Saturday, July 31, 2010

On my own again, and a recap of Charlie's last day

I walked Charlie to the train station this morning and watched him get on his train to the airport, so I'm alone again. Here's an account of what we did yesterday.

For Charlie's last day, we decided we wanted to spend the day walking around the city, seeing a few more sights, and making sure that Charlie would be heading home with lots of great memories of Italy. In the morning, we started out by taking the train from our B&B in Trastevere to the Piramide station, and then walking up to the Circus Maximus. We'd watched the chariot race from Ben-Hur the night before to psych ourselves up. There's not much left there - just the space, and no masonry or anything, but you could still really get an idea of what the ancient space might have been like. There's some sort of developing going on nearby, and we hope they're not planning to build on the Circus Maximus itself. Overall, though, this stop was an interesting exercise in thinking about urban renewal in old cities - the old circus is now one of the city's largest open spaces, and the lanes once used for chariots are now primarily runs for dogs playing fetch. There's also a great view of the Palatine Hill, so I felt like this was a good visit.

Here we are in the Circus Maximus:

Notice the gorgeous azure sky - Charlie brought excellent weather to Rome, and I'm hoping he plans on leaving it here. The mornings have been fresh and cool, and the afternoons haven't been too unbearably hot. I'm hoping this holds, because I'm getting a much better view of Italy without sweat stinging my eyes.

Next, we went to Santa Maria in Cosmedin, because I wasn't going to let Charlie leave Rome without putting his hand in the Bocca de Verite (Mouth of Truth), an ancient Roman drain cover that became a tourist attraction starting in the seventeenth century. Supposedly, if you put your hand in the mouth while telling a lie, it will bite your hand off, but I didn't see it biting anyone. This sort of thing fascinates me - Rome is just as interesting for what it might say about the history of tourism as anything else. This also might be one for my "people and public sculpture" file. I'd really like to know more about how this legend came about.

I went for the timid face pose:

And Charlie went for the Baroque action moment (when does he not?):

Inside, Santa Maria in Cosmedin is a gorgeous and evocative early Christian church, and the atmosphere was enhanced by the chant they were piping through the church's speakers during our visit.

The church was dark, so this shot is brought to you with the help of knee tripod and 10-second timer (the timer is good for slow exposures because then you don't shake the camera by pressing the button):

I really loved the altar:

That's an ancient Roman porphyry bathtub, and we all know how much I love porphyry bathtubs. I definitely appreciate the creative reuse.

From Santa Maria in Cosmedin, we took a quick rest across the street in a pleasant grassy area with two small Roman temples, and then went off in search of the Tarpeian Rock, from which the ancient Romans used to toss traitors. I wanted to visit it because it was an important stop for Grand Tour travelers looking for a view of the Forum and the Palatine, and because it was the site of the murder in The Marble Faun. We had some disagreement about the best way to look for it, but finally we realized that the entire area is currently closed off due to construction.

Here I am pointing up to where the rock probably is, and registering my disappointment:

But we had a pretty good view of the Forum anyway, and I thought we needed a picture of Charlie with ancient Rome below him:

We decided to make one more stop before lunch, the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuele, a giant marble monstrosity built at the end of the nineteenth century in honor of the unification of Italy that hulks on the side of the Capitoline Hill. Here's Charlie looking skeptical in front of it:

I know that this monument was built well before Mussolini, but the fascist overtones have been giving me the creeps every time I've seen it for the past two weeks. The entire monument is patrolled by carabinieri, the Italian military police, many of them carrying automatic weapons, and they yell at you if you sit down anywhere. Oh well. At least there was a great view of the Corso and the Piazza del Popolo from the top of the stairs.

We stopped for lunch (Charlie had gnocchi for the first time), and then Charlie took a quick nap by the Column of Trajan while I figured out what to do next. We decided to head to S. Pietro in Vincoli so that Charlie could see Michelangelo's Moses, and on the way Charlie took a picture of me in front of one of my favorite monuments:

We arrived at S. Pietro about a half hour before the 3pm opening time (most of the churches close for long lunches), and settled down to wait in the shaded arcade in front of the church. While we were waiting, some crazy lady showed up and started serenading us all with off-key hymns and snatches of Italian opera, while vaguely waving her arms and dancing around. It was clear that this lady had been a good singer at one point in her life, but no longer - it was hard to decide whether the spectacle was comedy or tragedy. She passed a hat at the end of her performance, and I gave her some money because I felt bad for her.

Here's a surreptitious picture (shot by Charlie):

After a quick tour of the church, we decided to walk over to the Piazza Navona, to have a portrait draw by the street artists there. On the way, we stopped at Bernini's elephant to take a photo in honor of our coming nuptials:

And then we were at the Piazza Navona, and selecting our artist. He drew me first, and sitting for a portrait was an interesting (and uncomfortable!) experience - I felt like I couldn't move, and it was interesting to watch the reactions of passersby, and wonder whether they liked the portrait or not. I also thought a lot about Grand Tour travelers who would have oil versions of the same thing.

Then it was Charlie's turn, and I snapped a few pictures while he sat for his portrait:

The big reveal of the finished work is below, along with another piece that we bought from a different vendor. On the way back, we stopped at the Torre Argentina, a Roman ruin that has now become a sanctuary for many of Rome's feral cats. Here's Charlie with some gatti di Roma:

We counted somewhere between 15 and 20 cats while we stood there, and I'm sure there were more. Apparently, they give free tours of the site during their operating hours, but we were too late. I'm sorry I didn't know this, because I know Charlie would have loved to tour a ruin full of cats, but I'll definitely be going back on my own this week.

We had our last dinner together in Rome at a Chinese restaurant, and it was actually pretty awesome. I never thought I'd be saying this, but if you're a budget traveler in Rome, Chinese restaurants are your friend. There's only so much pizza you can eat, and eating in a real Italian restaurant is extremely expensive. For the same price you would pay for a crummy "tourist" (read: sucker) menu at a restaurant, you can get a wonderful and flavorful meal at a Chinese restaurant.

And now, here's the result of sitting for a portrait for an hour in the Piazza Navona:

You know that scene in Napoleon Dynamite when Trish looks at the portrait that Napoleon drew of her for the first time? .......Yeah. This doesn't look like us at all, and the people it does look like are terrifying.

Much better was this little piece:

We bought this from two artists who were working quickly with spray paint in a sort of performance. They produced this in less than five minutes, using stencils and a variety of spray techniques. Since we both love stencils and street art in general, we knew we wanted this, and I kind of love how cheesy-romantic it is. Can't wait to hang it in our apartment when I get back to the States!

And finally, our last picture this morning at the train station in Rome:

Good thing I'm going back to hostel life today, because I'm feeling pretty lonely. I hope I meet some cool people today.


  1. Regarding your portraits: Good Lord!

    When I first saw that altar, I was thinking it looked like a sarcophagus, and then I saw your comment that it was an ancient bathtub. It's interesting to see something used for such mundane (and messy) purposes reused in a sacred space.

  2. What a touching and splendid account of your last day together in Rome! Parting this morning must have been difficult.
    I was reading about the Circus Maximus last night and hoping that you would get there to experience the space. When I was in the Coliseum so many years ago the guide told us that no Christians were put to death there but they were in the Circus Maximus. I couldn't verify that in my reading.
    That is a gem of an early Christian church. Too bad the frescoes are so deteriorated. I wondered why there were two monstrances displayed on the altar. Perhaps a benediction service coming up.
    Are you sure that wasn't Belinda's friend SR in front of San Pietro? And while I'm commenting on likenesses That sketch looks more like PG than Charlie.
    Feral cats! There's a place like that in Bayonne.
    Hope this new hostel is comfortable. Thanks again for all the great posts and photos.