“Pessimism is strictly for people who are over-educated and unimaginative.”
Koontz, Dean. Brother Odd: An Odd Thomas Novel (p. 273). Random House Publishing Group.
TODAY FROM ITALY:
POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN ROME:
Sadly I left Sacile and took the night train to Rome. I enjoyed lying on my bunk rocked to sleep by the swaying of the car and the rhythm of the wheels clicking along on the tracks.
I had not intended to do much in Rome except wait for Jason to arrive and then leave directly for Sabina before moving on to Sicily.
I checked into the same pensione I always do — the one near the Via Veneto that services penniless priests and others on their pilgrimages to Rome as well as the odd traveler or two like me, and where, in the mornings, breakfast is accompanied by recordings of Gregorian chant.
After checking in and dropping off my luggage, I walked over to the Borghese Gardens to see if I could get into the museum. I couldn’t, so I strolled around the park.
The Pines of Rome — The Borghese Gardens (Respighi, first movement)
I ambled down one of the lanes crisscrossing the park, sat down on a bench and watched the tourists pass by on foot or peddling a variety of vehicles.
In the woods, I could see two people who appeared to be doing something that seemed not completely legal. Nearby a musician was playing the accordion. While I sat there and listened, he worked through many of the great tunes of the 18th Century including those of the Justin Bieber of his era, Wolfie Mozart. — — I can’t believe I just wrote that. I should be ashamed of myself.
That night I unwittingly locked myself in my room and broke the key off in the lock. I could not raise anyone to get me out until the next morning. I’ve had worse experiences. I convinced myself I was being punished by fate or karma for that line about Mozart.
The next morning, having escaped from confinement, I decided to take a short morning walk for exercise and stop by some of the places I do not consider my visit to Rome complete unless I do.
I planned to begin at Piazza Barberini near my pensione, walk up the hill to Quattro Fontana and the church of San Carlo. I consider this church, Borromini’s first commission, to be among the finest examples of an architect combining art, design, and mathematics in a single building. I then planned to continue on past Bernini’s St Andrea, skirt the Quirinale Palace and push my way through the tourists at Trevi Fountain. Then over to Piazza da Spagna to visit the Keats-Shelly museum dedicated to three young men who unfortunately died before enjoying all the lives most of us are endowed with. But then, perhaps they were only allowed one life to live (except perhaps for Byron [Childe Harold himself]). I planned to follow this up with espresso at Cafe Greco, walk up the Spanish Steps and wind my way home before the heat of the afternoon leaves the streets of Rome to the tourists.
As I walked from the Triton Fountain toward Quattro Fontana, I noticed that visiting the art collections in Palazzo Barberini was free today and even more surprising, it was open.
Palazzo Barberini is stark proof that there was a time when all a family needed was to produce one Pope (Urban VII in this case) to become unbelievably wealthy and set for generations. The Palazzo now is also the National Art Museum containing an art collection that, although not quite as spectacularly focused as at the Borghese (which I am resigned to never finding open again) nor as vast as the Vatican, nevertheless, is remarkable in its own right.
I often forget classical artists, in addition to their obsession with murder and mayhem, also struggled mightily to inject sex in all its varieties into their paintings and sculpture.
“Maddalena Penitente in Estasi” by Guido Cagnacci
This painting below (Betsabea al Bagno by Jacopo Zucchi [Firenze 1541-Roma 1593]), while I was there, seemed to be the most popular among the women visitors. They would stop to discuss and take numerous pictures of the painting while the men mostly strolled by without glancing at it. I could not figure out why.
Some of the Museum’s more famous paintings (capo lavori) below, from left to right: “Narcissus,” by the incomparable artist, drunkard, sociopath and murderer Caravaggio; “Beatrice Cenci,” by the gifted Guido Reni; “Fornarina,” by the sublime and subtle Rafael (although perhaps not all that subtle this time).
After leaving the museum, I walked to San Carlo to pay homage. I was so moved while there, that for the first time in 50 years I attended mass — a high mass no less.
The woman in red has been begging at this spot for as long as I can remember.
I left San Carlo feeling virtuous, slipped a Euro to the woman in red at the door and walked on.
As I was passing the Quirinale Palace, the home of the Italian President, I discovered that for the first time in my experience it was open for tourists. I took advantage of the opportunity and entered. The palace was opulent as could be expected and contained a remarkable number of tapestries. As usual, it was guarded by a special branch of Carabiniere who some have suggested are, “as tall as angels (over 6’6’’?) and as dumb as stones.” One, stationed in the center of an especially ornate room so as to be seen by all, seemed to be at least 7ft. tall. With his golden helmet and irritated eagle on top, he appeared to approach 8ft. His feet clearly hurt him as he leaned on his sword and shifted from one foot to another.
I left the Quirinale and after skirting the Trevi Fountain ate lunch in a little restaurant where 40 years ago the woman who owned it then had me try, for the first and last time, cervello (brains). Then it was over to the Keats-Shelly museum and an espresso at Cafe Greco.
A Pookie selfie in Cafe Greco.
Following my coffee break, I walked up the companion stairs to the right of the Spanish Steps that used to be the leather glove center of Rome and on back to the pensione.
When I arrived back at the pensione, as I passed small room off the stairs, I heard the woman who runs the place and two others laughing loudly. One of the women I had surprised when I opened the toilet door this morning. I was more embarrassed than she was. It seems strange this establishment dedicated to religious pilgrimages has unisex bathrooms.
Anyway, as I passed by, the proprietress saw me, mentioned to the others my unintended imprisonment last night and called out to me. They all laughed some more and invited me to join them. Too embarrassed, I excused myself, scampered up the stairs, locked myself in my room hoping the key would not break and crawled into bed.
The next day I decided to spend the morning wandering around the Villa Borghese again. As I walked up the Via Veneto, I thought about the club I often frequented 45 years ago. It was underground located in the crypts not needed by the adjacent Capuchin monks for their diorama of death. It was dark and smokey, the music a mix of jazz and rock. We, dressed in our turtle neck shirts, huddled in the tiny crypts drinking wine and discussing poetry and the war in Viet Nam. We were the last gasp of the Beats before they were swept away by the flower rebellion and folk rock. It is still a nightclub today, but an expensive one and the crypts are now used for gambling. It just goes to show, give a hippie enough money and he will spend it on high priced booze and gambling (well, dope too).
The Borghese Gardens are the lungs of Rome and perhaps a bit of its soul also. I used to hang out here in the Gardens many years ago. It was my retreat from city life.
As I entered the Gardens I noticed signs for something called, “Social Network Week.” I have no idea what they meant, except perhaps free Wi-fi hookups among the pines for Facebook addicts.
While strolling along, I saw a pair of bright green birds flitting about in the trees. At first, I thought they were Rome’s version of San Francisco’s escaped parrot colony. These, however, did not make the raucous sound of the SF flock and their tail feathers were as long and their bodies.
Recently they have added an exact replica of the Globe Theatre, barely visible among the trees. I hope they show a selection of all Elizabethan plays and not just Shakespeare. In other posts, I have expressed my dissatisfaction with the general exclusion of other Elizabethan dramatists in the academic world and at drama festivals.
I went by the Borghese Museum. It was closed Mondays so I sat on the bench near where the accordionist usually plays his Baroque medleys. I guess he was closed Mondays also. The guy with the electric mandolin was there, however. The plinking sound of Neapolitan folk tunes made into 1950’s hit songs skittered through the trees. A splatter of young teens armed with eggs, flour and aerosol cream whirled by and, in a lengthy pre-coital ritual, gaily covered each other and the pathway with bits of uncooked pastry.
On the way back to my pensione, I passed a small but loud protest in front of the American Embassy. I watched for a while. It was not the mass rallies against the war that I remembered from the late sixties but it still had the homemade signs, the slogans, and the whistles. I could not figure out what they were protesting but, since in general I believe protests are a good thing, I shouted my support. I was not arrested nor beaten with a police baton so the demonstration could not have been all that significant.
All in all, it was a wonderful morning.
The next day Jason arrived. He will drive directly to Casperia in Sabina being unwilling to brave the traffic of Rome (no one has ever written a symphonic piece entitled, “The Traffic of Rome”). I will take the train and join him there tomorrow. Meanwhile, I have another day to wander the city. I think today will be ice cream day. I’ll probably walk to Piazza Navona for a lunch of bad spaghetti carbonara and good ice cream.
The walk from the Via Veneto to Piazza Navona even if you take the narrow back alleys is tourist highway. Hundreds of flag-waving tour guides lead legions of eager sightseers to the not to be missed marvels along the way. I veered slightly off the track to visit St Ignatius’ Trompe d’oil ceiling and the magnificent but unappreciated piazza in front.
I passed through the plaza in front of the Pantheon and braved the masses to drop into the old building to pay my respects. I was surprised when I entered to discover it putting on an unusual light show of its own.
In the piazza, a woman was playing a mournful “Ave Maria,” (is there any other way to play it?) on the accordion. Surprisingly, as I departed the piazza I could still clearly hear it as I walked along the backstreets. Other people and sounds seemed to disappear until I felt there was only me and the music floating above the gloom of the alley.
Just before arriving at Piazza Navona my heart skipped a beat, the door to the state archives containing Borromini’s master-work of his mature years was open. Because it was located in the archives, I had never been able to visit the church before. As with San Carlo the site was difficult to build on and Borromini had to design a church unique in Christendom to fit there. Instead of basing the design of the interior on circles, ovals and squares, he used interlocking triangles. Alas, my hopes were crushed. The small library he designed to house the Pontifical Academy’s Library was open, but the church was not. I did find out access to the church was now available on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.
St Ivo in Sapienza
I passed through Piazza Navona and into the warren of streets on its far side. I had hoped that I could get far enough away from the piazza to find edible food. Until now, since I have been unable to get to places like Piazza Tuscola (outside the walls) and the like, I have been stuck eating the overpriced inedible stuff served in Centro. I found a place right by one of my favorite churches. There was no one eating there and two surly teenagers who I assumed were the waitpersons sat by the door fiddling with their smartphones. I assumed either the food was so bad everyone knew to stay away or the food was good and the service terrible. I bet on the latter and sat down. I won my bet. The food (gnocchi con buffala mozzarella) was excellent and the panna cotta with fresh raspberries heavenly.
Pookie is happy when he eats.
The church was notable because the Renaissance and Baroque era Popes, in a vain effort to discourage the location of national churches that were breeding like locusts in central Rome, gave this site to a small German order because he thought the piazza was too tiny to fit a church in it. He was wrong.
The restaurant is on the left.
I do not recall the architect of the facade but the designer of part of the interior was Bramante. It was he who made it fit, There was a Chagall exhibit going on inside today, but the entrance fee was more than I wanted to spend.
Then I sauntered off to Piazza Argentina with the statue of he who did not cave, like Galileo, to Papal pressure, Giordano Bruno (he was burned at the stake instead) rising above the daily market.
While approaching the Via Veneto on my return, my right ankle gave out and I fell hard on to the sidewalk. Two American tourists helped me up and inquired if I was all right. “Embarrassed,” I responded, “but otherwise all right.” And, after thanking them, I walked off trying to appear unaffected by my tumble.
If it were Bangkok and I fell on the sidewalk, I would be quickly eaten by soi dogs and street rats and no one would help me get up. Instead, they would stand around and laugh at the clumsy fat farang in his death throes.
Ah, well, tomorrow I am off to Sabina.
A. Quigley on Top:
“Experience may be the best teacher, but its tuition is expensive, and, when life is too short, as it always is, to learn from the experience of one’s own life, we can learn best from the experiences of earlier generations. All such experiences, whether our own or those of our predecessors, yield their full lessons only after analysis, meditation, and discussion.”
Carroll Quigley, Weapons Systems and Political Stability.
B. Trenz Pruca’s Observations:
“The last refuge of scoundrels is not patriotism but the claim that no one could see it coming.”
C. Today’s Paraprosdokian*:
The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!
*Paraprosdokians devour their own minds.
D. Today’s Poem:
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d advertise — you know!
How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
(Everyone has a bad day now and then.)
E. Message from the Old Sailor in Bangkok
“….having an interesting day ….a guy died in the lobby ….too many ladyboys ….dirt on his shirt …..from his last meal or his last ladyboy…..from Denmark ….drank too much and smoked.
Good name for a book: Dead Guy in the Lobby”