Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rome, as promised

I never finished my story about Rome.

The second and third day of my trip were significantly better than the first. I left the hostel early Saturday morning to walk to meet Virginia. We spent the day touring the city Virginia style - perfect. Espresso and cornetto (croissant) as the first thing. An open air flea market in the rain. A walking tour of her favorite cathedrals. Across town to Vatican City, where I saw San Pedro and the Swiss Guard and everything else. I didn't go inside, which maybe I regret a little tiny bit. No Sistine Chapel. But I don't really regret it, because I had a wonderful day laughing and reminiscing with Virginia. We went to a restaurant owned by her friend for a fantastic lunch buffet. Exhausted, we hiked it to her beautiful apartment in a wealthy area built up in the 1920s.

At any point I expected to head back to the hostel for the night. I would meet up with the Australians, I hoped, and pretend that I enjoyed myself as I tagged along on their nightlife tour. At the last minute, however, plans changed and I followed the Dao where it led me. Virginia and her husband took me to a dinner party with their group of intimate friends - all rich Roman socialites. One family owns a chain of shoe stores, one runs the restaurant, one couple were both famous models, Virginia's husband himself is a city architect. Not the elite, but definitely wealthy and happy to be in Roma. They welcomed me with warm friendliness like I hadn't seen even in Milan. They teased me for living in Milano, saying "that's not Italy. you must come to the south" and promising to introduce me to their single sons, all doctors and lawyers or their counterpart. We were served by a Filippino girl. I wondered if it is weird for Virginia, a Filippino herself, to be on the other side of society from most of her countrymates. In Milan I saw a lot of Filippinos working as nannies for the youngest of children and the oldest of grandparents. Virginia is in her element, however, and perfectly poised as she relaxes with her eight best friends.

I loved it, but I was the one who fell asleep on the couch at the ungodly hour of midnight. Virginia says that if you are the first to leave one of their dinner parties, they all talk about you after you've gone, but there was no saving me after two nights without significant sleep.

They let me sleep in their daughter's bed - lofted a few feet from the ceiling and graffitied with all her friends' names and love notes.

There was a hail storm that night, but I slept right through it.

The next morning I shared a coffee with Paul's mother who lives inside her room in the small apartment. The streets were full of inches of hail piled up like autumn leaves in the gutters and curbs. Virginia and I adventured to the Capitoline museum, where some of the most famous Roman, Etruscan, and Italian art is held. We saw the ruins buried forty feet under the current street level. We saw Nero, and Marcus Aurelius, and Romulus and Remus sucking the wolf's teat, and some of the best trompe l'oeil sculpture I've ever seen. I again, like in Florence, saw in person the works I've learned about.

Greek pottery - We learned the difference of black on red versus red on black, but it all looked the same in the textbook photographs until I could get my nose a few inches from the clay and see the scraped away bits and the painted on bits and truly relish their delicate beauty.

Humanist sculpture - I never fully understood what it meant for art to be humanist, how the Roman was revived in the Renaissance and the intervening Medieval art was truly different. In a hall of sculpture, however, where I could feel (even without touching) each muscle fiber and twitch of flesh carved into the marble, it all made sense. The importance of the human body - and the human mind attached to it - impressed itself upon me intensely. A slide in art class cannot convince the viewer of the time and effort it takes to wrestle a human form out of solid rock. In real life, however, you understand that what deserves this much time, attention, effort, expense - that reflects what is important to the ones creating, funding, and viewing the work.

Museums quickly overwhelm me. By the end I was ready to leave and find a bar for a cappuccino. Perfect.

A final tour of - oh shoot, i can't remember the name of the famous squares we visited - anyway, all the sites you are supposed to see in Rome. She took me to her favorite street, where all the artists live (the rich artists who've made it big). She used to tutor in English the modern aristocrat who owns most of the street. I loved seeing the pride she had in her own city. The day rendered me speechless, and I'm afraid Virginia misunderstood it as disinterest, but I tried to show her the rapture on my face.

Back again at Virginia's, we watched a football match on tv. It was Rome playing (I don't know against whom) and when they scored, we could open the windows and hear the cheers erupt from the stadium a mere kilometer away.

Paul gave me Grappa to try, which I am embarrassed to say I didn't like at all. I suppose my palette is not yet that refined.

Just as the night was turning dark, we went out in the car - Paul, Virginia, and Alison their daughter - for a driving tour of Rome. They wanted to hit the sights that weren't seen by most tourists because they could only be accessed by car. We went up to a mountain over the city and saw the view of the city. There was a peephole in the gate, through which St. Peters glowed like a golden diamond in a cerulean evening sky. The Garden of Oranges. Smaller, older cathedrals where I could see the simplicity that makes the famous ones ornate by comparison. They treated me so well.

Driving around the Coliseum in their car, I was happy.

Finally we went to a little (and expensive) Italian restaurant where they treated me to a final Roman meal before dropping me at the train station. I waited a few hours in the station before finally catching my 1130 train home.

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