Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern. What, you thought I came to Rome just to eat pasta and pannacotta? The center of my travel bullseye is the Vatican Museum, but it’s like drinking a pitcher of cream; so rich that it’s hard to digest. I’ll need time and the familiarity of daily life to absorb this experience. I expect I’ll be doing it for years to come.
I’m at the door of the Vatican Museum, 8am sharp. I ran straight to the Galleria dei Busti, sat and did a terrible drawing one of the Caesars, enthroned in a chair. It never did come right. I ended up substituting a climber’s cam for his sword, but nope, nothing doing. Not every sketch is good, but fortunately for me, the calming effect isn’t connected to the success of the drawing.
Moved to the Cortile Della Pigna, ate an apple strudel pastry from Ruberto and an orange. Drew a virgin that worked fine, copied a preparatory drawing of a lion by da Vinci, then I stood and drew the bearded face that gushed water into the fountain. I said hey to the guard who remembered me from previous visits and always greeted me kindly. I felt it all click. It’s taken me a week, but I have my feet under me now.
Taxi to Valentino, where I am seated after a few minutes. I order the cod and potatoes. I think about how I love inventive cuisine back home, but here I crave simplicity, familiarity and a place I feel at home. Valentino is that place for me, out of all the places I’ve tried.
Not feeling so tired after lunch today – probably because I was sitting and drawing for most of the morning instead of standing and walking. Decided to see the nearby contemporary art exhibition in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Via Nazionale, 194 – how much time could it take?
Sure enough, it didn’t take long for me to skate through the first floor exhibit of a German artist Ge0rg Baselitz. Polite interest turned to boredom and then impatience.
Dutifully, I read some of his artist’s statements and my bullshit meter spun out. I mean really? Seriously? I am not a fan. Went upstairs to the Book of Life /DNA exhibit, expecting not much, and I was enchanted. From entering through a curtain into a darkened room where this happened:
I enjoyed everything about it – from the use of multiple medias, the videos and vintage instruments and papers and abstract pea plants made of paper to a death mask of Dolly the cloned sheep,to a bio-engineered cornea floating in a bottle.
If you get a chance, check it out.
Decided to do one more thing and set out in search of chocolate, the good stuff. Quetzalcoatl won because it was a 16-minute walk instead of 23. Off I went. You can’t always trust Google maps to get you there. The route sent me straight to a building with four different kinds of guards – police, military, someone tall and grand like an Italian Mountie wearing a metal helmet with a crest, and a genial Sargent Colon type who looked at the Googlemap on my phone and shook his head.
I had to backtrack down flights of stone stairs and through a long tunnel deafened by motorcycles roaring and bus gears grinding, and lungs tight with exhaust fumes. One of those moments that happens on every trip when I think, what the hell am I doing here? Doggedly continued, only to be swamped by a wave of tourists pouring off a bus and into the tunnel. Dammit. Into the tunnel! WTF? Out the other end to full on tourist central. No cars, but plenty of army jeeps and police cars and uzis. I surf along a swell of tourists surging forward and I realize I am in front of the Spanish steps.I wish I could set up my Google maps with an alarm that would go off when I mistakenly enter the Tourist Zone. I trudged on because the Holy Grail of Good Chocolate was four minutes away, but my hopes plummeted. It was going to be overpriced crap. Two more streets, a turn, and I though I was still in high-end tourist territory, they were not wall to wall. At the door, I walk in and scout the chocolates precisely place on display. “Caramel and chocolate?” I inquire, braced for the usual disappointment. ‘We have the best,’ she declares. ‘Try this.’ As she hands me one she says the magic phrase, ‘be careful, it’s drippy.’ And OMFG it is, it’s freaking heavenly. It’s the best caramel-filled chocolate I have ever put in my mouth. Perfection. I get ready to empty my wallet into her pockets, and leave with a box of delights, including candied ginger dipped in chocolate. Swoon.
Heading back home on foot I look for a white taxi stand. See a lone taxi at a stand, but he says, fixed price, 15 euros. What? He points across the street to the Plaza Hotel. Okay, thanks but no thanks. I walk one more block to another taxi stand, jump in and when I get to my door, it’s 7.50 euros. And this guy is a fan of the blues and R&B. Sam Cook! BB King! Otis Redding! He’s naming his favorites, rolling his rs in that Italian way and when he says Aretha Franklin it sounds like sin on a stick.
Tomorrow, back to the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.