Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rats With Wings

Nov 20

In the morning we had breakfast at home (the orange juice here has a guava-y aftertaste, it's kind of weird.  Sam loves it though).  Then got all packed up (brought some cookies as a snack this time--dark chocolate tear-shaped cookies we got at the store last night) and headed out to Termini.  We could've taken the metro from the stop closer to the apartment but we needed to get the sandwiches for lunch, which are at the Despar in Termini, so we took the train from there.  Rush hour.  Very warm in the car.  No seats.  Many stops.  All these things make an unhappy Shannon.

So we got off and braved the (almost literally) crowds of "tour guides," souvenir sellers, and who knows what else.  I'm trying not to pay attention anymore.  I was approached in French.  Awesome.  First time I haven't been mistaken (well...) for an American so far.  Anyway, so as part of our OMNIA passes, we got free entrance to everything at the Vatican.  Well, we thought we did.  After getting through security and taking some pictures of/in St Peter's Square, we saw an offshoot line for the Cupola, and we thought "Hey that'll be cool" so we got in it, but they didn't honor the Vatican Pass for this particular "activity."  Oh well, it was only €5 apiece.  Anyway, so we climbed a bunch of stairs to an overlook on top of the basilica, took some pictures, it was cool, la di da.  I felt a little gypped.  Then we noticed people were disappearing through a little door in a small dome, so we followed them and found another set of spiral stairs!  So we went up it, and it took about ten thousand years, and people were all breathing heavily.  Eventually we popped out inside the duomo of the basilica (sort of like the Whispering Gallery at St Paul's in London if you recall).  It was very high.  I don't know if it's higher than the Whispering Gallery, I'll have to look it up to see how the churches compare in height.  We had a cool view of all the branches of the basilica, and took a lot of pictures of the dome and the mosaics on the walls, and everything else.  Then we went through the "Uscita" door and there were MORE stairs!  Yay...  I did mention that I wore my legs into the ground yesterday, right?  Well, I spoke too soon.  So we kept going, having to stop periodically to breathe.  The stairs got narrower and shallower and the ceiling leaned in and the spiral got tighter and it was rough.  We finally got to a landing and saw that there was yet another teeny spiral staircase with a rope coming down the center for people to hold onto (it was sticky and gross).  We paused in a tiny niche for a breather and laughed as we heard peoples' reactions as they saw it, which were similar in reaction to ours: "Mon Dieu!" "BELLa donna!" etc.  It was pretty funny.

Stopping for a breather.  No end in sight.
So we went up the narrow tower (not really) steps for about a million years or so and finally FINALLY made it to the top and we were spit out onto a landing that surrounded the top of the duomo.  But it was a beautiful view.  We could see all the way to the/some mountains, where rain clouds were congregating.  We could see all of the Vatican gardens and what I assume is all of Rome.  It was great.  We took lots of pictures, of course.  Eventually, we gritted our teeth and headed back down.  It was a little quicker, being downhill and skipping the middle gallery, but it was still steep and rough.  The couple we were stuck behind we're pretty sure were a young awkward American Mormon couple.  Like us!  We didn't ask.  It's more fun to speculate.
Finally made it.  Worth the view!
Finally we made it back down to a huge porch type thing at the same level as the one after the first set of stairs that we thought was the top.  We were right behind the giant statues of Christ and the Apostles that line the top of the basilica and right next to the bell tower's top, or at least the place where they keep the bell.  And right as we were walking up to it, it rang noon!  It was loud, but it was fun mostly watch the bell itself ringing, which you could see if you stood on your tip-toes and peeked into the shaft.
On top of the basilica

We took the opportunity to wash our hands of all the greasy grime of tourists through the ages and the dust of a thousand popes.  The sinks were cool/weird, in order to get the water in the faucet running, you stepped on a small pedal on the floor beneath the sink.

The stairs from that area put us in the line to go into the Basilica.  They didn't ask for tickets.  In fact, I didn't even see an area that sold or collected them.  OMNIA pass again disappointing me.  We spent a while inside and tried to get as many pictures as we could, but obviously the light was bad.  We saw the Pietà, which was cool of course, and I marveled over it.  Ah-mazing.  There were a bunch of other cool statues, and everyone was standing in line to touch the feet of one of Christ with holy water.  Or just regular water.  It was interesting to see people symbolically washing the feet of Christ, and I was annoyed by the dumb tourists who skipped the water and just posed for a photo with their hand on the foot of the statue.  Oh well.

There was some kind of liturgical reading or prayer (I think it started with one and ended with the other) in one chapel, so we watched part of it, and I really wanted to take pictures, because it was near a window, and because the Priest's vestments (his chasuble?) were pretty and green, and he was standing with his arms raised and his back to the crowd, and it would've made for an awesome photograph, and I know some people don't mind, but there was a guard chastising anyone who even brought the camera up from hip level, so I stayed back and got really bad pictures of it instead.  I wish I could capture people and what they do and how they feel on camera.  There's nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.

Anyway, there are a lot of statues in there.  It got tiring.  Some of them were really neat, others were kind of generic or even silly.  So we moved on outside, plus I was about to die if I didn't get to sit down after all that hiking.

There was a carving of some saint being hanged on the door we went out of.  Also his (anatomical) heart was below it, in deep relief.  Creepy.

We pulled out the sandwiches from the Despar and ate them on the steps around the colonnade.  They were not nearly as good as before, probably because they were squished and warm.  Mine made me gaggy after a while, so we experimented with the local pigeons and grumpy/snatchy seagulls.  We coaxed them close and tried to see how near we could get them to come to us.  It was really funny to see them a few inches from my shoe sort of dancing around trying to get up the courage to got between my legs.  Finally they did, so I gave out rewards and pretty soon almost every pigeon in the Vatican was deeply interested in us.  They started walking across my feet, so that was enough.  Fortunately, a little kid with his mom had pulled out some bread and they lost interest in us.

We walked around the Vatican wall to go into the vatican museum entrance, and got through security, then tried to figure out how to use the omnia passes to get in.  We asked three people (all grumpy eye-rollers that tell you the obvious and then tell you nothing helpful at all--sadly a majority of people we ask for help are this way, but primarily at the vatican...maybe they are underpaid.  Or overpaid.) before finding out that normally you can find a person to show your passes to to get tickets waiting underneath a tv screen by a column by security.  But there was no one there.  So we sat around confused, then made good use of that emergency data plan and looked up how to use them.  It said you had to call to make an appointment a day in advance to get someone to meet you there and give you the tickets.  What the haystack.

So we basically couldn't get in for free like we were supposed to.  That means about €120 wasted.  Compounded with the fact that I realized yesterday I hadn't actually printed our Eurail passes for Friday, I felt like a complete fool and got very sad, especially since Sam thought I was mad at him and was getting very animated.  Eventually we decided to pay the €15 apiece and go in anyway.  The museum maps were smelly and inaccurate.  We skipped most of the stuff, because it was all about the imperialist agenda impressed on other cultures in attempts to convert them to catholicism ("ethnographic missionary work"), and looked at the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Etruscan collections.  We had a good time talking symbolic theory in classical statuary.  I'm so glad we can do that.  I told Sam about the Djed symbol, and the origins of Hermes through the installation of herms, and a little bit about chthonicism.  It was fun.  

We noted a bunch of negative things about the museum (hard not to do when you have to take so many classes on museum theory), such as the allowing of flash photography everywhere but in the tapestry room (still not enforced), and the random placement of a papal calendar painted on some shutters as the center focus in a room full of Etruscan pottery.  Relevance?  None.  Also hardly anything had labels.  BUT they did have the Laocoon Group statue, so that was really fun to see!

The museum is attached to the Sistine Chapel, so we went in there.  It was a lot smaller than I expected, and while it was neat to see the paintings I've learned about in person, it was a bit of a disappointment. 

It had begun to rain while we were in the museum, so we walked to the metro station in the rain.  I had a couple of cookies and ignored some annoyed scarf-sellers.

We finally got home and I decided I could not walk another step today.  We still had some errands to run (ie finding an ATM that took our card, getting more juice at the grocery store, etc), so I lay down while Sam went out on his own to get stuff done.  I didn't want him to go alone because I'm paranoid and I can't protect him (ha!) when I'm not there, but it all went well, and he finished everything in 45 minutes.  A few people even approached him for help, speaking in Italian, and no eye-rolling happened when he was strutting the streets of Rome.  Apparently I'm the one who makes us look like a tourist.  Boo.  Of course, the whole Oh-I-mistook-you-for-a-native-Mediterranean thing is nothing new for Sam (look at what happened in Turkey), but still.  I feel dumb.

While he was gone, I finished reading "Bellwether" by Connie Willis, which was very funny and fun and even though a lot of it didn't make sense, it all came together in the end in ways that had me going "OH that's what that meant!"  It felt a little like the writing style mimicked the mention of chaos theory in the book.  I decided I will recommend it to other people along with "To Say Nothing of the Dog."  Connie Willis is a great author.

Anyway, we just finished a dinner of fresh ricotta and spinach tortellini with disappointing "puttanesca" sauce (really just bland marinara with about a thousand sour green olives-- I guess it's possible to have cheapo brands of Italian food even in Italy).

Tomorrow we go to Ostia, and I am excited, because the ruins are supposed to be amazing, and hopefully no one will be there.  We might eat lunch in town.

Ok, Sam wants to watch a movie before we go to bed, so I'm off.  Write tomorrow!

1 comment:

LP said...

My favorite part: "the dust of a thousand popes".

Also, next time I see you, please tell me about the Djed symbol. And what herms are.