Monday, April 04, 2011

Roma: Day 4, the Vatican

I am so bombed tired after over 12 hour of tromping about that I have been on my hotel bed for two hours unable to muster the energy to pick up the iPad, as it were, and blog. But best I commit at least my itinerary here for purposes of thinking about it later.

I had a 10:30 appointment with the ticketeers of the Vatican Museum, so I headed off with plenty of time to spare. I stopped at the Caffe Farnese which I believe the to be the same as the Bar Farnese recommended by my Twitter friend @jonvox. I had a cappuccino, my first in Rome, and it is as if I just had my first cappuccino ever. The Cafe Flore in San Francisco used to make a good one before the ownership chagned reduced them to the standards, such as they are, that "guide" every other espresso place in America. But this cappuccino was frothy and composed and at one with the palate. The coffee is Rome is incomparable.

I walked along the Tevere, and descended to its banks where I was the sole denizen. Made me a little nervous since I would be perfectly set jup for a robbery. But I saw not a soul. As I approached the Ponte Sant' Angelo, alas, the first thing I saw was a giant yellow crane in front of Hadrian's tomb, what the faithful call Castel Sant' Angelo. Hadrian is my favorite emperor by a long stretch, and not only be cause he was the most unabashed and exclusive homosexual to hold the post. His travels and the broadness of his vision marked the height of the Pax Romana. I do not have the time to go to his villa, but that will be a good excuse for a second trip to Rome.

On that point, I have loved every city I have visited in Europe. I used to struggle as to whether Berlin or Paris was my favorite. But none have affected me the way Rome has. I love the people, the way of life, the majesty of its past. I feel like I will come here again even if it means crossing some other capital off my list.

I arrived at St. Peter's as the morning light was bathing the cathedral, so I had no choice but to photograph it quickly if I wanted proper photos and also make my appointment with the museum. The square is so filled with crowd control devices, seating, scattered scaffolding, and modern lights and audio equipment, that a lot of the magic is sacrificed. Good enough. My love of history does not permit me to forget what this institution did to human freedom over the centuries. Even so, it is a really cool looking church. And Bernini's colonnade certainly lives up to billing.

I made my way to the entrance to the Vatican Museum, and managed to be a half hour early. No problem, they let me in anyway. The difference between an online reservation and waiting in the line appeared to be over an hour, so gawd noze why anybody would decide to wing it. But plenty did.

I spent seven hours in the museum, and even so managed to miss the Pinacoteca, or painting gallery. So I did not see their Caravaggio's. But the enormous collection of ancient sculpture itself would be more than enough for a full day's work. Predictably it was the numerous Bacchus, Hermes/Mercury, and other athletic visions that drew me. Most significantly, it was several depictions of Antinous, the ill-fated lover of Hadrian who was either drowned in the Nile as a sacrifice for Hadrian's desire for longevity, or did the deed to himself to the same end. He became the center of a substantial cult which, frankly, might have been a damned sight better than the semitic death cult that actually ended up winning the west.

Two things about that: one, jeeeezus keeerist, does Christianity love death or torment or what? And what do they have against penises? Most of them are broken off, some of them with a neat drill hole in place of what was once a modest uncut projection. And most of the rest are covered with tacky plaster fig leaves. We all know about both of these madnesses, but witnessing them in this incredible collection makes it all the more absurd.

New appreciation for Raphael. And then the Sistine Chapel.

First off, the madding hordes. Notwithstanding the strict prohibition on cameras in the chapel, flashes were going off all over the place. Ludicrous. And people yammering away as if they were standing in line at a supermarket. I am an atheist with nothing but contempt for the conceits of religion. But in a sacred space, for crying loud, shut the eff up!! People banging into me as I craned to view the ceiling. It truly is an amazing room, I wish they had special viewings for people who promised to be quiet and respect the rules.

After that, I squeezed St. Peter's into an hour. Again with the bloody flashes at the Pieta!! Nice cathedral, as I've said. But everything about it betokens power more than spirituality. The vast size of everything seemed to call it more than "we can" than that "we see." The Baldocchio, certainly magnificent, seems to get in the way of the altar. I saw only a few people at devotions, and the larger number in front of a truly ghoulish crypt-ic representation of the dead John XXIII. Two young priests with very clean soles kneeling at a side altar. The odd nun. It is a secular age, at least in Europe, and the church has to put up with it.

An aside re children. In every case since I have been here, whenever I see misbehaving children, they turn out to be English speaking, either American or Australian. The very worst today were two Australian boys who should have been beaten on the spot, and I mean that with no irony whatsoever. American parenting, not something that has impressed me very much for some decades, shows is deficiencies in the whining and rudeness and general inability to behave with any kind of respect for others. Nuff said ... for now.

I took a quick tour of the Vatican Museum of treasures, mostly catholic paraphernalia distinguished more by its gaudiness than any subtly of composition. And then I ambled out into the square where I sat for 15 minutes to try to get some of the pain out of my feet. I forced myself to fulfill my vow to head to the Trastevere, and a good thing that was. Ended up at Bar Poeta, per Rick Steves' excellent suggestion and had an excellent salmon and arugula pizza in an ancient alley. Two young gay guys walked past holding hands - the first openly gay behavior I have seen in Rome, other than the waiter at the gay restaurant mentioned yesterday. And from there, via some night photography, i walked home, erringly, finally knowing the alleys around here well enough to walk pretty directly to where I am now abed.

Again, to my proofreading friends, bear with me. Editing to follow when I return home.

1 comment:

Matte Gray said...

Thoroughly enjoying this travelogue. Putting aside my loathing of the Christian Church for a brief moment, i have to point out that the Moslems are even more prudish and hung up about sex than the Christians.