Saturday, July 19, 2003

Items from the past, continued.

16 luglio 1983.

Didn't sleep well, for no particular reason. In the morning we went seeking the Mausoleum of Hadrian and the Vatican and its glories. The Castel St. Anglo proved to be a genuine fortress, complete with armory and cannon balls made of stone. Narrow, twisty passages snaked from room to room down inside, past some dungeons, and other rooms with long rows of Roman toilets, essentially rows of raised holes in the stone floor.

After a while there, we hurried over to the Vatican Museum, which our sources had told us would close at 1 p.m. The sign out front said closing time, 4 p.m. In true Italian fashion, it closed sometime in between, but no matter -- we saw plenty.

One Egyptian statue was unlike any I've ever seen -- a human body in a Roman toga, with the head of a dog. Dated the local equivalent of 30 B.C., the time when Rome has established mastery of Egypt, so perhaps this was political commentary. Spent time in the presence of the "Death of Laocoon" statue, first century BC. So real -- the agony on his face, the pathetic terror of his sons -- that it was horrible to look at, but fascinating all the same.

Even the Raphael rooms were open -- the "School of Athens" fresco was just there, on a wall. Perhaps I'd read that it was in the Vatican, but it was still the same surprise when something you've studied suddenly appears before you. Had the same sensation in front of Laocoon.

We just made into the Sistine Chapel, which closed right after we entered. Jammed with people. Wow, look at the stunning array of... excuse me, sir... and then there's... pardon me... I've seen the creation of Adam so many times, and there it is... ah, my neck hurts. The price of extreme fame, I suppose. Well worth seeing, of course, but hard to see.

Afterwards we went to St. Peter's, called the largest church on Earth, and I believe it. Spent hours there, staring at things, climbing to the top. It was hard work climbing up there, but also I had the satisfaction of doing something I'd wanted to since elementary school, when I'd read that it was possible to climb to the dome -- I remember imagining people actually on top of the dome, outside of the dome, hanging on to the large cross on top, swinging around.

The most amusing thing on the main floor of the basilica were the bronze markings on the main aisle. Hash marks they were, indicating the size of some other famously large churches, such as St. Paul's, Notre Dame, et al., all smaller than St. Peter's. We're number one! Go St Peter!

Back to our room via subway -- Rome has a new subway, only two lines, but shiny and new, only a few hundred lira to ride -- and later, in the evening, went to the Forum. Steve had seen a poster advertising a Keith Jarrett concert at the Piazza Campidoglio, so we went. That's where the equestrian Marcus Aurelius used to be, before pollution began to eat him away. Interesting concert, especially when Jarrett seemed to get angry with the audience.


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