Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bellisima ROMA!

Cleopatra's daughter, Selene, and her famous Mom, Cleopatra VII: Bellisima ROMA!

English: A 4x4 segment panorama of the Coliseu...
English: A 4x4 segment panorama of the Coliseum at dusk. Taken by myself with a Canon 5D and 50mm f/1.8 lens at f/5.6 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Beautiful Rome--even more beautiful in person. As I've mentioned before, my trip to Italia was a gift from my mother, a mother-daughter getaway. It was sweet and wonderful and I'm beyond grateful to her for the experience.

I don't want to bore you with details, but I thought I'd share some observations and/or fascinating facts that I picked up along the way.

-  The light in Rome in late September/early October is beautiful--warm and golden. I kept trying to capture it on camera without success, which left me looking like a crazy tourist banging on the side of the camera to "make it work" better. (Yeah, I know--the problem was the photographer, not the camera.)

-  Modern Romans have absolutely no fear of death or decapitation by speeding vehicle. Seriously, they're more aggressive than Boston drivers. I saw one motorcyclist dressed in a three-piece suit go the wrong way on a major street for a long time because, I assume, he had decided his lane was moving too slowly. He played chicken with the driver of the taxi we were in--and the taxi driver never even slowed down as the cyclist came within millimeters of a head-on collision. Close calls like that took place about every five feet.

- The highlight of the trip for me was a personal tour of Pompeii by an Italian archaeologist, professor Mario Grimaldi of Università degli Studi Suor Orsola Benincasa in Naples. He took me to the House of M. Fabius Rufus, a set of buildings that make up the largest house discovered so far in Pompeii. It was closed to the public as his team worked on the lower levels of the property. What a treat! I couldn't capture the beauty of these ruins, but here's a great site with wonderful pictures of the Rufus house. After that we walked through the entire city of Pompeii. A dream come true.

- On a tour of the underground/basement of the Colosseum--where they held the animals about to be cast into the arena--the guide said that Romans distributed the meat of slaughtered beasts to the audience. Romans brought their own little BBQ-pits and cooked the meat and feasted while they watched the all-day killing games. I kind of "squeed" because I never heard that before. The guide turned to me and asked if I was okay. I said, "So if a lion killed a giraffe on the sand, it meant giraffe BBQ for everyone at the games?" He assured me this was true, citing classicist Mary Beard's book on the Colosseum as a source (which I ordered as soon as I returned, of course).

-  On a lark, I walked into a bookstore in Rome and asked if they had my book (it was published in Italian by Salani Editore) and OMG, there it was! Unbelievable! 

- I discovered that it is possible to experience beautiful-art-overload. I didn't think it could happen, but it did. After hours at the Vatican museum, for example, I actually found myself walking right past works by Raphael or Bernini because OMG, there were more ancient galleries to explore! (I am not necessarily proud of this reaction.) Meanwhile, I need to give Tracy Barrett a big thank you for letting me know about the Etruscan Museum and other small treasures that are not as well known as the big museums but contained breathtakingly beautiful ancient art.

Caroline Lawrence was right, Ostia was glorious and virtually empty compared to Pompeii. It is really stunning how well preserved it is. I now feel compelled to read all of her Roman Mysteries again so I can picture Flavia and Jonathan and the gang romping through their home city.

-  I had Drag-queen Cleo with me but I kept forgetting to take her out and photograph her. Which was fine by her since Rome is one of her least favorite places (as you can imagine).  However, at the Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace), she insisted on being photographed in front of the model of the altar. She whooped and held her arms up in victory because, as she put it, she finally "won" over Augustus. 

"How's that?" I asked. 

She rolled her eyes, then said (slowly for my sake), "Does he have an action figure made in his image?" 

"No." 

"So I'm more famous. Which means I win." I did not argue with her, though I did get very strange looks from the security guard during her photo shoot. 

Rome was simply amazing. I can't wait to go back.