A little bit of home

Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Rome, Italy -- a quick glance in May 2008


Kristin has been here in Rome for a week already, running errands and visiting friends, and we're joining her for a long weekend via FlyBaboo, who will fly you from Geneva to almost anywhere for the price of a good lunch.

The 37th meeting of the Ramsar Standing Committee commences in just a week's time, so we're doing this at a brisk jog. Kristin very thoughtfully came out to gather us off the plane at Fiumicino to save us wandering around the airport for most of the night befuddledly.

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.

The flat has got the original ceiling beams but is otherwise unbargainly -- centrally located, true, but right on the Lungotevere thoroughfare along the Tiber, near the Vatican, which was horribly loud on most nights and much worse the night that FC Roma beat Milan for the Italian club football championships. And a broken toilet seat, lights you couldn't read by, a TV set with bullet holes in the screen, and kitchen chairs built for elves.

Kristin's daughter Emily's off to the train station in the morning to join a friend in Tuscany.

The Vatican looks so imposing. Which, of course, was the whole point.

Uncannily like the main train station in Irkutsk, 1935, but missing the giant portrait of Stalin over the front door

We can't linger! The last time we tried to visit the Vatican Museum, the line snaked around seven city blocks and never moved forward. We're determined to get there before the line forms.

It didn't work. Even at what is (for us) practically dawn, the line for the Vatican Museum already snaked around six city blocks, so we went for the offer of a guided tour, "just follow us, no lines, right in the special entrance".

Jason, Him with the Yellow Brolly, was an excellent guide, a Californian who's been in Rome for yonks and is working on an advanced degree in art history at the university Sapienza. The "no lines" turned out to be a placeholder lady the company had put on the regular line before dawn so that we (and all the other guided tours) could cut into the queue, condemning the unguided visitors to eight hours of watching large groups of clueless tourists bustle in ahead of them.

Here Jason is running through the wonders of the Sistine Chapel on a panel board, because in the Sistine Chapel he won't be allowed to talk to us. Good standard ART 101.

The Papal Pine Cone, and Jason marshalling his troops

The trick with these things is to follow the Yellow Umbrella. And don't fall behind, or you'll get lost and have to become a Catholic.

Lots of non-Catholic Roman leftovers; just follow the Yellow Brolly.

The famous Laocoön, a Greek original, back there in the shadows. Have a quick glance -- we'll pause for a moment if you can get close enough -- then -- Follow the Yellow Brolly.

Tramping through the Art Stuff like baseball fans pushing to get into Shea Stadium

The Yellow Brolly. This has been a perfectly awful experience. If you paused to soak in a bit of culture, you got rolled by the Germans behind you. Mr Yellow Brolly skipped the Raphael rooms entirely, so we slunk off the guided tour and never saw Jason again in this life. Eventually we made it to the Sistine Chapel and crowded in amongst all the nationalities shoulder-to-shoulder trying to stare up at the famous ceiling, ordered every two minutes over the PA system to be silent (apparently because it's a "holy place"). Horrible experience.

A much better experience -- functional Italian justice. A guy parked his little semi-car badly and blocked up all the traffic into the Piazza del Popolo, and he got the Magic Forklift.

We can't linger long at the Spanish Steps, alas. Looks like fun.

Saint Somebody in S. Maria della Vittoria, stuffed and embalmed and still looking great after all these years, except for the perfectly horrible teeth. (You can put money for her in the little box, but it's not likely to help her at this point.)

Kristin setting off to hike across the church of Santa Maria of the Angels and Martyrs, because it's there

The geometric markings on the marble floors can be converted to a football pitch on Saturdays, for the local boys, when no one else is using the building for other purposes.

Another of those old Roman things (not Kristin, the building!) that's four metres below the present street level. This is the church of Santa Pudentiana, late 4th century, built to honor one of two daughters of a Roman senator who gave hospitality to St Peter (of New Testament fame) on this site. "St Peter Slept Here."

The mosaic up in the apse dates from A.D. 390 and is the oldest of its kind in Rome. Here it is from just next door, the organplayer's balcony. The figures are said to be naturalistic in a manner that was superseded by the Byzantine formalism that came into vogue later. Christ has only got 10 Apostles here, because the original mosaic had to be trimmed a bit when it was fitted into this 16th century construction, so the Apostles' legs and a couple of whole Apostles ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Back down into Saint Pudenda's church

And her dome. Now we're moving on to see Pudentiana's sister's church, a few blocks up the street. Santa Prassede, she was called, or Praxedes if you wish, and this one, like her sister, was officially unsainted by the Catholic church in 1969, but luckily their churches were left there.

Chez Santa Prassede. Not much subtlety here.

Kristin checking out the former people semi-under Saint Prassede's church

Peck emerging from the Crypt

Sounds of exuberance and conviviality below

(Not) A Member of the Wedding

Saint Ignatius' home church. Lovely dome up in the ceiling, but it's another "jesuitical subterfuge". They ran out of money and painted a trompe l'oeil dome on the flat ceiling. Why not, I say? Bread is Body, Wine is Blood, what's a Fake Church Dome? Saint Ignatius of Loyola is a special patron of mine -- "He was often addicted to gambling, very contentious, and not above engaging in swordplay on occasion" -- because I spent a decade trying to understand what his followers, the Jesuit "English Mission" of the 1580s, thought they were doing when they kept infiltrating back into England with prayerbooks and papal bulls and getting executed for their troubles. I never reached any firm conclusions on that.

"Hey Lady! Hey, Lady! Watch it there."

Kristin admiring high-up things in Rome, or awaiting the Rapture

The Tiber, recently flooded, with the wreckage of its accretions along the banks

Moped Culture, necessary in Rome and the Wave of the Future elsewhere

Roman branch of AIPAC, all shuttered up

The Fountain of Santa Tortuga. Bernini's little Fontana delle Tartarughe, or Tortoise Fountain, in Piazza Mattei

Cavalcade of Naked Guys and . . .

. . . Kristin

A Soviet Renaissance. We've just emerged from the fantastic Sebastiano del Piombo exhibition in the Palazzo Venezia and we've been confronted by this . . . this big thing!

Lovely panini. Well, grieved to admit this, but not so lovely this time. Days-old lettuce, actually. Almost inedible (but not quite inedible). I feel somewhat let down because this was my favorite snack wagon last time we were here. This very one! But, as everywhere else, standards do tend to slip. It's like US health and safety regulatory bodies in that respect.

An early parking garage with the building blown off the top of it

That's supposedly a sovereign country over there on the far side of the square, like the USA, Germany, or the Russian Federation. The Knights of Malta set up a hospital in Jerusalem in the 11th century to care for sick pilgrims during the First Crusade; they expanded, built more hospitals, and took a big knightly stick to the Muslim "infidels". When Jerusalem disgorged its Christian invaders, the Knights went elsewhere, eventually to Rhodes in 1309, and then to Malta in 1530. Napoleon gave them the boot in 1798 but in 1834 they got hold of this prime property in downtown Rome, and they're now recognized as an independent sovereign country of their own, right here in the middle of Rome. But only by the Vatican, so who gives a toss about that?

Presumably they're meeting all of Rome's building and sanitation codes, holed up in there waiting for the infidels to try to come back again.

Kristin's in there stocking up.

We're going to see if the accordion player takes requests. Something from Jerry Jeff Walker would be good right now.

In the Piazza del Popolo, we're teaching the kids how to fight fires. That could come in very handy someday.

And the outlined obstacle course teaches the li'l darlin's how to escape conflagrations.

Kristin getting another Caravaggio fix. Now we need to find up a bus up George Washington Street . . .

. . . to the Correggio exhibition at the Villa Borghese. Kristin booked us some days ago for 5 pm, right now -- if you walked in cold now, the best you could do would be to book for four days hence. THAT'S how well loved Correggio is by busloads of Japanese art freaks. (It was an excellent exhibit in an excellent gallery.)

Mass transit for the future

"It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a mausoleum!"

My favorite human-made physical structure. The Castle of Sant'Angelo near dinnertime. Round and squat, like a Fat Toad.

The Bridge with the Statues On It. And the Africans Off It. As we were passing along home, the polite police ladies came along in a lot of police cars to move the unlicensed street vendors along to . . . somewhere else.

Such Big Roundness, and solidity as well

More Big Round Solidity. I love this big building, and the restrooms were very clean.

Who's that? That's the fake Marcus Aurelius. One of my favorite Roman philosopher-emperors was corroding, so now we've got a Body Double on the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Kristin trying to find where she got married (the present crop of marriage banns are on her right), but the original doorway now just sells tickets to the museum rather than tickets to marriage.

Holy Marcus Aurelius! Here's the original of my favorite soldier-philosopher from Classical Times, on his horse named Camus. And somebody's hand in the foreground with a hole in it. This is in the wonderful but unnavigable Museum of the Conservatori on the Capitoline hill.

Disgusting. Rome's founding wolf, with Romulus and Remus (added later) being rude.

Roofs of Rome

Here's the Santo Bambino of the Aracoeli -- this guy works miracles, visits the sick and what not, and receives letters from kids all over the world (the newest crop of letters are plopped on that little table in front of Bambino Boy). Well, Bambino Boy was stolen in 1994 and never returned, so this Bambino is another Body Double, but he still has to answer all the letters.

Right in Front of Us! Two guys disguised as priests snuck in -- with a ladder -- and fiddled about with the Holy Bambino, and guess what!

The little dude is GONE! Again!

But the priesty-gent with the ladder turned up again and stuck Bambino Boy up onto his favorite altar-spot for collecting money from. So we didn't witness a First Order Theft. We only witnessed a Second Order Theft.

Same church, a trompe l'oeil nun sensing the possibility of freedom and bursting out of her frame. Very likely the hooded guys caught her and dragged her back in to take care of the Fake Bambino for the rest of her life.

Not much of a sense of moderation here. But it sells.

Kristin appreciating art works on the Piazza Navona. Our favorite countertenor was not on the docket for the Borromini Sacristy concerts in the Saint Agatha in Agony, so we pissed off for a nice dinner elsewhere.

Flowers and senseless graffiti. It's nearly time to start packing up to leave again.

A last view of my favorite Big Round Building in the World, and we're off for FlyBaboo back to Switzerland for whatever adventures may await us there, if any.

Kristin back in Switzerland, catching up on the news on Raw Story


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 16 June 2008, revised 10 July 2013.


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