Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Semana Santa: Rome

“Every one soon or late comes round by Rome.”   - Robert Browning

And that is precisely why I didn't want to got to Rome.  A petty case of social rebellion, I admit it.  But... to be in Rome over Easter... that might be worthwhile, I reasoned, and besides, not as many people can boast about that.
And off I went. 
Let me tell you, you should go to Rome.  Going at Easter is pretty swell, but Rome deserves it of its own merit.  
I arrived in style - and by that I mean with unwashed hair, saggy jeans, and day-old socks.  Checking baggage costs extra money, you see.  My backpack and I were on pretty intimate terms by the end of it. 
For the first few moments, Rome seemed like all the other European cities I've stumbled across.  Ditching my backpack, I checked into the hostel, ripped a map off the big stack at the front desk, and began my wanderings.  It should be noted that, although I still probably qualify as spatially challenged, my map-guessing skills have improved remarkably since Lisbon.  Going in the general direction rather than street-by-street is much more efficient, it seems.  Columbus has got nothing on me.
I started out west, in the general direction of the Spanish Steps.  On the way, I found myself in the Piazza della Rebpulica, which is, in fact, somewhat in the right direction!  There was a large unsightly church there, and usually I skip large unsightly churches having overdosed in Spain, but I went in anyway.

It changed my standard for beauty.  Permanently.
As it turned out, this particular church was one of Michaelangelo's last projects (a fact I found out after being totally awed).  Perfect colors, spacious and well-proportioned, I made several circuits, looking up open-mouthed.  Breathtaking moment number one.

Continuing on, I eventually found myself at the Fountain of Trevi... breathtaking moment number two.  It is easily my favorite place in the city.  Something about the juxtaposition of massive, intricate sculptures and enormous, rugged rocks with falling water... hard to beat.  Plus, it was mobbed.  The energy bouncing around was nearly tangible as tourists jostled around for pictures and swung under rails in order to get closer to the water (regardless of age!).  This was also my first experience with gelatto... sublime.

The rest of the day proceeded in a similar fashion, though nothing could quite compare to my first two experiences.  After Athens' dismal countenance, wandering around in utter beauty and charm was a welcome relief.  Every corner had a new surprise or scene.  One street was full of bohemian art galleries... also a favorite!  And so the day progressed.

My fellow travelers arrived that evening after an unfortunate 10 hour siesta in the Sofia airport.  Getting pizza to go, we arrived at the Colosseum just as the Pope began his Good Friday address.  The square was packed, and a cross of candles stood above the crowds, its flames flickering in time with the liturgies.  Some of the crowd were just interested tourists (that would be us) while others were deeply involved Italians, reciting the lines by memory.  Above it all was a strange oscillating metallic object in a tree, carefully concealed behind the leaves.  Hmmm.

The next day, Will and I, who had never been to Rome before, went hard-core sightseeing.  Let me tell you, tours are the way to go.  We lucked out on the guides... each one could have been a sitcom character that just happened to know the last 2500 years of Roman history.  Everything was crowded, of course, but the strange thing about Rome is that the people kind of fade in relation to what you're looking at.  The crowds also preclude all efforts to preserve Japanese trademarks from tourists' cameras... i.e. the Sistine Chapel.  People unabashedly ignored all requests to put away the cameras.  Really, from the guards' point of view, it must have been a hopeless circumstance.  The Chapel packed to capacity and the Pope delivering universal pardon in less than 24 hours... there was no winning.

 As for that Pope and Easter Sunday, I went not knowing what to expect.  I imagined that St. Peter's Square would be mobbed.  In fact, it wasn't.  And the line to enter (airport-style security)... well, it's amazing how short it can be if you start in the right place.  As I said, universal pardon.

Now then, a note on the Colosseum.  It's cool, first of all.  (Dad, I took particular notes for you :D)  But let's talk about this Christian martyr business.  The Church officially took back its accusations of killing Christians there in the 50s.  Only one emperor did this, and it failed.  Why?  Let's think about this logically.  Gladiators and prisoners walk out of the Door of Death into the ring, desperately hoping to live and prepared for a valiant struggle.  This makes for a good show, and it furthers the Roman propaganda that no matter how vicious it gets, everything can be conquered / controlled by Caesar.   

Christians, on the other hand, aren't so concerned about living, are they?  Do they fight hard and/or beg for their lives?  Not really.  To live is Christ and to die is gain.  And if they're not afraid of death but Caesar is, who is greater?  So, politically and socially, would it really be a good move for Caesar to use them for entertainment?  Not really.  End of note.

Go to Rome.  It's worth it.

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