Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Farewell Rome - Tales left untold

Time at last to say farewell to Rome.  It was a great trip and I am already planning a return.  But wait, say you, what about all the other sights?

There are places I did not have time to visit and others I chose not to visit.  The Colosseum for instance.  Walked past it.  I even had as part of my Palatine/Forum ticket a chance to stroll in for no extra Euros.  But really, why?  I have visited other amphitheaters in southern France that were slightly smaller but not at all less cool.  And I have little stomach for herds of tourists led by guides who are giving the "dummy version" of history.  Another time, perhaps.

But as to other sights I will not be writing about, well, it is a mixed bag.

Take for instance the Domus Aurea.  We were able to get some very hard to score tickets for a fabulous tour of the underground portions of Nero's pleasure palace.  I highly recommend this if you are going to Rome and are interested in great stuff off the usual tourist agenda.  So why no post on it?

My pictures did not do the place justice.  The fragile condition of the wall paintings meant no flash photography.  And while I can get fairly good slow shutter pictures with my indestructible travel camera it takes time and a bit of luck with the lighting.  Sorry.  But as compensation I offer you this:

A friend of mine, the enigmatic MooseandHobbes, was also on the tour.  She has a very nice camera and used it to good effect.  HERE, check out her photos and narrative of our tour.  A tip of my yellow hard hat to M&H on this effort.

I said that I intend to return to Rome but I did not take the traditional measure to ensure it.  While I have been known to leave the occasional votive coin in key spots I think chucking one into Trevi Fountain is very cliche.  Also, it was under repairs when I was there.  Here are long lines of unimaginative visitors clomping over the dry fountain so they could say they were "there".  Really now, is a fountain without water anything like the living, vibrant place it is once the spigot is turned back on?

Sigh.  Here are more lines of tourists.  This site is a little less popular although you would not know it by what you see below.  Buses disgorging groups of mostly Japanese folks who want to visit....

Guess I am cheating a bit here because what they all want to see is inside that covered portico. Behold, the Bocca della Vertia. The Mouth of Truth.

This is a big slab of Roman stonework.  It is probably the god Oceanus, but we are not sure.  It was probably in a temple somewhere nearby, but we are not sure of that either.  What we do know is that it got stuck onto the side of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the 17th Century.  There is a tradition that if you stick your hand into the mouth of this thing and then tell a lie, that it will bite your hand off.  This was memorably depicted in the great movie Roman Holiday.  Movie tourism seems to be a big thing with some folks.

On a day when I had a long walk and an early start I set off at a time when the gates to this would not be open for hours.  Sitting on the curb looking very forlorn was a solitary middle aged Japanese man. I had to wonder.  Did he think he could stick his hand in there and find out if he was lying to himself about something?  If he expected some Audrey Hepburn equivalent to join him there, well, I am afraid her standing you up has given you the answer you were seeking, Good Sir.

Some things I am leaving out because I just could not capture the scale of things.  On our cycling trip down the Appian Way we went past a series of ruined aqueducts.  One street sign I saw translated to "The Camp of the Barbarians".  This is where the besieging Goths cut the water supply to try and make Rome die of thirst.  In the long run it did just that.  Too much to capture in a single photo.

I did not visit the Vatican.  And it is not because I am not Catholic.  I wanted to make it over there to see the obelisk in St. Peter's square.  But we just did not have the time.  On our last morning in Rome we discovered that our lodgings had a little garden up on the roof.  Fabulous view of St. Peter's dome. But at that point I was wrapped up in packing duties and tending to a temporarily ill spouse.  Another time, another trip....

A few things I saw but did not really understand.  Many churches in Rome have very macabre funeral monuments.  Yes, I know in general that these were intended as a reminder that we are mortal and should look to the Life Eternal.  But knowing what this meant and understanding it are different things.  I had a lot of these guys looking back at me.  They seem to be gloating.

And one final category of things I rarely write about: food.  Reading about somebody eating a tasty meal seems very unsatisfying, and showing you pictures of things that you can't eat seems mean. But today a rare exception.

We were up in the hills of Tuscany one day and went into a shop that sold meats and cheeses. These are local cheeses made from sheep milk.  Wondering why they are covered in straw?  There are two answers.

True Answer number One.  From long trial and error it has been found that ageing this kind of cheese by packing it in straw just makes it turn out better.  Better cheese is good.

Truer Answer number Two.  Back in feudal times tenant farmers would pay their rent by handing over a set percentage of what they produced.  Grain, eggs, whatever.  Well, what do you know....keeping most of your cheese hidden in a haystack will actually lower your tax rate!  Lower taxes, very good indeed!

If you think I am inferring something about the dysfunction of the current Italian economy here you are very perceptive.

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