It all funneled down. Forty-eight hours in Rome left to spend, and it was getting harder, not easier, to decide what to do with my last two days. Revisit favorites? Too many candidates, an embarrassment of choices. I had some entry mileage left on the Barberini ticket and my Vatican Patron privileges, but I just wasn’t feeling it.
Instead of bid farewell to La Fornarina, or St George, I chose to do something I haven’t done – a walk through the Jewish Ghetto, a scrap of Roman real estate where the Chosen people survived despite the best efforts of a hostile world and the machinations of the pope.
The weather was ideal, and I walked and listened to the RomeWalks audio tour; to the stories of persecution, resistance, fortitude, and pride. S Angelo in Pescheria, in the center of the fish market from the 12th century until 1880, was the official church of the Confraternity of Fishmongers. Pope Gregory XIII forced Jews to attend the church and listen to denunciations of their faith. That went on for 200 years.
The Jewish synagogue was built in 1904, after the Papacy fell as a temporal power and the Italian State was created. Assyrian and Babylonian motifs deliberately distinguished it from the domed churches. Palm trees and flowers grew in its verdant side gardens. Sadly for me, it was closed to visitors, along with its museum. No reason was given, and no day when it was expected to reopen.
I watched this row of hydraulic pilars raise and lower like a reverse portcullis. Something both chilling and comforting, guard houses at the entry points, for protection from terrorist activity.
I ducked into Limentani’s, a warren of rooms below ground, filled with crates of Baccarat and Waterford, Christofle and Spode, Meissen and Portmeirion. I was hoping to find a nice linen tea towel, but no luck.
Ubered to a delicious lunch from Mordi & Vai at the Testaccio market. I also downed a glass of fresh pressed juices. I bought a handbag/tote, made in Florence, in a muted taupe that matched the suede belt.
Consulted my GoogleMap, and having a few hours to spare, I walked to the Protestant Cemetery, Cimitero Acattolico. I almost didn’t because I was in a melancholy frame of mind. Not the best mood for a city of the dead, even if famous foreign poets (Shelly, Keats) were interred there. But it was so close by, just a few minutes walk away.
Of course, it was one of my favorite places. A tidy, quiet terraced garden protected by ancient Aurelian walls, with wonderful inscriptions on the stones on one end, and the Pyramid of Cestius on the other. Terraced levels, like a vineyard of marble, Someone was sculpting a stone in a small workshop built into the wall. I heard the tapping of a chisel and hammer all afternoon. Cypresses and pines, orange trees, palms, and wisteria in graceful bloom. It was more expressions of love and esteem than cries of grief, though there was some of that too. It makes you want to live so those you leave behind will think this highly of you.
Some of my favorite epitaphs:
Wise, magnanimous, tenderhearted
Let come what will come
God’s will be well come
Excellent in his profession
Modest in self-estimation
endeared to friends by his social virtues
beloved by his family as a
kind husband and tender father
Let the earth be light for you.
Marvelous statuary. I loved both sculpture and inscription of a young Scotsman “Devereux Plantagenet Cockburn…beloved by all who knew him, and most precious to his parents and family, who had sought his health in many foreign climes. He departed this life in Rome, aged 21 years.”
Yes! There’s Maddy! Just what I’d like for my tomb, except I’d be sitting up in bed, leaning back on a pillow and reading. What? They don’t sculpt like that anymore? Right. Back to fabricating reliquaries. Maybe I can work in an etching.
I was surprised to find a marker for a soldier of the Confederacy.
I sat down on a bench near the pyramid and drew what I saw – the edge of the monument, the iron and brick fence, the redbud tree in bloom. One of the most restorative and peaceful hours I’ve spent in Rome. I came here to soak up history and art, and here they were, in spades. Plus, English! As I left, I saw a middle-aged couple stood before Keats stone, holding hands, her head leaned on his shoulder in silent reverence. Nice.
Ubered back, day well spent. Time to start packing.
**Thomas Jefferson Page (1808-1899), American explorer, commander of United States Navy expeditions mapping Argentina and Paraguay. He moved to Argentina and then Europe following the Confederate defeat in the Civil War.