently renovated into a fortress and later into a theater / stadium. It's now surrounded by a square clearly designed by the Fascists, which is used primarly for a car park. The small park in which the Mausoleum sits serves primarly as a place where the homeless sleep and people let their dogs poop. This seems very, very disrespectful.

I climbed the Quirinal to Quatro Fontane and went inside of Borromini's church of San Carlos. The grey feeling that I had been carrying in my chest since visiting Augustus could not have found a more effective place to dissipate.


carlos' dome

My pictures can't do this tiny church justice - the feeling of height and light has to be experienced in person.

Next, walking along the via Nationale, I noticed that the church of San Vitale was open, which is rare. I went down the flight of stairs (this ancient church is about 3 meters below the current street level), and paused briefly in front of the immaculately carved doors before heading inside. Inside the church felt comfortable in a way that neither Il Geso nor San Carlos had. The ceiling was coffered with huge but simple wooden beams, and unlike the Il Gesu -- which was opulent to the extreme -- San Vitale does not have any noticeable expanses of marble verneer. In fact, the walls are painted with lovely trompe l'oeil renderings of pilasters and columns and of all the precious marble cladding and ornamentation that this church lacks. It felt a bit like the church had been decorated with the ancient equivalent of Formica and Linoleum, but I liked it - it felt like home.

I finished my day off with a stroll behind the Palatine to San Gregorio Magno, then across the Aventine, and down to the Pyramid of Cestius and Testaccio before heading home.

Better men than I

Remember a couple of days ago, when I said that there are some things that just can't be captured in pictures? I think that I have to amend that. I just went into Il Gesu, the mother-church of the Jesuits, and the fresco on the ceiling ('The triumph of the Name of Christ') blew my mind. The figures literally fall out of it, spilling over the edge of the framing sculpture, and the foreshortening and perspective lend a sense of tumbling and animation to the bodies that I've never seen before. This city is replete with examples of better men than I trying (and succeeding) to capture with paintbrushes and chisels, pencils and clay, those things that common-sense tells us mere mortals cannot be captured.

No picture. Sorry, I know my limits. I may not like them, but I know them.


Stones of Rome

So basically, I've always thought that Ruskin was a bit full of shit, or at least a bit of a drama-queen, with his sighing and panting over the stones of Venice. On the other hand, I have always been a bit intrigued by how local building materials give such distinctive colors to town like Sienna, Assisi, and Florence. Now I'm sold. I picked up a smashing guidebook to Roma (the Oxford Archeological Guide), and under the influence of the sections on Roman building materials I've found myself noticing the incredible variety of techniques and materials used. And while perhaps this is a bit trite, it's the marbles (moreso than the otherwise interesting brick-and-tufa construction, like opus reticulatum and opus vittatum) that have fascinated me.

Here are a couple examples:

Numidian Yellow

numidian yellow

Red Porphyry

red porphyry

The stunning colors are hard to appreciate in these pictures, but it's more than just the colors that I find interesting. Numidian yellow stone comes from the Tunisia, and red porphyry comes from the eastern desert of Egypt. The stories, the politics, and the economics of how they came to Rome, and why these rocks said such powerful things about the Empire... that's what I find so interesting.

A story

San Bartolomeo, the site of my musing in my previous post, is a medieval church + hospital complex on Isola Tiburtina. Apparently the island has been associated with healing since Roman times, when there was a temple to Aesculapius (probably) on the site of the present day church. The story goes that, faced with a dire plague, the Romans sent some ambassadors to the Temple of Aesculapius in Epidauros, Greece to ask the god for help. Bear in mind that traditionally, the ambassadors would have swords and would cart off a big gold statue from the temple to set up in their own city to make sure that they had the protection of the particular god, these gods having a small radius of effect, apparently. This time however, they were met by the priests of Aesculapius who gave them a snake. Which the Romans took instead. That's right, I don't know why either, just listen to the story. ("Er, no, you can't take our solid gold idol, it's... er... out for repairs. But wait, we've got this... er... umm... holy SNAKE you can have!" Fabulous.)

Anyway, after a long sea voyage, just as the ambassador's ship was coming up the Tiber and into the city, the snake escaped from it's basket, jumped off the ship and swam onto the island. Which apparently indicated that this was where the god wanted his temple to be built, and so it was. Not sure what happened to the snake after that, the story doesn't say. Actually, I don't even know if the snake helped to end the plague, but I'd like to assume that the story has a happy ending, and that the snake and Romans lived happily ever after.