Well since I had no Valentine this year and I had an old travel log to post, I figured my trip to Italy was the closest thing I could get to February 14th, Valentine's Day.
My first trip after graduating from college was to Italy. I went with my dad, and we stayed in Rome for a week, then in Amalfi for another week. It's funny that I'm writing this in March 2001 after visiting in July 2000, because there's so many things that I'd forgotten and I was once again reminded of many reasons why I consider Rome to be the love of my life, my favorite city in the entire world, a place that gives some of those deep pangs in the heart that you get when you fall in love with a woman.
No city is as captivating to me as Rome is. Others have their charms, but to me, Rome is a city you can really live in and grow with. It certainly helped that I went in summer, so it was always very hot and very sunny, and the few times it rained, it was a nice heavy, hot rain that didn't drain your strength or make you depressed.
Rome is a city that you can walk around in and not be bored, not go through stretches of faceless and lifeless neighborhoods before finding a pocket of tourist-infested sightseeing. One thing I loved most were the sculpted fountains all over the city, offering cool fresh water for people to drink from when it's hot. To me this is the most fundamental sign of a city who wants you to enjoy her and spend time with her. It is not like a Dallas where you must drive everywhere, or a NYC where you must tussle with many busy New Yoykuhs to get where you want to go. I walked around the city a lot, oftentimes just following the Tiber, and enjoyed every moment.
That you can just look down any street and find a piazza with a fountain or statue emerging from the concrete lends a sort of gracefulness and timelessness to the place, and also a feeling of being in a city that has always been emperor of the world. The scale of things is daunting yet beautiful. To think that once all these lines of statues and buildings were decorated with rich, colorful paints and flowers makes you appreciate just how psyched the citizenry must've been about living there.
Standing over the city near the Colosseum is this HUGE building built on a vast foundation with glorious columns, and when lighted up at night, you can see birds flying high up above in the night. It really is mammoth. And it's bright shiny white marble, and it sticks out proudly and boldly. My dad said that a lot of people don't like it because it's gaudy, but I think it looks like as the buildings of old looked to the ancient Romans. Its sheer size was imposing.
I had a good time with Fred as he makes an excellent guide who knows a lot about the subjects we encountered. We had some lengthy debates about this or that and I got to know him better as a person and not just as my dad. I think I understand him better as a result even if I'm always playing Devil's Advocate to him when he's not doing it to me.
When we arrived, we were tired, but we went out to explore a bit near where we were staying, which was in the Aventine (very quiet, very well-to-do). We walked across the Tiber and had lunch at a small restaurant. (sitting outside enjoying a meal for as long as you wish has a quality one cannot appreciate in the States, a quality for living life) I had beef steak with capers. We would see people going about their business, daughters shouting up to their ma-ma's from the street into their house, children playing, and so on. It was a very comfortable and non-stressful environment. Later at night we walked by the Circus Maximus, which was packed with people just having a good time. One thing I noticed while in Rome was that ALL women were hot and in good shape. All tanned, all vivacious, all very desirable. Surely this affected my feelings towards the place.
For dinner we stopped in Farnese piazza I believe, a place where locals and tourists alike convened, and we ate at the Carbonara, where I of course had spaghetti carbonara.
On some walls, I might note, there was graffiti, and for some reason I found it charming. You'd see messages like "Serena ti amo" and you'd think about your puppy loves that you just HAD to share with the neighborhood.
The next day we set off for the Vatican and the Gallery. When we arrived, looking upon the street that leads into Vatican City for the first time, and seeing the columns and walking into the Piazza of Saint Peter's, I was awestruck. Luckily enough, the Pope himself was speaking on the steps of the cathedral to what looked like a large congregation of Polish people who had come to see him. We listened for a bit and then took off to the Gallery around the corner. That this sort of thing happens on a regular basis is one reason big cities are so intoxicating. They're larger than life.
I can't imagine how much the Gallery is worth with all of its prized possessions. I could literally have spent a few days in the Gallery looking at all the statues, room designs, paintings, the long hallways full of things like maps and paintings on the ceilings. At the end we reached Raphael's Stanza, which I've been looking forward to for many years. To see up close the skill of Raphael in "The School of Athens" and the "Disputa" and the other two walls was something I'll cherish forever. The Sistine Chapel came last, but you know what? I'm not such a big fan of Michaelangelo as a painter! Leave it to Raphael and stick with sculpting. ;P
For dinner we found a restaurant overlooking Trajan's Column and also the ruins of what I think was an old marketplace. This being another thing that endeared me towards Rome, below us in the ruins a play was being performed about people living under fascist rule. I had veal with peas and mushrooms. The whole blend of the ancient, the old, and the now blew my mind. WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD DO YOU SEE THIS?
One of the days we were in Rome we were walking about and we popped into this small building where some small artist was showcasing his work. I don't remember well now, but I think it was similar to impressionist style in the form of collage.
The next day we went back to St. Peter's Cathedral because the previous day the Pope was speaking so the area was closed. We had to buy these stupid paper pants since we were wearing shorts and they wouldn't let us in that way. Beautiful interior. On the way to Vatican City we somehow ran into a woman that knows Fred and she invited us to have lunch later in the week at the American Academy. Woot! For lunch we sat in the colonnades of the Piazza of St. Peter's and I ate a prosciutto and cheese sandwich courtesy of a local deli called Volpetti, run by the best guy, Claudio. He took us in immediately and let us try all sorts of meats and cheeses to construct the perfect picnic for us on numerous occasions. He was very charismatic and energetic and we had a ball in his shop. Much better than a freaking supermarket. I fucking love Rome! And Claudio rules!
Friday we drove the Mercedes we rented (an underpowered car that made passing on those curvy Italian roads impossible) from Fiumicino Airport to a small town called Spoleto which apparently has a huge festival every summer. I plan on visiting it again. The church in town was being dressed up with long spindly spider web strands to prepare it for the orchestra that would later perform a concert outside to spectators. Are you kidding me?? When we ate lunch, we discovered the couple sitting next to us was from South Africa, and that they had lived on the same hillside as my dad when they were all children, so they knew all the same people! How unreal is that?
We stopped in Spoleto because it was so charming, so we never got up to Assisi, our original target. I also found out there's a jazz festival in Perugia, nearby, so next time I go I think I will check that out. A final interesting note is that on the way up the hills to these areas, you'll find hookers on every little stop by the road. Amusing. For dinner I had egg soup, beef steak, and these wonderful wild strawberries with ice cream. Outstanding food in Italy, OUTSTANDING. Best I've ever had outside of our kitchen. And my favorite kinds of foods too...
Next we went to the Borghese Gallery, absolutely stunning. It had many of the famous Bernini (my fave) sculptures of various myths and legends. The building itself is done up in various kinds of marble and paintings on the ceilings and tiled mosaics on the floor. Impressive. It is as eyecatching as Versailles, except without the gaudiness and WITH grace. Somehow I missed the second floor so I will have to go back to it some time. We went to an Etruscan museum which my dad and I agreed was too long and tedious. We ate outside in a wonderful park (those Europeans and their beautiful parks) for lunch. Because I forgot to bring a belt, btw, we bought one from a small store, and on Saturday it broke so later we would take it back and Fred got in a huge row with the woman about the shoddy belt she sold him and she wouldn't replace it so he threatened to call the police (keep in mind he was patching together what he knew in Italian) and all the sudden she threw another belt at us and told us to go away. Hehehe. Fred is persistent.
Sunday we went to Villa Adriana, where Emperor Hadrian spent some of his time. Then we went up to Tivoli, which overlooks Rome on one of the hillsides, and we saw things like a Scottish family that was lost and ate at a small restaurant that had one big Italian family. (with its numerous hierarchical tiers sitting in order from one side of the table to the other) Later we went to Villa d'Este, which I think is one of my favorite places. It is a luxuriant villa that overlooks a fountain garden with all sorts of different fountains and impressive sculptures. To go outside every day and read there while hearing the water come out from the fountains all around you!
Monday we met Fred's friend at the American Academy where American scholars go to do work, and I saw some huge studios with high ceilings and lots of sunlight pouring in and wished I had one of my own to live in. I talked to some grad student chicks who were hot but they were way out of my league, talking about ancient Roman burial traditions and whatnot. On the bottom floor of the academy is a hatch that you can open and climb down into one of Trajan's aquaduct tunnels. Later we saw Trevi Fountain (surrounded for some reason by lots of Asians) and the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, featuring the infamous Bernini river gods who cast horrific glances at the church created by Bernini's rival. Love that guy.
I didn't write down anything for Amalfi because I forgot to. But Amalfi is a town built into the cliffside right next to the sea. The drive is a long one with long twisting turns and lemon groves and vineyards on the cliffsides. Then all the sudden you find these small little towns bustling with people and tourists. In Amalfi we had a hotel at the very end by the beachhead so we could see the whole town from the end of the pier. Huge yachts would dock at night and they'd have things like bedroom open on the top deck, or a living room with furniture, that sort of shit. Very wealthy people. Amalfi has these labyrinthine stairways inside the town that lead up this way and that to various "streets" where peoples' homes are. Sometimes you emerge at the top to a long walkway that overlooks the whole city from the cliffside. Peoples' laundry is hanging outside. These people are not very wealthy at all, but they have fantastic residences.
During our stay we drove up to Vesuvius where the wind blew clouds up the side of the volcano. We drove to a small historical site where there were excavations on old Greek and Roman fortifications. We took a boat out to Capri, and saw the extravagant people and homes out there. Imagine living on Capri! Christ. One place had this beautiful entranceway with vines covering it so it was dark, and at the very end was the entrance to the house. Très cool. And we also went to see Pompeii, thinking about how much work has been put into excavating it.
The whole trip was perhaps the best thing I've ever done in my life. I want to go back to Rome, and ride the train past those long fields of the most golden gold wheat fields you've ever witnessed and then walk from the station home to a nice little apartment nestled in the middle of the city and then eat a large meal of Italian food and then walk around the city at night. It was pure bliss. Bliss bliss bliss.
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