Our breakfast companions today were a couple from San Diego, graduates of the Rick Steves’ school of travel having done his guided tours of Italy and Rome. Now in the Ph.D. program, renting an apartment for three weeks.
We set off on foot for the Capucin monastery, where the walls are made from skeletons. I’ve still not gained a feeling for the scale of our maps, and again we went too far. We backtracked a few hundred meters, and found the root cause of my mistake. The monastery was closed since December for remodeling. The boys handled the disappointment well. So we pressed on to the main attraction today, the Borghese Gallery and its surrounding park. But first we stopped to linger outside the US Embassy en route. The boys got a civics lesson about embassies, immunity from prosecution, ambassadors and the necessity for big fences, concrete barriers and local police on every corner of the perimeter. When discussing how ambassadors represent the President, and using the illustration of our ambassador to Italy asking the Italians to join the coalition in the Iraq war, Robert asked if the Italians were our allies in World War II. I had to explain that they were the enemy.
Without any skeleton walls to see, we arrived early at the Borghese Gallery. We had an 11 AM reservation (only 360 people every two hours get to go in) but still needed to purchase tickets and check packs and cameras. So we had plenty of time to do that, and let the boys burn off some steam running through the open areas of the large surrounding park just outside the old city walls.
The gallery was indeed impressive. Too impressive to describe completely here. We paid for another guidebook by taking Rick’s suggestion and doing our 30 minutes allotted for paintings upstairs and then doing the sculptures on the main floor second. Borghese was a cardinal, mid 1600’s, his uncle a Pope. The gallery was built only to house the works of art there now (more or less). Borghese commissioned many works of art by Bernini, whose fountains are all over Rome. Bernini’s father was a sculptor, so he learned the craft at a young age. My favorite was the statue of Apollo chasing Daphne. Viewed from an exact angle behind, one seems to see only Apollo’s backside, in flight, crashing into a tree. But as you walk around, you see that Daphne has just begun to morph into a tree (to frustrate Apollo), her fingertips turning into leaves, bark beginning to appear in all the right places.
One room had several pieces on loan from the Louvre. They had originally been here, but were taken by Napoleon as loot. The main item possessed by the French, the Gladiator, was not present. Another civics lesson ensued as we discussed the return of stolen art work. Today’s science lesson was the use of temperature and humidity data recorders in each of the twenty or so rooms of the gallery.
The afternoon was spent doing a walk from the Spanish Steps to Navona Plaza (the reverse of how it is described in our guidebook). Fountains, monuments, churches, one after another. Highlights were Trevi Fountain, the engineering marvel that is the Pantheon’s dome, Michaelangelo’s Jesus and a gelato stop outside the Pantheon. After the Santa Maria Sopha Minerva church, it dawned on us that we should think about collecting our tickets to see the Pope. Pat had arranged ahead to receive a letter from the Archdiocese, and we visited the North American College to present our paperwork and get our tickets. A young seminarian greeted us warmly and we sat in a waiting area with ten or so other Americans. Then we were led to an office where a priest and a nun explained the procedures for tomorrow’s audience and gave us tickets. We declined the invitation to tour their chapel, as the boys were about done for.
Much discussion ensued about our subsequent options, mostly since we had backtracked a fair ways to get the tickets. It was decided to press on rather than take a taxi back to the room in heavy commuting traffic. Just before the conclusion of the walk we spied a restaurant that looked about right and was open. It was not as good as last night’s extravagance, but we did a better job of ordering and got more to eat for about two-thirds the price.
We concluded the day with the very short walk to Plaza Navona with Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain on the main stage. A fitting conclusion to our day of Berninis.
It took some figuring to find a taxi stand, as it had been moved from the location given on our map. Once we figured that out, we got in line and got picked up quickly. I slammed the car door rather hard, it being lighter (cheaper?) than I expected. The driver shouted at me, “Piano!” I gave him a look that said I did not understand, and he sneered and communicated to me that I had abused his poor door. He asked our address, and he rolled his eyes in disgust at my pronunciation. He ignored us the rest of the ride. Not having a good day, I guess. Once deposited in the vicinity of our hotel, he made exact change and I kept each coin and penny. He asked me to not close the door all the way as he could finish off the job more carefully than I.
We planned this three-month trip to hopefully coincide with spring weather. We should move northward as the advent of spring does likewise. So far that theory has played out just fine. Its been shirtsleeve warm mostly, but not too hot. Partly cloudy, but just occasional sprinkles. The papal audience tomorrow will be outdoors.
Melatonin is kicking in. That’s all for today. Good-night!