No “Meet the Press”

Tiber bridge basilica

Yeah, it’s Sunday, and this is Rome, so we left the city for a foreign country, arriving, oh darn, just in time to mingle with the departing crowds*—except for those in the long line looped all the way around the Piazza San Pietro, and then some. LONG line (to enter St. Peter’s). We walked through the shady south side of the Piazza, then back out into the southeast corner of the Vatican proper. I knew when we entered the Vatican, but not when we left. (Fuzzy, permeable boundaries in both cases, in my archaeo-analysis terms.)

I like this shot down the river at St. Peter’s because of the sunken ship/barge in the lower left. Moored, abandoned, sunken. Is this a comment on the future of the Catholic Church????

Pasquinade statue

Worship can take many forms. This pair of statue nubbins was a favorite of a tailor named Pasquino. He would attach his satirical and anonymous comments about the church bureaucracy and whatever to the pedestal with great frequency. In some versions he was a barber, but whatever—he worked in the Vatican (or not) and overheard plenty of gossip.

The battered sculpture was found buried during road construction in 1501. (Some) art historians think it is of Helen of Troy’s husband, Menelaus, holding the body of Achille’s buddy Petroclus. This is interesting because in later tellings, Petroclus was an unsuccessful suitor of Helen’s, and Helen of course picked up with Paris at some point, although Menelaus took her back. Triangles and triangles.

The statue and Pasquino…. The tradition of posting anonymous acerbic comments on this and several other statues lead to them being called Talking Statues. This one came to be called Pasquino, naturally. In this time it was customary to post screeds and announcements on public walls, a tradition that continues in some form today. We use the word pasquinade for the posting of lampoons and similar. Anonymity was different prior to the internet….

*…which probably would have been far larger except that the Pope was in Albania today.

Serendipity kicked in

Piazza del popolo half

Yes, everything is plumb; the wide lens has “bent” the towers, light posts, etc.

We checked out the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, with the boat-fountain in the piazza at the foot of the stairway. Serendipity brought us “broken” fountains—covered in scaffolding or otherwise waterless and walled-off, allowing workmen access, but not tourists*.

C’est la vie.

We detoured up onto the hill above the Steps and worked our way north stopping for a meal at a place that had turtles in a pool in the middle of the dining room. Interesting choice. We did not find out the story behind the turtles. Their skin had broad black and yellow stripes (the long way on their legs, necks), and they had humpy backs almost like painted turtles, but no color pattern, or not much of one, on their backs. Dark brown or near-black.

We descended into the Piazza del Popolo, moving from shade-spot to shade-spot (temp about 90°F and HUMID). It is just inside the city gate on the main ancient road entering Rome from the north. As near as I can tell, Rome’s strategic location was also a transportation hub, and this would have been the approximate route of the path along the river, heading inland on the south bank, judging by the topography.

This broad space was opened up in the 1530s to impress visitors entering the city. The center has an ancient Egyptian obelisk set above a fountain with four lions with water pouring out of their mouths. More choices intended to impress.

For us, the broad plaza was more of a blistering, sun-filled obstacle, and we walked purposefully along the shortest route between shade and shade. We passed two guys setting up for a variation on the impossible man/stick/Indian-swami pose (they covered themselves in a piece of fabric, keeping the secret of levitation obscured—I’m betting it’s a metal framework attached to a fellow’s torso and under his arm; there are several variants on the levitation pose, some with one guy, some with two). We continued past the fountain. We got into the shade on the other side. Whew!

We turned around to gaze back at the space—only half is in this photo. Look, JCB said, there’re motorcycle cops with lights flashing. They were near the city gate, which is for pedestrians only. We kept watching. There were also cop cars here and there around the square, and one that crossed through it. No lights strobing on them, though. Hmm.

Pretty soon, down the switchback route we’d descended came a small group of runners. As they looped around the fountain we could see there were twenty at the most and the front guy had two flanking guys and was carrying a torch, or what looked like a torch (long metal thing).

Behind the runners was an open jeep, large size, with a few guys in camo, and two with special hats that looked like they were covered in crow feathers. I’m sure I got that wrong, though. Behind that was a closed military-looking Red Cross vehicle, I think four people crammed on the bench seat in front. The remaining police car fell in behind them as they passed us, and off they went headed down the Via del Corso, right toward the civic-ceremonial center of ancient Rome.

Couldn’t tell what their affiliation was, no banners…. More serendipity!

Church detail

For some architectural eye-candy close up and because I love these details, this is from one of the churches on the south side of the Piazza (tada! Corinithian).

* The city had kindly set up a small pool at the Trevi for people to throw coins in, but I wonder if the substitute pool has the same power as the legendary fountain to bring coin-tossers back to Rome.

Free ruin


The ruins of the Basilica Ulpia (north part) are framed by these two rows of columns. The footprint outlined by the columns continues to the right out of the photo and under the road.

The Basilica Ulpia was part of the Forum of Trajan, much of which is now covered by roads and buildings. Basilica at that time meant a large building with a public court function; Romans usually sited them adjacent to a town’s forum, the locus of commerce and governmental activity. Typically, basilicas had interior colonnades that allowed the building to be larger, and visually suggested a series of linear areas. This is the pattern adopted by early Christian temple-builders, and still used today. The earliest basilicas date to the 2nd C BC, although this one dates to the early 2nd C AD, or at least three centuries later.

Ulpia sounds pretty strange, and unconnected to Trajan unless you know that the Emperor Trajan’s (b. AD 53; d. AD 117) youthful name was Marcus Ulpius Traianus like his father, our word Trajan being a corruption. Ulpia is the gens (family with a common ancestor) that Trajan and his father identified with. Their ancestors were Roman colonists who settled in Iberia in the 3rd C BC.

The most striking surviving art from the Forum of Trajan is a triumphal column just to the far right outside this photo. It has a spiraling bas relief panel that portrays Trajan’s victory over the Dacians, who may have included my ancestors. Trajan’s Column is hollow, with an interior spiral stair, an engineering wonder that allowed access to the top, over 38 m above the ground surface. Despite earthquakes over the years and modern traffic and vibrations, the column remains almost exactly vertical.

The inscription on the square base is famous for what it says and for its letter forms. It says that the monument is in recognition of Trajan’s long service. The letters of the inscription are viewed as fine examples of Roman square capitals, and several modern typeface designers have used them for inspiration, including Carol Twombly, who designed the oft-used Trajan typeface for Adobe.

Displayed next to the column is an “unrolled” photograph of the bas relief, along with some commentary.

And all this eye candy is free!

Old, newer, and new

Theatre Marcellus NE side

That’s the Theater of Marcellus* off to the left, with ruin fragments scattered about this area, framed by later buildings to the right, still in use.

As to wifi, we’re on the TIM team (both words pronounced the same)—with an Italian SIM in our hotspot, so we have data even when walking around (until the battery discharges). Anyway, kudos to the Guru for making technology serve us….

We hear a lot about how much cheaper phone and data packages are in Europe vs the USA, but it seems to me that they pay considerably more for devices and peripherals. SIM card was something like 15€ (that’s high)…, and, geeze, the unlocked phone prices, whew.

* Julius Caesar set aside space for the building and construction began, then he died, and it was five years before the building was formally dedicated, by Augustus. Like other monumental architecture in this city, it was repurposed as a fortress in the Middle Ages. Now apartments are jammed in the upper stories, with the lower sections being…ruins stabilized sufficiently to be foundations. We only walked around the back of the theater this evening; we’ll see what the other side looks like another time.

Round building musing

Pantheon detail

World’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, invisible, to the left….

We looked at two round buildings today. We got to enter the Pantheon, along with several hundred folks in tour groups, small groups, and couples. Wow! Whatta space! Loved the shapes built into the surfaces, all the gaudy treatment down low and pure architectural simplicity up high. Oculus was spell-binding, along with its huge light-dot.

I suppose I am rather rude here by just showing you the close-up of how the rectangular porch attaches to the famous round central room, and the remaining bits of exterior horizontal architectural detail.

Mausoleum of augustus

We didn’t get in this one, the Mausoleum of Augustus. Like pretty much every bit of architecture from the ancient days that’s survived in this city, it has been robbed of building stone and decorative elements, and rebuilt and repurposed. This one is amidst another revival phase, which looks like it’s been stalled for several years judging by how robust the grass and weeds are, although it was charged with being finished this year. Ah, yes, Italy’s current financial crisis?

The lower level we see now, that was street level when this was finished in 28 BC. Augustus did not die until AD 14 (making the current architectural revitalization timed with 2K yrs after his death), and several decades before that Strabo described it as a great mound. See, it had a checkered history before the guy it was built for even died! Much of what we see is the 12th–C remodeling into a fortress by the Colonna family. In the 20th C it was for a time a concert hall, including hosting Arturo Toscanini leading a concert here.

The Pantheon (hall of all gods) was commissioned during the reign of Augustus, in 27 BC. Recently examined bricks, however, indicate that construction of this version dates to Trajan’s time (he ruled 98–117). Two intermediate versions burned (hence the Trajan replacement), although the building has remained in use since it was built. The whole north porch has been re-conceived and rebuilt several times, including that the porch extended several meters farther north, and the open garden that was to the north is long gone. The piazza there looks like its surface has been raised by several meters, as is typical across the old city.

Delays ironed over

Recyclers our street

Our street is pedestrian-friendly with only hyper-local and delivery traffic. And scooters.

Real Roman street life happens here. Dogs pee. Garbage/recycling is collected. The sun shines.

If one noted the unusual in these opening hours of our trip and called them an omen, we’re wracking up some strange ones. First, we got all boarded on our flight, then the pilot asked for our patience while they sorted something out. Full flight, but it wasn’t that. Then he came back on perhaps fifteen minutes later to say that there was a security situation (“someone made a mistake”), and we would have to return to the terminal with ALL our belongings, and be rechecked in using our boarding passes and passports. We sat some more. Eventually, they took the people needing help off first (?), then the rest of us got off. Fortunately, they let us cross the concourse to the restrooms. Lots of TSA folks lined up around us, but their faces didn’t look menacing—more ho-hum. Strange comfort in that. So we sat and stood around near our gate. Personnel went in and out the loading door. After at least a half-hour Deltoids set out some water, M&Ms, cheese crackers, and Coke products for us to nosh on. They closed the loading door. The pilot spoke to us, and said the TSA people were checking the passenger compartment. Sometime later the door opened and we were told they were almost ready to re-board us and we could see the helpful screen said our flight would leave at 6pm; I took that as a mythical round number. It was; we waited. Eventually they said to form a single line and present paperwork for rechecking, to then be returned to our seats. Sometime after that they had us back on the plane. At least four TSA people were checking hand-carried luggage, but I thought rather cursorily. Not sure the reason for all that, or what the exact problem had been. Meanwhile the line of planes ready to take off that had been held-up for the exit of the President’s plane (ah, yes, another wrinkle) diminished, and we lined up for take-off we were number five. That’s good! We took off three hours late. Despite projections by non-pilots that we would make up time, we didn’t. That meant our plan for getting through emigration, baggage, customs, and to the train was set back. And that had a ripple effect regarding us connecting with the apartment manager to get our key, not worth detailing, but gaining us another omen check-mark.

Anyway, by 4pm, everything was straightened out, we were in our apartment and off our tired feet. Does that reverse the negative omens?

Weather that had been predicted to be partly cloudy was the sunny kind of partly cloudy. After getting some cheese and bread (rolls like Mexican bolillos) from the almost-next door Carrefour Express (French grocery chain) and chowing down on them in our apartment, we began to feel better, and headed on a short walking loop to look at some brow-wrinkling sunshine (to help with jet lag) and some old buildings. And the river!

Now I’m almost on local time, JCB is napping, and I’ll have to late-post this tomorrow. Yes, despite the omens and the lack of internet in the apartment (we THOUGHT it had wifi; stay tuned…), it was a buon viaggio.

Dated “device”

Notebook mechanical pencil lead

The Guru got me some brand-new old technology, and I’m “taking it on the road” to put it through its paces….

Jaw line

James man

Loving the art on our walls….

For no logical reason, I was looking at the James-man today—it’s (he’s?) twenty years old!

Not a prayer

Prayer plant leaf CU

Seems like this leaf pattern would be perfect for paint-by-number. Not that I’d ever give it a try.


Pizza florentine

As we devastated this pie, I thought about the term Florentine appended to a dish usually means that it contains spinach and cream (in a sauce), or appears to—at least that’s the convention on this side of the Big Pond. Without a doubt the cooking style of Florence is far more complex and interesting, however….