Sunday, July 25, 2010

Today I am 26

I've been fighting the Internet all day, but here I am finally bringing my blog post to you with the help of the hostel's computer, which is the only computer around tonight that seems to have a reasonably working connection.

Today is my birthday, and I am now in the second half of my twenties. I celebrated my birthday last night by going out with a group of wonderful people from the hostel, and today by visiting the Galleria Borghese. Last night, after some free pasta at the hostel (and after my Skype date with Charlie!), we headed out on the town to see what we could find to do. We had heard about a music festival at the Colosseum, but when we got there, the line was incredibly long, so we went to a street full of bars instead, which turned out to be gay bars.

Here are a few of us out on the street:

We then decided that given the ambience, finding a bar was not really necessary, so we bought a few beers and took them down to the Colosseum, and just sat there in the shadow of millenia of history. Here we are again:

All in all, it was a great night, and a late one! I'm not used to keeping this kind of crazy schedule. I got up a bit later than usual this morning, and had a slow start to the day, knowing that my appointment at the Galleria Borghese was not until 1pm. Sometimes it's good to take a little bit of a break. I had a wonderful surprise, though, when my dad sent me this lovely website.

Here I am anticipating a great time at the Galleria Borghese:

I'm not going to be able to show any of my own pictures from inside the museum, because photography was not allowed - I even had to check my purse and camera entirely, and bring only a notebook and my watch into the museum. I'm rather sorry that I wasn't able to take pictures, because the gallery is amazing and I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to find photos of some of the best details, but I can respect their policy, because it was actually rather relaxing not to have to compete for space in front of an artwork with other photo hunters.

But gosh, the galleries were amazing - pretty much the best birthday present I could give myself.

The sculptures on the ground floor were simply stunning. The first major work was Antonio Canova's nude statue of Paulina Borghese, reclining on a sofa. I know that Canova isn't as popular now as he once was, but I can't help having an intense appreciation for him. His sculptures always have such excellently rendered textures (in marble), and today I particularly exclaimed over the rumpled cushion on which the statue of Paulina lies. It's subtle, but just so natural.

After the Canova, each successive room was anchored by a major and incredibly famous sculpture by Bernini: first the David, then Apollo and Daphne, then Pluto and Persephone, and finally Aeneas. Of the two middle groups, I've always favored the Pluto and Persephone over the Apollo and Daphne, but today I realized why - the virtuoso qualities of the Pluto and Persephone are much less subtle and thus easier to photograph, but in person, the Apollo and Daphne is just utterly breathtaking. I wish I had pictures I could show you, but I'm not sure they could capture it. I just can't figure out how Bernini was able to render leaves, locks of hair, and fabric so finely in marble without breaking it. Daphne's fingers transforming into bunches of leaves, her corkscrew curls in tangled disarray, the lovesick expression in Apollo's eyes, his drapery that allows the light to shine through it - oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. I could have stood there all day. I'm never going to forget that moment, and I may go back to experience it again before these next two weeks are finished.

I looked at the Apollo and Daphne with new eyes today, but the Pluto and Persephone has always been a favorite of mine. I think that I am an art historian and a sculpture scholar today because of this detail (image found online):

In the fall of 2004, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree in English and Art History at Rutgers, and I was taking a class about Bernini with Tod Marder. At that point, I was still planning on being a high school English teacher, although grad school was starting to sound tempting. That Bernini class had a lot to do with making up my mind, because when I realized that I could spend the rest of my life looking at grasping fingers against soft skin, all rendered in hard marble, I was completely hooked.

So thank you, Bernini. And thank you CASVA, for making it possible for me to spend quality time with one of my heroes.

I didn't actually have trouble making it all the way through the Galleria Borghese within the two hour limit. I drooled over the sculptures on the first floor, but I was able to make it through the paintings on the second a bit more quickly. This may be sacriligeous, but I'm realizing that for a lot of paintings, I'm almost happier to see them in high quality reproductions. I've had so much trouble on this trip with glare from poorly placed lights, reflections from glass panes, or small paintings hung high above my head. It's very rare that glare makes it difficult to see a sculpture (although I did experience that with Constantine's head the other day). Also, sculpture benefits from walking around and around it, which is easier on the feet, while with paintings I find I have to stand awkwardly in the one spot where the glare isn't a problem, and then hope that nobody shoves me out of the way while I'm there (that happens a lot!). So yeah... I'm a pretty big champion of my preferred medium. :)

Here's one work by Raphael that kept my attention for a long time:

Does the Woman with a Unicorn have any connection with the Mona Lisa, or has that ever been argued? I'll have to look it up at some point when I have better internet access, but it seems to me that they would make a great essay question on an exam, even if there's no actual connection. The three-quarter pose, the columns flanking the lady's shoulders, and the far-off landscape all strike interesting parallels for me. I'd love to learn more about this.

So all in all, a lovely afternoon. After I left the museum, I walked around the Villa Borghese for a while, and took advantage of the largest collection of trees that I've seen in one place in ages:

Yay trees! I'm starting to think I would be pretty good at living in a big city, but the one thing I'd miss is the trees. Thank goodness for city parks.

So winding this birthday blog post down, I'd just like to make a promise to myself at the beginning of the twenty-seventh year of my life: This trip is not going to be the trip of a lifetime, but the beginning of a lifetime of travel. Now that I've been here, I want to keep doing this, and I'm going to make sure that I do, no matter what.

I hope you all have a lovely evening!


  1. Happy Birthday, Sarah. May all the dreams you dream today become reality.
    Karen, Gerry and Jake

  2. Happy birthday, Sarah! It sounds like you had a wonderful day.

  3. Thanks for the happy birthdays, all!