Friday, July 25, 2008

Vatican City and The Tour de Churches (A Very Long Italian Story, Part the Last)

First, my apologies for the abrupt hiatus that this long story took on Thursday last, but an impromptu trip west took us away from our computer for a few days. Now, we are back, prepared to finish this tale, update all on the goings on since our return (pasta making!) and to tell the tale of our recent westering.

Second, I am surprised that no one called me on the fact that I referred to the Pantheon as the Parthenon in my last post. Boo to all of us. The Parthenon is in Greece.

Our last installment will cover the last two days of our Italian tour, a visit to Vatican City on Monday, and a whirlwind of churches on Tuesday. The departure on Wednesday was a bit of an adventure, also; maybe we'll make that an Epilogue.

The Vatican tour began, as all our Roman days did, at the bakery, sipping espresso and eating pastries (why would we want to leave?). From there, we hopped on the Metro and were quickly deposited on the other side of the Tiber, just a short walk from Vatican City.

St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum were our main objectives on this day. We crossed the long sun-drenched piazza outside the Basilica and entered the dark church. It was big and ornate, as you might expect. Turning each corner seemed to reveal a pope interred in a glass sarcophagus, and most walls held beautiful replicas of Renaissance paintings done in mosaic. You could hardly tell they were mosaics, they were so exquisitely done.

Of course, the biggest draw, for me, was Michelangelo's Pieta, which occupies a small chapel near the Holy Door (which is only opened during Jubilee years (four times each century). As I stood there, gazing through the glass partition at yet another Michelangelo masterpiece, a couple came up next to me, jostling through the crowd. The woman, shorter than the man, stood on tiptoes, but still could not see.

"What is it?" she asked the man.

"Eh, it's just a scuplture," he said, as they walked away.

Just a sculpture? Some people.

We proceeded down into the crypt of the Basilica, where the tombs of many ancient popes are located. It is interesting to see whose tomb is simple and whose is ornate (by order of their own "living will").

From the crypts, we headed a few blocks down the main drag to have some pizza, then walked back to the museum. We had about three hours to tour the museum, which contains so much art and so many artifacts that it takes several days to really see everything. We headed right for the Sistine Chapel. The chapel itself was beautiful, amazing, breathtaking. The experience of getting there and being there, which is similar (I imagine) to being herded like a steer through some passage ways and then corralled, was not so wonderful.

We then whizzed our way through some of the paintings (good stuff), before heading back home to get ready for dinner at a little place called Pasqualia's (I think). Dinner was okay, but the real treat of the evening was the after dinner walk we took through the heart of Rome, from Campo del Fiori to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. It was such a different experience seeing these famous sights under the moon light.

The next day, after a final stop at the bakery, where Monkey felt like a regular when she exchanged some greetings with one of the counter girls, we made a tour of nine churches. From Santa Maria Maggiore, with its early Renaissance mosaics, to St. Peter in Chains, with its Moses by Michelangelo and its relics of St. Peter, we made our way. Next, we visited San Clemente, where underground excavations reveal the structure and artifacts of a thousand year-old place of worship (but, we got there too late to visit the archaeological area), then proceeded to San Giovanni in Laterno, the basilica of Rome.

San Giovanni seems to want to rival St. Peter's Basilica (the basilica of Vatican City), but, it just can't (and it shouldn't try). One of the oddest things I witnessed on the whole trip was a crowd of people standing near the altar, throwing coins at (what might have been) a tomb covered with Plexiglas. Never did figure out what that was all about.

The Pantheon was next, but only to have a slice of pizza on the steps, before we toured San Luigi dei Francesi. This church, built by French Catholics, contains a statue of Jean d'Arc, some intense baroque architecture, and three typically awe-inspiring Carravagio's depicting scenes from the life of St. Matthew. This might have been my favorite church of the day.

Church number seven was San Ignazio, a Jesuit church with some uninteresting trompe l'oeil frescoes on the ceiling, and a strange wooden model of a "world church" or some such fantastic toothpick idea. It's possible that our poor assessment of San Ignazio was due to the next church we visited, Chiesa del Gesu, whose baroque ceiling included a spectacular fresco of the Last Judgement that made it appear (in a very Michelangelo sort of way) as if people were actually falling from the ceiling.

Our last church was Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the only Gothic church in Rome. Here, we viewed the remainder of the remains of St. Catherine of Siena (remember, her head and thumb are in San Dominico in Siena), as well as one last Michelangelo, a marble Jesus carrying the cross with bronze accents. A very realistic and human-looking Jesus, but then, what DO you expect from Michelangelo?

After our marathon of churches, we were ready for some fine fare, which we enjoyed at a little place near Santa Maria Maggiore. Our last meal in Rome was definitely our favorite. A fine way to finish up before a 3 am wake up call to catch a taxi to the airport to begin our long journey home.


La Fashionista said...

You saw so many churches in Roma that my head is spinning. Ima take you at your word that none of these are actually in Greece.

You're so smart about most things that I don't tend to question much of what you write, unless it's your longstanding flawed tendency to confuse the distinct and decidedly different Delaware and New Jersey - or unless I'm being a smartass. I will unabashedly question some of your sartorial choices for fashion's sake, however.

I was wondering where you were for so long! No posts here, and no email response from "red phone" Monkey. I was waiting and waiting. What, no one could consult with me about this trip beforehand?

(That last paragraph was me being a smartass. Actually, pretty much everything above smacks of smartassitude.)

Oooh, I do hope there are pictures of the pasta-making! I've never done that before.



La Fashionista said...

Oh, and I forgot to ask for clarification: I assume the pushy, ignorant tourists who didn't know from Pieta were from ... where? I'm gonna guess the U.S.

On our last night in Italy (in Milan - depressing enough, that), we had the unfortunate experience of eating in the vicinity of a group of tourists from Texas. It was like a witnessing a live pathetic caricature (so incredibly inappropriately loud, large, obnoxious - one woman knocked over a chair and had no apparent awareness of that or my not-subtle scowling glares). This made me embarrassed to be a U.S. citizen and even more sour than I already was about coming back from Italy.



ATR said...

I am not sure whether the couple in question were Americans or not. Having no appreciation for art is not a solely American characteristic. That's why they're called philistines. They might have been Canadians. At least, that is what I tell myself.

I am sorry we did not clear the trip with you. It shall not happen again (or, if it does, it will be the last time...really...I promise).

Speaking of making things: whachoo been doing since you made the fortune cookies? Give us some news.

Finally, and I mean finally, I have no problem confusing Delaware with New Jersey. I know where the three southernmost counties of the Garden State are located.

La Fashionista said...

Hm, much of what I've been doing lately is more focused on introversion and relaxation, less creating. Let me see what I might add to my blog, though.

In the meantime, check it:

Are you a philistine?

Now we just need a term to denote a person deficit in the knowledge of the borders and counties of the mid-Atlantic states. I'm open to suggestions.