Never expected to wake up at a decent hour after a marathon of reading until 3am. I even hung the Do Not Disturb sign on my door, but my eyes popped open at 7:30. I sat in the little lounge/dining area of the hotel, ate my standard breakfast of fruit and yogurt, and pondered where to go.
Usually, the night before I scan my Theory of Everything document, which has every venue on my list. The first section is museums, churches, and monuments/historic sites. The second section lists restaurants and the third is shopping. That pretty much tells you my priorities. This also has the address, website, and days and hour each place is open. This is critical in Italy, land of the eccentric opening/closing times, Lots of churches close from 2-6, and some museums are open Wed-Sun only.
I pick out my top three choices based on proximity, figuring I’ll get to at least two of them. I consider restaurant options in the neighborhood.
This is Italy and the peak times are 1:30-2:30. Most places open around 12:30. If they open earlier than that, you don’t want to eat there. If you get there at 2:30, they may be out of artichokes, the only vegetable in Italy. Ha ha! JK. Don’t order fish before Thursday or after Sunday.
Back to planning, I copy and paste my choices into an email, I add appropriate notes like mail postcards, find ATM, get chocolate. I can change my mind in the morning about the order, or go in a different direction entirely, but I do better if I have a plan. It’s like having a manuscript to edit. I love putting the travel day puzzle together, but I get lost in possibility and consideration and two hours can go by and I realize I am still in my jammies. Speaking of which, I also put out my clothes the night before, for the same reason.
I decided to go to the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Popolo, to revisit the famous pair of Caravaggio’s; Peter crucified upside down and Saul’s moment of conversion on the road to Damascus. Both showcase virtuoso painting and feature a pair of prominent asses, horse and man. Caravaggio was a particularly quarrelsome artist, who couldn’t let a real or perceived slight go without a fight, or conceal his contempt for his patrons.
Going back to my planning procedures, here’s the copy/paste of the church listing from my Theory of Everything:
Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo 12, near Porta Pinciana, Rome, Latium, 00186 open Mon–Thurs. 7:15.–12:30 & 4–7 , Fri. / Sat. 7:30 – 7 , Sun. 7:30 -1:30 & 4:30–7:30 www.santamariadelpopolo.it Seven chapels, by Pinturicchio, Raphael, Bernini and Caravaggio.
See what I mean about opening days and times? Just showing up at a church or museum in Rome is a recipe for disappointment. If no one has told you, the Borghese Gallery, one of the finest collections in the city, is ticketed entry only, for exactly two-hour increments, and fully booked a week or more in advance. I actually wish the Vatican (museums, not the basilica) would do this. As it is now, mornings are like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, with herds of tour groups substituting for careening bovines.
My brain, though functional, was still working in slo-mo, because after the taxi dropped me off at the edge of the piazza, I stood in the center of the piazza, perplexed, trying to figure out up from down on my iPhone’s map, when one of the single rose vendor guys stuck one in my face. Startled, I batted it away and barked an irritable NO! I knew then I was so sleep-deprived that I didn’t have a working filter and I’d have to watch my temper.
There are three churches in this piazza and when I entered what I thought was a likely door, I found myself in the Carabinieri Comando Provinciale Roma. They ushered me out, politely but firmly. They wore beautifully tailored uniforms and they wore them well.
After three failed attempts I found the right door. The Caravaggios were easy to find, I just looked for a clog of tourists in the artery of the aisle. There was a retractable belt stanchion, and young layman letting through as many people as came back out. That actually makes sense to me. I joined the line and, being solo, got pulled to the front when a single person left, since most of the people were families or couples.
I try to approach each church with ‘soft eyes.’ I picked up that phrase from an episode of The Wire series about looking for evidence at the scene of the crime. Don’t stare hard looking for evidence, unfocus your gaze. Look for what isn’t there. I’ll add, look at the margins and edges. That’s how I found the stone dragon, and how, even though I was distracted by Caravaggio, I didn’t miss the Chigi chapel. Thanks, Raphael and Bernini! Clearly, the Chigis knew what heaven ought to look like, from top;to bottom. On the chapel floor, a winged skeleton held up the Chigi family coat of arms. The Latin inscription Mors aD CaeLos (translation From Death to Heaven) and the capital letters, MDCL, were Roman numerals for 1650, the year the floor was laid. There were different artistic takes on skulls and bones everywhere you looked.
I spent most of the morning there, and paid attention to the edges of the slabs over the tombs beneath the floor. They had a variety of border designs that would translate well to the metal boxes I’m working on.
Next, I walked to a small museum of a single artist, the sculptor Hendrik Christian Anderson, via Pasquale Stanisloa Mancini, 20. Despite two rooms packed with weirdly cheerful figures on a gigantic scale, there was something sad here.
I was the only soul there for an hour and a half. Four staff members guarded a museum that was well cared for but lonesome, like they threw a party but no one came. Still, it had the happiest baby sculptures in town.
By then I was tired and hungry. I trudged around looking for a taxi stand, but no luck. I finally walked back to Piazza del Popolo and taxied across the city to the Trattoria Vecchia Roma, looking forward to the relaxed atmosphere and welcome I’d enjoyed with my nephew and his family. The woman, so friendly before, scowled, flapped her hands to wave me away, repeating, “No room, no room.” I suppose the empty tables were reserved. Luckily, I knew I was only two blocks away from Panella, via Merulana 54. I took a table outside, ordered bean and shrimp soup, and addressed postcards. A thin broth was set before me with head, feelers, and tail waving hello. I channeled my inner NOLA and plunged in. Not bad, but nothing I’d order again. But their pastries… ahhh. I bought three to go, because they were that freaking scrumptious.
Suddenly I felt as tired as a bag of cement. Walked back to the hotel and fell immediately asleep. When I woke up, I sized photos for this blog and then walked down via Urbana, picked up a personal pan-sized sausage and broccoli pizza from Trieste and ate that, a lemon curd tart from Panella, and chai tea for my dinner. All in all, an awesome day.