The Tiber in autumn

Dwight Peck's personal Web site

A visit to one of Kristin's old haunts, November 2006


Kristin spent the better part of ten years poking about in Rome, Italy, and has generously offered to show us everything, about Rome that is, if we'll just dedicate a week to not missing a single bit of it. At a dead run, if necessary.

So let's do it! The Rome record for one week's dedicated walking and viewing-with-cultural-appreciation is something like 48 palazzos, 62 solemn museums, 123 ancient churches and 4 brand-new ones, 27 famous fountains, 6 antique markets on Sundays, 1 big colisseum and 1 not-to-be-missed Forum, and a lot of panini. We're off!

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

A whirlwind visit to Rome

A pre-dawn flight on EasyJet and here we are at our apartment for the week, at 4 Vicolo de Cedro in the Trastevere district, 15 November 2006, dawdling outside the fortress gates, browsing through the International Herald Tribune, awaiting the agent's arrival to let us in and brief us on the utilities and garbage collection days.

(The graffiti is everywhere and nearly always completely senseless. A bad omen for Rome's future when these senseless people reach adulthood.)

A lovely old pad we've got here, too. All the mod cons and not terribly expensive. There's a courtyard out the back, but we never used it, since we were required by the Agenda to spend 14 hours on the hoof out at the museums and palazzos. The kitchen nook was very serviceable and, in fact, Kristin cooked up a formidable dinner for friends on 20 minutes' notice there, whilst the rest of us were catching up on the International Herald Tribune on the sofa. One thing about the flat, though: the shower really sucked.

The Vicolo de Cedro, outside our flat (the Cedro is overhanging in the centre): we're off up the hill to see some of the sights.

The view out over Rome from the Gianicolo hill behind our flat in Trastevere.

That's Hadrian's Mausoleum down there on the left, the Castel Sant'Angelo, where the popes could go when vexed and hide out from pre-Protestant marauders bent upon plunder and slaughter. There's even a fortified walkway from the Vatican along which medieval popes could scurry, clutching their booty, and wait their troublesome subjects out.

The mighty Tiber slouching towards the sea at a leisurely pace, gliding under all the Tiber bridges with their derelict fellows camped underneath, with all their woolens and pots and pans gathered about them.

Angels on the bridge, lost denizens underneath it, and a bicycle path all along the way.

And here's the Tiber from somewhere up on top of the Castel Sant'Angelo. About 90 degrees off to the right is the fortified raised passage leading to the Vatican, providing easy refuge for the pope with his bagfuls of booty and tons of dimes and quarters from all the collection plates around the world. There's a row of great Snack Wagons down along the street.

St Peter's from the Castel Sant'Angelo. You can see why a fortified bolthole would have been needed, in the turmoil of medieval times. Nobody wants to have to watch the pope lumbering down that road with his heavy gilt robes on, clutching fistfuls of jewels and rare perfumes, with eight or ten Cardinals with their own big backpacks trying to beat him to the fortress door before the guards slam it shut against the populace.

Once inside that thing, any pope ought to be able to relax and enjoy his lovely stuff whilst the populace gnashes its teeth outside. The Roman Emperor Hadrian (died in 138) came from Spain but so wanted to settle down in Rome that he built the original monstrosity to seal his residence forever, and the tremulous popes, naturally always very uneasy about their hold on the religio-civic myth, built it straight up and outwards as a palatial hideout when needed.

(The January 2007 issue of History Today has a good article on "Hadrian's Hall", by Charles Freeman, and its "fabulously rich and complex history" -- it's worth reading.)

Schoolkids waiting for the Andy Warhol exhibit to open. Oh well, they're just kids.

Kristin chagrined to find Bernini's Four Rivers all boarded up for renovations. We're in the Piazza Navona, just outside the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, and we'll be back later in the week for a nice concert with counter-tenor.

Our favorite grocery, with lots of cheeses, lots of wines, and lots of exceptional beers, is right round here somewhere.

Kristin pausing in the loggia of the Palazzo Farnesina to read up on Palestinian history prior to the occupation in 1948.

St Peter's, where popes have been coming and going like ants in a terrarium for nearly two thousand years. Except when they were sequestering in Avignon, France, and hiring contract killers to pick off their 14th-century competitors.

St Peter's, cynosure of the Whole World for a pious segment of the world's population -- not so much in Italy, mainly in the Philippines, Guatemala, and the USA -- but for Italians a major money-maker. Famous architecture, but some among us might see similarities with the main Stalinist railroad station in a provincial city in the Soviet Union. Monumentalism run wild. Shameless self-aggrandizement! Except for the elegant dome.

Some pretentious colonnading in advantageous lighting, with a lot of officious papal security guards in cast-off East German uniforms who tried to take my tiny Swiss Army Knife off me just to get in to see their somewhat-overdone Christian church. Naturally, my response was . . . well, not to go into that, but anyway I hid my wee little Swiss Army Knife under some elaborate papal furnishings built off the earnings of the poor and got back on line to get in to see some of the Pope's bling-bling.

The Spanish Steps. We're scurrying past, looking for a grocery that's got some more of that great micro beer. I'm sorry that I can't remember the name of it, but it had a label on it with an old Italian gentleman with a nice green felt hat looking forlorn.
(Update: Birra Moretti)

The Tiber Island (like "Starship Tiber" gliding into the spaceport)

Kristin at auditions in the Theater of Marcellus

Near the Theatre of Marcellus. We're meant to observe this ancient evidence of the Roman habit of scavenging -- earlier Roman columns now stuck into the upper walls horizontally to make up the difference. It appears that every late-Roman or medieval church in the city has got its central columns all mismatched -- as they were all ripped off catch-as-catch-can from ancient Roman buildings left abandoned when the terrorists came.

A nicely-lit view from Marcellus

St George's church, San Giorgio, in Velabro, blown off its hinges by the Mafia in 1993, but nicely put back together again.

Near the Roman Forum

Views from within the Roman Forum area

Interesting old stonework (viewed whilst awaiting friends outside the public loo)

Kristin (foreground) was kindly reading out long passages from the guidebook for us, but a lot of it went right past -- it was such a dreamy summer's day (albeit in late November).

The arch of Emperor Septimius Severus, we got that much, I think.

We're still in the basic Roman Forum area, that's my understanding of it so far.

That looks like Septimius Severus again. Those of us who've tried to teach Historiography using Roman historians -- like Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, Plutarch, Sallust, and Polybius -- in college classes in the USA have a perfect right to be thrilled to see these ancient famous names brought to life again -- well, not so much brought to life -- at least, still around after all these years. Actually, we're looking out for one of those Snack Wagons that have got the convenient flat/round kind of panini for next to no cost.

A general view of the Forum, there are no panini wagons in this direction, so we'll go out by the Colisseum.

The Roman Colisseum (looks just like the postcard), quite large, and probably worth the time spent tramping up the ancient stone stairways to peer out of the upper stories. But not today, we're in a great rush to see TIMELESS WORKS OF ART and find a Snack Wagon.

Frankly, with a modern smaller-is-better mindset, we found Nîmes in France and El Djem in Tunisia somewhat more appealing, and this thing looks just such a wreck anyway, that we'd rather hurry on and tick off a few more palazzos and medieval churches before Happy Hour today. We still need to find a Snack Wagon pretty quick.

Three Roman soldiers and a tourist. It's better that we don't ask what this is really all about. Or who those weird guys are when they're not being Ancient Romans. The one who looks just like Berlusconi is actually a stand-in for the weekends.

A serious police presence for a demonstration calling for increased child care facilities. Just in case those enthusiasts for increased child care facilities start throwing petrol bombs and trying to burn down the Parliament. Helicopters were circling overhead all day. In case those increased-child-care enthusiasts tried to call in air support. We were wolfing down lovely pizza-panini and marveling at how civilized all these people are.

There seems to be about one police officer in Rome for every 2 or 3 citizens. The relationship looks extraordinary -- in our nearby piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere, every evening at about 8 or 9 p.m., as the youths, drifters, and bangladeshi vendors of luminescent toys began to gather, three Carabinieri automobiles drove into the square and parked, and 12 Carabinieri got out to chat amiably with the municipal policemen already on the scene and deployed leisurely around the square. No one in the square altered their festive purpose or even showed the slightest concern. It seemed to be a very expensive nightly police-hippy love fest.

Roman ruins, the Temple of Vespasian, after a really good panino at the Snack Wagon.

A fruit and vegetables market at Campo de Fiore. There are no labels on the packets, so it's impossible to tell if they're observing the boycott on Israeli produce from the settlements.

From viewing classy artworks in the Palazzo Colonna (I'm leaving out lots of palazzos here, because they usually don't allow photographs), this is a view of Kristin's son George's apartment last year (at the top, to the left of the palm tree or whatever that is). We asked permission to shoot this photograph but were denied, since you're not allowed to take photographs in the gallery. I thought the matter over, however, and determined that I was actually taking photographs OUT OF the gallery, so when the Security Officer turned his back, VOILÀ!

Even parking your car can be a culturally-uplifting experience in Rome.
(Depending upon how uplifted you are by naked stone guys.)

Another Snacks Wagon, in the Piazza de Venezia. They've got this wonderful panino, flat pizza bread with odds-and-ends in it, like ham and cheese or whatever, and they heat it up for you and sell you a water to go with it for next to nothing. It's great for eating while walking around viewing ancient art works and palazzos, though not as good as a Nathan's Hot Dog in that regard. It tastes something like ham-scented cardboard, but of course there are always trade-offs. This is what Western Civilization is all about.

That's Kristin, behind the columns, somewhere in the Palazzo Venezia, studying art works and planning our dinner for this evening.

The Villa Borghese (by appointment only), late in the day. Lots of good stuff in there, by the way, and the restrooms are clean.

My absolute personal favorite (but no photographs were allowed) was the Villa Doria Pamphili, hung with a gazillion paintings all over every available inch of wall, and on the audiophone guide Mr Doria Pamphili himself, or someone very like him, with a pleasant subdued British accent, describing his ancient family's heritage in the most humane and literate terms. That was a real treat -- even when he was describing the part about the room of sculptures when the roof fell in after a snowstorm.

Kristin coming home with the shopping

A mad dash back to the Vicolo de Cedro 4 in Trastevere to mix up a huge pile of pesto for our guests Barbara and Ludovica, a welcome opportunity to discuss leftist Italian politics with experts.

Kristin out shopping. The Sunday morning what-you-may-call-it with all sorts of items for sale. Savvy antique-buyers, like Kristin and her friend Ewa, cruise these stalls with a quick and practiced eye, seeking things their owners may have not understood rightly and priced wrongly.

Kristin's good friend Ewa (blonde, center) is a master jewelry craftsperson and trader, and she mixes up a great lunch as well.

This is the relatively HUGE Basilica di Sant'Agnese in Agone in P. Navona, where we learnt of a forthcoming concert by the Romabarocca Ensemble in the acoustically-gifted Sacristy of Borromini inside, featuring the counter-tenor Mario Bassini, and we came back here right after Happy Hour and had a very uplifting counter-tenor experience, and then went for pizza.

The Fountain of the Vomiting People

The statue of Pasquino. It's been here for Yonks, near the Piazza Navona, with since the 16th century political satires and rude political commentary stuck all over it, and thus since the later 16th century we have had in English the word "pasquinade" to mean a personal satirical attack on a politician.

Coming back home to the Vicolo de Cedro in the evening, after a nice dinner.

Once again, our kitchen, because it was very nice and cooked up the coffee water in a jiff.

A Dignitary's motorcade headed for St Peter's in the rain. Whoever this fur-lined plonker was, he was late. The supersize screens in St Peter's square were already showing for the plebian-crowds the somewhat overdressed pope, all got up in his gilty robes and celestial hat, shaking hands with a long receiving line of the Great&Good in fancy dress advancing by inches into the Double-Holy Sanctum Sanctorum for an apéritif. (If you want to make an honest living as a diplomat in irrelevant places, you've got to be prepared to dress up and grin through this sort of thing regularly.) So this motorcade-jerk had to get on the end of the line where he belonged.

Here we are at the repository of the earthly remains of the Guy Whose Name was writ in Water. Keats was English, thus Established Church, thus Not Roman Catholic, thus Not Eligible for Burial Within the City Walls, so here he is in the Foreigners' Cemetery -- outside the Roman city walls. What a sad fate for a young kid with 6 to 8 first-rate poems and a massive lot of pennywork.

Shelley's here, too. And so is Shelley's little son with Mary Wollstonecraft. For dead poet associations, this is the place to be. The lines from The Tempest are, of course, just wishful thinking.

Kristin prefers the early 19th century Norwegian diplomats with unpronounceable names.

This is My Main Boy in Rome. Pio Nono, our longest reigning pope (1846-1878), now presiding in Santa Maria Maggiore (Cardinal B. Law's hide-out after Boston showed him out the door). The sculptor caught him perfectly and did him no favors. He really does look like The Guy Who Got the Loot and You Can't Get It Back! "Thanks again, Lord, for Everything, heh heh heh!"

Pius IX, fairly smirking for lots of reasons, some of which will probably never be known, is the modest individual who got himself declared INFALLIBLE at the first Vatican Council in 1870. ("Infallible" includes: no tax audits.)

Santa Maria Maggiore

The Flatiron Building of Rome

Santa Maria Maggiore from the 'hood

Roman street scene

Kristin, in beatific surroundings, clutching our dinner

Infrastructure maintenance in the Roman style

A Roman-era capital in the ghetto neighborhood above some shops displaying Israeli propaganda

Half of the Tiber alongside the Tiber island

The mighty Tiber by Tiber island, with the Ponte Rotto ("Busted Bridge", frequently busted since its creation in 179 B.C.) and its modern successor, the Ponte Palatino

Kristin, on our next to last day, searching out an obscure church with frescoes, remembered from some years earlier, which seems not to exist anymore.

But we found the Wash & Dry in Rome, Italy, 2006

A last march up the Vicolo de Cedro to get the old battered suitcase ready for the EasyJet tomorrow. We very nearly made the 48 palazzos, 62 solemn museums, and 123 ancient churches in one week, but since Bernini's Four Rivers was in for servicing we missed the Rome appreciation record this time round.

Home at last, catching up on The Guardian on-line.

Rome 2006: Additional Bits and Pieces


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 11 December 2006, revised 1 February 2008, 8 August 2013.


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